That's a Wrap – 2019

 Love may be blind but marriage is a true eye-opener. If it’s end-of-year truth you came looking for, you’re definitely in the right place this week.  On the eve of launching into the fourth year of life for this blog, that morsel of tongue-in-cheek wisdom may be as good as any to hang my metaphorical hat on and reflect.

After three solid years and 147 published posts on SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK, it’s fair to say my ‘relationship’ with blogging has by now entered the marriage stage. Gone are the heady days when I believed with every cell of my double helix I was about to shape humankind’s destiny and set the blogosphere alight every time my finger hovered over the ‘publish’ button.

If I think back I’m pretty sure I may even have originally set out to create the funniest, wittiest blog site the world had ever seen. Pretty quickly that proved to be way too hard. Like, WAY too hard. In place of that what else was there to do but start serving up common banter such as what you’re reading now. Humbling to be sure but over the passage of time adjusting the scope and breadth of ones formerly lofty ambitions makes sense if you want to keep going. And I DID want to keep going. Still do.

With over 600 million free-to-access blogs in the world competing for interest, that, I can now appreciate, was always an amusingly naive, overreaching thought. But gee-whiz, the illusion and false-belief phase sure was fun while it lasted!

These days, again like a marriage, I’m fully awake to the idea I’m no longer running a 100 meter race in the blogging stakes. Now I’m chugging along more like a marathon runner with the occasional surge and one or two sprint finishes thrown in for variety. Under these road rules the challenge is trying to keep things fresh and fun along the route.

On that note, I’ve said it before and I’m not shy in saying it again – the day I start taking things too seriously around here is the day I break open the metaphorical cyanide capsule that dangles on a gold-plated chain around the slender neck of SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK and bite down. Hard. 

Over the course of the last three years I’ve seen a number of my contemporaries take their last breath. Blogs have a lifespan like all other things. When the interest that once burned magnificently like a furnace flame has dwindled to a barely breathing wet candle, and, worse still, perhaps even assumed the status of burden, there is little else for one to do but slip away quietly and make way for another, freshly setting out on their own blogging promenade.

This year saw SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK set a new comments record (60) for an individual post. My interview with junior author Georgia Bowditch in August received a very positive response. 2019 also saw me reconnect with two old ‘mates’ – John Rambo and the T-800 Terminator with the release of long-awaited new installments in those two film franchises. With friends like that who needs enemies right?

Then there was the right royal pranking of the Nigerian scam artist back in March. You had it coming Mr Badenhorst or Catherine Bessant or whatever your name was! Those antics ran for a total of three posts and kept me and a few readers along for the ride entertained in a pay-back flavored manner for the duration.

What will 2020 bring? Mystery, shenanigans and rum’n raisin icecream are all guaranteed since they’re my favorites. For assurances of anything else you’ll just have to tune in to find out. Before then however it’s time to look back on the year that was SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK style.

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ARE FINGERPRINTS REALLY UNIQUE? (February)

INTO THE SNAKEPIT OF FRIENDSHIP (February)

PERSONALIZED NUMBER PLATES (February)

GIFTS FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING (March)

SCAMMING THE SCAMMER – VIGILANTE STYLE (Parts 1, 2 & 3) (March/April)

LIBRARIES’ ALL-SORTS (May)

CANINE NEIGHBORHOOD NOISE COMPLAINT (May)

WORST FILMS EVER LIST (May)

Top 50 Songs List (June)

Art of the Niggle (July)

Super Computers (August)

Bruce Lee (August)

Top 50 TV Series (September)

2nd Hand Stores (October)

Brisbane – Australia’s 3rd best City (November)

Murder of Author Helen Bailey (November)

Best Book Covers of 2019 (December)

FILMS

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AQUAMAN  (January)

GREEN BOOK (March)

LEAVING NEVERLAND (March)

DESTROYER (March)

Rambo:Last Blood (October)

Terminator: Dark Fate (November)

BOOKS

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MEMBER OF THE FAMILY by Dianne Lake (February)

THE COMEDY WRITER by Peter Farrelly (March)

A CAPTAIN’S DUTY by Richard Phillips (June)

EVENTS

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WORLD TRIVIA DAY (January)

RHINOPLASTY (January)

Champion Racehorse Winx Retires (April)

R.I.P

‘Knowledge advances funeral by funeral’
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Australian entertainer & tv host Jimmy Hannan (January)

Actor Jan-Michael Vincent (March)

Australian musical director and tv personality Geoff Harvey  (March)

Singer & Actress Doris Day (May)

Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke (May)

U.S billionaire and former Presidential candidate Ross Perot (July)

Australian cookbook author Margaret Fulton (July)

Former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher (August)

Author Toni Morrison (August)

Actress Valerie ‘Rhoda’ Harper (August)

Australian actor Paul Cronin (September)

Lead singer of Roxette – Gun-Marie Fredriksson (December)

BLOG SLOGANS USED THIS YEAR

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ROSES AND APPLES ARE RELATED

WEIRD BUT NOT NEARLY WEIRD ENOUGH

WEIRDNESS. DISTRACTION. AND SWEETMEAT GALORE!

BREAKFAST IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY

CREATIVITY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY

THE SMASHED AVOCADO ON RYE OF THE LITERARY WORLD

THIS BLOG IS MASSIVE IN THE MARSHALL ISLANDS

THIS BLOG IS MASSIVE IN LIECHTENSTEIN (Really)

INSPIRATION POINT

PEACHY NOT PREACHY

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

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11 Year Old Georgia Bowditch (August)

COMEBACKS of 2019

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Rambo: Last Blood (First Rambo movie in 11 years)

In Stereo (First new Bananarama studio album in 10 years) 

Best Read of 2019

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Brooke Shields’ 2014 autobiography – THERE WAS A LITTLE GIRL: THE REAL STORY OF MY MOTHER AND ME

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2019 HEADER IMAGES 

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Ok, I’m out of here. See you when the adventures return in the new year. And one last thing… don’t forget to come back!

Ps. Couldn’t farewell the decade without leaving you with one very last bonus read HERE.

Pss. And finally …Wanna see an uncannily accurate picture of how I’ll be spending the New Year’s holiday period? No? Here it is anyway…

Best Book Covers of 2019

Show me a person that DOESN’T judge a book by its cover and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t read books.

What’s meant by that old axiom about book covers is don’t judge a book solely by its cover. But what fun and exquisite eye-candy those covers can sometimes be!

All but two of the books featured here were first published sometime during the course of 2019. Korean writer Un-Su Kim and American born author Nisha Sharma’s books, both published prior to 2019, were re-released this year with updated covers.

I can’t vouch for the content and story of a single one of these books ’cause I haven’t read them but oh my, do I like their skins!

January – Korean writer Un-Su Kim’s novel was originally published in 2010. It got a killer new face for the hardcover release this year.
January – Intriguing and eye-catching to its core.
February – Slurp on this!
March –
COLOR contrast + simplicity wins the day.
April – Portals anyone?
May – Nothing, absolutely nothing, can hold a candle to this cover.
Both stunners. The covers, that is.
May – Say hello to pre-school art. It is a children’s book after all.
May – Floral anyone?
June – A collection of short stories that features a puppet-like George Washington figure on the cover? Well, yes…
July – This one must surely be considered on the cutting edge of design.
August – Originally published in 2018 but released with a new cover this year. I do like my pop art.
September – Is It the cover or is it the title? it’s both!
I may not read his novels but King does put out a very fine cover every now and then.
October – Nothing like a retro 1950’s style cover to revive ones senses.
November –
WITCHY. And blue!
December – Letters form letters form a word.
December – The art of the half face.
DECEMBER – The angle the car’s titled on suggests mystery and something out of the ordinary. Either that or maybe there’s just 10 000kg of Cast gold Bullion bars in the trunk that’s slid to one side.
December – Blue anyone?

Ps. You want more 2019 literary lookback? Be my guest HERE.

What The Killer Did Next

Recently I watched an episode of a new UK-based true crime television documentary series called WHAT THE KILLER DID NEXT (HERE)

This blog post will explore details of the case that featured in the debut episode of this program.

Helen Bailey (1964 – 2016) was a British author who wrote both the Topaz L’ Amour series of books aimed at 9-12 year olds as well as the Electra Brown series for a teenage audience. In all she had 22 books of short stories, picture books and young-adult fiction published in addition to several non-fiction works.

She was reported missing in April 2016; three months later on 15 July, her remains were found hidden at her home. Her partner, Ian Stewart, was charged with her murder and found guilty in February 2017.

In February 2011, Helen Bailey’s first husband John Sinfield drowned while swimming when the couple were on holiday in Barbados.  They had been together for 22 years, and married for the last 15. 

Her first book for adults, When Bad Things Happen in Good Bikinis (2015), was based on her Planet Grief blog (HERE) which set out her journey through grief after he died.

The video below was filmed four years ago and shows Helen Bailey talking about the release of her newly published book WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN IN GOOD BIKINIS –

The book also noted her subsequent relationship, beginning in October 2011, with widower Ian Stewart, a father of two adult sons. In an uncanny coincidence, Stewart’s first wife also died in mysterious circumstances, back in 2010. This death was re- investigated upon his conviction for Helen Bailey’s murder.

Helen Bailey’s remains and those of her pet dog were found inside a hidden second septic tank inside her home. During the murder trial the jury was told by Bailey’s brother that during a visit to her home (in the town of Royston, North Hertfordshire, England) she had joked about the septic tank in the garage being a “good place to hide a body”, and that the remark had been made in “full earshot” of Stewart.

Financial gain appears to have been the motive for the callous crime. The jury learned Stewart was the main beneficiary of Bailey’s £3.4 million estate, and would also benefit from a large life insurance policy.

Ian Stewart was described in court as a “greedy, wicked narcissist”. Members of Stewart’s former bowls club recalled how he was obsessed with money and extremely parsimonious: he accounted for every penny he spent or was owed and once caused a scene at a bowls match when asked to pay for a cup of tea he argued that should have been covered in his membership fee.

Ian Stewart will be 90 years of age when he first becomes eligible for parole.

Ps. Back in November 2017 I delved deep into another homicide case involving a famous successful author. On that occasion however the author was the murderer. Revisit that story HERE

Tempting Fate – or a Fate Worse Than Death?

The last time I watched a TERMINATOR film in a movie theatre Bob Hawke was Australian Prime Minister and George Bush senior was in the White house.

It takes some coaxing these days to get me out into multiplex land and when it happens, there’s usually some connection with the past. A new RAMBO film (HERE) two months ago was one such occasion. I’m hoping the just released, long-awaited sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (words I never thought I’d hear myself say) will be another.

The chance to cast eyes on the latest installment in the TERMINATOR franchise was likewise too good a thing to pass up. I’ll admit I stopped following goings on in this series after the first two films (I rank the original THE TERMINATOR (1984) in my list of Top 30 all-time favorite films. I also consider it, unusually perhaps, as the most underrated romance story of 20th century cinema.

This latest addition to the Terminator stable was also an opportunity to see reunited for the first time in almost thirty years the original team of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton again playing Sarah Connor and director James Cameron, who serves as both co-story creator and co-producer this time ’round.

Speaking for the herd, I’ll pronounce TERMINATOR: DARK FATE ‘decent enough’ without ever going close to spectacular. 99 out of 100 movies made and watched never get within the electrified-fence perimeter of ‘spectacular’ so that in itself is certainly no failing.

But there are definite ‘problems’ with this film that have prompted some hard-to-please critics to label it as dull and lackluster. I’ll call them ‘flaws’ and if by chance you happened to be looking for a list, you’ve come to the right place.

Nearly thirty years ago, the at-that-time newly conceived digital morphing technology that allowed a cyborg assassin to get blasted square in the face with a shotgun and have the wound magically heal over before audiences’ eyes was both-barrels completely mind-foozling.

But three decades on when more or less the identical same film technology is used (the only difference being the liquid metal is now colored black compared to it’s circa ’91 silver appearance) to heal over bullet wounds, but to far less effect and far less sparingly than back in T2 time, the result is inevitably way more diluted.

The second major obstacle the film poses for audience enjoyment lies within the reprised character of Sarah Connor (played with a detached been-there-seen-that demeanor by 63 year old Linda Hamilton).

Where at one time the once humble waitress character who grew to become the embodiment of formidable female empowerment, channeled via a reluctant hero pushed too far and forced by circumstance to decisively and spectacularly ‘step up’ – in much the same way Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley character from the Alien movies did back in the same era – DARK FATE forces it’s audience to endure the company of a perpetually foul-mouthed, sarcastic, cynical and embittered warrior (what a lifetime of fighting will do to most people) who definitely comes across as though she’s fought one too many battles.

This hate-filled and at times downright arrogant matriarch bent on future-shaping and past-correcting revenge has, by this 6th movie, now transformed into a person who, frankly speaking, is somewhat of a melancholic downer to spend extended time with.

I’ll admit this one is less a flaw and more personal preference. Because of the negative tropes and stereotypes associated with Mexican/hispanic movie characters (drug cartels, gang members, maids, unwed mothers etc) I tend to shy away from stories that center themselves in that territory (an exception being the Siacario films which I enjoyed, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word given the ultra-heavy nature of both those movies).

DARK FATE boasts both a Latino heroine and no less than a Latino terminator, plus all the action takes place in Mexico city. U.S/ Mexico border patrols, border crossings and detention centers all feature heavily. White characters are in such short supply Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger are on more than one occasion referred to as ‘Gringos’. A similar phenomena made itself felt in Stallone’s most recent Rambo installment (HERE).

Maybe I should just be thankful the scriptwriters had the good sense not to force the Latino Terminator (played by American-Mexican actor Gabriel Luna) to utter Arnie’s famous line from T2 – “Hasta la vista, baby”.

No TERMINATOR sequel has ever come close to matching the sublime alchemy of James Cameron’s original 1984 masterpiece, in my eyes, for the simple fact that that first movie combined what I (but probably few others) regard as one of the best love stories of modern cinema with face-caving, next-level action. That’s a very rare mix that gets done well let alone as first-kiss unforgettably as T1.

TERMINATOR 2 featured at it’s heart a different kind of love – the maternal kind felt by Sarah Connor for her son John – that likewise assisted that movie to luminous and bankrolled heights. Since then however, poignant moments have been few and far between in the concussive TERMINATOR series.

DARK FATE is non-stop action to the point of repetitiveness. And when the ‘catch your breath’ moments do come, shoehorned in-between the almighty body-slamming battle set pieces, they’re full of dry exposition and back-story.

Throw in a distinct lack of suspense and tension, not to mention the complete absence of even the faintest trace of the quasi-noir atmosphere that helped make the original movie such a stone cold classic, and it’s no wonder some opinions of this film have it as, at best, a meek palate cleanser.

What no doubt comes across as poking and negativity on my part is an unfortunate by-product of my need to try to put into words why, despite a pretty fair attempt, DARK FATE comes across a little hollow and might be seen as confirmation that a tried and true formula is starting to show its age.

To at least partially atone for that I will end on a positive. There’s a flash-back scene about 15 minutes in that is so cleverly done it’s worthy of mention. Shortly after the apocalyptic events of Skynet-engineered Judgement Day have been averted, a young Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor) and a completely back-in-the-day-buff Schwarzenegger (T-800 Terminator) play out a scene on a Guatemalan beach.

Since all the actors are circa early-nineties young again I figured this was footage filmed at some point during T-2 (1991) that never made it into the final film and had been rescued all these years later from its relegation to the cutting room floor (to use a pre-digital term if ever there was one) and inserted here into DARK FATE.

Not even close, as I was to discover. I learned after watching the film that this re-imagined scene using younger versions of the now much more aged actors was all done using CGI. That is truly fall-to-your-knees-awesome film making. And soooo 21st century!

Ps. In the audience of the session I attended for DARK FATE were many people who were sitting alone. A number of these patrons were women well into their seventies. I noted one munching on cucumber sandwiches throughout the screening.

When the lights came on at the end several made their way down the carpeted steps with an uneven gait born of dinky hips. It was quite the eye-opener to behold the diversity and age span of folk who one might not necessarily first think of as being your garden variety TERMINATOR fan.

Pss. For a REAL time travel experience back to two years ago, click HERE.

Psss. If it’s gold standard analysis you crave look no further than the video below. The guy that put it together has used Sherlock Holmes style sleuthing skills not to mention countless hours of time tracking down key information references across the first five TERMINATOR films to assembly complex timelines documenting key events.

DARK FATE may have had its missteps but this video deserves no less than a Pulitzer Prize for film analysis. At 24 minutes it’s intended for die-hard fans but the screenshots below it should give some idea of the level of documented research on show.

Australia’s 3rd Best City – and loving it!

It took me a while but eventually I found it.

I’d been trawling through lists of the world’s most livable cities, searching, very hard, as it turned out, for one that listed my city – Brisbane – Australia.

By way of background, allow me to share with you the knowledge that as of 2019, our world now plays host to 551 cities. Here ‘City’ is defined as a place populated by at least one million residents.

Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s’s more recognized, more favored and more glam city cousins reliably feature somewhere in lists of this type. But Brisbane? What were the chances of a city (population 2.3 million) that less than a decade ago was famously described as a no-frills ‘Wednesday Waitress’ of a travel destination getting a gong alongside the likes of ‘fabulous on stilts’ powerhouses like New York, London, Tokyo and Dubai?

Well, like I say, it took some trawling but eventually I did find a list that had the good sense or generosity of spirit – depending on which way you want to look at it – to list my home city. Indexes that stretched to a mere 20 or 30 listings were definitely not the sort of rarefied-air-territory to go looking for a more modest, more functional, less… how to put it… ‘glittering’ city experience the likes of Brisbane.

That list is HERE

It counts all the way to 100. Brisbane comes in 51st position.

I was born in this city. And apart from three years living in Tokyo – Japan and two years residing on a small island in the Torres Strait, I’ve lived my life in this city. I won’t bore you with tales of how I’ve watched the place grow. But I will say I own two great books that brilliantly chronicle that growth.

Taking their cue from an archive project called LOST LONDON (HERE) these two impressive volumes, put together by the The Royal Historical Society of Queensland (HERE) boast over a thousand classic photos of old vintage Brisbane.

Yet my favorite photo doesn’t come from either of these books. A number of years back I saved a clipping from the local newspaper. It shows a young boy (Lionel Bevis) guiding his wooden goat-cart along a Brisbane street. Corner shops can be seen in the background and an old-style jalopy is about to pass the boy at a bend in the wide road. The photo was taken in 1947. I’ve never seen it published or appear anywhere again, in any format including the internet. I love everything about this photo. For me it is a bona-fide classic!

In addition to works of non-fiction, Brisbane has also been the inspiration for substantive works of fiction over the years, these novels among them –

And now comes another…

Former Brisbane-based author Tony Cavanaugh(HERE) – who now resides in Sydney – has penned BLOOD RIVER. The book is being described as the most distinctly Brisbane novel published for some time.

Replete with iconic locales such as the Breakfast Creek Hotel, Brisbane private schools, gracious suburbs such as Ascot and old Queenslanders (houses), the author has described his literary creation in interviews as ‘a love letter to Brisbane’.

Considering the story is about a serial killer, it is a love letter that includes blood, profanity and murder.

And if by some small miracle, no-frills, bells or whistles local council websites happen to be your thing, you’re in huge luck HERE.

Ps. And while we’re off the topic of cities and back onto the topic of books and writing… I’ve been wanting to share this cartoon now for some time, ever since I stumbled across it browsing creative writing teacher Bridget Whelan’s site (HERE) It really is so spot on…

Old, Mould & Sold!

Anyone got the recipe for kooky cake?

Don’t worry…

If it exists, I’m pretty sure I know where to find it.

Naturally that’s where every other odd, fandangled and rarely thought of item is slapdashedly holed up these days – your local trash or treasure thrift shop.

You might have to search a little for it but with any luck and some dedicated fossicking, the sought-after item from a land time forgot will glide magically into view – positioned right alongside last century’s hand tools, mismatched beige china plates by the hundred, dusty relics of what previous generations considered sporting equipment and naturally that ‘ol family favorite… the messily stacked and completely ramshackle collection of pre-loved but still-in-the-original-box jigsaw puzzles – every one of ’em with missing pieces… of course.

My local is not so much a shop as it is a depot. Cavernous and musty are the order of the day. Once inside, and having managed to sidestep the two life-sized female mannequins guarding the entrance-way – mannequins that looked for all the world like the one sharing crazy-pants Howard Payne’s apartment in the movie SPEED (1994) – I fairly predictably headed straight for the second-hand books section.

After some time browsing

and finally hoisting the white flag of surrender to concede there was nothing of interest here on this day for me, I quickly changed tact and set myself the challenge of finding the oldest book there.

The first few I inspected were relics from early eighties publishing. “Nah”, I thought to myself in a superior tone, “I can do better than that.” It wasn’t long before I was in 1970’s territory and then, finally, like a vision of battered and aged loveliness before my eyes, titles from the swinging 60’s began appearing before me.

One of these I ended up buying for thirty cents. THE STORMS OF SUMMER is the 2nd novel (his first novel, published the same year as this one, was apparently described by Ian Fleming as “one of the outstanding thrillers of 1960”) of British author John Iggulden. Set in Australia, it’s a coming of age story about a young architecture student.

The inside cover reveals the publisher was CHAPMAN & HALL LTD (London). If that name doesn’t ring a bell then know this – these guys were the publishers for Charles Dickens – confirming this book does link hands across the mists of time with the ancients (ok, the slightly modern 19th century ancients).

For the curious, the opening sentence of this 351 page literary time capsule reads –

“At Ashford, when the other passengers climbed down from the service car and stretched their legs while they waited for their dusty luggage to be handed down from the rack on top, Charles Desborough realised that he must be the only one travelling through to the Inlet.”

And for the speed readers, the concluding sentence is this –

“You’re not like that, Charlie,” Tanie said again, not quite understanding all that he had meant.

But I wasn’t done just yet…

No siree.

For I was about to hit, what in archaeological circles is known as ‘pay dirt’.

Real history and a TRUE discovery were about to be unearthed.

It was to come in the form of a spectacularly well-worn copy of a novel by English writer Evelyn Everett-Green (1856 – 1932), who is recorded as having written more than 300 books in her lifetime.

SWEEPIE tells the story of the adventures of a little girl, a lot of which seem to take place in a garden. It’s 243 pages long and was first published in 1918. I don’t know if the copy I bought on this day is a first edition but I’m going to say it is. That makes this book 101 years old! That also makes this book the oldest thing I own.

The incredible journey of how many hands this book passed through to reach me is a wondrous thought and one I find completely fascinating. Then again isn’t there some old saying about the molecules of air we breath today are the exact same ones the great Roman ruler Julius Caesar inhaled through his lungs some 2000 years ago? (For a solid debunking of this theory click the manuscript length green stuff here – https://medium.com/magazines-at-marquette/is-it-true-that-were-breathing-the-same-molecules-once-breathed-by-the-dinosaurs-julius-caesar-or-decaf242fe8b

And just because I did it with the previous book here’s the opening sentence of SWEEPIE

I will not, then!” said Sweepie.

And the closing one –

“I’m going to be her chum now and until I’m grown up, and then I’m going to marry her, so that we can live happy ever afterwards; and the name of that ripping little pal of mine, who’s worth her weight in gold, is just – Sweepie!”

Adding to the find of this book (which has a wizened face like an overstored red apple) is a handwritten inscription pasted on the inside front cover –

Central State School – Maryborough – 1930 – Presented to Betty Leityee for Proficiency Grade IV

And that friends, is just one reason every now and then I choose to imbibe from the bottomless but still warm coffee mug of yesteryear. Geez, when it comes right down to it…

Rambo and Me

The character of John Rambo has been a guilty pleasure of mine from the beginning.

Not from the VERY beginning, mind, since that would rewind us all the way back to 1972. That was the year the overwrought Vietnam War veteran named ‘Rambo’ (the addition of a first name came courtesy of the films) first came to public attention via author David Morrell‘s debut novel. (Morrell has since gone on to write a great many other books, including 27 more novels HERE ).

This is a book that has never been out of print in 47 years, has been translated into 30 different languages and has been taught in classrooms.

Yet John Rambo and I have had what people would rightly label a thing since the day the first movie came out. I remember walking out of the cinema after seeing FIRST BLOOD and feeling like I’d just been put through an emotional eggbeater. It was brains-into-putty affecting for me. I was 16 years old.

By the time the second movie came out three years later I was a University student. Amongst some members of the lentil-eating, left-leaning crowd I was rubbing shoulders with at that time, admitting you were a fan of monosyllabic, warmongering John Rambo was enough to have someone play darts with a picture of your face and run you out of town.

I hasten to add this image bears no physical resemblance to me whatsoever. I’ve never owned a gun, I’ve never had my ears pierced and I’ve definitely never ACCESSORIZED with live hand GRENADES. I’ll admit I did take to sporting a bandanna for a brief time back around this period. Hey, it was the eighties!

Three years on again and with the third movie about to hit cinemas, I was by that time writing film, music and theatre reviews for a handful of small press publications. I remember sitting in a preview-screening theatrette with a handful of very serious-looking television and newspaper critics of the day.

At the end of the screening I mustered the courage to approach a newspaper film critic who was at that time Brisbane’s answer to Pauline Kael . I sought her opinion on whether she considered films like RAMBO 3 could be held responsible for inspiring real-life violence, a debate that was in full swing at the time.

I can’t remember what she said but I know it was very short. No doubt I’d been hoping to claim the privilege of an extended conversation with one of the heavyweight opinion-shapers of the day. Instead she blithely swatted me aside like the garden-variety, over-reaching young upstart mosquito she very obviously took me for.

No matter. I got to keep some impressive-looking glossy press kit pics of Stallone going hell for leather on his .50 cal mounted machine gun. Come to think of it, I wonder what ever happened to those prized pics? For a long time they were amongst my most treasured possessions. Draw a breath while I say it for you – there’s no accounting for taste. Right? Yeah, especially mine. Back then!

Before I detail my thoughts on the latest incarnation of Rambo to hit multiplexes worldwide – having gone to see it yesterday – I will document the official body counts for all five films in addition to my personal rating for each.

With the level of depravity witnessed in LAST BLOOD, each of its inflicted deaths is worth the equivalent of five kills in any of the other, by comparison, far more tame Rambo films. This then actually blows out its kill count to past 300, making RAMBO: LAST BLOOD the king of kills.

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD has attracted it’s share of one star reviews (HERE) (HERE)(HERE)(HERE)(HERE). That’s about as unsurprising as hearing an American combat soldier during the Vietnam war complain their M-16 rifle jammed. The Rambo franchise has always copped a good face-smashing from critics.

The latest film, however, has the distinction of also being publicly disowned by no less an individual then the person who first created the character of John Rambo, author David Morrell. The renown writer has said he is embarrassed to have his name associated in any way with the film. In interviews (HERE) he has been quoted as saying the kindest thing he could say about the film is ‘it’s first two minutes were promising.”

Stallone and author David Morrell on the set of Rambo III in 1987. Back then Rambo’s creator was still a fan of the film series.

Overall, I found RAMBO: LAST BLOOD to be a solid actioner. The problem with it is that the action – or to be more precise rough brutal justice – that’s dished out is virtually indistinguishable from the types of comeuppance metered out to bad guys by just about every other gold standard film vigilante hero you can name.

The type of savage punishment inflicted on the badder-than-bad hombres in RAMBO: LAST BLOOD could just have easily been at the hands of Bruce Willis resurrecting his John McClane character from the DIE HARD movies.

Or perhaps Liam Neeson going through his paces in another TAKEN. Denzel Washington would have been another actor easily up to the task with his Robert McCall persona from THE EQUALIZER series. Hell, throw them all in if you like – Clint ‘GRAN TORINOEastwood, Charles ‘DEATH WISH’ Bronson, even my old mate KeanuJOHN WICKReeves.

VIGILANTES R’ US

Will the real JOHN RAMBO please step forward?

Point is RAMBO:LAST BLOOD is the least ‘military’ of all the Rambo films and much more like a mostly mechanical-feeling, by-the-numbers civilian revenge flick. By stark contrast, the distinction of the first movie was it had soulful moments – lots of soulful moments.

From the opening when Rambo’s told by the mother of his war buddy Delmore Berry he’s died the previous summer from Agent Orange induced cancer to Stallone’s final tear-splattered speech at the end before he reaches, child-like, for the embrace of father-figure Colonel Trautman (a part originally intended for Kirk Douglas but played sublimely by Richard Crenna), FIRST BLOOD (1982) was a movie infused from start to finish with what another character made famous by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa, would have described as ‘Heart and Soul’.

In it’s place in this latest outing we’re delivered buckets of blood and limb-tearing violence and cruelty the likes of which both Michael Myers (HALLOWEEN) and Jason Vorhees (FRIDAY THE 13TH) would be proud to call their own.

The R-rating is well and truly deserved. This is Rambo not just sticking in his signature serrated-edge hunting knife into his enemies but also twisting the blade. Then twisting some more.

In one scene, one of the Mexican drug cartel cutthroats that’s just fallen through a hidden trap-door and well and truly impaled himself on a bed of razor-sharp punji sticks is than further obliterated by a full 30 round magazine of bullets fired in hate by Rambo‘s Colt M16A1 machine gun.

Overkill was never the way of a trained special-forces soldier like John Rambo. Yet despite all the vengeance-seeking, LAST BLOOD remains strangely emotionally flat for just about all of its running length.

The only real nod given in the film to Rambo’s distinguished military background and training, apart from the HOME ALONE-style traps he sets for his pursuers back at his horse ranch/farm in the film’s finale, is the inclusion of the network of underground tunnels he has installed on his farm, presumably as some type of hobby-amusement to keep boredom at bay.

This part of the film reminded me of one of the best books I’ve read on the Vietnam War. THE TUNNELS OF CU CHI is a truly fascinating account of the discovery of a network of tunnels around Saigon during the Vietnam War and the resulting underground fighting between Viet Cong guerrillas and American special forces for control of those tunnels.

Since the soldiers who were selected to go down into those man-made tunnels on missions to hunt-down enemy Viet Cong soldiers – amid snakes, rats and booby-traps – were of necessity small-framed and wiry men, I always pictured myself as a ‘tunnel-rat’ in my imaginings about the Vietnam war. Ooops… digressing there!

As solid a civilian-themed action/revenge film LAST BLOOD is, it’s obviously not the military-hero film some fans of the series had been hoping for. In seeking to understand that mismatch, it helps to delve into some of the background development of the story. It begins with the myriad of rewrites that ensued after Millennium Films originally green-lit the movie way back in August 2009 with Stallone set to write, direct and star. (Rambo: Last Blood is directed by American Adrian Grunberg).

After years of on-again-off-again announcements, stalled meetings, creative differences and funding shortfalls, in 2015 Stallone and Rambo creator David Morrell re-developed the story for Rambo V; the actor wanted a ‘soulful journey’ for the character that the author described as a ‘really emotional, powerful story’.

Stallone pitched the idea to the producers, but they wanted to proceed with a human trafficking story instead (this is the central plot that is indeed the focus for Rambo: Last Blood) prompting Stallone and Morrell to abandon it. 

In October 2015, Stallone pondered on the possibility of a prequel, stating: “It’s intriguing to find the whys and wherefores of how people have become what they are. The traumas, the loss and the tragedy of being in Vietnam would certainly be a great challenge for a young actor, and it would be ironic that Rambo directs younger Rambo having played it for twenty years plus”.

In 2016, Stallone revealed that Rambo V was no longer in production. Principal photography for the movie that eventually did get made began in October of last year in Bulgaria.

Despite the end-of-the-line sounding name, there is genuine hope that Rambo: Last Blood may not be the last audiences see of the veteran film war hero.

During this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Stallone said he would continue portraying Rambo if the fifth film succeeded. Only a few weeks ago Stallone confirmed that he has plans for a prequel to the series. Although he would not reprise the title role, he was quoted as saying he would like to explore who Rambo was before the war:

I always thought of Rambo when he was 16 or 17 – I hope they can do the prequel – he was the best person you could find. He was the captain of the team; he was the most popular kid in school; and the war changed him.

A character study movie of that ilk is one I would see as a worthwhile addition to the franchise.

IT’S A FILM I’D LOVE TO SEE MADE.

Ps. The guy in this video rates the Rambo films in the exact order of quality I do. Coincidence? Or can I finally stop looking for my film critic soul-mate? Either way, for the final word on John Rambo check this out …

Pss. Did I say final word? Of course I meant this would be the final word…

FIRST BLOOD, the novel written by David Morrell, may have come out in 1972 but here’s something I bet you didn’t know. Another novel, titled THE FIRST BLOOD, was published the year before that in 1971.

As well as being a comic book artist, American author Lou Cameron (1924 – 2010) was indeed a prolific writer, with more than 300 books bearing his name.

His work usually boasted muscular, no-nonsense prose through a prism of wry cynicism, sharp observation and a signature combination of gusto with pulp-style gritty realism. He was also considered an expert at devising unexpected, 11th hour plot twists. Now you know.

All-Time Top 50 TV Series

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There’s a trick some folk can do where they tuck the top of their ear lobe into their ear canal, place a skittle or M & M on it and then wait until the ear tip pops out and the candy (as the Americans call it) catapults across the room.

I’ve never been able to do it, despite for some mysterious reason making several attempts to try. At a certain point in everyone’s life they’re forced to admit the truth of where their real abilities lie.

I’m now comfortable saying I’m no painter of portraits, can’t disassemble a car engine (without a stick of gelignite) and I’ve never come what you’d call close to solving a Rubik’s cube. My crocheting-a-woolen-blanket abilities are likewise dead in the water.

Two things I have always been pretty handy at however are riding a bicycle hands free (apart from that time in the 5th grade when I spectacularly came off while careening down a Mt Everest-sized hill at 50 km/hr while a dozen friends watched on atop) and viewing  television.

The list that follows is dedicated to the countless hours I’ve spent over the decades perfecting the latter. There’s nothing heroic on my part doing all that, I realize, but there was an awful lot of pleasure.

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If it’s true what they say about one test of  love is the ability to watch someone else’s boring TV programs, then best prepare yourself now for a mixed bag of shows perfectly suited to probably no one else’s taste except my own – and maybe a handful of other folk still kicking on from the TV viewing stone-age.

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Given that this list is dominated by shows from my impressionable youth, it goes to prove the idea, I think, that nothing dates a person more than their taste in television. And that ‘nothing’ includes both music and movies, the two of which are frequently reincarnated under the same names for newer generations, which admittedly sometimes also happens in the world of television, but to a far lesser extent.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a way to squeeze into this list such staples of 20th century pop culture as STARSKY AND HUTCHMORK AND MINDY or LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY. I also felt pretty bad about not including Hall of Fame Australian shows from yesteryear such as BLUE HEELERS, MATLOCK POLICE and AEROBICS OZ STYLE(Possibly joking about the last one) Even SKIPPY got culled to the B-list when the tough decisions had to be made.

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With the introduction and explanations out of the way what else is there left to do but get on with the show…er, shows!

WATCH!

1.

Eleven Seasons – 255 Episodes – 1974 -1984  (USA)

View a clip here

or here

2.

Three Seasons – 83 Episodes – 1965 – 1967 (USA)

3.

Five Seasons – 138 Episodes – 1965 – 1969 (USA)

4.

Three Seasons – 63 Episodes – 1972 – 1975 (USA)

5.

Three Seasons – 98 Episodes – 1964 – 1967 (USA)

6.

FivSeasons – 99 Episodes – 1974 – 1978 (USA)

7.

Five Seasons – 152 Episodes – 1962 -1966 (USA)

8.

One Season – 14 Episodes – 1974 (USA)

9.

One Season – 64 Episodes  – 1981- 1982 (Australia)

10.

Seven Seasons – 74 Episodes – 1969 – 1973 (Britain)

11
Five Seasons – 82 Episodes – 1977 – 1982 (USA)

12

Two Seasons – 51 Episodes – 1968 – 1970 (USA)

13
One season – 30 Episodes – 1966 – 1967 (USA)

14

Two Seasons – 57 episodes – 1966 -1968 (USA)

15

Three Seasons – 79 Episodes – 1966 – 1969 (USA)

16

Five Seasons – 117 Episodes – 1969 – 1973 (USA)

17

Seven Series – 54 Episodes – 1972 -1976 (Britain)

18

Three Seasons – 120 Episodes – 1966-1968 (USA)

19

Eight Seasons –1114 Episodes – 1976 – 1983 (Australia)

20

Three Seasons – 58 Episodes – 1976 – 1978 (USA)

21

Nine Seasons – 207 Episodes – 1998 – 2007 (USA)

22

The Third Doctor – Jon Pertwee – Four Seasons – 128 Episodes – 1970 – 1974 (Britain)

23

Three Series – 23 Episodes – 1973 – 1978 (Britain)

24

Eight Seasons – 582 Episodes  1977 – 1984 (Australia)

25

Five Series – 38 Episodes – 1976 – 1979 (Britain)

26

Ten self-contained Story Arcs – 128 Episodes – 1962 -1965 (Japan)

27

Four Seasons – 95 Episodes – 1975 – 1979 (USA)

28

Eight Seasons – 172 Episodes – 1977 – 1984 (USA)

29

Eight Seasons – 692 Episodes – 1979 – 1986 (Australian)

30

Seven Seasons – 176 Episodes – 1982 -1989 (USA)

31

Seven Seasons – 301 Episodes – 1969 – 1975 (Australian)

32

One Season – 6 Episodes – 1981 (Britain)

33

Nine Seasons – 202 Episodes – 1976 – 1985 (USA)

34

Eight Seasons – 178 Episodes – 1973 – 1980 (USA)

35

Six Seasons – 144 Episodes – 1978 – 1974 (USA)

36

Four Seasons – 138 Episodes – 1962 – 1966 (USA)

37

Twelve Seasons – 510 episodes – 1964 – 1977 (Australian)

38

Five Seasons – 150 Episodes – 1964 – 1969 (USA)

39

Six Seasons – 40 Episodes – 1973 – 1976 (Britain)

40

Six Seasons – 118 Episodes  2005 – 2010 (USA)

41

One Season – 8  Episodes – 2011 – 2013 (Britain)

42

Four Seasons – 55 Episodes – 1968 – 1972 (Britain)

43

Five Seasons – 114 Episodes –1970 -1975 (USA)

44

Five Seasons – 88 Episodes – 1995 – 1999 (USA)

45

Five Seasons – 62 Episodes – 1989 -1996 (Australian)

46

Eight Seasons –  254 Episodes – 1964 – 1972 (USA)

47 A

Four Series – 25 Episodes – 2006 – 2010 (Britain)

48

Five Seasons – 121 Episodes – 1972 -1977 (USA)

49

Two Seasons – 12 Episodes – 1982 -1984 (Britain)

50

Two Series – 12 Episodes – 2017 – 2018 (Britain)

They Called Him Bruce

Back when I was a kid, my friends and I felt certain we knew how martial arts movie star Bruce Lee died.

It was by Dim Mak, a kind of kung-fu death touch delt out by masters who were angry Lee was revealing their secrets on screen. That was our theory. It was nonsense of course, but American author Matthew Polly does address it in his very detailed book (616 pages) BRUCE LEE: A LIFE, published last year.

Author Matthew Polly https://mattpolly.com/ is a former Rhodes Scholar who spent two years studying Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple in China (he wrote a best seller about that entitled AMERICAN SHAOLIN)

Bruce Lee‘s estate apparently does not like talking about his death. Polly speculates that’s maybe because he died not at home as first reported, but in the nearby flat of his mistress, actor Betty Ting Pei, who is still alive today aged 72 and who was interviewed by Polly for the book.

Bruce Lee‘s cause of death is still shrouded in mystery to some degree, though many now agree it may have been an allergic reaction to a headache pill made worse by some underlying health issues related to the physical extremes of Lee’s martial arts training.

Polly spent six months in Hong Kong researching his book and was worried at first no one would talk to him. But when film producer Raymond Chow (who died just 4 months after the book was published in 2018) and Betty Ting both agreed to talk, he knew he was on his way to being able to definitely chart Bruce Lee‘s life and times in meticulously researched worthy detail (included, if you can believe this, are a hundred pages of pithy and revelatory footnotes).

Bruce Lee was the poster boy for the little guy fighting (and winning) way above his weight. He weighed 64 kg during his Hollywood hey-day and stood 5 foot eight inches tall. I weigh 68 kg and stand five foot nine inches. I’ve always found a lot to like about him, though I wonder if millennials will even know who he is.

Then again, there’s a Bruce Lee character getting screen time in Tarrantino’s latest film ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD so it might be a little hasty to suggest his enduring legacy has completely wearied just yet.

Naturally thirty-six year old Mike Moh (who is of Korean descent) knows a thing or two in real life about martial arts. He is a 5th degree blackbelt in Taekwondo and runs his own martial arts academy in Wisconsin, U.S. Mike Moh features in the soon to be released Chris Hemsworth film KILLERMAN.

This video has him talking about his role in Tarrantino’s movie as well as showcasing some of his slammin’ moves –

On a side note, apparently Bruce’s daughter Shannon (who believes her late father could easily have beaten Muhammad Ali in a fight) isn’t too happy about him being portrayed, in her words, as “some kind of arrogant obnoxious joke” in the movie. Click HERE to learn more on that-

Choosing a clip from one of Bruce Lee’s films to include here turned out to be just too difficult. Iconic scenes from all seven of his most well-known films have been played literally to death over the years so I saw little point in repeating more of the same here. Instead you’ll have to content yourselves with an almighty loop of his famous two-finger pushups.

Ok then, if you insist…

So no-one can complain of leaving without their taste for chop-sockey inspired, stylized violence having been at least partially satisfied, I give you this little treat from Jason Statham (who has always cited Bruce Lee as his inspiration). What he does here with a fire-hose is highly…. unexpected painful creative effective?

Putting out fires – Statham style.

And while things are still kinda on topic…

Click HERE for a review of a new movie – billed as a ‘dark comedy’ – THE ART OF SELF DEFENSE

which in no way known should/could be mistaken for this animated offering going by the same name delivered by that lovable eccentric from yesteryear… GOOFY.

Scenic Writer’s Shack puts the ‘old’ into old-school once again. Can something considered funny nearly 80 years ago still raise a laugh today? You be the judge.

Ps. Last year, on these very pages, I published my list of all-time favorite martial arts movies. You may not have woken up this morning with a burning desire to see that list again, but while you’re here, why not take a look-see HERE

World At Her Feet

Meeting a literary soulseeker who not only runs rings around you in the beautiful words department but happens to be forty years your junior had me recently trying to gather my dignity around me like a loosely fitted robe.

The occasion was a completely memorable red carpet book launch at my local library. Eleven year old Brisbane author Georgia Bowditch – who it can be reported wields her magic writing stick like Steve Smith is now once again wielding his cricket bat – that is to say with scene-stealing power, finesse and mad skill – was signing copies of her 40 000 plus word debut novel WOLFHEART – Moonlight’s Prophecy.

She agreed to speak to SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK. In return SWS agreed to grab the opportunity with both hands. With talent and an unmistakably severe intelligence like hers, it won’t be long before Georgia is showcasing the fruits of her imagination on much grander literary stages than this one.

And then the moment arrives…

A person from the publicity department appears and announces our author is finally about to make an appearance. All conversation stops and the orchestra (someone’s mobile ringtone HERE) begins to play. Every eye is directed to the top of the stairs.Ladies and Gentlemen…. Georgia Bowditch”.

Wonderful to meet you Georgia. Can we begin with you letting us know what your new novel is about?

Moonlight and Wildfire are the alpha’s of a group of wolves called Spirit Pack. Without giving away spoilers, these two wolves must seize the reins of the group when an ominous and mystery-shrouded danger threatens to tear the pack apart.

Use four adjectives to describe how it feels to have earned the title ‘published novelist’ at the age of just eleven.

Surprising – strange – cool – stressful (people expect the next book).

Tell us a little about your public book launch and signing session held at Inala library.

I sat on a chair and answered some questions about my book and signed them.

Apart from inspired plotting and flowing prose, WOLFHEART: MOONLIGHT’S PROPHECY showcases your flair for dramatic and natural sounding dialogue.

“You thought I was nothing! Just like they did! Well you’re wrong. And I didn’t get to introduce myself before. I’m Luna. Pleasure to kill you.”

“You wouldn’t kill a goddess!” Ki whimpered, her two tails wavering.

“You’re not a goddess, and I would,” Lana growled. “I have my reasons.”

“I don’t see any reasons”, Hail murmured, “at all”. (p50)

Were you taught how to have characters exchange words in that climactic way or does it somehow just come naturally to you?

I have not had training for writing, but have done some drama classes.

** Editor’s note: Georgia has just recently gained entry into a author’s mentoring program run by the Australian Writer’s Centre. Way to go Georgia!

Did you do any research into wolves and wolf packs for the writing of the book?

Yes, to learn about how they live and communicate.

** Editor’s note: After having devoured the first half of the book myself, I can attest to the extent that literally every syllable of this heart-stoppingly authentic narrative is imbued – subtly and skillfully – with no less than a zoologist’s knowledge of wolves: from the way they move, forage, interact and stalk prey to the means by which hierarchical social orders are maintained and ownership of territory is asserted. And it’s all done not in an overbearing, information-dump sort-of-way but in a manner which compels the reader to go along for the ride and intuit “This feels real’.

There’s an old adage that books are not written they are re-written – meaning authors may go through many drafts of a sentence, paragraph or chapter before they are satisfied they have the right words. What was the editing process like for you?

For me it was exactly the same. I changed many words and many character names when I wrote the book.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Erin Hunter and Kathryn Lasky

Any plans for a follow-up to WOLFHEART: MOONLIGHT’S PROPHECY?

Yes, I am currently testing writing pieces for book number two.

When you Google your own name now what do you find?

The first thing I see is WOLFHEART, but I still see a few people who have the same name.

Have you ever heard of a movie, from ancient times, called DANCES WITH WOLVES?

Can’t say I have.

Georgia, would you be up for some...

Please…

Do you have a nickname?

Not really.

** Editors note – How does ‘The Girl Who Cried Wolf‘ or just plain ‘Wolfie’ grab you? Ok you’re right. They probably wouldn’t grab me much either Georgia.

Name one thing you learnt in the last week.

I learned that Moon Bears exist.

How do you feel about putting pineapple on Pizza?

Don’t like it.

What’s your star sign?

Taurus

** Editor’s Note: Good news Georgia! A little research on my part came up with the following about what amazing writers Taurians make –

 TAURUS (April 20 – May 20)
You’ve been jotting down your thoughts since you were a small child; you’ve always loved poetry, fiction, and you’ve even dreamed of doing it professionally. Good thing for you because you happen to be very good at it.

You take your life’s experience and translate it into words effortlessly. You’re a natural storyteller and you are always able to wow people with your written expression. Hey, with William Shakespeare as one of your own, you come well represented!

Go HERE to get the complete astrological breakdown on which star signs make the best writers.

You are now Queen of your own country. What’s its name and where is it?

SPAGHETTI-LAND – on Earth.

Do you like your own handwriting? (And permit me to add, in all modesty Georgia, I’ve seen the complete gamut of children’s written script – from apparitions of mangled letter fragments that look like a chicken’s feet dipped in ink ran randomly across the page to motley sentence mishmashes that more resemble rare-dialect ancient hieroglyphics).

Sort of.

Last board game you played?

Chess.

On Sundays I like to…

Create animations.

What’s your spy name?

Agent Fish.

Favorite ice-cream flavor?

Vanilla.

Time suddenly slowed and with a puff of vanilla essence… she was gone. Georgia Bowditch had left the building – on a date with destiny and her next great writing adventure.

I removed my elbows from the table and sat a little straighter. In those brief moments, I’d met a young story weaver whose fantasy worlds are conjured faster than the weeds grow in my garden. In my midst was someone preparing to take on the world one magnificently-worded and intricately-plotted story at a time. Three huge fan cheers for you Georgia!

Ps. From a young imagination just setting out to a person at the other end of their writing journey…

American author Toni Morrison was a true colossus of the literary world. The author of eleven full length novels, she won the famed Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Five years later she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Among many other positions and accolades, she occupied the chair of Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. During her lifetime she also penned two plays, four non-fiction books, five children’s books, numerous essays and worked as an editor on a great many other publications. She passed away last week at the age of 88.