Benefit of the Doubt

Big Doubts

This Saturday is International Skeptics Day.

Don’t believe me?

That’s the spirit!

So go ahead and check the calendar…

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Still skeptical aren’t you?

That’s because you’re the sort of person who needs solid evidence to support a claim before you accept it as fact. And that out-of-focus scribble in the date space of that pasted-in calendar isn’t enough to convince you it’s 100% true. You see where I’m going with this. Around in circles.

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This day celebrates the people who keep in mind that things may be different from the way they appear. These are folk who help keep our feet on the ground while we reach for the stars. Afterall, if it weren’t for the skeptics we’d  still be believing the Earth was flat. (It’s not, right? Right?!) They are one of the greatest resources a dreamer can have. Most scientists would claim to be empirical skeptics, who admit the possibility of knowledge based on evidence, but hold that new evidence may always overturn these findings.

Get it?

Kinda?

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Of these doubt-themed movies, the Meryl StreepPhillip Seymour HoffmanAmy Adams starring DOUBT (2008) was by far and away my favourite.

With that out of the way it’s time to tell you about a monthly writing contest run by a U.S publishing company called PRESS 53. Entrants have exactly 53 words (no more – no less) to sculpt a short story to a given theme. This months theme is DOUBT. Entry is free and there are prizes. Submissions are accepted until October 31st and are to be emailed to 53wordstory@gmail.com  If you’re interested check out the full biz HERE

So wanna read my 53 word little doubt-themed fandango?

Thought you’d never ask!

Professor McNutt smiled in a superior way and then released a full-throated, terrible laugh. There was little doubt he had gone insane. How else to explain his contention that Netflix’s reimagining of LOST IN SPACE was superior to the 1960’s original. Jeremy slowly backed out of his office, shutting the door behind him.

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Using the last name ‘McNutt’ in a written piece has been a long-held dream of mine.  I’m so glad to have finally ticked that one-off. And at the risk of self-congratulation  I must share with you what the New York Times literary critic Thurston Howell III had to say about my little ditty –

“In one of the great feats of voice, Donaldson has delivered a micro-fiction wonder that not only showcases a head-spinning plot twist not seen since Charlton Heston uttered those impassioned words on the beach back in ’68 – “You maniacs! You blew it up!” to end PLANET OF THE APES (by virtue of the brown-leather-elbow-patch-wearing Professor aligning himself with the newer version of LOST IN SPACE when we could bet the house someone of his age and countenance would naturally favor the older version – duh!) but in an effortless display of pop-culture consciousness brought to life, he evokes a seething generational tension amidst world-building so tight and atmospheric it comes with its own weather system.

A timeless tale with in-built ballast and fascination.”

Ok, so Thurston’s review was longer than the piece itself but no matter. Praise like that doesn’t come along every day… so I’ll take it.

(I’ll do more than take it! I’ll immortalize it and laminate it).

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I understand it may be a little intimidating to follow something of that calibre (the story not the review… ok then, both!) but why not chance your hand anyway.

It could be a lot of fun.

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Ps. From micro-fiction to short stories…

Brisbane author David Cohen who I interviewed HERE on SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK last year has just released a new collection of short stories entitled THE HUNTER. Check out this array of quirk-

  • A property developer fears that a burgeoning ibis population will prevent the construction of a high rise apartment complex
  • a fake bus stop in Düsseldorf, designed to help dementia patients, suffers its own identity crisis
  • a young man’s new job requires him to pose as a woodcutter and wave to a trainload of tourists
  • an aging, reclusive archivist becomes locked in a strange battle of wills with a courier

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Pss. By way of follow-up to last week’s post regarding the movie THE SHINING, how about this cover of the latest issue of MAD MAGAZINE. Not that I read MAD or anything…

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Ps. LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE launches next Friday!

     Are you ready?

     Are you awake?

     Are you even still reading this?

 

 

 

 

 

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A goddamm masterpiece that really SHINES!

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Some experiences stay with you a life time.

Seeing the movie THE SHINING for the first time was definitely one of those occasions.

Back in 1980 I was fourteen years old and visiting my older brother Tony in Sydney. He took me along to a late afternoon session of the film on what was my very first trip to the southern city.

Back then for a kid from sleepy Brisbane, visiting Sydney was like taking in the bright lights and razzle dazzle of New York. By the time we emerged from the cinema after being subject to two straight hours of throat-closing, jaw-tightening primal terror it was dark. I remember walking through the city mall on the sort of clear night that made you feel like you could reach up and touch the stars. I’d never seen so many people in the one place before in all my life.

As my brother and I half walked/half staggered to the train station (ok, it was more me doing the staggering), coping with the effects of shell-shock brought on by the blood-curdling scenes and images that were still fresh in our minds, our path was suddenly accidentally blocked by a man whose entire face was covered by raised skin lesions. It appeared as if every last centimetre of his face had been infected with enormous, festering warts. The poor chap was definitely not in a good way and his appearance was non-intentionally shocking.

We moved around him, executing a ‘twinkle toes’ sidestep that would have made a State of Origin winger proud and continued on our way. Yet that chance,  quite surreal encounter, lasting all of just a few seconds but coming on the back of two of the most terrifying hours I or anyone could ever spend in a movie theatre, all but guaranteed what I saw that night would be still clearly etched in my memory close to 40 years later.

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Can you spot the mystery doorknob on the cream wall in the centre pic? The documentary makers behind ROOM 237 have a field day unearthing hidden images in Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING.

While loitering recently in amongst the aisles of my local JB HI-FI store (Fun fact: Did you know the ‘JB’ in JB HI-FI are the initials of the original owners name John Barbuto, back when the franchise had just the one store in Melbourne) I stumbled upon a title in the documentary section called ROOM 237. I went ahead and bought it then watched it in utter fascination in its entirety later that same day.

I’m typically a person who skips the ‘Bonus Extra’s’ on DVD’s. You know the type I’m talking about – featurettes depicting the behind-the-scenes making of a film along with interviews with the director and/or cast members recalling stories from the set. The movie-purist in me has always disallowed this, believing it somehow strips the film you’ve just enjoyed of some of its magic.

The focus of ROOM 237 is more concerned with multi-layered analysis and discussion of the themes and symbolic meanings presumed to be on offer in the movie THE SHINING. The director of THE SHINING was filmmaker extraordinaire Stanley Kubrick (1928 -1999), a writer/producer/director frequently cited as one of the greatest and most influential film helmsmen of the 20th century and someone who was reputed to have an IQ of 200.

Kubrick had a reputation as a meticulously layering director who liked to insert hidden meanings and symbolic images into his films. If we’re to believe the makers of ROOM 237 (the title refers to the room number in the haunted Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING where a number of unusual incidents play out), THE SHINING is an overflowing smorgasboard in these departments, offering film buffs near endless Freudian and non-Freudian gold class nerdgasms.

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Some theories put forward in ROOM 237 such as the suggestion clouds in the sky seen in the background of certain outdoor shots in THE SHINING contain hidden meanings that sync with the overlaying themes of the film had me scratching my head wondering “Did the director really intend that when he made the film?”

Yet if you accept the contention offered in ROOM 237 that those meanings are there regardless of whether the author/director was conscious of them, then just about anything becomes to at least some degree plausible. ROOM 237 holds fast to the notion that, largely because of who made it, nothing in THE SHINING is arbitrary and, like 3D chess, it may be viewed on many levels.

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On the other hand when you consider that images which are shown on the screen for mere seconds have been paused, reviewed and analysed within an inch of their lives over and over again by the five principal creators behind ROOM 237, who each confess to having watched THE SHINING dozens (and in one person’s case more than a hundred viewings including a couple backwards) of times, in does make you question if all the next-level over-explaining of continuity errors and the like transforms the original movie into a somewhat enhanced, completely different commodity.

In the end it doesn’t matter.

ROOM 237 is an entertaining journey into the wormhole of insanely dedicated film buffery seen through the eyes of five film analysts who’ve watched THE SHINING closer than anyone ever has.Capture

Enter the maze for yourself HERE

If you’re up for a really good laugh click HERE 

If you insist upon throwing gasoline on to a by-now completely fried brain, then you may as well go ahead and click HERE

Ps. Your bonus read this week is someone you all know quite well discussing their favourite books over at Bridgetwhelan.com (6000 plus followers). Read it HERE

And one more thing…

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When No Means No!

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Like a child, there are some things you ask for knowing full well there’s little to no chance you’ll get them.

But it doesn’t stop you asking.

And so it was when I approached my wife with a ‘brilliant idea’ for the promotion of SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK.

Before I relate the gory details of what this piece of inspired thinking precisely looked like, let me lay bare a little of the lead-up.

Regular readers will recall that back in May SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK’s usually asleep-at-the-wheel promotions department deigned that our little Honda Jazz (2006 model) should commence cruising the streets with the addition of a SWS bumper stick attached to its rear window.

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When we traded in our twelve-year-old silver surfer for the automotive hi-tech beast that is the Mazda CX-5 (HERE)  my wife naturally thought that would also spell the end of having to drive a car around with an embarrassing, scrubby rear-sticker attached.

And she was right! 

What she hadn’t bargained on was the fact that by the time we ended up selling the silver surfer just two months after the promotional sticker somehow made it past her usually rigorous screening process and onto the rear window, I’d already gone to ‘next level’ in my mind as to what sort of advertising exposure a car might be capable of delivering for SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK. 

And when I say ‘next level’ that’s exactly what I mean. 

Has anyone noticed how the eye-candy rating of road vehicle advertising signage  has risen exponentially over the last few years? What was once the exclusive domain of trucks and the rear ends of tradies’ utes has wildly diversified so that now thousands of cars on our roads come emblazoned with palettes of splash colour hocking everything from computer repair services and real estate companies to personal fitness training, hair salons, divorce lawyers, pet washes, timber mills, pest exterminators, beauty therapists, locksmiths and even fish and chip shops.

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One could be forgiven for thinking our roads have become a living, breathing, traffic- congested yellow pages. It started back in the day with those trendy teeny-bopper radio stations that would employ a mini-fleet of what used to be generically called 4WD’s but now go by the name of SUV’s to parade about giving away rubbish prizes in vehicles so colourful you’d think they’d been painted by pre-schoolers fuelled up on red cordial.

Then, maybe a decade ago, council buses upped their game and joined in on the creative –

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CaptureWith this impressive history in mind, I had myself, a week or so ago, a moment of goddamn epiphany. “I want a piece of that!”  I said to myself and then repeated it several times to emphasise the point.When that happens and I’m hosting a thought that refuses to evaporate over the next 24 hours, I know I have to do something about it.

And so I did, but coming face first up against an immovable object in the form of my wife who’s way more sensible then I am can tend to put a dent in your resolve. I can’t be sure whether “You’re not serious?”“That’s not happening” or “No way” were the first words that came smoking from her mouth after I’d explained my brain-wave but they all added up the same  “No means no” + “You’re not gonna win this one no matter what impressively worded reasons you wanna throw up”. 

It’s all a bit of a blur now since I got pretty much thrown to the canvas within the first 15 seconds and blacked out soon after, but I think she added something like – “You don’t even have a business to advertise.” I thought much later to relate my fool-hardy entrepreneurial attempts to GO PREMIUM! (HERE) but since that turned out to be one of the lesser shining lights of this blog’s history I thought better of it.

Before my attempts at reasoning were shut down altogether I believe I also mentioned about the hallowed SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK being my hobby. This regarded-as- provocative statement was greeted with disbelieving laughter followed by the uppercut rhetorical “Who does that?” – meaning, who goes to all the trouble and expense to outfit their car with look-at-me advertising wrap designs plastered all over to promote… their hobby!

Well… besides the whacked-out car owners pictured below… I guess nobody!

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Which all adds up to the fact you won’t be seeing this car on the roads anytime soon…

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Ps. Which is not to say I’ve given up on the SCENICWRITER’SSHACKMOBILE idea completely.

There was talk a while back of us maybe getting a second car sometime in the future. Second car means second bite at the cherry, negotiation-wise. In truth I probably have no greater chance at convincing my wife of the merits of driving around in a ridiculously adorned car advertising my ‘hobby’ then the first negotiation whipping dished out to me but I want to still vainly cling to the belief that anything is possible (even when it’s not!),

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Pss. Not willing to walk away completely empty-handed from the ‘family car doubling as moving billboard’ negotiation, in the end I was able to come to bring about some small concession – and by ‘small’ I mean something that would make a shrink-wrapped leprechaun proud – to my admittedly overblown marketing dreams.

I have been granted permission to adorn a different vehicle with a glorious high-gloss, all-weather SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK sticker. And that vehicle is none other than… my bicycle! This was considered the action least likely to cause embarrassment to other  family members. “Fair enough” I say through gritted teeth.

And so, for the moment at least, pedal power is going to be my ticket to ‘high visibility’ promotion of SWS. This may have put a temporary spoke in the wheel of my plan’s to mount a bigger stage, advertising-wise, but hey, everyone’s gotta start somewhere. Right?

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Psss.

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For the Love of Books

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I’ll admit it.

I’m a sucker for lists.

I could nominate a list of reasons why this most venerable of media formats is so appealing but since NEW YORKER magazine has already done that (HERE) there’s really no need.

Instead, for an insight top-up I offer this heavy duty quote –

“Lists or listicles as they are now sometimes referred to, spatially organize  information and promise a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront.

This creates an easy reading experience, in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption—a bit like sipping green juice instead of munching on a bundle of kale and celery sticks. And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data.”

Maria Konnikova – author of MASTERMIND: HOW TO THINK LIKE SHERLOCK HOLMES (2013)

With that out of the way it’s time to move onto our main act.

Favourite books? I’ve had a few. And so have others, including these celebrities –

celebrity novels 2Celebrity novels

This ribbon-cutting post is dedicated to the unveiling of my list of 50 favourite books. The oldest of the books listed dates back to 1897 and at the other end of the timeline there are four books included published in 2017. There are also a couple of titles mentioned I last read back in childhood but whose fond memory has lingered for so long they literally begged to be on the list. Non-fiction books well and truly take centre stage.

used to be

Each and every one of the books admitted onto this list I have poured myself into their pages and they into me. I have scoured these books. Many of them I have read more than once. I have read until I was almost cross-eyed and the words merged into nonsense. I have lived their pages in breathless rapture and spent, in some cases, a lifetime studying the characters, both fiction and non-fiction. These are my favourite books –

Click (HERE) to go straight to it.

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Ps. Before you do, check out these shenanigans –

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OZ COMIC CON is on in Brisbane this weekend.

If you want a schedule of events GO HERE

When One Becomes Two

 

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I’m expecting my second child.

The birth is only a few weeks away.

I couldn’t be happier.

My first child is counting down the days as well, with a mixture of excitement tinged with resignation knowing they will no longer be the sole focus of my attention.

And before this sleight-of-hand analogy gets carried any further let me make it clear -when I say second child I’m naturally meaning second BLOG.

Because really the pet project I’ve tendered to these past two years, known affectionately as SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK, has in many ways seemed like my own offspring. It talks like me, thinks like me and courtesy of gallery pictures, looks like me. By jove it is me! – just in another form.

Only now it’ll have a little brother. Or is that little sister? Better make that ‘relation’. Here’s what’s happening…

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A secret I’ve rarely shared is that from childhood I have been a life long dedicated fan of the 1960’s television series LOST IN SPACE. I lived, ate and breathed every frame of every episode of this space-age wonder of the small screen from roughly the age of eight. I might have had Charlie’s Angels’ posters on my wall growing up but my true heart belonged to the Robinson family, eeeeeevil Dr Smith and of course the robot!

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I have the box set. I have the robot figurine. I have the. What I don’t have is an outlet to express my admiration and mad devotion to this old-time show. Enter inspiration in the form of American wonder blogger Lady Emily Rose. She operates a spectacularly good site called KNIGHT OF ANGELS. (VIEW IT HERE) It boasts a literal treasure trove of fandom-based literary style writings on books, films, television and music. She holds a particular fondness for another 1960’s sci-fi tv series you may have heard of – STAR TREK. This year Emily began her great re-watch of all 79 episodes and is chronicling her thoughts as she goes – episode by episode. (READ THEM HERE)

The standard of commentary on KNIGHT OF ANGELS is first-rate and I wondered if I could aspire to something in a similar vein. STAR TREK (originally aired 1966 -1969) and LOST IN SPACE (originally aired 1965 -1968) were at one time direct rivals aired on competing US tv networks. I thought I owed it to my old flame then to raise the flag in its name and pay homage.

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With the launch set to take place early next month everything is being carefully prepared and assembled. What’s not in place is a name. The new blog is currently going by the working title of LOST IN SPACE ULTIMATE. Since that name could possibly be construed as having a slightly boastful ring to it, I think I can do better. 

This is where I need your help!

Below you’ll find a list of possible names under consideration for my new venture. I would  love ♥ love ♥ love if you’d deem to drop into the comments box below what your pick or picks of these might be. Here they are, in no particular order –

BLUE PLANET LOST IN SPACE

LOST IN SPACE MILLIONS

LOST IN SPACE HUNTERS

LOST IN SPACE AWAKENINGS

LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE

LOST IN SPACE ASSIST

LOST IN SPACE FLARE

RECON LOST IN SPACE

LOST IN SPACE RISING

LOST IN SPACE CORPORATION

LOST IN SPACE FLIPSIDE

LOST IN SPACE REWIND

REVOLUTIONARY LOST IN SPACE

LOST IN SPACE DEPARTMENT

LOST IN SPACE GENIUS

LOST IN SPACE PREFERRED

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Thankyou!

 

 

Remembering September 11

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This coming Tuesday is the 17th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks in New York.

Still deeply embedded in the American psyche every bit as much as the assault on Pearl Harbour was for a previous generation, the literally horizon-transforming events of this catastrophic day (it happened on a Tuesday) rewrote forever the socio-political landscape our world inhabits. 

This post is intended as a personal recollection of my memory of that day and it’s aftermath.

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Back in the year 2001, I was in the first of what would turn out to be three glorious years of living in Tokyo, Japan. I was working as an English instructor and thoroughly enjoying being in a foreign land. Life was all green tea and ramen noodles, removing ones shoes before walking inside, sleeping on tatami mats, adding ‘san’ to everyone’s name, wearing a collar and tie on the subway to work and snow in the winter time.

I remember the morning of September 11, 2001 clearly. I had just walked into the shared lounge room of the ‘Gaijin House’ (accommodation housing non-Japanese) I was staying in when a fellow Aussie  (I don’t recall his name but I do distinctly remember he had a beard and enough size to play front-row for the Brisbane Broncos) began pointing to the over-sized box television switched on in the corner of the room, saying ‘Check this out!’

We stood shoulder to shoulder for the next few minutes trying to make sense of what we were seeing in the news images flashed before us; two strangers bonded together ever so briefly in a moment of horror and disbelief. I am quite positive anyone over the age of 30 would be able to recount in similar detail exactly where they were on this day – when they first heard the news of the history-defining attacks that ushered in the ‘war on terror’, and in doing so, redefined both what a battlefield and a weapon could be while at the same time forever shattering the boundaries between war and peace.

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Not long after the events of September 11, 2001, alternative theories began to circulate about how the World Trade Centre Twin Towers (first opened in 1973, with construction commencing in 1966) plus Building 7 of the complex collapsed, possibly by means other than the hijacked planes crashing into them.

Various investigations commissioned by official organisations, including one in 2002 by the American Society of Civil Engineers and another in 2005 by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded the Twin Towers suffered massive collapse due to the impact of the aircraft, and resulting jet-fuel ignited fires, ALONE.

These investigations were not enough to satisfy conspiracy theorists who claimed (and continue in some cases to claim) that the skyscrapers could not have been brought down in the pancaking manner in which they were by the impact of jet planes flying into them ALONE.

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The most popular alternate explanation for the massive structural failures experienced by World Trade Centre Buildings 1 & 2 is that their collapse was assisted by (and in the case of Building 7 – completely due to) controlled demolitions (ie. the buildings were pre-wired to explode). This theory gained momentum when it was reported explosives’ residues in the form of nano-thermite material (produced only by military industry manufacturing) were identified in dust samples taken from the area that became known as Ground Zero after the tragedy.

This hypothesis is tied to the incredible preposterous notion that the U.S government in the form of the George W. Bush administration had a complicit hand in planning and staging the cataclysm for reasons ranging from the need to destroy incriminating financial records contained within the buildings to a plot to benefit from a stock market insider trading scheme to the need to initiate war with the Middle East to manipulate world oil prices.

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Far more plausible explanations of the physics and architectural factors that conspired to bring down the three skyscrapers (all built using late 1960’s/early 1970’s construction methods) that day can be found –

HERE (4 minutes)   or  HERE (6 minutes)  or  HERE (2 minutes)  or  HERE (4 minutes)

That’s a lot of videos I know,  but if you’re still not convinced of the implausibility of the controlled implosion argument and far-fetched conspiracy theories in general – ones that  require hundreds if not thousands of people to keep a secret for life (in which case you’re likely also a flat earth theorist who believes the moon landings were filmed on a Hollywood movie lot) – then dang it, you may as well sample a bit of the lunacy for yourself by clicking…

HERE

Ps.This post has strayed somewhat to the serious side simply because of the nature of the subject plus the fact this coming Tuesday is a very sedate and weighty occasion. But given I’ve openly pledged before my intention to keep things for the most part light on these pages, best I end with this…

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While I was in Japan I purchased a SPIDERMAN comic.  It featured an all black cover and a storyline centred on September 11. I recall at the time I had some vague idea that if I kept the comic long enough, one day it might be worth considerably more than I paid for it.

Recently a valuation on ebay revealed that my investment plan for monetary growth of this once-off collector’s item is most definitely on track  – it’s just it looks like its gonna take roughly 200 years longer to cash in for a half way decent pay day than I’d thought.

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Pss. On a completely unrelated but no less commemorative note I give you my Top 4 Burt Reynolds movies –

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ENTEBBE

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There have been two previous Hollywood movies made about the 1976 hijacking of Air France Flight 139.

And now there’s another.

7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE had a very brief run in Brisbane cinemas back in March and has now been released on DVD.

It stars Eddie Marsen (DEADPOOL 2 (2018) – ATOMIC BLONDE (2017),  Rosamund Pike (GONE GIRL (2014) – JACK REACHER (2012) and Danial Bruhl (BLACK PANTHER (2018) – THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (2017).

The film is helmed by fifty year old Brazilian producer, director and screenwriter Jose Padilha (ROBOCOP (2014).

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The 1977 telling of the story starred Charles Bronson and Peter Finch with the 1976 version boasting an all-star cast featuring Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster, Richard Dreyfuss and Helen Hayes.

There was also a 1977 Israeli made movie named OPERATION THUNDERBOLT, which was the military name for the operation launched to rescue the hostages.

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The true events that inspired all four movies began on 27 June 1976 when an Airbus A300 departed from Tel Aviv Israel, carrying 246 mainly Jewish and Israeli passengers and a crew of 12. The plane flew to Athens, Greece, where it picked up an additional 58 passengers, including four hijackers (two Palestinian and two German). It departed for Paris at 12:30 pm.

Just after takeoff, the flight was hijacked and diverted to Benghazi, Libya. There it was held on the ground for seven hours for refuelling. During that time the hijackers released British-born Israeli citizen Patricia Martell who pretended to have a miscarriage. The plane left Benghazi and at 3:15 pm on the 28th, more than 24 hours after the flight’s original departure, it arrived at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The Ugandan government supported the hijackers.

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Over the next week many diplomatic solutions were attempted to resolve the situation until finally on July 4th one hundred Israeli commandos inserted in the middle of the night to stage a highly successful rescue operation.

See the trailer for 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE  HERE

Ps. A selection of some of the many books written on the subject…

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Pss. Check these jubilant scenes when the whole drama was finally over –

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Psss. Cheapest return flight today Brisbane to Entebbe?       $1485

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Pssss. 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE releases today on DVD in Australia.

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100 Reasons to Celebrate

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I may not feel a day over 52 but the unvarnished truth is… today I’m celebrating my 100th birthday.

Or as I should say, SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK is  kicking up its heels on the occasion of publishing its 100th post.

And they said it wouldn’t last!

As regular readers of this blog would know, Centenary occasions around here are usually marked with the arrival of a congratulatory letter from one of this blog’s foremost admirers, Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Sadly, this time around, no such letter arrived. In its place was an email that landed in my inbox in the early hours of this morning from the next best thing – His Royal Highness Prince Charles Duke of Cornwall, Earl of CarrickBaron of Renfrew and Lord of the Isles (to give him his full due).

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Dear Glenald,

Firstly, allow me to pass on sincerest apologies from my mother Elizabeth who at this time has found herself predisposed with other royal duties at Harrods Kensington. She sends her heartfelt congratulations on the occasion of your 100th published post and has petitioned me to contact you on her behalf.

If memory serves me correctly (which these days I confess sometimes it does not) my first experience with the SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK occurred sometime last year while we were warming the royal footsies by the Swarovski crystal fireplace at Balmoral.

I recall that former young rascal now respectably married son of mine Harry was laughing in the most undignified fashion. I was about to chastise him (it matters not that he can pilot an AH-4 Hellfire missile-equipped Apache helicopter – I would take him over my knee today just as soon as I did when he was a wee lad) when he showed me on his mobile phone the cause of his merriment.

It was your post last year entitled “How Old is Too Old to Wear a Band T-Shirt?” Against my better judgement I momentarily came to share Harry’s view that this was indeed a real knee-slapper. I have found myself a loyal reader of your weekly antics ever since.

I have stared in amazement at reports of icecream handbags, chuckled at the prank played on Oxley Golf Course and cheered your battles against the likes of ParkRun noisemakers and sliding vanilla slice standards.

Having celebrated my 70th birthday back in May, age has granted me the certainty to know and recognise quality shenanigans when I see them. SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK has and is that quality.

May your little literary venture prosper for many years to come and endure like the rare metal tungsten. ‘An odd thing to say’ I hear you remark. Certainly, yet you may have read that is my term of endearment (nickname) for my daughter in law Meghan Markle. She loves it and now I hope you do too.

Cherrio and yours ever,

Prince Charles

Duke of Cornwall

P.s Do you partake of jam-on-top cream teas down there in Australia land? If yes, please go ahead and shout yourself one on my behalf. This is your day!

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Ps. Don’t know what the royal family uses to keep their books lined up straight but they’re welcome to take my lead and order a couple of these quirk-enhanced little book- end fandangos –

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Pss. As well as his congratulatory email, Prince Charles was good enough to forward me some bonus royal wedding footage. Most thoughtful of him I’m sure you’d agree…

Psss. 2018 will play host to a second royal wedding when Princess Eugenie ties the knot with fiance Jack Brookshank (former manager of the popular London nightclub Mahiki)  on October 12 in the same venue as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle‘s ceremony back in May. 

Word is Princess Eugenie is planning to enforce a strict ‘no plastic’ rule at her nuptials. That’s fine ’cause most people wouldn’t have her pegged as a plastic cups, knives ‘n forks gal anyway.

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Why did I pair a picture of the Royal Genie with a character from the retro television series LOST IN SPACE ? The plain-for-all-to-see headwear match of course!

Author Interview – Deborah Abela

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A resplendent marble ballroom is alive with the sound of champagne-enhanced chatter. Tuxes and gowns adorn the invited A-listers from among the Australian Children’s Writers’ fraternity who are attending the gala event.

Andy Griffith brushes past the press line on the way to sampling another piece of coconut-stuffed naan bread from the buffet table. Paul Jennings is working the room like a politician up for re-election. Jacqueline Harvey is rocking it in a figure-hugging sorbet green dress with matching drop earrings while pretending not to notice Morris Gleitzman doing silly poses behind her. And Matt Potter holds court under the light of the pineapple shaped crystal chandelier before making a beeline for someone he thinks is Stephen King only to realise he’s now engaged in conversation with the head of catering.

And then the moment everyone has been waiting for arrives. A woman from the publicity department appears at the top of the staircase and announces the star is finally about to make an appearance. All conversation stops and the orchestra begins to play. Every eye is directed to the top of the stairs.

Deborah Abela is standing there. She looks down at the expectant faces and they look back. As she begins her graceful descent with one white-gloved hand all the time clutching the banister rail, the crowd realise that soon this literary god made flesh will be among them and a collective sigh echoes throughout the room.

As one of the teeming mass gathered, I have been allowed to talk to the famous author. What does it matter if she won’t remember my name a moment later? I must think of something meaningful to say. Wish me luck and break a leg. Here I go…

Deborah, you’re the author of more than 20 novels for children. Could you tell us what you’re working on at present?

The third book in the Grimsdon series. Grimsdon is about kids who survive in a flooded city and after that I wrote New City because readers emailed demanding to know more. And now I’m writing the third book because I had even more emails. This will definitely be the final. It comes out in 2019. I’m also working on a new picture book about a bear who doesn’t fit in.

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How do you select the names of your characters?

A name has to be like the character…so sometimes it’s easy….like Xavier Stone who is a very confident hero in Grimsdon or India Wimple who is a shy girl in The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee, but other times it’s harder. I usually have to try a few different names before I find the one that’s just right.

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Do you think someone can be a fiction writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

Oh that’s a fascinating question! All writing is about getting inside a character’s head….so if you can’t feel emotions, how can you know what a character is thinking and feeling? It’d be tough!

Have you ever written under a pseudonym or been tempted to adopt the credibility boosting ‘initials- for-name’ moniker favoured by the likes of D.H. Lawrence, J.K. Rowling, H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, J.R. Tolkien etc?

No pseudonym but the Max Remy series was published in the UK under my initials D. Abela. I wanted my whole name but the publisher thought it would be better that the readers didn’t know whether I was a male or female. I still think it’s a strange decision.

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CaptureWhat other authors are you friends with?

Oh my! Most of my friends are authors and illustrators….like Oliver Phommavanh, Andy Griffiths, Sarah Davis, Susanne Gervay, Jules Faber, Tristan Bancks, Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, Gus Gordon, Jackie French, Ben Wood, James Foley, Jacquie Harvey….there are so many lovely people who make kids books!

The novels listed below all concern themselves in some way with the writing life and feature central characters who are authors. Have you read any of them?

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Oh no but they look interesting.

If you could enjoy a GNI (girls night in) playing CARDS  AGAINST HUMANITY (HERE) while sipping literary-inspired cocktails and eating gourmet popcorn and chocolate fondu with any TWO of these famous female authors, who would you invite –

Jane Austen (1775 – 1817)

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

Flannery O’Connor (1933 -2004)

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Harper Lee (1926 – 2016)

Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

Agatha Christie (1890 -1976)

Mary Shelly (1797 – 1851)

Enid Blyton (1897 – 1968)

Oh so hard….but I’d have to go with Mary Shelly and Jane Austen. Monsters and feisty women…perfect!

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They’re the writerly questions out-of-the-way Deborah. Now for a few rapid-fire, crazy randoms from the lucky dip box –

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Favourite TV show of all-time?

Get Smart

If you were gifted a yacht what would you name it?

Hope We Make It

How often do you Google yourself?    

Mind, once a year, for someone with your kudos, could be considered an act of restraint.

Once a month would be perfectly acceptable and within the ‘normal’ range.

Once a week – mildly excessive.

Dailya red flag for acute boredom or something more serious.

About once every few months. I’m not a fan of seeing myself in pics or videos and I rarely read reviews.

You can live any year of your life over again. Which year do you choose and why?

2016….I went on a big adventuring holiday to celebrate a big birthday….there were hikes, friends and parties and I loved every minute. 

And to finish off Deb, just because I know we’re both born in the same year – so I’m quite certain you’ll remember them  –  which ONE of these back-in-the-day chart-toppers gives you a  ‘pinch yourself’  nostalgic fandango boost  (a description lifted straight from my eight-year-old daughter’s favourite cartoon SLUGTERRA) above the others?

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None sorry……I was obviously listening to different radio stations….I’m not sure JJJ would ever play any of these groups.

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** Since that final question ended up going down like a novice rollerbladder suffering  inner ear balance disorder, it was out with the dictionary and time for me to regroup, refresh and reword with a timely def (definition) –

                              ‘Fall Flat’

  If an event or an attempt to do something falls flat, it is completely unsuccessful.CapturePs. The final interview question may have missed its mark but this was still one of SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK‘s favourite and most fun author interviews to do. Just so you know..

War on Music (Part 3)

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Thought I was done with the goading ‘Who’s got the better music?’ gee-up?

Me too.

Then I saw this…

It’s a recent article from The Courier Mail Newspaper under the headline “POPULAR MUSIC LEAVES LISTENERS ON A LOW NOTE”

Once you read it I think you’ll understand why I couldn’t walk away –  

It is all too easy for the kids music to put you in a bad mood when it’s played at full volume from their bedroom. But there may be another reason it gets to you – today’s tunes are more depressing.

A study has found that music from 2015 is about 20 per cent more unhappy than it was in 1985. Upbeat pop from the likes of Wham! and Duran Duran has given way to the heavyweight ballads of people such as Adele and Ed Sheeran.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, analysed more than half a million songs released in the UK over 30 years to judge how music has changed. They found songs are less happy and “bright” than they used to be, based on a mathematical formula judging elements such s pace, rhythm and major or minor key.

Lead author Dr Natalia Komarova said: “The whole reason I started this study was because I was listening to the songs my teenage daughter played and thinking, what on earth has happened to music? Part of the blame for this trend in happiness might be related to social media. The social isolation of young people might play a role – perhaps that is being expressed through current music”.

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I’m as cynical as the next person (maybe more) when it comes to the findings of so-called ‘scientific studies’ but I’ll admit to relishing a ‘Yes!’ moment while reading that article.

While it’s tempting to point to the weight of the ‘evidence’ of 500 000 songs being put under the microscope with the resulting conclusion that today’s music hasn’t quite got the spring in its step of previous decades and say “I told you so!”, I’m gonna use every morsel of willpower I have left coursing through my veins and fight that urge.

What I will say is hearing the esteemed Dr Natalie pronounce judgement all ‘white lab coat’ style did sign my release papers from the Psych Ward I’ve been holed up in these past years together with the feeling “I’m not crazy after all. There really is something to this!”

Be that as it may, magic, and lots of it, still happens today. Of course it does. Case in point is what I’m gonna call the coolest ad currently running on Australian television.

Check it out HERE – but be warned the brilliance is not fireworks variety – more understated and ‘chilled’ which, come to think of it, is very Millenial.

Falling in love with that ad had me go hunting with the zest of a rampaging cheetah zeroing in on a fleeing wildebeest calf for the music in that commercial. I found it. The song is called MAKEBA and was released back in 2016 by French singer Jain. It peaked on the French Singles Chart at # 7 and has also been used in a commercial for Levi Jeans.

Jain was born in 1992 which stamps her as a patched member of the Millenial cohort, the generation at the heart of my recent weeks attack on modern music. She and her hipster team of super creatives have produced a song and video I’m openly declaring a goddam masterpiece!  Marvel HERE

Huge, huge points score for the much maligned Millenials as far as I’m concerned. Sing along with the main chorus lyrics if you like. I find it hard not to –

Makeba, makeba ma que bella

Makeba, makes my body dance for you

And that comrades, is where I walk away and this self-ignited war on music ends. There’s been enough quarrel,  enough one-upmanship and enough internet ink spilt on this topic. I need to quit acting like contemporary music has a bad head cold and I’m the paramedic sent in to set it all right. It’s time to bury the hatchet and give peace a chance. Wait! Wasn’t that a song by John Lennon? Back in ’69? Now there was an era for great music! Somebody pull me away before we get this thing started all over again…

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IT’S OVER HERE!

Ps. Can’t sign off completely without mentioning a novel that touches on some of the generational differences in music these last few weeks of posts have centred on. A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD won the Pulitzer Prize (the Oscars of the Literary World) for Fiction back in 2011 and was written by American author Jennifer Egan. It tells the story of an ageing Record Executive (back when they had records) who heads a company producing and marketing modern music artists he can no longer stand. It’s a story essentially about growing old in the digital age.

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Pss. The family that fights together makes Pixar money together! News that the movie THE INCREDIBLES 2 has gone past the $1 billion mark for worldwide box office receipts is surely cause for celebration for those that saw the movie and liked it. It is only the 7th animated movie in recorded history to do that. The other figure doing the rounds this week was generated on Tuesday night when the Australian population officially reached the 25 million mark. Jeepers! I remember as a kid the figure we were told was 14 million. Yeah, that was a while back…

Psss. This week’s ‘Total Crack Up Award’ goes to the image makers who have banned Disney’s just released CHRISTOPHER ROBIN movie in China because leader Xi Jinping  is prickly about physical comparisons between him and the character Winnie the Pooh. When you see the two side by side, I can kind of understand the sensitivity..

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