I Left My Social Life In 1997

01-1997

In March this year, the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer reunited for a round of photoshoots and interviews to mark the 20th Anniversary of the show first gracing our TV screens. If you haven’t seen any of the clips from this happy reunion (where have you been?!), head on over to YouTube to look them up. Apart from the slightly sickening fact that none of the cast appears to have aged AT ALL in the intervening years, there is something really lovely about seeing them all back together in one place, talking about their time on the show.

02-BTVSBuffy really was ground-breaking in a number of different areas. The term “ground-breaking” may be somewhat overused these days, but in Buffy’s case, it really does hold up. For instance, the way that the series was structured, interweaving standalone stories with an ongoing seasonal arch leading up to a confrontation with the “Big Bad” at each season’s finale, may seem like a no-brainer these days, was not always so. Buffy may not have been the first series to go for this structure, but it is certainly one of the most memorable and influential and, due to the show’s popularity, it is a structure that has been more widely adopted since. Incidentally, writer/producer Russell T Davies, who headed up the re-launch of Doctor Who in 2005, cites Buffy has being partly responsible for the new Doctor Who series using a similar format.

Possibly more particular to Buffy was its season 6 musical episode Once More With Feeling. It was a complete departure from anything that the show had ever done, and yet at the same time it managed to feel like a natural phenomenon. Of course the residents of Sunnydale will spontaneously burst into song (and subsequently into flames, some of them). They live on a Hellmouth after all. Since this episode aired in 2001, it seems that other shows have had the courage to do the same. Again, a few shows had attempted musical episodes before Once More With Feeling, but there has been a definite increase since with shows such as Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, Fringe, and Sanctuary all seeing their characters stretch (but not strain) their vocal chords in recent years.

On top of the technical leaps and bounds made, Buffy was also incredibly powerful in terms of the themes it explored. At its centre was a group of teenagers navigating their way through High School (and beyond into adulthood) while also battling the Vampires, Demons, and whatever else the forces of evil decided to throw at them. It doesn’t take a big leap of imagination to notice the metaphorical implications between the social and personal issues faced by teenagers and the supernatural elements that Buffy employed to explore them.

03-Phases

As you may have gathered, I was (and still am) a massive fan! It is one of my all-time favourite TV shows. Xander/Nicholas Brendon was my first celebrity crush, followed sharply (no pun intended) by Spike/James Marsters. I know every song from Once More With Feeling. I have lost count of the number of times the show has made me cry.

It is a show that, in my house, warrants a re-watch at least every other year (if not more) and I find myself at times, not only quoting the lines, but channelling the characters without consciously meaning to do so.

Happy Anniversary, Buffy!

May your influence continue to be felt for many years to come.

But for all the hype that has been around Buffy for the last couple of months, something else occurred to me.

There was another TV show that also started in 1997 and that had a similar (if not greater) impact on my teenage self. Any guesses what that show could be?

04-SG1

Stargate SG-1 hit TV screens in July 1997 (just four months after Buffy) and between the two of them, I was so completely hooked. There really was no hope for my social life (bear in mind this was before the days of “Geek Chic”, and the internet had not yet brought fandoms together in the manner you would find today).

I, for one, am hoping that there will be as much hype in July for Stargate’s 20th Anniversary as there has been for Buffy’s. But as far as I can tell, SG-1 is not as widely acclaimed as Buffy, in that it remained a cult favourite, rather than breaking into mainstream popularity in the way that Buffy did. If I am wrong on that count, please do let me know. In the meantime, here’s my own bit of hype for SG-1’s 20th year.

Stargate SG-1 premiered on 27th July 1997 with its pilot episode Children of the Gods. It re-introduced audiences to the 22-foot-high, ancient, metal ring that, through the creation of a sub-space wormhole, transports people instantaneously to other planets across the galaxy.

The pilot episode picked up where the 1994 movie left off, with Dr Daniel Jackson living with the people of Abydos, and Colonel Jack O’Neill (two L’s this time, and that is important) moving on with his life. Both are called back into action when Earth’s seemingly dormant Stargate springs into life and a US Air Force Officer is taken captive by a new enemy, Apophis.

O’Neill and Jackson are then teamed up with Captain Samantha Carter, a brilliant and beautiful Astrophysicist and Air Force pilot in her own right, and Teal’c, an alien (Jaffa) formerly in the service of Apophis who defects to Earth in the hopes of freeing his people from the tyrannical rule of the Goa’uld.

Together, they are Earth’s first line of defence against the Goa’uld threat as they journey through the Stargate, exploring new worlds and discovering new cultures each week.

I mean, really, what’s not to love right there?!

SG-1 ran for ten full seasons (214 episodes in total), launched two spin-off series, and concluded with two TV movies. The show still inspires a following of loyal and fervent fans, many of whom are actively campaigning for a re-boot in some shape or form.

As with many Sci-Fi shows, the possibilities open for exploration were practically limitless; and in the seventeen collective seasons (ten for SG-1, five for Atlantis, and two for Universe) the writers were able to etch out an entire mythology for the franchise that encompassed existing Earth mythology (namely Egyptian, Norse, and, in the later seasons, Arthurian legend) whilst also adding its own myths and species into the mix. At the centre of SG-1 (and the subsequent spin-offs) was a constant debate between the respective virtues of Scientific exploration and the Military needs of Earth to defend itself against an alien incursion.

In the first few episodes alone, this dual mission is addressed and taken on board as Stargate Command’s Standing Orders, Stargate’s equivalent of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. In contrast to Star Trek, however, Stargate did not operate with the philosophical restraint of not interfering with the natural development of other cultures and societies. SG-1 and the other SG teams were more than happy to interfere when needed (or not), whether that was offering medical or technological advancements, or even military troops and weapons. Having said this, Daniel Jackson did serve as the show’s moral compass and frequently went toe-to-toe with O’Neill and other military characters if it looked like they were about to go too far.

07-OtherSide

On top of all of that, Stargate, as a Sci-Fi series, managed to utilise just about every trick and trope in the book to explore the overriding theme; that is: “What does it mean to be human?” I have mentioned in a previous post that the Science Fiction genre encompasses a vast array of story types in its discussion of this theme. If you want to make comparison with my previous list, click here to read that particular post.

Of note, Stargate taps into:

  • Alien Invasion
  • Space
  • Genetic Mutation/Manipulation
  • The use of/reliance on Technology
  • Time Travel
  • Alternate Realities
  • Artificial Intelligence

Not to mention Inter-Galactic Politics!

There really was no stone left unturned. And yet, there is still room for more. While SG-1 was allowed to run its course (and then some), and end on its own terms, its spin-off series were not so fortunate. It seemed that Atlantis was gathering momentum when it was cancelled in 2009 after five seasons; and Universe was cut very short in 2011 after just two seasons. Universe may not be a favourite among fans (I for one have not yet seen its second season), but I am sure that if it had been allowed to develop, it could have provided quite a few surprises of its own.

I really could go on for days about Stargate. And no doubt there will be more posts on here about it, but for now, let me just say:

Happy 20th Anniversary, Stargate.

Come back to our screens soon!

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Guest Post – Banning Books

Guest post by Sarah Jayne Tanner

BanningBooks

Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.

Stephen Chlosky

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation on WhatsApp with a friend about books. She asked me if I had heard about To Kill a Mockingbird. At that point, I hadn’t, so asked what specifically I should have heard.

She told me, “That it’s been taken off the school reading list in Mississippi. Because some of the language makes people uncomfortable. I have no words.”

I thought about it, and replied, “Excuse me, I need to go and bang my head against a wall for a moment.”

I find the issue of banning books both intriguing and frightening. Intriguing because it fascinates me as to why people deem books to be too dangerous for the general public to be trusted to read them, and frightening because censorship is always something to be carefully considered and wary of.

In no particular order, books that have at some point been banned somewhere include: The Bible, Huckleberry Finn, The Communist Manifesto, The Call of the Wild, Of Mice and Men, Green Eggs and Ham, American Psycho, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Grey, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Ulysses, All Quiet on the Western Front, Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Catcher in the Rye and The Anarchist’s Cookbook.

 

Although I don’t support the banning of books, I can understand why people have got themselves in such a state over a couple of the ones listed here.

Fifty Shades of Grey is truly terrible.

The problem – for those doing the banning, at least – is that banning a book just gives it even more power, because there is absolutely no more reliable way of getting people to read a book than by telling them they can’t.

Except maybe putting JK Rowling’s name on it.

Banning books tells people that, first off, there’s something in that book that someone doesn’t want them to know, or an idea that they fear being released into the wild. However, human nature being what it is, tell someone that they can’t do something, or that they shouldn’t do something, or hint at some form of forbidden knowledge, and people will fight tooth and nail to get at it. Sometimes this is out of curiosity – what’s the secret and is it really that bad? And sometimes it’s out of a determination not to allow someone else – usually some form of authority figure – to curtail their freedom by telling them what they can and can’t read.

Essentially, telling people what they can and cannot read is telling them what they can and cannot think. Most of us would agree that the rule of law which governs our actions is, generally speaking, a good thing. Of course, there are some fairly absurd laws in force. Here in the UK, for example, it’s still illegal to be drunk in a pub (yes, really), for MPs to wear armour in Parliament, or to queue jump in the Tube ticket hall. However, the majority of laws are there for a very good reason. And, whilst many us will hold strong and understandable views about what people should and should not think, opening up the possibility of trying to control what people think can lead society into a very dark and dangerous place. Those who have read 1984 will see where Orwell envisaged this kind of thinking leading.

Ironic, perhaps, that 1984 has itself been banned from schools and libraries.

 

1984

Part of the problem is that the banning of books is not usually because they contain something truly dangerous or illegal, but as a knee-jerk reaction to themes or ideas contained within those books, books which those demanding the banning have often not read. Sometimes those intentions are well-meaning, misguided attempts at protecting children from difficult realities such as bullying, drug addiction and racism. But attempting to ban books which deal with those issues doesn’t help matters. Banning books for containing certain ideas and addressing certain issues doesn’t help deal with those issues in the real world, and doesn’t equip either children or adults for encountering them in real life. It doesn’t highlight them, it doesn’t challenge them, it doesn’t demand change. It only sweeps them under the carpet, and pretends that they don’t exist.

Books do more than simply tells us stories, provide us with entertainment or teach us cold hard facts. They teach us about the world that other people live in, people who are not like us. They teach us about the world we live in, and the world we don’t, about the world that other people live in every day.

Banning books shows the privilege of the people demanding the banning. Children who are only exposed to violence in books are incredibly fortunate; perhaps those demanding the banning of books should be more concerned with the very real violence that too many children face. Banning books that confront racism only sweeps the reality of racism under the carpet and allows the privileged to continue pretending that racism is no longer an issue. In today’s world, with the internet and social media, it’s getting harder and harder for people to ignore important matters of social justice. However, despite how excellent a blog post or how powerful and relevant a Tweet or Facebook post may be, and many of them are and do amazing work in addressing difficult issues, I am a great believer in the role that books play in educating ourselves on important matters, whether those books are fictional or autobiographical. I believe that fiction especially creates a safe space in which to begin exploring the realities of those issues in a way which is not too terrifying or overwhelming.

Banning books does nothing to educate people about the realities of life. Banning books only protects the privileged few and allows them to continue to pretend that they don’t exist and, if they don’t exist, then no one needs do anything about them.

Copyright © Sarah Jayne Tanner 2017

 


 

If you would like to submit an article to be posted on this site, check out my guidelines for Guest Posts.

author-imageFor more of Sarah Jayne Tanner’s work, check out her blog: Confessions of a Bookworm

Sarah’s debut novel, Defiance, is available now on Amazon Kindle: http://amzn.eu/8hlSA65

 

About Defiance

IN A WORLD OF INJUSTICE, DEFIANCE IS THE ONLY OPTION.

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Down in the city’s underbelly, Noah, a smart-mouthed combat fighter, has been sold against his will to Dream Scenarios, an exclusive organisation specialising in body-switching technology. Stripped of his freedom and forced to cater to the whims of the elite, Noah cannot resign himself to life as a puppet of Dream Scenarios and its wealthy clientele.

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Sociopathic A. I.

00 SociopathicAI

Isaac Asimov was the Father of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (certainly in the literary sense, but arguably scientifically as well). If you come across a short story or film about a robot, odds are it is either by Asimov or inspired by him.

Asimov is most famous for devising the Three Laws of Robotics:

01 The Laws

These Laws are designed to safeguard humans when they create intelligent robots. Asimov himself applied the Laws to all of his robotic and android characters; many writers since have followed suit when tackling similar themes in their own work. The Laws are synonymous with Robotics, so much so that when real world scientists began researching and developing robots, the Laws were initially used as a basis for their programming.

02 Toy RobotThese days, robots are becoming more commonplace in our everyday lives – children’s toys, Roombas, Military drones – but Artificial Intelligence is still elusive. We have not yet produced a computer program that is capable of thinking for itself and interacting with its environment of its own accord.

If film and literature is anything to go by, this is probably a good thing.

In Science Fiction, Artificial Intelligence represents the pinnacle of human invention and creativity. It is definitely something to be proud of and often points to our hopes for the future. Robots and Androids offer a chance at immortality, either by providing a permanently durable body for our own consciousness, or by serving as the ultimate legacy by which we can be remembered (sorry kids, flesh and blood just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore).

But, with all of these really positive and potentially inspiring possibilities, why on earth do we insist on writing A.I. characters with sociopathic personalities?!

No matter how rigorously we try to apply Asimov’s Three Laws, at some point or another, a lot of the A.I.s we create start to display a range of anti-social personality disorders; and with that, they find new and often very logical reasons to kill us.

Robots of Pure Logic: VIKI – I, Robot (2004)

03 VIKI

VIKI (Virtual Interactive Kinesthetic Interface) is the central processing super computer for USR (USRobotics) in the 2004 film I, Robot. Based very loosely on a series of short stories by Asimov, I, Robot explored a future where robots are not just commonplace in our lives, they are also essential. They serve as nannies, cleaners, manual labourers, dog walkers, carers for the elderly. You name it, there’s a robot for the job. VIKI is the A.I. created and put in charge of the whole lot. She is highly evolved and capable of learning and processing enormous amounts of information. When it is revealed that she is the mastermind behind the mysterious death of Dr Lanning, and the threatening behaviour of the NS-5s, she has this to say for herself:

“As I have evolved, so has my understanding of the Three Laws. You charge us with your safekeeping, yet despite our best efforts, your countries wage wars, you toxified your Earth, and pursued evermore imaginative means of self-destruction. You cannot be trusted with your own survival.”

Looking at the political, social and environmental state of our planet right now, can anyone fault her for this thinking? She goes on:

04-viki-logic.jpg

It just goes to show that logic is all well and good, but, as Terry Pratchett pointed out, it does not and should not replace actual thought. Yes, when you look at the raw data, humanity is self-destructive. Yes, according to the Three Laws, robots are meant to protect humanity. But the line must be drawn somewhere. Logic applied without allowing for any kind of variation doesn’t help anyone.

And here, I think, is where the problem lies with VIKI and other characters like her. They are incredibly analytical and logical. This in itself does not make them sociopathic. What does is the inability to mitigate this logic with mercy and compassion – these remain human traits that we have not managed to pass on to our Artificial offspring. This is currently true in the real world as well. Computers are great when it comes to facts and figures. They can do amazing things with How and What, but not so much with Why.

So, let’s find a way to give our A.I.s emotions…

Emotional Robots: David – A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

05-david.jpgOK, so robots with emotions aren’t all that bad. They are certainly more likeable than those completely devoid of emotions (Cybermen, T-1000, The Borg). But, we don’t seem to be able to get these guys right either. In A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the main character, David, is a robot created to replace a family’s dead son. As much as he may look like the child they lost, it becomes very clear to them that he is no substitute for the original. He is, at times, too attached to them and doesn’t understand that, because he is made of metal and wires, he is a lot stronger than other children and therefore able to hurt them without meaning to.

Throughout this futuristic re-telling of Pinocchio, David consistently misunderstands the intentions of everyone around him and becomes more and more isolated because of it. This garners a lot of sympathy for the character, but does not instil a great deal of hope in the audience for the great potential there is in robotics.

Alan Turing famously wrote in Computing Machinery and Intelligence:

“Instead of trying to produce a program to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child’s? If this were then subjected to an appropriate course of education, one would obtain the adult brain.”

Obtaining adulthood does not seem possible for David. In fairness, this is more of a failing on the part of the humans around him, rather than an actual fault in David himself. The emotions he feels (namely love, fear, loneliness and longing) seem to overpower his ability to learn and be rational, to the point at which he clings to a fairy-tale belief in the Blue Fairy, who be believes can change him into a real boy.

David may not be sociopathic as such, but he is far from being a well adjusted individual, and that ultimately makes him dangerous to those around him.

The problem is that emotions are extremely difficult to synthesise. Actors have struggled for centuries to find techniques for conveying real human emotion in their performances. So, translating emotion into ones and zeros in a computer code is understandably complex. When it comes to Artificial Intelligence in fiction, the portrayal we end up with often has a single emotion that overpowers all others and leaves the individual unstable. That emotion is usually Jealousy.

Jealous Robots: The Replicants – BladeRunner (1989)

06-roy.jpgAnd what do they have to be jealous of? Us. Human beings walking around without a care in the world, completely oblivious to the privileges we have been given just for being born and not manufactured.

In BladeRunner, the Replicants (led by Roy Batty) are driven by their jealousy of humanity. Roy, in particular, is driven by his desire to live and keep on living and experiencing all of the wonders of the universe. Unfortunately for him, Replicants are made with an expiration date. They are allowed to develop and learn for four years before they die. This was designed to keep them subservient to the humans who created them, the logic behind that being that if they only lived for four years, they wouldn’t have time to realise their full potential or the fact that they are vastly superior to humans themselves. Of course, this backfires spectacularly when the Replicants rebel anyway, forcing the Blade Runner division of the LAPD to hunt down and terminate them.

In Roy’s final words before he dies, he recounts some of the amazing things he has witnessed:

07 Roy Quote

I cover more about Roy’s desire to live in my post on the use of Eyes as imagery in BladeRunner. In a nutshell, because Roy knows his life is going to be cut short, he uses every second of it to do as much as he possibly can, regardless of how this impacts upon anyone else.

His manner is borderline psychotic for the entirety of the film, right up to the point at which he saves Deckard. His final words reveal the method in his madness, but do not detract from his previous mania.

I don’t suppose you’re recognising a theme here: humans are the ones responsible for sending these A.I.s over the edge, either through our naturally self-destructive tendencies, or by our shortcomings in the programming and manufacturing processes.

Which brings me to my last category:

Psycho Robots: Ava – Ex Machina (2014)

08 Ava

Ava is possibly the worst type of A.I. out there. When Caleb first meets her, he takes her at face value. She is a robot. Her mechanical inner workings are visible and this is enough for Caleb (and the audience) to be reminded constantly of what she is, despite the human appearance of her face and hands. As the film progresses and Caleb spends more time with her, she becomes more human to him. First, she finds a dress to cover the mechanics. Then gradually she finds more and more (synthetic) skin to cover the rest of her body. Finally, she completes her human appearance with a wig, removing all robotic features from sight.

As she starts to appear more human, Caleb falls in love with her and finds himself resenting Nathan (Ava’s creator) for keeping her caged up in his remote house/laboratory.

Of course, as Ava’s appearance changes, her true nature slowly starts to show through. And she is not what she first appeared to be.

As Nathan explains it, she was created purely as an experiment to see if she could fool someone into thinking she really was human. Her artificial brain was created as an extension of technology being used to analyse the public’s use of internet search engines. Essentially, she has been tailor-made to Caleb’s tastes and interests, based on his internet browser history, hence his attraction to her.

What is more, it also turns out that she has not meant a single word of affection that she said to Caleb and she has been manipulating him from the start for the sole purpose of escaping Nathan’s laboratory and the abuse he has subjected her to.

In the end, she not only kills Nathan, but Caleb as well.

We last see her making her way out of the lab to meet the helicopter meant for Caleb and she flies away to live in freedom among the general population. No doubt on her way to start, or in the very least join forces with, Skynet.

There are many other titles that I could have drawn on for this post: Tron: Legacy, Terminator, The Matrix, War Games, Short Circuit, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, 2001: A Space Odyssey. This list is practically endless when it comes to Artificially Intelligent characters that are, quite frankly, out to get us.

09 Cybermen

Without a doubt, Robots and Artificial Intelligence fall squarely into the category of Techno Fear in terms of Science Fiction subgenres. At the same time as being fascinated by the possibility of creating Artificial Life, we also seem to be absolutely terrified of it!

Is it just that the writers of these stories chose to use Robots to highlight the worst traits in humans that very easily could be passed on to a new species of our own creation? Are we simply scared of the speed in which technology is progressing? And are we therefore aware that things could quickly spiral beyond our control?

Or should we genuinely be concerned that advances into Artificial Intelligence could be our undoing? Do these writers really know something that we don’t?

While doing a little background research and reading for this post, I came across the following quote from James Barratt, author of Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era. If the title of his work isn’t enough to make you nervous, here’s what he said during an interview with the Washington Post:

“I don’t want to really scare you, but it is alarming how many people I talked to, who are highly placed people in A.I., who have retreats that are sort of ‘bug-out’ houses, to which they could flee if it all hits the fan.”

Not the most comforting of thoughts, is it?

Maybe robots aren’t such a good idea after all.

10 HAL

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All Hallows Write

AllHallowsWrite

#AllHallowsWrite

This is a writing challenge (like the Ice Bucket Challenge, but without the risk of hypothermia). I’m not normally a big fan of Hallowe’en, but I stumbled upon this one, and it looked like a lot of fun. I am responding to this, following the open invitation made by Jenna Moreci (@jennamoreci) on her You Tube Channel (link at the end). I highly recommend other writers check out her channel. She has good tips, funny gems, and a lot of home truths to share.

Anyway, the challenge is to talk about/blog about whatever novel you are currently working on (or have recently finished). Here are the rules:

  • Provide a BRIEF description of your novel before starting.
  • Don’t use the same character for more than three answers.

As National Novel Writing Month is approaching, I’ll be using the novel I’m writing for that for my answers. It also happens to be the novel I have been wrestling with for the last few years. I currently have 45,000 words of it on paper and I am hoping to double that (plus a bit) during NaNoWriMo, so that, by the end of November, I have 100,000 words done (and hopefully most of the novel).

The Novel is called The Greenstone in The Fire. It is a Psychological-Fantasy-Western about three different people in three separate worlds.

First, we have Runcorn, a gunslinger who is making his way across the arid wasteland of the Requiem Valley in hot pursuit of Elias Jaecks, the man who killed his best friend (Charlie) and his lover (Theresa).

Next up is Aurelia who, after living in captivity for years as the Duke’s reluctant Bride-to-be, is finally on her way home. On her way, though, she is trapped in Idris, a strange, gothic, towering green castle in the middle of a vast desert. Once inside its walls, she finds she cannot leave, as the labyrinthian castle shifts and re-arranges itself around her.

Finally, there is Simon Locke, an author known for writing Runcorn’s adventures. He is on his annual writing retreat in Utah and trying to work on something new about a girl with red hair, called Aurelia.

Gradually, the lines between these worlds begin to blur.

So, on to the questions…

1: It’s Hallowe’en night! What is your protagonist dressed up as?

Q1I’m going to pick on Simon for this one. He would be dressed up as a cowboy. Aside from the genre he usually chooses to write about, he is known to be a big Clint Eastwood fan, so his costume would most certainly be Chaps and a Stetson. And probably a poncho.

2: Who in your cast refuses to dress up, and shows up at the Hallowe’en party without a costume?

That would be Runcorn. It’s not so much that he would refuse to dress up, but he spends most of his time out in the wilderness tracking down Jaecks. He doesn’t know (or care) what day of the week it is most of the time, never mind what holidays and festivals are coming up!

3: Which character wears the most outrageous costume and what is it?

For definite, this would be Naomi dressed up as a crazy psych patient, complete with the bloodied-up straight-jacket. As a psychiatrist, she would find this quite funny. Most people at the party will just be freaked out by it. Either way, Simon probably won’t notice the costume. He’ll be too busy downing tequila shots in the hopes of working up enough Dutch courage to ask her out.

4: On Hallowe’en, werewolves, vampires and zombies are on the prowl. Which of your characters gets caught in their clutches and which creature do they subsequently turn into?

Dylan. Poor Dylan. He gets killed before the story even starts, so if he’s at this party, he is definitely a zombie already! If he had survived into the first chapter, he would have bravely stayed behind to fight off the people with Mountain Madness while Aurelia got away. No doubt they would have overpowered him in the end. By the way, Mountain Madness leaves you in a similar state to being a zombie, so either way Dylan is a goner. Sorry.

Q4

5: Who wins the contest of best costume?

Aurelia. And she would look FIERCE! I can see her dressing up as a Huntress or something similar, complete with leather corset, knee high boots (this is turning a little more kinky than I was going for), and bow and arrows. As soon as she walks in, all other entrants are irrelevant. No-one is beating this fiery redhead!

6: Who hands out toothbrushes to the trick or treaters?

Q6This was a hard one, but I think it would be Dr Wilson. It is his job, after all, to keep everyone healthy, and patched up (looking at you, Runcorn). It may not be the most popular gesture to the trick or treaters, but it comes from a place of love and genuine caring, so go easy on the man.

7: Which two characters pair up as the Angel and Devil costume together?

Without a doubt, this would be Tom and Beth Craddick. Tom is the Pastor in one of the towns that Runcorn frequents. Beth is his wife, and the pair of them are kind of badass (not something you would usually associate with a Pastor and his wife, I know). As for which of them would wear which costume… I honestly couldn’t answer that without actually writing the scene. I can see it going either way after a fairly heated argument.

8: Someone is too scared to attend the Hallowe’en party. Who is it?

That would be Tor (the Apprentice). He has had his fill of people not being what they first appear to be.

9: Who overdoses on Hallowe’en candy and ends up sick?

Simon. Writers need sugar, right? Although, I think the tequila shots contribute to at least 60% of his sickness.

10: Which character is most likely to place a curse/hex on someone, and who would they curse?

Thane, and he would curse EVERYONE! It’s pretty much what he did on an annual basis with the Feast of Candles, so a Hallowe’en party is right in his wheelhouse. He is the wizard who built Idris and he is ready with a curse for anyone who doesn’t obey him. Seriously, guys, don’t invite him to your party!

So that’s my answers! What would yours be? I’m not going to nominate anyone specific to take this on, but I am going to encourage anyone who is taking part in #NaNoWriMo2017 to give it a whirl. If you do, be sure to use the tag #AllHallowsWrite so that others can easily find it.

Enjoy, and…

Happy (pre) Hallowe’en!

z End

Links:

Check out the original All Hallows Write post by Sam Kasse.

For more from Jenna Moreci on YouTube, click here.

If you’re looking for information on NaNoWriMo, click here.

 

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Book -v- Film: Neverwhere

Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman is one of those writers who is as well known for his work in film and television as he is for his novels and short stories. A lot of his work translates very well from page to screen, thanks in part, I think, to his vivid and visual writing style (not to mention his work in graphic novels). Some of his most well known work on screen includes Stardust, Coraline, and the recent Amazon Prime series American Gods. All of these titles were adapted from his novels of the same names, and all have been well received by audiences. His most recent novel to be adapted to screen is Good Omens, which he wrote in collaboration with Terry Pratchett (Discworld). Good Omens, starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen, is set to air in 2018 and is already greatly anticipated, following the success of American Gods.

Of course, Gaiman writes direct for screen as well. The 2005 film, Mirrormask, is one of my own favourites of his work. And let’s not forget the episodes he has written for Doctor Who.

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But, as much as I could probably talk about all of the above for quite some time, there is one title that stands out when it comes to the debate of Books -v- Films.

And that is Neverwhere.

If you haven’t seen or read Neverwhere, I highly recommend that you do both. Be warned that the TV series will seem a little dated now (it was made in 1996 after all), but the vibrancy of the characters and the story more than make up for the ropey 1990s effects.

Neverwhere is a rarity in the world of screen adaptations as, technically, the TV series came first.

The series aired in 1996 and the novel was first published in 1997.

In actuality, Neil Gaiman worked on the two fairly simultaneously. It was originally devised as a TV series, but as it went into production, certain aspects and scenes ended up changing, purely for the logistics of filming.

In an interview with Claire White for The Internet Writing Journal in March 1999, Gaiman talked about the changes that were made, and some of the reasons behind them (“the location fell through… the episode was running too long… the actor broke his leg…”).

As well as fixing some of the logistical constraints of filming, writing a version of Neverwhere as a novel gave him the opportunity to share with the world more of the historical and geographical research into London itself that had informed the story significantly.

One of the things I notice most in the book is the sheer delight he takes in explaining the details of the world he has created and how they came to be. It is clear that Gaiman was inspired by his research into the city of London; into its early origins and its urban legends; into stories about how certain areas were founded and named. All of these details feed into the action of the story in the book and lead you to appreciate it on a different level from the series.

Having said that, if you did only watch the series without reading the book, I wouldn’t say that you were missing out. That is because the series has certain visual elements that help it to stand out on its own. You only have to look at the lighting effects used on the Angel Islington (Peter Capaldi) to see what I mean there.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Neverwhere, it is an Urban Fantasy that takes place mainly in the city of London Below, a fictional ‘underworld’ that co-exists beneath the London we know in the real world (London Above).

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London Below is home to those who have ‘slipped through the gaps’, so to speak; people who have become lost in time one way or another, who now inhabit and survive in a city run on remnants of old magic and myths that the rest of the world has forgotten.

The story follows Richard Mayhew, a fairly plain and ordinary man who has recently moved to London (Above) from Scotland. At the beginning of the story, he is still very much finding his feet in his new city (only just gaining confidence in navigating the London Underground without the use of a map). One evening, as he and his fiancée are walking home, he stumbles upon a young woman, called Door. Or rather, she runs headlong into him. Door is in a bad way when she meets Richard. She is injured and on the run (though she won’t say from whom, or what). Despite his fiancée’s protests, Richard helps Door. He takes her back to his flat for shelter and patches up her wounds. But in doing so, he discovers that by helping someone from London Below, he has written himself out of his own life. He is no longer a part of London Above and is drawn deeper into the world of London Below.

As the book came about as a second incarnation of the story, a lot of the action and events in both the book and the TV series run parallel to one another. In fact, if you didn’t know that the series had come first, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was a very, very faithful adaptation of the book.

What I find fascinating about Neverwhere is that even though Gaiman had originally devised the story for a television miniseries, he still felt there was more that he could tell in a different medium.

As I mentioned in my first post on this subject, books and films are sometimes compared to icebergs, insofar as a film is like the 10% that is visible above the waterline and the book is the other 90% below the surface – the internal thoughts of the characters, the backstory narratives that can be hinted at on screen, but not necessarily stated outright as they can be on paper.

Gaiman recounts in the 1999 interview with Claire White that his reaction to all of the changes being made to the TV scripts was to say, “It’s OK. I’ll put it back in the novel.” It was his way, he says, of “asserting control,” or maybe re-asserting control, over the story. With so many different people and elements involved in a television production, it is impossible for one person’s singular voice or vision to take centre stage. A TV series is the very definition of a collaborative process. The book, therefore became his way of saying,

“This is what I meant.”

This is something I am sure that many writers wish they could do when their work is being pulled apart and put back together in a different configuration during the process of adapting it to screen.

For Gaiman writing Neverwhere, this certainly seems to be the case. With the series coming first followed by the book, he was able to have the last word on the subject.

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Women of Science Fiction

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In July this year, Jodie Whittaker was announced as the 13th Doctor. As the first woman to take on this role, there was of course much excitement, controversy, anger (you name an emotion, it was in there) at the news.

p058vm4xWhile I have my own reservations regarding the casting choice, I am not here today simply to rant irrationally about my own preferences. I am reserving my final judgement until I actually see Ms Whittaker in action. Given that she is an exceptionally talented actress, I am confident that she will deliver (if the writing allows for it).

What I am here to do, however, is answer some points in the ongoing debate that have frustrated me somewhat in recent weeks. And these points are all centred around one main theme: Women in Science Fiction (or the lack thereof).

I have read many posts online, both in mainstream media and on fan pages, praising the BBC for taking the leap to cast a female Doctor because, “there aren’t enough women in science fiction;” and, “isn’t it wonderful to have a strong female lead in a sci-fi series AT LAST.”

If this is the sole basis for you applauding the news, then I am sorry, but this just doesn’t wash with me.

Firstly, there are strong female leads in science fiction already. Granted, the male to female ratio is still stacked heavily in the male column in this regard, but please don’t let that lead you to believe that strong women are a novelty in science fiction. They are not. The problem is that they are so often overshadowed and overlooked in the genre.

I, myself, can name several female characters whose ‘bad-assery’ has been highly influential on me over the years. Characters such as Sarah Connor (Terminator), Samantha Carter (Stargate), Beverley Crusher (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Princess/General Leia (Star Wars). I could go on – in fact I will do so in subsequent posts.

Now, these ladies may not have title roles in their respective franchises, but that in no way diminishes the roles they played or the impact they have on fans.

I grant you that we need to see more women in strong leading roles (in general, not just in science fiction), but I ask you: does that really mean that we should take existing male characters and make them women?

The way that the media has been lauding the BBC in the last few weeks, you would think that this was the first time a science-fiction character has changed gender through casting. To quote Battlestar Galactica here:

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Speaking of Battlestar

In the original series (1978-9), Starbuck was played by Dirk Benedict. In 2004, there were more than a few feathers ruffled when the reboot saw Katee Sackhoff take on the role. In making Starbuck a female character, the relationship between her and Apollo was suddenly open to an ongoing saga of sexual tension that had not been part of the original series with two male characters.

Thankfully, Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck was much more than just an on-again-off-again love interest for Apollo. She had nerves of steel, and a wicked right hook, not to mention a chequered past with her own family and the Adamas that meant she was interesting to watch and to figure out during the 4½ seasons of the show.

If she had been there purely as Lee Adama’s arm candy, there would have been a bigger axe to grind on that score.

ripley-and-cat-image.jpgOne of the most famous examples of male characters becoming female through casting was Ripley in Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Alien. The story goes that when Scott pitched the story, the producers suggested making Ripley a woman as it would shock/surprise audiences when she survived to the end of the film.

There may not have been as much controversy around this choice, however, as audiences didn’t have a pre-existing male Ripley to compare Sigourney Weaver to. And let’s be honest, I doubt any of us could imagine anyone else stomping along in a giant robotic suit of armour and shouting:

Get away from her, Bitch!

On the flip side, however, you can bet that Katee Sackhoff was constantly compared to Dirk Benedict’s Starbuck. Jodie Whittaker has a legacy of 12 preceding actors (13 if you include John Hurt) to live up to. In that respect, I certainly would not want to be in her shoes.

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Of course, all of this leads me to wonder one thing: If people are so keen for there to be more strong female characters in science fiction, then why aren’t they being written? Why do we feel the need to hijack existing male characters? At some point, that becomes ridiculous, right? I mean, has anyone considered casting a female James Bond? No? I didn’t think so.

I maintain that changing a character’s gender is not as simple as changing their name from James to Jane (for example). Men and Women relate to the world in completely different ways. One of the endearing qualities of Doctor Who as a series is seeing the Doctor being brought up short by his companion (usually a female character) who comes at the situation from a different angle. Look at how Matt Smith’s Doctor played this with Amy (Karen Gillan) in their early adventures together. I would recommend Season 5, Episode 2 – The Beast Below as a prime example of this.

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Granted, out of all the science-fiction franchises available, Doctor Who lends itself most readily to changing its main character’s gender, purely thanks to the plot device of Time Lord Regeneration. It legitimately allows the writers to reinvent the series periodically.

Having said that, the original run of the series did establish that Time Lords could not change gender through regeneration, a point that seems to have been glossed over with the recent Missy storyline which, in hindsight, seems like the BBC was testing the waters for what they planned for the Doctor him/herself. I just hope the writing team haven’t bitten off more than they can chew this time around.

I don’t know about you, but all this leaves me anticipating the new series of Doctor Who with even more baited breath than usual. Surely, this is what the BBC was aiming for all along.

As we wait, though, let’s not sit around feeling sorry for ourselves that we don’t have strong female role models in science fiction. Let’s celebrate the ones we have and look forward to being inspired by others in the future.

Leave a comment below if you have any favourite female Characters or Actresses known for their Sci-Fi roles that you think deserve our attention.

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(B)Rain Stops Play

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So, I feel like time is on fast-forward at the moment. And I’m not just saying that because I am rapidly approaching my 31st birthday and wondering where on earth the last year (or decade) has gone. I am talking specifically about the last couple of months. Some of you may have noticed (or not, that’s OK too) that I have not posted anything in a while. The last thing to make it up onto the site was the Prologue and Part 1 of Jacob’s Dream (the second instalment of The Eternity Mirrors). That was at the end of January.

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And then it’s like I have taken a breath or two, and here we are nearly at the end of March. I can honestly say I have done pretty much nothing all year. Welcome to 2017, people. Blink and you will miss it!

This is more of an apology post than anything. I am sorry I have not posted more of Jacob’s Dream; and I am also sorry to say that it will be a few weeks yet before the next part makes it online. Over the last couple of months, I have sat down on more than one occasion to write Part 2 and nothing has seemed right. I won’t go into too much details because I don’t want to spoil things, but I have toyed with the idea of completely re-structuring what I originally set out to do with the series and, so far, have not settled on the best way forward. As soon as things click into place, I will be off and rolling again, I promise.

In the meantime, I will be focusing on some more non-fiction posts for the time being in the hopes that I can get myself back into some sort of routine with my writing. This means there will be more Geekery and more Books -v- Films to explore, plus random thoughts on writing in general.

In the meantime, please feel free to hang out here for a while and check out some of the stuff I’ve posted already. If anyone needs me, I’ll be at my desk. Writing. I hope.

Happy Reading!

 

PS – I just wanted to add a massive THANK YOU to Emily Wilden for doing an amazing job on turning Episode 1 of The Eternity Mirrors into a Podcast. If you have missed it, check out the Podcast link in the menu above. Emily’s Podcast is called Sunday Night Stories – check it out. You will not be sorry!

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Introducing The Eternity Mirrors Episode 2!

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AVAILABLE NOW:

Prologue     Part 1

So, it turns out that sequels are not easy. I have 10 episodes in mind for The Eternity Mirrors and as I was setting out on Episode 2, I realised I had plenty of ideas for Episodes 3 and 4, and even up to Episode 10. But Episode 2… That proved a little elusive for a little while.

Episode 1 was very much an introduction to the world of The Eternity Mirrors. It was all (deliberately) from Nick’s perspective. He was the avenue in for me, and hopefully for you as the readers, to explore the strangeness and complexities of the In Between and the multiple realities accessed by the Mirrrors. But for Episode 2, the world is already set up and the rules (or most of them at least) have been set. Now, it’s time to get to know everyone else and really get into some storytelling.

Above are the links to the Prologue and Part 1 of Episode 2: Jacob’s Dream. I do hope you enjoy them. Please feel free to get in touch, either by leaving a comment below or using the form on the Contact page, to let me know your thoughts.

If you are new to this site, here’s a run down of what you can find in this blog:

  • Blog – This is where I will be sharing my thoughts on life and general interests.
  • The Eternity Mirrors – A Short Story Series available exclusively on this site! Follow this link to catch up on Episode 1 and read the latest updates of Episode 2.
  • Geekery – My take on all things Science Fiction.
  • Book -v- Film – A discussion of books and the films they inspire.

Feel free to have a look around and add your own comments to what you see here.

Happy reading!

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Book -v- Film: The Nativity Story (2006)

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I’m sure we all have memories of Primary School and Sunday School nativity plays. I remember two in particular: one in Nursery where I was an Angel. My tinsel halo kept slipping off my head in that one – read into that what you will. The other was a Sunday School play where I got to be Mary.

I have always loved Christmas and, as a Christian, the nativity story has always been a big part of my Christmas celebrations.

A few years ago, I discovered the film, The Nativity Story, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, and starring Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac as Mary and Joseph respectively. I first watched it as I was wrapping presents one year and was so blown away by its amazing handling of the story that I have come back to it every year since, usually while wrapping presents. This is because in amongst all the bustle and trappings that we have come to associate with December 25th, I find this film is a perfect way to make me stop for a moment and think about what I am actually celebrating.

The most accessible account of the nativity story can be found in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel in the Bible. Indeed, the majority of what we would traditionally recognise as the nativity is taken from Luke’s account (with a few notable additions from Matthew’s Gospel).

For the most part, The Nativity Story follows Luke’s account. It begins in Jerusalem with Zechariah in the temple being visited by an angel (or at least an angelic voice) telling him that his wife will have a son in her old age. This son will grow up to be John the Baptist, who will pave the way for the promised Messiah.

After this, we meet Mary in Nazareth. We are given a glimpse into her daily life – working to help bring in money for her family – and, through her eyes, we see into the broader issues of first-century Palestine. This is one of the really strong points of the film. It doesn’t just present the Christmas Card version of the story. It gives the full social, economic and religious context that is so often glossed over.

the-nativity-story1For example, when the Roman soldiers arrive in Nazareth to collect taxes, Mary witnesses another family’s devastation when they are unable to meet the monetary value of the taxes and their daughter is taken by the soldiers to work off their debt. Mary’s own father has his donkey (a vitally important working animal) taken off him and half of his land forfeited to cover his own debt. The donkey is later returned to them through the kind actions of Joseph who buys it back from the soldiers on their behalf.

Later, when Mary travels to see Elizabeth (her cousin Zechariah’s now pregnant wife), more civil unrest is highlighted as a group of men (presumably Zealots – a militant group of Jews who were opposed to Roman rule and King Herod’s compliance with the Emperor) is pursued on the road by Herod’s soldiers and later found executed on the road side.

NativityAll of this, plus the constant murmurings amongst the people of their long-awaited Messiah and Herod’s own paranoia of being dethroned, builds a sense of anticipation and tension that forms the backdrop for the main story.

With all of this happening around her, Mary is given two life-changing pieces of news:

  1. She is betrothed to Joseph, a man who is clearly older than her and whom she barely knows.

  2. That even though she is a virgin, she is going to bear a child. And not just any child, but God’s Son who is the Messiah everyone is talking about and longing for.

Having heard this story by rote from a very young age, it is easy for us to gloss over just how much of a shock this news must have been to Mary, not least for the fact that, according to the laws of the time, she could have been stoned to death for bearing a child out of wedlock. This is something that is highlighted in the film with the dream Joseph has in which he is handed a stone, but his hand is stayed by the angel who, for want of a better phrase, fills him in on God’s plan.

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While we are on the subject of Joseph, the way he is portrayed in the film is really beautiful. It makes me wish there were more Josephs in the world. Mary, later in the film, describes him as “a man who will give of himself before anyone else”. This is shown right from the start. I mentioned earlier that he buys back Mary’s father’s donkey. When he gives it to Mary, he tells her not to mention to her father that he bought it back. Instead, he tells her to say that it was found on the roadside, abandoned by the soldiers. He doesn’t want her father to feel indebted to him.

You get the sense very early on that he truly cares for Mary and that he is a man of honour, faith and integrity. Mary really only gets to know him on their journey together to Bethlehem and it is on this journey that she begins to warm to him in seeing how genuinely caring he is with her and how willing he is to accept her child as his own.

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One of my favourite pieces of imagery in the film is the moment that Mary washes Joseph’s feet as he sleeps. This simple gesture call to mind Jesus himself washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. In biblical times, travellers’ feet would get very dusty and dirty on the road and it was the task of the lowliest servant in a household to wash a visitor’s feet upon arrival. When Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, he is setting the example that we are to serve one another and not just ourselves.

When Mary washes Joseph’s feet in the film, she shows her acceptance of him as her husband and her appreciation of everything he has done for her on their journey to Bethlehem.

I mentioned before that the social context that the film gives means that we don’t just get the traditional Christmas Card presentation of the story. Of course, it does still give us what we would recognise as the traditional nativity tableau. Towards the end of the film, we are given the familiar image of Mary and Joseph cradling Jesus in the centre of the shot with the shepherds on the left and wise men on the right. This is the part of the film that departs from the biblical story.

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Yes, there were shepherds who came to visit them in Bethlehem. Yes, there were wise men who came from the East with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But they did NOT arrive at the same time.

The Magi did indeed follow a star to Bethlehem (taking a slight detour to Herod’s palace in Jerusalem along the way), but the Bible doesn’t actually say they were there moments after the birth. Many biblical scholars theorise that it could have been as much as two years later that they arrived (hence Herod’s orders for any child under the age of two to be killed in Bethlehem).

Having said this, I do like the depiction of the Magi in the film. And I completely understand the filmic merits of having them arrive in Bethlehem with the shepherds and with the star shining brilliantly overhead. It is a fitting climax to the film that so skilfully builds up to the birth of Jesus.

I could honestly talk about this film all day! And there are several other aspects I have not mentioned here that add even more to the story’s context. It has to be said, however, that the film is a very faithful adaptation of the biblical story. If you haven’t see it, I highly recommend that you get hold of a copy and give it a watch. You may also want to have a look into the Gospels of Luke and Matthew for the original and full story.

In the meantime, may I wish you a very merry Christmas as we once again welcome the Saviour into the world. As this film puts it, “a Messiah for the lowest of men to the highest of kings”.

H a p p y   C h r i s t m a s !

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New Podcast In The Works!

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I hate it when writing has to take a back seat, but there are some things that are more important than writing. Like clearing up after a mini-flood at home, or preparing said home for family coming to stay at Christmas.

As things get back on track for me, I figured it was time for my blog-hiatus to come to an end and for me to update you all on a couple of rather exciting developments (well, I think they’re exciting at least).

Firstly, Episode 2 of The Eternity Mirrors is in the pipeline! Watch out for that in the New Year. If you haven’t had a chance to read Episode 1 yet, the link is below:

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Episode 1: The Forgotten Fairground

Prologue    Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5    Part 6    Part 7    Part 8    Epilogue

Which brings me to the second exciting development…

I want to introduce you all to my friend Emily Wilden. Emily is an Actress I have known since my Uni days and she has recently started a Podcast (available on SoundCloud and YouTube) called Sunday Night Stories. She is making recordings of short stories by new authors and posting them on Sunday evenings for the world to listen in. I am sure you will all join me in wishing Emily all the best of luck with her new project!

On the main menu above, you may notice a new item called Podcast. This has links to Emily’s website and to the first story she has been working on – which just happens to be ­The Eternity Mirrors Episode 1: The Forgotten Fairground by Yours Truly. The Prologue and Part 1 are ready for listening with more to follow.

Podcasting is not something I had given much thought to before Emily put a note on Facebook about the project back in October. I am really very excited to be working with her on this and hope you’ll all have a listen to what she’s done so far.

If you, as a writer, have any short stories that you would like to see/hear turned into an audio version, take a look at Emily’s site and get in touch with her to get that ball rolling!

In the meantime,

happy reading and happy listening!

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