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Archive for April, 2012

If you slip the butcher a fiver he’ll also cure the pelt for you.

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At Last, Some Action!

So, yeah; Elena and the ice-blue Renaissance gown she cleaned out her college fund for. On the one hand, I have a secret (and fairly stupid) belief that the world would be much more fun for everyone if we all dressed up a little more, and wore stuff just because it makes us happy, rather than because it’s all that appropriate for the occasion. (One day, for example, I am totally doing the school run in a ball-gown.) On the other hand, in my experience, boys – even undead ones – are almost never impressed when their girlfriends turn up to a date wearing what is essentially a wedding-dress.

This can only end badly for everyone.

So please, LJ Smith, don’t let me down here. I’m asking as nicely as I possibly can. I want to see Elena make an utter fool of herself. I want to see the cleaning-out of college funds and the purchase of scary Shotgun-Wedding outfits with the money denounced for the travesty of normal behaviour it truly is. I want my OMGWTFWWJD moment of horror from Stefan when Elena opens that front door, and I want it now, damn it, now!!!!!

He was staring at her in wonder, yes. But it was not the wondering joy she’d seen in his eyes that first night in his room. This was closer to shock.

Oh, thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!

Ahem. Getting right back on with the snarkiness here. Unsurprisingly, Elena is the only person at the Hallowe’en Ball who’s chosen to come dressed for her own wedding, so she’s now surrounded by people dressed as zombies, corpses, werewolves, witches, hunchbacks, etc. (Incidentally, when did fancy-dress costumes imitating people with serious physical disabilities get the stamp of approval? And did it happen to homeless people at the same time? Just, you know, PUTTING THAT OUT THERE.)

Fortunately, no-one has time to mock Elena’s ludicrously out-of-step appearance, because Mr Tanner the History teacher is refusing to play nice and be a co-operative blood-stained corpse for the Druidical sacrifice at Stonehenge, on the grounds of historical inaccuracy. But it’s all okay, because Stefan does some of that weird Vampire / Jedi hoodoo thing on him, and within minutes, he’s happily lying down on the altar so Bonnie can make yucky with the strawberry sauce.

You know, if I was a vampire with a complex about what a monster I was, I think I’d be redressing the Karmic balance by, oh, I don’t know, hanging out at the UN Climate Change conference or something, and quietly facilitating the latest critical negotiations on how we’re all not going to fry the world and everything in it. Or maybe I’d drop by the next round of Israel / Palestine discussions. But then, I think this kind of thing is pretty damn cool, so what the hell would I know?

Is it just me, or is that the Doctor on the right of the picture?

Then there’s a bit of Mean Girls stuff where Elena tries to make friends with Caroline (for a refresher on who Caroline is, click here). And Caroline basically tells Elena they will be enemies until the end of time. And that means Elena is a better person than Caroline. Or possibly that Caroline is a more honest person than Elena. Your pick.

And then they wander around and look at some stuff and they walk into the Stonehenge room to admire Mr Tanner who’s being an alarmingly convincing corpse, and ohnoes, Mr Tanner is dead…

At this point, Tyler – the rapist from Chapter Seven who has inexplicably been allowed back onto school premises – takes charge of the important task of identifying the killer:

“It’s not hard to guess who it is,” said Tyler. “Someone who hated Tanner and was always getting into arguments with him. Someone who was arguing with him earlier tonight…Someone who has a history of violence. Someone who, for all we know, is a psychopath who came to Fell’s Church just to kill.”

I’ve been looking at this passage for quite some time, and I can’t decide if I think this is a ridiculous leap of non-logic, or a fairly rational response to Stefan’s presence. After all, he is a vampire, and while everyone in town seems strangely blind to this, it’s possible that on some level they’re aware of it. I just think I’d like to see a little bit less pointing of the fingers and reaching for the pitchforks, and a little bit more calling of the cops and fetching of the responsible adults.

But you know what’s guaranteed to distract me from whatever point I was making, in the manner of a cat whose owner has just bought a laser-pointer? Bromance.

Please, thought Elena, gazing into those blue eyes, willing him to understand. Oh please, Matt, only you can save him. Even if you don’t believe, try to trust…please…

Since their brilliant scheme for saving Stefan consists of “Telling Stefan everyone’s looking for him because they think he murdered Mr Tanner”, I’m not quite clear why it has to be Matt who does the saving, rather than Elena. But, you know, it’s still kind of sweet, if you like that kind of thing, and I do most definitely like that kind of thing. After all, if you had the choice between a girl who come to Hallowe’en in a wedding-dress, and a nice uncomplicated guy who you can talk to about football and stuff, who would you pick?

“Matt.” The dark green eyes were dark and burning, and Matt found he could not look away from them. “Is Elena safe? Good. Then take care of her. Please.”

Awww.

If you’d like to know more about homoerotic subtexts in Vampire fiction, you may enjoy “Kiss Me With Those Red Lips” by Christopher Craft. Or, if you just want to read more about Matt and Stefan, you want to head on over to FanFiction.net and have a little browse around their Vampire Diaries section. I’m blogging about reading the original, so I can assure you I’m not about to judge.

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In today’s ruthless Retailing climate, no-one can afford to expend valuable energy on inflating balls for people who aren’t actually all that committed to buying one:

I can’t be sure, but I think this toy is designed to terrify children about the consequences of putting plastic bags over their heads:

Looks like his friend has arrived too late:

NB these are all the toys in this box set. There are no happy faces in this version of reality.

My First Catastrophic Cerebral Event:

You can mock, but it’s so popular they need a range:

My First Human-Rights-Violation Protest.

By the way, this doll was made in China.

This is getting depressing, isn’t it? Let’s try and find something more fun to talk about!

How about a nice family board game?

“But Dad, it’s not fair, I wanted to collect the decaying human body-parts from the bag floating in the Thames!”

For the record, all of these toys were photographed in a single visit to the Trago Mills Multi-level Emporium in Falmouth – surely the finest retail outlet anywhere in the British Isles. For more Trago Mills magnificence, click here , here, here and here. Go on. You know you want to.

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Trouble In Paradise

So, when we last saw Elena, she was flouncing around the school after dark, making some sort of corpse-based decoration with her friends and being accosted by a dude with black eyes and a mocking manner who managed to make her forget Stefan’s existence. And I thought that once you’d had your over-reacting lust-at-first-sight moment and done the rape-rescue thing it was automatically true love 4 eva! But no; apparently even though they are, like, totally destined for each other and have been for at least the last four hundred years or so, Elena and Stefan still have a few issues they need to work on.

Like the fact that literally the only thing Elena likes about Stefan is that he likes her, for example:

Once she asked him if he missed Italy, if he was sorry he’d come here…”How could I be sorry, when you are here?” he said, and kissed her in a way that put all questions out of her mind. In that moment, Elena knew what it was like to be completely happy. She’d felt his joy, too, and when he had pulled back she had seen that his face was alight, as if the sun shone through it.

The good times were like that. But he had kissed her less and less frequently of late.

Leaving aside the question of what Stefan would look like if his face actually was alight,

Like I was actually going to let that one go

isn’t it a little bit creepy and narcissistic that Elena only really enjoys Stefan’s company when he’s draped all over her, nudging her with his vampire-y erection (oh, you just know that’s what “felt his joy” actually means), telling her how wonderful life is when she’s in the world, and generally validating her status as the Teen Queen of Smalltown High School? And as soon as they start doing other stuff that doesn’t involve Stefan flouncing around the woods talking about how wonderful Elena is while prodding at her thigh with his Marvellous Marble Rolling-pin, she gets cross and frustrated?


There was never enough time to be with Stefan, and that was frustrating, but even more frustrating was Stefan himself. She could sense his passion for her, but she could also sense that he was fighting it, still refusing to be completely alone with her.

Is Elena really up to the rigours of an actual relationship, I wonder? One where instead of obsessively focusing on each other all the time, you go out and have fun together by focusing on a third thing, like maybe a nice meal or a cinema or a bowling alley or something? Or perhaps she might be happier with a mirror, and one of these. Just a thought.

Did I mention that link is NSFW?

Anyway. Bonnie’s parents are out of town, so Elena and Meredith are sleeping over. For a minute, Yangtze the dog gets out and is menaced by a crow and that crow is totally Damon in disguise and Damon was totally that guy at the school, and that means he has got to be a vampire, and OMG, will there actually be some actual on-screen gore in this book about creatures that survive by draining the blood of other creatures? No; they get the dog back inside again and put on their pyjamas and talk about what they’re going to wear for the Hallowe’en party. And this makes me sad. But I am about to get over this, and you’re about to see why:

“Mine’s easy,” said Bonnie. “I’m going to be a Druid priestess, and I only need a garland of oak leaves in my hair and some white robes. Mary and I can sew it in one night.”

“I think I’ll be a witch,” said Meredith thoughtfully. “All that takes is a long black dress. How about you, Elena?”

Elena smiled. “Well, it was supposed to be a secret, but…Aunt Judith let me go to a dressmaker. I found a picture of a Renaissance gown in one of the books we used for my oral report, and we’re having it copied. It’s Venetian silk, ice-blue, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

A custom-made…Venetian silk…ice blue…Renaissance gown. That you have cleaned out your college fund to pay for. Genius.

And just in case you think I’m making it up about the college fund –

“It sounds beautiful,” Bonnie said. “And expensive.”

“I’m using my own money from my parents’ trust. I just hope Stefan likes it. It’s a surprise for him, and…well, I just hope he likes it.”

Utter, utter genius. I did actually laugh out loud at this, which is a dangerous occupation when you’ve had two children.

"What do you mean, we're only going to Pizza Express?"

At this point, friends who are even moderately sane, thoughtful and concerned with your welfare would probably stage an intervention. However, since Bonnie and Meredith are the two girls who nearly didn’t go to Elena’s rescue when they were certain she was about to be raped, the chances of this are small.

Things Bonnie and Meredith ought to be saying to Elena at this point
1. You are way over-invested in Stefan
2. If you wear that costume to the ball, everyone is going to laugh at you
3. “Everyone” in this instance may well actually include Stefan
4. Who, by the way, you are way over-invested in
5. I mean, what makes you think he even wants to see you in an ice-blue Renaissance-style gown made out of Venetian silk, in any context whatsoever?
6. But most especially at a Hallowe’en party where we made a pretend corpse out of balloons, magic and string, and all your friends are throwing on any old shit they happened to have around the house
7. Renaissance Italian ballgowns have nothing whatsoever to do with the modern conception of Hallowe’en
8. So you’re going to look ridiculous
9. Again – you are way over-invested in Stefan
10. Did we mention makes no sense whatsoever to clean out your college fund to pay for a Hallowe’en costume?

Things Bonnie and Meredith actually say to Elena at this point
1. We think Stefan should go dressed as Dracula to the Hallowe’en ball.

Although they fail yet again to notice that this is because he looks, dresses and acts exactly like a vampire and therefore might have something to do with the clear and obvious act of vampirism we all happened across the other night.

By all reasonable measures, this chapter ought to have reached its peak of magnificence already, but it hasn’t. Something even better is coming our way. For reasons I’m a bit unclear on, Elena decides she is going to read aloud from her diary. For reasons I’m even less clear on, Meredith and Bonnie don’t actually fall about laughing as she does so (although it’s always possible we don’t get to see this because Elena isn’t looking at them, being entirely absorbed in the sheer beauty of the prose she has produced). Finally, she shares with us what is possibly the stupidest ever opinion anyone has ever had about relationships, anywhere in the world, at all, ever:

“If I knew we were going to break up eventually, I suppose I’d just want to get it over with. And if I knew it was going to turn out all right in the end, I wouldn’t mind anything that happens now. But just going day after day without being sure is awful.”

Seriously, Elena, just get cats instead. You'll be happier.

And then they have a Dumb Supper or a Moronic Dinner Party or something to find out who Elena’s going to marry and the man who is also the crow and is also Stefan’s brother and is also the weird dude from the school shows up and some sexual tension happens and the stupid yappy dog dies, possibly of sheer disgust at the events it’s been forced to witness (yesss!) and Elena is confused and where the hell is Stefan, anyway?

Oh, right, he’s off in the forest somewhere, draining a deer and doing some suffering in case one day he loses the run of himself and accidentally eats Elena.

Less angst, but more rabies. It's a tough call.

Now, here’s the thing. Although I only buy free-range meat, there’s no getting away from the fact that, for me to eat animals, they have to be dead first. On the other hand, this deer that Stefan’s been nomming on gets to walk away with its life. And – while I’m sure it wouldn’t class being tapped for a couple of pints by a passing vampire as a life-enhancing experience – it seems pretty chilled about it.

So where the hell does Stefan get off with all this oh-I’m-such-a-monster-I’m-not-worthy shit? How is it that he somehow feels the human race has the moral high ground over vampires?

Also, singular lack of insight into his own biological processes:

The blood lust…was a mystery to him even now. Although he had lived with it every day for centuries, he still did not understand it. As a living human, he would no doubt have been disgusted, sickened, by the thought of drinking the rich warm stuff directly from a breathing body.

Stefan Salvatore, scholar and Renaissance man, is utterly mystified by the clearly unnatural process of getting hungry and wanting to eat food. Outstanding.

My cats understand Getting Hungry. And they have brains the size of walnuts and think I control the weather.

Finally, we get Stefan’s Vampire-superpowers origin story; and actually, this does explain rather a lot about our poor, fucked-up Mr Salvatore. One hot night in Venice, Elizabeth creeps into Stefan’s bed. He thinks she’s there to shag his brains out, which is a perfectly reasonable conclusion; but no, she says, they’re going to do something else. (Incidentally, is this the Vampire equivalent of We don’t have to do anything, we can just lie here and not touch? Just a thought.) She strokes his throat for a while while he lies there trembling with desire and waiting for her to take charge. And that part’s okay, really; a bit purple and flowery and perfect-orgasm-without-any-stickiness-or-worrying-if-you-look-fat, but hey, we’ll go with it.

Then, having sucked him dry (har har har), it’s time for Stefan to have a go:

Sometime later…he found himself in her arms. She was cradling him there like a mother holding an infant child, guiding his mouth to rest on the bare flesh just above the low neck of her night shift. There was a tiny wound there, a cut showing dark against the pale skin. He felt no fear or hesitation, and when she stroked his hair encouragingly, he began to suck.

I have one word for you, Mr Salvatore, and the word is, “Bitty”.

Run, Elena. Run for the hills.

Extensive online research confirms that you could buy one thousand eight hundred and fifty nine copies of The Vampire Diaries from Amazon for the cost of a single ice-blue Venetian silk Renaissance-style gown. I advise you not to rush into either decision.

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I absolutely love short stories. Short stories, and the notion of Superpowers. Short stories, the notion of Superpowers, and Free Things. Among the things I love are Short stories, the notion of Superpowers, and pretending I’m as funny as the Monty Python team just because I’m pastiching one of their most iconic sketches…

Ahem. What I’m trying to say is: there’s a fab new book out, called “Freaks!”. It’s a collection of short stories by Caroline Smailes and Nick Perring, with illustrations by Darren Craske. And, in support of its official launch, I have a free sample to share with you all.

This story wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but it’s brilliant – in that way that makes you wince in recognition, and want to hug the narrator. I’m looking forward to reviewing the entire collection very soon. In the meantime, here’s your Free Sample.

I’m warning you, though. After reading this you’re almost certainly going to want to read the whole thing.

Invisible 

[Super Power: The ability to make oneself unseen to the naked eye]

 

If I stay totally still,

if I stand right tall,

with me back against the school wall,

close to the science room’s window,

with me feet together,

pointing straight,

aiming forward,

if I make me hands into tight fists,

make me arms dead straight,

 if I push me arms into me sides,

if I squeeze me thighs,

stop me wee,

if me belly doesn’t shake,

if me boobs don’t wobble,

if I close me eyes tight,

so tight that it makes me whole face scrunch,

if I push me lips into me mouth,

if I make me teeth bite me lips together,

if I hardly breathe,

if I don’t say a word.

Then,

I’ll magic meself invisible,

and them lasses will leave me alone.

“Freaks!” is available from Amazon as a paperback for £5.04, or an ebook for £2.99.

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It’s all their fault. 😦

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I came across “The Stand In” via a Twitter recommendation, from someone who I’ve never met and have never spoken to in person. But thanks to the magic of Twitter feeds (I think we met on the #amwriting hashtag or something), every now and then we get to enjoy the fun of making a difference to the life of a total stranger by recommending a book they’d never otherwise have come across. Sometimes you get something that’s completely disappointing; but other times you discover a gorgeous and unexpected little gem that you absolutely adore, and want to recommend to other people. Isn’t the internet brilliant?

“The Stand In” is a lovely, tightly-plotted, perfectly-crafted sliver of Hollywood noir. Rising Hollywood superstars and former lovers Rick DeNova and Lola Chandler are locked into starring roles in Centurion Studios’ production from Hell – a prestige vanity-project to bring Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities to the big screen. Rick’s taste for beating up and violently murdering the women in his life, coupled with a burgeoning heroin habit, mean that both he and the production are gradually falling apart, threatening to take Centurion down with it. Hollywood Insider front-woman Nadine Nugent is intent on furthering her broadcasting career by getting the inside scoop on Centurion, while her college-boy minion Danny Gillis is desperate for a big story that will free him from Nadine’s clutches and transform his journalistic career. And Eddie Baines from Hicksville is desperate to exploit his eerie resemblance to Rick and begin his own stratospheric rise to stardom.

Noir, as we all know, comes from cinema, and cinema is the home of heightened reality and slightly implausible occurrences. With that in mind, let me say that the plot of “The Stand-in” does rely on the existence of one huge, giant, incredibly fortunate coincidence (the arrival in Hollywood of a near-perfect visual double for a famous-but-troublesome film-star at exactly the moment the film-star starts to become more trouble than he’s worth, said double also being a brilliant actor). However, you’d have to be a very mean reader indeed not to accept this slight stretching of our collective credibility, because the way everyone responds to this astounding gift from the Gods is so horribly plausible. There’s virtually no moral hesitation from anyone; they just leap gleefully onto this fantastic opportunity like starving vultures. As far as almost everyone in Hollywood is concerned, Eddie is a commercial opportunity, not a person.

Is it believable that everyone from the Head of Studio to the Director to the Police Chief to the predatory landlord would just think “Yahoo, Rick DeNova without the hassle” and crack on with the nasty exploitative behaviour just as fast as it occurs to them? Personally I think it makes perfect sense. Actors are brands, and always have been. They’re owned and packaged by the studios, carefully positioned within the marketplace, and replaced as necessary when their shelf-life expires. Everything the head of Centurion does is shocking, but sadly, nothing he does is actually unbelievable. Geagley shows us a town without a moral centre, where the need to make money beats every other imperative, for everyone, in every institution, everywhere. Look me in the eye and tell me you think he’s called it wrong.

The one exception to this Ed-sploitation fest is Lola Chandler, Two Cities‘ beautiful leading lady. Like a lot of male-dominated genres (see also Superhero comics and Space Opera), noir tends to suck at women. It also tends to suck at them in exactly the same way each time, in that they become either 1) an impossibly beautiful and talented goddess who inexplicably goes out with some utterly average / borderline inadequate guy and then ends up dead because, because, well just because, really or 2) some impossibly beautiful and talented evil super-villainess who is inexplicably overcome by some utterly average / borderline inadequate guy and then ends up dead, just because. Noir tends to suck at women; but every now and then, you find a noir book that doesn’t. Lola Chandler is nice, sweet, flawed, occasionally dumb, human, believable, properly realised and well-written, and I loved her and was rooting for her every inch of the way. Admittedly, this success isn’t universal – Nadine is a little bit too much of a bitch-queen, and the starry-eyed red-shirt blondes who line up to be strangled by Rick have no character beyond “and they really, really fancy Rick DeNova”. But that’s okay. They’re the bit players. At least the leading lady is awesome.

My only real criticism of this book is that it doesn’t feel particularly rooted in its time. From the clues we get (James Dean is dead, Marlon Brando exists, Cleopatra is a contemporary project) I’m guessing late fifties or early sixties. But somehow it doesn’t feel like any particular time. The language, the clothes, the cars, the settings, all feel as if they could belong to Hollywood at any stage of its existence. It’s possible that this timelessness was exactly the effect Geagley was going for, but personally I found it a bit irritating. However, that’s a small niggle, and I’m going to forgive it because it’s such a beautifully-written tale.

One last thing. In the blurb, the author makes the provocative claim that “you won’t guess the ending”. So of course, I spent every second of my first reading of this book trying to guess the ending. And you know what? I honestly didn’t guess what was coming. The basic direction of travel is easy to predict – very early on, Eddie is asked why he thinks Hollywood would want another Rick DeNova when it already has one, but since Rick is clearly psychotic and unreliable, and Eddie is humble, charming and a much better actor, that part’s not too hard to figure out – but there are so many unexpected twists, turns and shimmies along the way that it doesn’t feel predictable at all. And then, just when you think it’s all over, that nice Mr Geagley goes and slaps you round the chops with a whole other surprise that was right there under your nose all along, but you didn’t spot it because you were too distracted with the tightly-written descriptions and the sharp characterisation and the perfect pacing and the excellent craftsmanship, boo-ya.

“The Stand-In” would be worth reading even without the shock of discovering the author really has been cleverer than you, because it’s very, very well-written and it’s worth it just for the journey to its inevitable and well-foreshadowed ending. But finding a book that really has lived up to the “you won’t see this one coming” hype? That’s just delightful.

“The Stand In” is available as a Kindle e-book for the pleasingly eccentric sum of £3.28

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