The Lovechild of Anne of Green Gables – an interview with Kari Sperring

kari maundeFantasy Author Kari Sperring comes from Coventry (England).

She says that is “possibly that’s why I am so in love with words and communication, having come out of that city that is so improbably associated with silence. I was born there and lived there for the first seven years of my life: I spent the rest of my childhood in various parts of the British Midlands. Between the ages of 7 and 38, I just kept on moving, backwards and forwards across the centre of Britain -‘ I’ve lived in Dublin and Cardiff, Bangor and Leicester and Nottingham. But since the early 80s my sense of home has been tied to the city of Cambridge and that is where I live now. I’m a transplant, a migrant, a graft into the East Anglian landscape. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I end up writing about characters who are rootless or displaced.

I’m mongrel, a mixture of Welsh and English: my ancestors come from North Wales and the Southern Welsh mining valleys, Herefordshire and Shropshire and Somerset and Birmingham.  I have grown my roots into Cambridge, a city to which my ancestry has no ties. Home is where my partner and my cats and my (too many) books are.”

I’m a historian. I have a PhD in mediaeval British history and my first career was university lecturer. While my specialisation is early mediaeval Wales (that’s the period between around 400 CE and the Edwardian Conquest in 1283), I’ve also worked on early mediaeval Ireland, on Anglo-Saxon England and on the Vikings. Other than that, I’ve been a barmaid, a tax officer, an administrator, a charity shop worker and a Personal Assistant.

I’m a fan – of books, of science fiction and fantasy, of Hong Kong cinema, of folk music and Hindi films and manga and swashbucklers. I am a creature of obsessions: I love to learn, to explore, to immerse myself in new subjects and passions. Wherever and whenever I am, I am always in the grip of some new fascination. I have books on Chinese history and language, on film theory and printing, on the Arthur stories and on France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on Alexandre Dumas and silent movie stars. I’m interested in clocks and swords and orreries and architecture and travelling, in prison-camp memoirs and ferrets, cats and sharks and the Welsh language. There is always something new and fascinating to find and study.

And I’m a writer. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to create stories. I wrote my first “novel” when I was 8, and illustrated it, too – it was eight pages long and about ponies. In my teens I wrote new adventures for my favourite characters from books and television and films: somewhere I still have my tale about Sir Gawain written in an excruciating imitation of the style of Sir Thomas Mallory. I started writing original stories in my late teens, which is when I also started my first attempts at novels. My obsessions and my training, my personal history and the histories I’ve studied all feed back into my writing.

I live in Cambridge, England, with my partner and (currently) three cats. He is tolerant of and patient with my eccentricities and foibles. The cats are resigned.”

Tell me one little-known fact about Kari Sperring.

Last winter I skied the 2 km Piculin black run in Italy, which has an average steepness of 1 in 4, and whose steepest section — which is about 500m, has steepness of 48 degrees.
I didn’t fall over.
Given that I’m an intermediate level skier, I still don’t quite believe I let Phil talk me into this.

I was hoping for something along the lines of ‘I’m the lovechild of J. Alfred Prufrock’ but here are so few of them about these days.

 First real question:

 What started your interest in all things Celtic?

Prufrock? Certainly not. I’m the lovechild of Anne of Green Gables!

As to the Celts… I am one, or around 75% of me is. My mother is Welsh, my father is of Welsh descent on his mother’s side, and comes from Herefordshire which has been mixed Celtic-English at least as far back as the 6th century. My real surname is attested back to the 7th century as the name of a mixed Welsh and Anglo-Saxon population group in what is now the Shropshire borders and the area around Brecon. I grew up with Welsh folk tales told me by my mother and her sisters, and, to the age of 7, spent a great deal of time with the Welsh side of the family (after that, sadly, we moved away from where they were settled). So, even though I was born in Coventry, I’ve always had strong ties to Wales and the Welsh.

Which came first, the history or the fantasy?

The fantasy, definitely. My first ever favourite book, aged 3, was Alice in Wonderland, and by five or six I’d discovered C S Lewis. From there, I moved on to Alan Garner, Tolkien, Lynette Muir, Roger Lancelyn Green’s collections of myths and Andrew Lang’s fairy books, — any book with magic or a fantasy feel was a must read. I was also an sf fan from an early age, courtesy of Dr Who, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Star Trek — I loved Andre Norton, Hugh Walters, Heinlein’s juveniles, John Christpher and John Wyndham. In my teens I discovered wider sf — Clarke, Asimov, McCaffrey, Zelazny, Delany, along with the early fantasy writers like H Warner Munn and William Morris (and Sir Thomas Malory). I set out to become a Celtic philologist, in fact, under the influence of Tolkien — he was my pattern for how to become a fantasy writer. But I discovered at university that while I could do the philology, I enjoyed the historical material far more, and in the end, that’s what I specialised in.

What led you into writing?

I don’t know. I’ve wanted to write — and have been writing — for as long as I can remember. I learnt fairly early on that books — which were magical — were produced by people called authors and I made up my mind that that was what I was going to do by the age of around 5.

When and what did you first submit, and to whom?

The very first story I submitted was a short piece called Autumn Is The Dying Time, to a small press magazine that my mother had seen advertised somewhere, which was asking for fiction by women. I was 17: the story was rejected, but nicely, as I remember. I’ve long forgotten the name of the magazine.

And where/when was your first publication?

My very  first publication was a little thing called ‘Cynan ab Iago and the killing of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn’ in Cambridge Mediaeval Celtic Studies 10 *1985). But I suspect you mean first professional fiction sale, which was a story called ‘Strong Brown God’, in the anthology Glorifying Terrorism, ed. Farah Mendlesohn (2007).

How long from your first sale to your first novel sale? And tell me about the journey to that landmark.

 

Living With Ghosts 2Ah, now that is complicated.
I’d written the first version of Living With Ghosts in 1990-91, while I was living in Dublin, and revised it extensively between 91 and 94, when I started submitting it to publishers. It was bounced as not commercial enough by several UK publishers and one US one, and sat unresponded-to with another US publisher for some years. In the mean time, I concentrated on non-fiction. In around 1999 or 2000, my friend Lisanne Norman introduced me to Sheila Gilbert at DAW, and said very, very supportive and nice things about LWG, which Sheila asked to see. I sent it to her, and heard nothing for some years (though Lisanne kept asking them about it). In 2008, I dug LWG out of a drawer, reread it, rewrote some parts and sent it to small press publisher Immanion Press, on the grounds that I knew them, I liked the sort of books they did and I thought it might fit. They accepted it, but asked me to write to the two larger publishers who still had it to let thewm know I was withdrawing it. One never responded. The other –DAW– asked for two weeks to look at it, which Immanion kindly granted. At the end of that time, they made an offer. Immanion very graciously told me to go with the bigger publisher. That was in May 2009. So this book owes a lot to other writers — Lisanne, who introduced me to DAW, Ian Watson, who pushed me to go back to fiction writing in 2006, and Storm Constantine of Immanion.

Do you write fantasy exclusively now?

I haven’t written a book-length work of non-fiction since 2006, but I still write articles on the Celts, on Dumas, and other things that are based on my academic background, Right now, along with rewrites on my 3rd book, I’m working on a piece on the poet Carol Ann Duffy for poetry magazine Stone Telling, for interest. And I’m writing a mystery novel, set in 9th century Wales as a blue-skies project.

What about short fiction?

I don’t write a lot of short fiction, but I have done a few stories, all for anthologies, including Fabulous Whitby, Myth/Understandings, After Hours: Tales from the UR Bar; The Modern Fay’s Guide to Surviving Humanity, and, most recently, The Feathered Edge.

What fiction/writers influenced you to being with?

Above all, Alexandre Dumas pere, who is my all time favourite author. The Three Musketeers is the book of my heart, and the book I always go back to. Otherwise, the usual suspects, I suspect — Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Heinlein, Delany, Tanith Lee, in terms of genre. In terms of style, several rather out-of-fashion writers – above all Rumer Godden, who to me has the most beautiful, lyrical prose style, Elizabeth Goudge, and the poet T S Eliot. (I read him in my teens and he won’t go away.) Oh and some mediaeval writers, too: Sir Thomas Mallory, the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the author(s) of the Mabinogi. As as historian, my influences are my PhD supervisor, D. N. Dumville, the Anglo-Saxon scholar Frank Barlow, and the great Peter H Sawyer, all of whom taught me in one way or another to write clean, clear, complex prose.

What other media inspires or influences you?

I’m not one of those writers who writes to music and builds play-lists for particular books — I find music distracting when I’m working, in fact. I write to BBC Radio 4, which is a consequence of working for years in universities, which are noisy — you can hear people talking all the time and I’m used to them.
Having said that, radio is something of an influence: every once in a while a sentence will catch my attention or wind its way into my head and inspire an image or an idea. And I learn a  lot about all sorts of random things, too, which can be surprisingly useful.
Otherwise, there are songs which cued something for me about a character or a story sometimes — Alice Cooper’s ‘Poison’ was the cue song for the character Gracielis in Living WithGhosts, for instance, and the Sandy Denny song ‘Late November’ has an atmosphere to it that is the sort of thing I’m aiming for in my book-in-progress.
And then there’s film. I’m a lifelong film fan, though I prefer older Hollywood films to the more recent ones (I love old black and white melodramas and any kind of swashbuckler). I particularly love swordplay films — Hong Kong makes the best ones — and I’m very influenced by the image of the honourable swordsman fighting against the odds and the system, like d’Artagnan or Scaramouche.

You mention Sandy Denny for atmosphere – do you think you would write very different books if you moved out of the UK?

I don’t think so, given how little my books are affected by where I live. I was living in Dublin when I wrote the first draft of Living With Ghosts, and it’s more French influenced than anything else. Grass King is influenced by a whole mixture of very diverse things, Grass King's Concubinefrom academic folklore studies to Chinese wu-tang films to the Alhambra to book-keeping to the French revolution. My current new project is Welsh-inspired, which is a bit of a first for me (I regard anything to do with Celtic and Gaelic cultures as part of my other work, usually), but that’s more to do with an image that occurred to me, rather than a conscious move.

If you could choose any place, and time, in which to live what would they be?

Either Paris under Louis XIII (I always wanted to be musketeer), or else the imperial court in Tang dynasty China  — there were women historians in its internal hierarchy.

Now, some whimsy to finish.

You are on death row, convicted of murder (wrongly, of course) but tomorrow you hang. What is your final meal?

Food doesn’t interest me that much, alas. I’d probably want a family size package of good quality cheese and onion crisps, a glass of dry pink champagne and some houmous.

If you were an artist in any other discipline (actor, painter, singer etc.) and you were to be a one-hit-wonder what is the single work of art for which you would be proud to be remembered?

I’ve never wanted to be famous, so in a way I’d like to be one of the myriads who are ‘anon’, and for a beautiful embroidery of some kind — a wall hanging, perhaps.

 

 

 

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Lord of Film – an interview with Randal Plunkett

Randal PlunkettRandal Plunkett, the 21st Lord Dunsany, is an award winning director and producer hailing from one of the oldest and most prominent families in Ireland, the Plunketts. From a young age Randal was brought up surrounded by culture which has heavily influenced him to create the complex characters found in his films. He studied film at Kingston University in London and then moved on to study digital media and digital video at SAE in Amsterdam and in London. He currently works as CEO of Dunsany Productions, an Irish film company based in Co. Meath, Ireland.

Tell me a little-known fact about Randal Plunkett.

A lot of people don’t know that when I finished my film degree; I came back to Ireland to help my mum look after my father who was suffering from a neurological condition. While helping my parents run their estate, the future of my career looked bleak for the film industry because my estate needed constant attention and so did my father. So I started a very different career in sport science through the ISSA, with the idea to create a career as a personal trainer or perhaps open up my own gyms here in Ireland. Although my parents were very encouraging, they thought my talent would be wasted. Being that my father was in the arts, he felt that it was his duty to encourage me anyway he could to keep me in film. He was not well and didn’t have any connection with the film industry himself. He pushed me anyway he could, which in this case was to go to Europe to study digital video at SAE in Amsterdam. He figured that once I got a taste of making a film myself, the addiction would be too great to ever think about having a normal career. He was right and here I am now.

It’s terrific to have the encouragement of one’s parents. Were there any others who helped or inspired you to a career in film?

I used to go to a really posh international school in Switzerland (I was very bad at school, I must add). I was extremely dyslexic and eventually they asked me to leave as they were adopting a new curriculum and they didn’t want myself and others lowering their school average. Anyway, that’s another story. But my dad was not upset, instead he found me a great college to go to in Oxford. There I got the support I needed to make the grade and my academics flourished. I started doing classics, civilizations, English literature and sociology.

My Sociology teacher was called Louise Longson. I had great talks with her in class. She was a wild teacher, who lived the life of rock roll when she was a student!! She used to tell me about all her adventures going to rock concerts and crazy parties. One day, I came into the classroom and I noticed that on the board behind her was a reference to French new wave cinema. And to her surprise, I had a very good discussion about it. This was all because when I was five, I lived in America. My dad was an extremely cultured man and so the notion of his son watching rubbish American TV was too much for him. So my father used to go down the street to the video rental store and rent all these wonderful classic films from Europe. The deal was, I was allowed to rent cartoons so long as I watched one piece of cultural cinema beforehand. It wasn’t long before cartoons were put aside and it become all cultural. My personal favourite film that my dad showed me was ‘Le Ballon Rouge’ by Albert Lamorisse. There actually came a time where I rented that film every weekend for a year!!!! It was the most tragic story I had ever seen. I spent days crying over the kids balloon!!!

Getting back to the original question, being that I had the opportunity from a young age to be exposed to so much quality cinema; I had developed a very wide spectrum of film taste. I was able to hold my own in a discussion with my teacher, over her notes on the board. Her face dropped and by the end of class she had convinced me to switch courses to film, which she also taught. Finally, I had found something I actually enjoyed learning about. In fact I even enjoyed studying! As much as I thought I knew about cinema; Louise Longson opened my eyes to some new titles I had not seen before. These were films like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and Dario Argento’s ‘Susperia’. These films later become big influences on me and my career and my movies to date. So I think my professor Louise Longson would need to be mentioned as a big influencer.

Describe the type/genre of films you are making currently.

I tend to spend a lot of time cooking up dark macabre story lines in my castle; so it tends to be a great deal of horror. As you can imagine, living in a place as remote and dark tends to lead one’s mind to strange unusual places. But I must say, I try very hard to create something a little different in my films. I always try and bring beauty to the screen as much I can. The horror genre is very open when it comes to independent films, it is one of the few genres where cheap and tackiness can be a benefit to a film. I try as best I can, to not fall into the trap of creating low brow entertainment because I feel the stories I wish to tell have importance and its not about throwing blood all over the place. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of those kind of films but I feel that to create something so simple which deals with a subject at face value is perhaps too easy for me. I feel the need to de-construct everything I do and create story lines based on metaphor. Every film I make is full of hidden messages and sub texts below the surface. Take ‘Out There’ for example; on the surface it is a zombie film, but it isn’t. The zombies are just a product of the environment, in order to create a visual medium for me to discuss what I really want to express in the film. It explores my personal fear of responsibility and growing up. Very recently, my father died leaving me the responsibility of protecting Dunsany Castle and its lands from becoming another fossil of what it used to represent. There is a huge amount of pressure and self-sacrifice to this. We are now the oldest family in Ireland, the last of the Norman families who are still where they landed nearly a 1000 years ago. I must carry on and protect my heritage. The zombies in this film where my representation of my struggle to protect it. The relationship between the two characters, are also full of hidden meanings. For example; in the first scene where you see the beautiful actress Emma Eliza Regan in the garden, it looks like a paradise full of white flowers. The garden represents the beauty of what I am fortunate to be part of. The next scene we see  her in is the bathroom under candle light. She is in the bath and she tells Marren’s character that she is Emma Eliza Reganpregnant. This was also no accident, Emma Eliza Regan (pictured) in the bath represents purity and cleanliness; her naked body suggests vulnerability. Her pregnancy is a metaphor for my responsibility to my heritage and history. Their last scene together in the car for me was the final stage of acceptance. Acceptance to what my life will have to be. My film ‘Walt’ was much the same. The father and son relationship at the beginning of the film was based on my father’s guidance when I was young, which was so fundamental to my direction in life. Later on in the film, the kind old man becomes monster. But what he truly wants is to just live, which is why he consumes the children. This is all in the hope that their youth will sustain his life. This was a metaphor for my dad’s last days, as my family struggled to sustain his dwindling existence with our own struggle and efforts.
I put much of myself in each film, which is why I take so much time with the details like production design and cinematography. Myself and my cinematographer, will at an early stage in the films pre production study artwork to help stimulate our visual ideas which we will later incorporate into the film. In ‘Out There’ my talented Italian cinematographer Stefano Battarola and I were heavily influenced by some of the works we had recently been enjoying by Monet. A lot of the forest scenes we attempted to mimic the lighting and angles present in the works we had been looking at.

What is your next project?

Well I’m pretty busy with my new film called ‘The Tower’, which is early stages of pre production. The film is a sort of fairy tale horror, so it is in keeping with the rest of my work but I hope to be moving on to try and find a producer to help make it. I’m still in debate whether to go at it alone and raise capital privately or try and go through a film board. I’m still weighing up all my options with it. You see with a film board co-production, I could probably do something more elaborate but at the cost of some of my control. The other option is to go at it alone and do it low budget and completely independent, raising money with investors. That is what I did for my last few films.

As it stands, I want to focus on features only now because no one takes you very seriously with shorts, even if they are brilliant. This is normally because there are so few possibilities with shorts. If you play at a big festival, most the time they stick you in the morning. But who gets up early to run to the cinema to check out the shorts program at 10 in the morning?! Just other film makers who are usually have films in there themselves. Everyone wants to see features, so with that in mind I’m planning for ‘Out There’ to be my last short for the foreseeable future. Speaking about ‘Out There’, we are currently in pre production for a continuation of the franchise with a feature version also due next year.

If you were teaching a class of horror film students what film would you use to demonstrate the elements required- script, structure, pacing, dialogue etc.?

Well horror is such a large genre, with so many styles. It would be hard to focus on just one film. But if I was pushed, I would pick ‘The Birds’ by Alfred Hitchcock. The reason why I think ‘The Birds’ is such a good example, is that it cultivates a very real fear prominent in humanity and that is the fear of what we do not understand. In ‘The Birds’ the monster is nature itself. Its motivations are kept secret from the viewer; there is no real explanation to why nature( in form of the black crows) has become violent. It just does so. This removes a lot of complication from the story and makes the film a straight forward survival horror. The human race given enough time, can deal with almost any situation. The only thing that makes us totally powerless is our struggle against nature. The unknown leaves the viewer uncomfortable; more so then having knowledge. Knowledge leads to analysis and with analysis comes the tearing apart of ideas. This causes the viewer to understand and become unafraid. A monster is more terrifying when it is unexplained. Take the alien in ‘Alien’, there is no explanation; the audience does not know really what it wants. But the audience knows to be scared. The Shining also does this. The audience do not really know the motivation of the hotel; all we know is that it is something that should be feared.

Getting back to ‘The Birds’, the film follows all the traditional aspects of horror. It uses tense music, symbolic images of death in the form of the black crows and an animal commonly associated with doom. This is almost a clear reference to the bible. The bible always terrified society by using plagues brought on by nature to encourage people to succumb to its ideals. ‘Birds’ essentially capitalizes on this fear in the same way. The film keeps the viewer in a constant state of tension. Tension for me, has always been the foundation of horror. My films do not focus on blood and guts. I always try to use tension and surprise as my weapons of fear. Monsters in time become less scary, violence increases with every decade. The only thing which does not lose its value over time, regardless of increases of budgets or technology is old fashion tension. Tension, is the most powerful weapon in horror, and requires no budget, just skilful editing and pacing. Hitchcock said that the most horrific thing in the world is not a bomb, but the bomb ticking under a table while a child plays with a ball. What he meant by this was the anticipation of what is to come, is far more horrifying then the act itself. So the idea of a child kicking a ball near an explosive device while the clock is ticking gets every one excited. The explosion ends is a moment, but the build up last much longer and engages your viewer in a far more gripping way. So I would say this a fundamental piece of cinema for any horror director to study.

How important is the script to your films?

Script and story are the most crucial part of any film. If you haven’t got a good story, you have nothing. I do not class myself as much of a writer. I am extremely dyslexic and this gets in the way a great deal with my work. But I am a fighter and as hard as it is, I do produce scripts and stories. I’ve always been keen on creating concepts and scenarios. When I write a script, I do not stay loyal necessarily to the dialogue. A great deal gets developed and changed with the actors. I am only loyal to the subtext, the meaning behind the words. It is the meaning that drives me..

It is so important to have meanings behind your work, and in my case it is crucial to challenge an idea or an issue. Films, which do not criticize or reflect issues important to the film maker have no soul and cannot be good. Some of the simplest films can have the most interesting sub text. Take George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’; on the surface it is just a low budget zombie film. But it’s not, it’s an extremely interesting critic on modern consumerism and capitalist society. The fact that the zombies, even post mortem are flooding back to department stores is a very good criticism of western ideals and our society’s addiction for the mall. Many people who saw that film, only really focused on the zombies and did not understand the sub text. My film ‘Out There’ will no doubt have the same issue. Both in ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and ‘Out There’, use zombies as a metaphor. The genre and style I use is just window dressing. It’s a vehicle in which I can express my feeling and theory’s in a way, which can be easily enjoyed by my audience. That all starts with the script!

How do you choose your next subject? Do you prefer an original subject or do you adapt other people’s work?

I normally prefer to choose my own. Normally, when I have an idea, it comes from something I may have seen or experienced. Often, what I will do is pick an issue that I am interested in. I will take something within my own personality and find a way of expressing it using fictional characters and a plot. I try and embody feelings or worries into drama. As I said before my film ‘Out There’ , was all a metaphor for my own worries about replacing my father as head of the Dunsany family and dealing with the pressures of responsibility. I took these worries I had and tried to create a fictional film embodying it in the form of a zombie apocalypse and throwing a relationship amidst the chaos. I find this has always been the easiest way to write. By using metaphors; it allows me to create fantasy concepts, which can be seen very superficially. But below the surface, it deals with parts of my own identity.

On occasion I have adapted stories. But I will always try and incorporate parts of my own personality within the structure of the narrative. One such story, was my film ‘Kiss Kiss’. ‘Kiss Kiss’ was an adaptation of a cautionary tale my co-producer at the time Helen Serruya told me. The story was about a woman who contracted a sexually transmitted disease from her husband. This disease could only be caused by having sexual contact with a corpse. The urban legend goes, that her husband was breaking into morgues to molest the dead. He eventually was discovered when she began to show symptoms her doctor managed to identify as symptoms of this unique bacteria . The story quickly caught my interest, due to its dark theme. It was also the year of the swine flu and the fear of contracting the disease was very prominent in London, where we were living. Myself and Serruya found it to be perfect story which dealt with themes which were very prominent in the media at the time, it quickly became my first short.

How do you feel about remakes?

If you were offered a huge Hollywood contract and budget but it had to be for a remake what film would you choose?

I’ve always been a supporter of remakes, its something which has never really bothered me about Hollywood. Take the remake of ‘Cape Fear’ or ‘Scarface’, they actually turned out even better then the originals! In my opinion, a remake can be a fantastic thing, particularly when its a re imagining of the original subject. One of my favourite films of all time was ‘Solaris’ by the great Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky. In that film Tarkovsky adapted the book by Stanislaw Lem and created one of the most important pieces of science fiction cinema of all time. But the film was very stylized, visually and narratively. It was nearly two and half hours long! It was very much in the vein of Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in its pacing and rhythm. Then in 2002, Steven Soderbergh remade it with George Clooney and it was fantastic. Soderbergh created a very noirish adaptation with a beautiful soundtrack and created a magnificent piece of cinema. He compressed the story down and created a far more atmospheric film. But both films stand alone in their own right. They cannot be compared, as they are too different. In a situation such as this, I have huge amounts of respect for Hollywood. They are able to bring some very high quality revamps. But it only works when the story is transformed and developed in a different way. I would be very severe on remakes like ‘The last House on the Left’ and ‘Psycho’, which in my opinion were complete wastes of time. ‘Psycho’ was a shot by shot remake which was completely pointless. ‘Last House on the Left’ brought nothing new either. In fact, what was so shocking about the original was the ferocity of the violence perpetrated by the villains. It managed to give every parent in America fear of letting their teenage daughter out on a Friday night. The remake, instead of being clever and going for a much more atmospheric build up to the story, they tried to use the same formula as the 70s classic. The problem with that was they didn’t make it darker. They made the villains caricatures of typical stock Hollywood bad guys. They tried to engross every one with their graphic violence, but at the same time not allowing the violence to be too harsh so that it didn’t get censored or have difficulty getting wider distribution. They ended up with a mediocre rehash of a great film without the great aspects of the original. All they had in the remake was the violence, which was not even worse then the uncut version of the original. They didn’t even have that shock value!

If I was offered a budget from Hollywood for a remake, I guess I would have to pick ‘Stalker’ by Tarkovsky . It was such a fantastic film for its time and still has the ability to create a huge amount of tension and mystery. But it was very Russian and I think a lot of people missed out on it because of that fact. I also think it was a bit slow and tedious because very little actually happens in it, but that’s why I think a re-imagining of it would not take away from the original. With a modern day remake it could be visually darker to fit the styles of today without losing the meaning. Plus the original had so many things that were touched on but were never explained or developed. With a remake, it could try and develop these areas more. Soderbergh was so successful with ‘Solaris’ it was encouraging to see that it could be done to such a high level.

What films (in horror specifically or any genres) are hitting the spot for you now?

Well there is lots happening in cinema at the moment, but there is one film which caught my attention; The Danish drama called “Teddy Bear’ by Mads Matthiesen. I think, Matthisesen is going to the next big Nordic director. ‘Teddy Bear’ revolves around a pro-bodybuilder called Dennis, played by Kim Kold. Dennis is a shy and insecure giant, living with his mother. Dennis dreams to find the love of a women but unfortunately is socially awkward and has no success. After one of his family members marries a Thai girl that he met while on holiday, Dennis decides to look himself for a bride overseas. He ventures over to Thailand on vacation, there he commences his search. At first, all he gets are prostitutes, who are trying to hustle him for money. He is disappointed and soon gives up his search. He decides for the last few days of his holiday that he will find a gym to train at. While at the gym, he meets a wonderful women; who is completely different from the frisky prostitutes he finds in the tourist part of town. He falls for her and a beautiful relationship is formed. The film is so gentle and poetic, it reminded me a great deal of the films of Wong Kar Wai. I found it very refreshing to find an uncommon protagonist, in the form of a sensitive bodybuilder. Kim Kold performance as Dennis is spectacular! I think this film that will be a modern classic in years to come, I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in drama.

You have been convicted of murder (wrongly) but you’re on death row and going to hang in the morning. What’s your last meal?

That’s a tough one. I would have to mix the cuisines a little. First French, I would need to start with Steak Tartare. I should state at this point that I love raw meat! I would continue the meal with Japanese, I would have a light main course of a Sashimi platter. On this platter it would contain a selection of the freshest raw fish including tuna, salmon, squid and eel. It would come on a bed of Japanese pickled salad. Then to finish, I would demand the most chocolaty cake Bewleys has to offer, accompanied by ice cream and whipped cream. I would then be ready for death

You planning on ending up in a Michelin starred prison?

 Well one has to be murdered in style, I could also handle a burrito, if they felt my death was not worth the gourmet meal!

If you were an artist in any other discipline – actor, painter, novelist – and you had to be remembered for only one work (one hit wonder) what would that work be – an existing piece by another artist?

 I think if I wasn’t a film maker, I would have to be a writer. The writer I would be, would have to be Philip K. Dick. The book that I would wish to have written is ‘Do Androids Dream of Electrical Sheep’. I loved this book as a kid because it was so ahead of its time. Even the film version (Blade Runner) was fantastic. I grew up during the time when genetically modified food and cloning was in the press and there was a lot of fear in my house where that would take us. This book for me was perhaps a sad vision of how the future could turn out if we as a society did not change its ways. It was a sort of prophecy much like George Orwell’s ‘Brave New World’, which is actually closer to the way our society is going with all the extreme privacy abuse and constant information gathering. Orwell’s book was always the more likely one to come true but I’ve always been partial to a bit of fantasy and the concept that we all one day we will be charging up our pets with a plug socket was too much to miss.

 

 

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Something New Under The Sun?

I received an interesting email from Harper Collins the other day. Startlingly, it contained something new (to me) and on top of that the idea was actually interesting and unusual. Now perhaps I’m simply beeing naive and have allowed the business of writing pass me by without watching carefully, but I thought Authonomy was a good idea and decided to throw my two cent opinion behind it.

According to James Pursaill of Harper Collins, Authonomy is an innovative Digital imprint from HarperCollins that publishes talent from our website, www.authonomy.com – completely bypassing the traditional agent model. In essence, it crowdsources great writing. Users submit their own work – then read, review and rate the writing of other users – with the strongest material floating to the top of the online slushpile. This allows us to published innovative titles that are chosen by readers, for readers in an increasingly crowded and competitive market.

They’ve just published the third ebook sourced in this way: Brotherhood of Shades by Dawn Finch. I can’t speak for the quality of the novel – it’s YA and I’m looking for a reviewer for it – but I love the innovation and hope that this turns out to be a decent market for new writers – one that is badly needed.

As to the author, again I quote Harper Collins:

Dawn Finch grew up in a book filled house on the river’s edge of a tough London-overspill council estate. When she was ten her dad gave her a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories and this launched a lifetime fascination with the macabre and the unexplained. At the age of eleven a fierce librarian refused to lend her a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on the grounds that she was too young to read it. She vowed that if she was ever a librarian she would never deny a child a great book. At twelve Dawn told her careers advisor that she wanted to be either a writer or a librarian, and she was dismayed to be told to stop ‘pointless dreaming’. After many years of study and hard work, and a range of jobs – from reading unsolicited slush-pile manuscripts, to dressing as a Benedictine monk to take children on cathedral tours – Dawn carved out a successful career as a Children’s Librarian and Reader Development Consultant. With the publication of her first book, Brotherhood of Shades, she is thrilled to be able to add Writer to her CV as well.

I wish both Dawn and Authonomy well and hope they both go on to many future successes.

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Sensory Overload – A European Perspective on Dragoncon

I’m back home from Dragoncon a couple of days now and have had time for mature reflection. Anything I say must be prefaced by the stats – an average Irish con these days gets about 300 visitors. The largest con I’ve been to previously was Worldcon in Mortreal, where the numbers were in the five to six thousand region. Somewhere in the region of forty-five thousand visitors passed through the doors of Dragoncon last week in under four days. So you can understand that I was blown away bt the sher scale of the event.

Crowd Scene

I brought my camera – maybe I could snap a famous writer or take some shots of my friends, I thought. Instead I shot off snap after snap of ordinary people in extraordinary garb (costumes) and the hordes that trampled through the hotels at all hours of the day and night.

Not Sure About the Casting of Dorothy.

The panels were a blur. I attended several in the Anne McCaffrey’s Worlds stream. They were great fun. I also went to one in the YA track giving advice to young writers. Now even my best friends would not claim I was young, my detractors would question the writer bit, but the advice that was given was top notch, as you would expect, and applicable to young writers of every age. I was astonished how many of the teenagers present were working on novels – not always their first.

It’s a Red Dalek, what’s not to like.

All in all, there was simply too much going on to take it all in at the first attempt. I will have to go again and, hopefully, they will again let me in. (I usually have to go everywhere twice – second time to apologise).

If they're recasting Peter Pan these guys have got a real shout.

He clanked when he walked!

Don’t know what he was supposed to be, but definitely my favourite costume.

The highlight for me, in a purely personal way, was the awards banquet. I got to sit at the table beside some very famous people and some of them even shook my hand. And though it was the sad part of the evening, no matter how much host John Ringo protested to the opposite, I won’t quickly forget his speech about those icons of science fiction (without the fiction in one notable case) who passed on this year. Three were named and eulogised at length. Neil Armstong who, as long as history is read and taught, will ever be remembered for his heroic trip onto our sattelite and his Giant Leap, was first up. Then came Ray Bradbury, the man who turned middle America into something weird, wonderful and often creepy. But held for last, like the lead act at a rock concert was Anne McCaffrey.

The Mad Hatter and his bitches.

I was fortunate enough to know Annie and lived close to her home in Co. Wicklow for many years. Her son Todd was sitting beside me litening to John Ringo remembering for us all, his wonderful mother and ordering him, not too successfully, not to cry. Afterwards I felt moved to shake John by the hand and, in a firm, manly voice, thank him for his wonderful speech. Unfortunately a lump in the throat intervened and I delivered only half my message.

Thanks, John, Annie would have been proud and delighted to hear your kind and heartfelt words as you channeled the feelings of the entire audience.

This stormtrooper family are friends of Todd (no it’s not a euphamism).

But check out the costumes, aren’t they awesome (not a word I use with any regularity, but the only one I truly felt would fit here). And thanks to all the hordes of fans who took the time and spent their hard-earned cash on this feast for the eyes. I’ve never been a fan of costumes but I was truly blown away by the variety and quality on show in Atlanta.

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Resident Alien (He’s from Cork) – an interview with David Murphy

David Murphy is the author of a well-received novel LONGEVITY CITY (USA 2005), novellas ARKON CHRONICLES (2003) and BIRD OF PREY (2011), and several volumes of award-winning short stories (most recently LOST NOTES – Ireland 2004). He is a founder editor of Albedo One. Visit his website at http://davidmurph.wordpress.com/

Tell me one little-known fact about David Murphy?

I did a lot of hitch-hiking back in the seventies. That was in the days when hitching was so popular books about it were in the bestseller lists. I travelled the roads of Europe over three or four months one summer.  The most I hitched in any one day on that trip was over 400 miles from Salonika to Belgrade. This caused a delay at the Greek-Yugoslav border because the guards had never seen an Irish passport before! – this was back in 1975 when Irish people did not travel much. How things have changed.

Tell me a little about your published work .

LONGEVITY CITY is probably the best of my novels and novellas in that it was published by an imprint of a big US publisher and has sold more copies than any of my other books, also getting a lot of good reviews along the way. It seems to be the best of my longer works and I enjoyed writing it but to be honest short stories seem to come more naturally to me. I’m more drawn to the idea of creating a perfect slice of fiction in three or four thousand words rather than in a novel of a hundred thousand. Getting the fiction perfect though is a very tricky thing to achieve. The writer Sean O Faolain once said that a short story is like a little bird. Get it right and it will soar. If you don’t get it right, your story is stuck on the ground like a flightless sparrow. I like trying to make little birds that, hopefully, will take wing and fly – if only occasionally.

How many of your short stories, do you think, achieve that flight? Are your favourite stories necessarily the most popular?

That first bit is a 64,000 dollar question. It’s hard for a writer to look objectively at his or her own work. Publishers, magazine editors and reviewers are perhaps the best judges of what works and what does not. Sometimes a story that the writer doesn’t rate much gets taken and turns out to be the most popular story in the issue of whatever magazine it’s in. That’s happened me once or twice.

A few years ago I was approached about a film option for a story I wouldn’t even put in my own top thirty stories, so you can’t always tell what’s going to be popular or not. It’s all down to taste and whatever strikes a chord at a particular time. As regards the best though – the very best – I think a writer knows when they’ve cracked it with a really good one. Don’t ask me, though, to put a percentage success rate on the seventy or so short stories I’ve written so far – I might be tempted to exaggerate. Sometimes you have to write bad stuff out of the system to let the good flow through.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve written very little genre material over the past two years. A handful of short stories including “Night of Our Red Eye” in Albedo issue 42 – that’s about it. Instead I find myself concentrating on the sort of stuff I never dreamed I’d write just a couple of years ago. Non-fiction for instance, and poetry. Where the poems come from I’ve no idea but I’ve been writing them a while now and find them a good way of getting the lyrical juices going, which is something I’ve been striving to inject a lot of into my recent prose.

I use that awful word ‘prose’ because I don’t know how else to describe a recent  book I’ve just finished. It’s short, coming in at over 36,000 words, and is a strange amalgam of fiction and fact, a hybrid which is part travelogue, part memoir, part fiction. It’s ostensibly about angling but in fact it’s about everything. Five of the eleven chapters are fictionalised accounts of fish or fishing or sea-related activities, including “Lost Notes” the story that won the Maurice Walsh Award. All of the eleven chapters are linked thematically; dealing with the art of fishing, but overall, the book is about a lot more than angling. The factual chapters act as a unifying force that binds the whole into a unit greater than the sum of the parts, or so I hope! It’s a very Irish book but has appeal that I believe would be broader than that. Whether I can interest a publisher or agent in it or not is a different matter – as you might imagine this new manuscript is a very strange fish indeed.

Do you see yourself moving completely away from writing SF?

No, I wouldn’t say I’m moving completely away from SF although the focus of my writing has shifted  from it over the last few years. They say things should come in threes so it would be nice to have a third genre novella published to go along with ARKON CHRONICLES and BIRD OF PREY. It’s something I think I will definitely write, and ideally would like to see the three novellas in a one book format at some stage. However I don’t see myself committing to a full-length genre novel, not at the moment anyway. But you know what they say – never say never. I’ll continue to write short stories and they all contain some element of genre within them. I find it next to impossible to write a story without at least some hint of the fantastical creeping into the pages somewhere.

Is there any genre element to your poetry?

There isn’t – and I find if I try to introduce a genre element, it falls flat. Mainstream seems to be my focus there, of that there’s no doubt, but then these are basically a sideline – writing exercises, you could call them.

These writing exercises – do you submit them for publication?

Yes and a few have sneaked into semi-reputable, or even reputable, publications. Put it like this: it’s all about what keeps the fire burning in the writer’s belly. It can be hard to keep those embers burning when you’re not engaged in a major piece of work – like a novel, for instance – so you’ve got to keep the fire stoked in other ways. You can do it by writing various bits and pieces as I’ve been doing with these ‘exercises’ as I’ve called them. But of course the best way of retaining that fire in the belly is by writing about what inspires or excites you, or even what upsets and infuriates, as long as you control these emotions and filter them through a good story with a good situation, good conflict and good characters.

Do you find it easy to channel real-world concerns into your SF?

Sometimes too easily. Back in the nineties a lot of my best stories, near-future tales such as “Broken Heroes” and “Something Small”, were about the power of the church which was a very powerful institution in the Ireland of that time. Thankfully that has now changed so I no longer find myself writing about it. Most writers go through phases where certain themes come to the forefront of their work. Themes can be politically motivated or personally motivated depending on what’s happening in your life or in the world around you at any given point.

In recent years I’ve centred stories around things that concern me such as advertising and media. I have concerns right now about the growing prevalence of social networking, communications technology and the loss of individuality – though that last one has been a bit of a recurring theme. Not to mention the economic mess we find ourselves in because property speculators and developers in cahoots with politicians have ruined our country and economy so thoroughly that who’s picking up the bill and paying to bail out the bankers, builders and other chancers? The ordinary Joe Soap is, the guy who had nothing to do with creating the mess in the first place. Now all the debt accrued by reckless bankers and their cronies has been turned into sovereign debt so that the payment of it can be imposed on every single Irish citizen. Meantime those who caused it all get away with it all and continue on their merry way with little or no sanction. Now that’s a theme I’d like to address but at the moment I feel too angry about it and therefore would be unable to channel it correctly – it’s too raw.

You’ve got to be careful if you’re writing about something that’s exercising you politically though. You can’t preach in fiction. The subject has to inform your writing in a very filtered way for it to work. The message, if there is to be one in a story, has to be subtle and subservient to character and setting. You’ve got to find the right peg to hang your message on. Anyone could write a short story about the influence of the Murdochs, for instance, so you have to be extra thoughtful if you want a story such as that to work successfully – you guessed it by the way, I’ve written about Rupert Murdoch, too.

What writers (or novels) have influenced you over the course of your career?

I read plenty of mainstream novels and short stories in my youth including a lot of the very best such as Joyce, de Maupassant, Rabelais, etc. A moment of epiphany came when I walked into the Cork city library one day and borrowed one of those big old yellow Gollancz editions of RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA. This was around the time of the release of “2001” so Clarke was hot. It just blew me away that a writer could spend maybe three pages basically just describing a cylinder in space but doing so brilliantly. That was the start of my interest in literary SF rather than just any old literary stuff.

Some of my favourite novels would be THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV and THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES and short stories by Philip K Dick, though my all-time favourite short story collection is Hermann Hesse’s STRANGE NEWS FROM ANOTHER STAR. I also have favourite reads by writers who are still alive! Michael Cunningham, Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Safran Foer, Michel Houellebecq, to name a few.

What other media have influenced your writing?

Well I suppose the aforementioned “2001” brings us to films. Movies like “Fahrenheit 451” and the “Planet of the Apes” series and lots more, all of these had an influence on me in my student days. For some reason the Nic Roeg film “Walkabout” stayed with me, too. Why I’m not sure – and no, it wasn’t the Jenny Agutter factor. It was more the atmosphere, the visual poetry of the whole thing on the big screen.

Sam Beckett had an influence also, not through seeing his plays on stage – I’m not much of a theatre-goer and have only seen one live performance of a play of his and that was “Ag Tnuth Le Godot”, an Irish language production, but I’ve read extracts of his work in one of my favourite books, John Calder’s “A Samuel Beckett Reader”. Of course television is unavoidable, as evidenced by those 80’s cold war classics “The Day After” and “On the Eighth Day”. These definitely coloured my writing as did the surreal and off-the-wall – Monty Python, for instance.

I used to read Marvel and DC comics as a child. There was a shop on Shandon Street in Cork that always had a supply of them. I don’t know where the shopkeeper got them from. Years – decades – later someone told me that bales of comics were used as ballast on banana boats and the like and then off-loaded for a few pence to second-hand book dealers in whatever port the boat happened to dock in. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s a good story. Don’t tell fans of graphic SF that I used to deface and destroy the comics by cutting out pictures of spacecraft and keeping them in a little scrapbook.

You mentioned writing poetry earlier – any poets whose work stays with you?

One of the poems I like best is “Song of Wandering Aengus” by Yeats. Another is by Sam Beckett. Not a lot of people know that Beckett wrote poems. I particularly like a short one of his called “Dieppe”. I also like some English beat poetry I suppose you’d call it, from the seventies. One of my favourites is called “Breaking Bread in Bedlam”. Then there’s TS Elliott’s “Prufrock”. But most of my favourite poetry is in another medium entirely – music. The likes of Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon, Paul Simon, John Fogerty, Jim Morrison, Dylan, Springsteen, I regard their work as poetry. Not to forget a particular track, and this really is a poem that does stay with me – I can recite it at the drop of a hat. It’s by Graeme Edge of the Moody Blues and is the title track from “On the Threshold of a Dream”. Now the Moodies were much maligned for their quasi-mystical pretentiousness, in particular the poetry of Edge (he had one poem on each album) but the funny thing is that sometimes the poems actually worked – for me anyway.

Ah, the poetry of music – you’re obviously a big fan. Give me a quick top five – CD/LP. And a top five songs.

Ok. Albums first and in no particular order: Camel “Moonmadness”, Fruupp “The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes”, Springsteen “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, Mike Nesmith “Nevada Fighter”, Granham Parker “Howlin’ Wind”. Most people regard the Parker as not even being his best album but to me it’s the nearest thing to a live performance, which I had the pleasure of witnessing once.

Songs: Strawberry Fields, Famous Blue Raincoat, Blister on the Moon (Taste), Watching and Waiting (Moody Blues) and Septimus (Loudest Whisper). That last one is, in my opinion, the best prog-rock song ever written. I could go on about music, you know.

Do you listen to music while you write?

Now that’s something I’ve tried to do once or twice but it doesn’t work. I used to think that if I put on music, for instance a Van Morrison album or even a bit of classical like Mahler or Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, that I’d be somehow inspired to write better. Instead I found myself being drawn by the music and just sitting there listening like an eegit rather than writing. I guess I’m a traditionalist in that I like to sit alone in a small, quiet upstairs room at the back of the house with the PC in front of me and no distractions. In that situation I can hear a creak on the bottom of the stairs at a thousand paces so music would be a no-no. My computer is on a desk in front of a north-facing window. I love sitting there on dull or rainy days, which of course in Ireland means most days, and writing away. On rare occasions when the sun shines I go outside as I like outdoor pursuits such as walking with Marie and fishing, even kayaking and golf. Sometimes I scribble a few notes or write a para or two on paper downstairs on the sofa or sitting on the bus going into town, but for anything sustained I have to use the PC. We’ve a holiday home on the south coast and I do some writing on a keyboard down there as well. Who knows, I might even invest in a laptop one of these days.

Has getting into poetry affected how you write or what you write (prose)?

Not really. Although there’s no doubt but that it’s eaten into my writing time. I’ve probably written fewer stories in the last couple of years than I might otherwise have, but on the other hand the quality of the stories I now write may have improved as a result of dabbling in poetry. Poetry does takes up writing time, it takes up writing energy, but I find that those are the only senses in which my main writing has been affected. It’s not like I’m moving away from fiction and am glad to say I’ve just started – well, two days ago – began a new short story and a proper little dark fantasy it is too that seems to be writing itself well, so far anyway.

You say the story is writing itself – how much work do you have to do once the iece is down on paper initially?

Depends on the piece. In the case of this new story it is pretty much writing itself in that the plot is straightforward and traditional with a beginning, middle and end. It demands to be told in a simple, linear fashion. When the first draft is done I’ll trim it back – I’m a great believer in throwing in everything, including the kitchen sink, at the first draft stage (on the basis that it’s easier to take stuff out than it is to put stuff in). I don’t think there’ll be much to do after that. Not with this story, anyway. But then, who knows? I may get someone to cast an eye on it for me and they may say, ‘you should start at the end and work your way back’. In that case I’ll grimace and thank them profusely! However I don’t believe that will happen with this story.

There are other times when a short story can be very convoluted, not linear at all, where structuring can be challenging and demanding. In those cases the initial drafts may only be the beginning with lots of re-writing called for. Usually, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a rule of thumb, the more drafts you have to go through the greater the possibility is that you’re not getting the words right, and the thing just isn’t working. In that scenario maybe it’s time to move on to the next project. I don’t mean you should abandon it altogether, but sometimes it’s best to let something stew for a while before going back to it. Happily though, this new story is of the get-it-down-on-the-page-quick variety.

How long does it take you from conception to finished work for a story in general?

Again, it varies from one story to another. There are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes a story arrives fully formed. On other occasions it starts out with just the germ of an idea. Very often writers who are starting out in their careers get an idea for a story and just write the idea. An American editor, whose name escapes me now, came up with an acronym for that type of short story: A.N.I.T.E. – A Nice Idea The End. Orson Scott Card in his book on writing science fiction says that when you get a Nice Idea don’t be happy. Take it to a higher level. Twist it for all that it’s worth. Make the most of it.

Too often at Albedo we get stories submitted to us that are A.N.I.T.E. They inariably get rejected because the writers just wrote the idea and failed to give it that extra shake, that extra twist, to get the most out of it. They allowed themselves to be satisfied too easily. I can think of several stories of mine that, initially, were Nice Ideas. But when I’m writing something new I always try to think of Card’s dictum – I think every writer should carve the words ‘don’t be happy’ on their desks or laptops! Sometimes it may take days, weeks, for that twist to suggest itself to you that brings the story up a notch. Other stories arrive complete, like that one I’m writing now, hopefully.

We’re approaching the end. Two more (trivial, fun) questions.

You’ve been convicted of murder (wrongly) and will be executed in the morning. What is your final meal?

A good hot chicken curry, so hot it would make my eyes water – as if I wouldn’t be crying already. And maybe a big bottle of cider and a pint glass full of ice to wash it all down. And followed by a big sundae with lots of strawberry sauce. And I almost forgot, a strong Irish coffee.

If you were an artist (musician, painter, actor, film directoretc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single piece of existing ‘art’ by someone else.

That’s a hard one. I had the good fortune earlier this year to see Picasso’s Guernica in a gallery in Madrid. It’s a huge painting about seven metres long and about half that in height. Guernica is constantly being examined and x-rayed and re-examined by an array of cameras and scanning equipment because, apparently, Picasso hid a lot of details under the surface by painting over them. It’s extraordinary to see a painting take up almost an entire gallery wall and to witness the emotion it wrought in the faces of those looking at it. As a painting it’s childishly drawn, yet profound in what it says. It’s so simple yet full of symbolism. It says everything that needs to be said about war, greed and the world – the whole caboodle expressed on a canvas. I found it very moving, perhaps more so than any other art form I’ve ever seen. Now that, or its literary/cinematic equivalent, who wouldn’t give their right arm to produce something like that?

 

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Two out of two

I have mentioned before – here – that I am writing a novel at present. One of the side-effects is that everything seems to be giving me short story ideas. Normally this would be a good thing, but it’s really just my sub-conscious (lazy bastard doesn’t like the hard graft and lack of instant gratification of a 130,00 word story) trying to get some time off from the real work.

However, I have written two short stories this year, both for anthologies by editors that have bought previous stories who are exploring territory that I love to work in. So, a couple of days ago I got an acceptance for the second of these – Steampunk Cthulhu edited by Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass for Chaosium. They have bought my story Happy Birthday, Dear Cthulhu despite the fact that I misspelled Cthulhu all the way through my submission (doh!).

The TOC, in no particular order apparantly, is as follows:

The Blackwold Horror – Adam Bolivar  Carnacki – The Island of D. Munroe – William Meikle  The Promised Messiah – DJ Tyrer  The Strange Company – Peter Rawlik  Those Above – Jeffrey Thomas  The Reverend Mr. Goodworks and the Yeggs of Yigg – Ed Erdelac  Unfathomable – Christine Morgan  No Hand to Turn the Key – Carrie Cuinn  Pain Wears No Mask – John Goodrich  Before the Least of These Stars – Lee Clark Zumpe  Steel and Bones – Lois Gresh  Mr Brass and the City of Devils – Josh Reynolds  The Source – DL Snell  The Flower – Chris Geeson  The Baying of the Hounds – Leigh Kimmel  Tentacular Spectacular – Thana Niveau  Happy Birthday, Dear Cthulu – Robert Neilson

Honestly, I don’t mind being last on the list. I’m just glad to be there at all. Really, it’s okay. I like being last. It’s a superstition…

My subconscious is working on me again, saying I really should submit something to Atomic Age Cthulhu. Damn you, subconscious. Leave me alone.

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A Voice in the Wilderness – Interview with Irish indie film producer/director Gerard Lough

Gerard Lough is an award winning writer / director from Ireland. He got his start when he directed a music video while doing an internship at an American advertising agency. Since then he has directed several music videos as well as critically acclaimed short films such as Deviant and The Stolen Wings. His most high profile work to date was The Boogeyman, an ambitious 27 minute film adaptation of a short story by Stephen King. In 2012 he was awarded ‘Most Exciting Breakthrough’ in the directing category by British film website Horror Cult Films. His futuristic short film ‘Ninety Seconds’ will be released this summer.

Tell me a little-known fact about Gerard Lough.

To my slight embarrassment I am in the same hallowed company as Nicholas Winding Refn and Nick Rhodes as despite turning 34 I still don’t have a driving licence and have never driven a car for more than 10 feet. My excuses are travel sickness, a (not serious) phobia and a (quite serious) lack of interest in vehicles of any kind. Operating a camera – no problem, operating a moving vehicle… not a chance.

Tell me about the music videos – how the first one came about – any bands we’d know on your CV?

“No stars, just talent” as the guys says in The Player. My first music video (Rachel Hates The Sun) is still my favourite as it was a case of film-maker and musicians having respect for what each other does, being on the same page as to what direction the video should go in and then just do it without more meetings, ego or bullshit. Sadly I’ve learned over the years that this is more the exception than the rule.

On the fame side of things, Moby has very kindly provided a beautiful piece of instrumental music that will play out on the end credits of Ninety Seconds. While MOTOR’s new single Man Made Machine which features Depeche Mode’s Martin L. Gore will he heard during one of the film’s most visually striking scenes – a dance performance in a futuristic night club. I”ll be sending both parties a copy of the movie when I get around to it and I’d love to direct a video for either of them. If they like the movie, who knows.

Tell me about your previous work in films.

From 2008 on I’ve been proud of all of my short films as director starting with Deviant which was a stylish psychological thriller about a serial prowler. I dipped my first toe into Sci-Fi with The Scanner which had all of its visual effects created in camera, then moved to fantasy with The Stolen Wings, followed by horror with Stephen King adaptation The Boogeyman and now back to sci-fi (specifically cyberpunk) with Ninety Seconds. I think short films are looked down by some as the poor relation of the film world the same way short stories are sniffed at in literary circles and at times they almost feel like the artistic equivalent of an endangered species. But I believe they are a far more valuable experience to a director who wants to move into features than commercials or music videos. The most frequently asked question I heard from customers when I worked in a video shop was ‘Is is a good story?’. They didn’t give damn if it had slick editing techniques or stunning visuals. God willing, Deviant may well be developed into my debut feature film.

How did you get the rights to the story,The Boogeyman, by Stephen King?

I got permission to adapt King’s short story because of what is known as the “Dollar Baby Deal”. Basically there are a list of his short stories that are legally available to adapt into a short films. If approved, you cough up one dollar and providing you promise not to commercially exploit the film you end up making, shazam! You’ve got a Stephen King adaptation on your C.V. The great man has being doing this since 1982.

I got permission to adapt King’s short story because of what is known as the “Dollar Baby Deal”. Basically there are a list of his short stories that are legally available to adapt into a short films. If approved, you cough up one dollar and providing you promise not to commercially exploit the film you end up making, shazam! You’ve got a Stephen King adaptation on your C.V. The great man has being doing this since 1982.

Did you get any feedback from him on the film?

As a policy, King does watch the films but will not provide feedback and keeps his views to himself. If I ever meet him I’ll try and corner him though!

How do you raise funding for your films?

I moonlight as a gigolo! No seriously, they are funded out of my own pocket and because I have my own equipment, nobody is taking a fee, and I know how to make something look good for very little, they are produced for a figure that is so low that people reading this interview will find it hard to believe when I reveal the figures. So here it is from the horses mouth, The Boogeyman cost 1,000 euros, Ninety Seconds around the same. On Ninety Seconds, even the bloody camera it was shot on was borrowed. If the Irish Film Board had given the green light to Ninety Seconds, it would have been half as short as it is now (27 mins) and would cost at least 27,000 euros. Confusing math… but absolutely true.

I’ve heard a lot of bad stories about arts funding in Ireland. Have you tried the Arts Council and the Film board? With What result? Try and keep the number of fucks to a minimum.

TheArts council only fund “non narrative” films, which is fine for the guy who wants to be the next Andy Warhol but not much help to people like me who’s first priority is to tell a good story. Thankfully the Film Board have a couple of schemes for providing finance for short films but out of hundreds of applications they might only pick five at a time – tough odds. Both The Scanner and Ninety Seconds were turned down by them. I went ahead and made them anyway, on schedule, on budget, and with the finished films exactly the way I’d imagined they would be.

I think science fiction as a genre makes people on the funding side of things very nervous as red flag immediately shoot up in their mind such as extensive visual effects, high tech props, and lavish productiondesign – all factors that could send the budget through the roof. But at the same time advances in technology now mean that a gifted kid just out of college can now do nifty CGI at a knockdown price. Granted it won’t be anything to give James Cameron sleepless nights but its still a major leap forward. I hope the resistance to Sc-Fi films in this country changes as low budget films such as Moon and Another Earth have proved you can make a very worthy addition to the genre without having to spend anything more than $5million.

Is it possible to make your money back or even make a profit on short films?

It is extremely unlikely that anyone will ever make their money back on a short film as it is very rare that the commercial avenues that are available to a feature (theatrical distribution, video, TV broadcast etc.) will ever be there for a short. The exception to the rule is if the film is nominated for an Oscar, stars someone famous, or was produced by Pixar. They usually put a short on before a feature but even then a little known fact is that it’s the cinema mangers’ discretion if he wants to screen it – the same rule that applies to trailers. So making a short film is usually a real passion project or a way of a director cutting his teeth and demonstrating that he has something to back up the talk.

Is there a way forward for indie film in Ireland that doesn’t involve penury for the director/producer?

There is if you happen to be in “the club”. Which is a short list of certain film-makers who receive funding for their projects every single time from certain organizations despite the fact they have produced a string of flops so dismal they would make John Carter look like a good investment. Being in “the club” also seems to allow some of these people to walk away with 100,000 euros for a film that will never get made or to get creative with their budgets so you can sneak off and buy new camera equipment and editing software for your production company. Or you can even be a member of the board that decides whether to finance your own film and then claim with a straight face, “There was no conflict of interest.” What’s sad is that none of what I have just said is any secret in the Irish film-making community. Sadder still is that as a country, I think we can do so much better. There is no reason why we can’t make a Sex, Lies and Videotape or Shallow Grave, which is to say independent films that have artistic merit but also commercial appeal that extends far beyond our borders.

If you are not in the club? Think seriously about renewing your passport.

NOTE: (Most of what I have just stated has been reported in the national press… and the rest is stuff that has happened time and time again.)

So how would you solve this problem and ensure that funding gets to deserving projects?

We need to stop thinking that ‘commercial’ is some kind of a dirty word and come to terms with the fact that films are an art but they are also a business and to deny that is irresponsible and delusional. We need to stop making films that are primarily intended for an Irish audience and inaccessible to everyone else. Even if the film does well at the Irish box office, that is still rarely enough for it to break even. We need to stop regurgitating national cliches and stereotypes. Do we really need another movie about the troubles in Northern Ireland or a rose tinted story about a kindly Priest? No, I really think we’re ready for something different. So in answer to your question, I think the powers that be should start sharing the funding with new directors who already have developed a distinctive style and voice of their own and have a track record (shorts, music videos or commercials) to prove it. The mavericks, the auteurs, whatever you want to call them. Yes I’m sure it would be a big change, and change is frightening when its your job on the line but we could kick off a new wave of Irish films that could compete on a world stage because there is absolutely no excuse now why we cant produce a film as daring as We Need To Talk About Kevin or as commercial as Hellraiser (budget – 1.5 million).

I wave my magic wand and you’ve got funding for your next project – not unlimited, but plenty. Have you got something in mind? You’ve got funds for top line male and female leads and support. Who are they?

There is a screenplay called The Tourist which regularly end up on the lists of the best Sci-Fi films never made. I got a hold of a draft of the script from 1981 and although there is no doubt it would need work it is still something that is so different it’s hard to shake out of your head once you have read it, not to mention the stunning creature designs by H.R. Giger that never made it off his sketch book. What that project represents is intelligent, provocative science fiction for an adult audience and I don’t think there is anything more exciting than that. I think Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game would make a bloody good film, God knows why it hasn’t happened already. And since Hollywood has gone remake crazy I am gonna risk getting kicked from pillar to post by suggesting that they should remake The Keep which had a great premise yet something went wrong with the execution.

As regards material of my own, I have the first draft of a feature length version of a short film I made called Deviant which I think would make for a very original, left-field psychological horror film.

In terms of casting I don’t know but it should always be a case of who is right for the part but I will say I like actors like Michael Fassbender and Ciaran Hinds who have a chameleon quality that allows them to be good in all kinds of different films.

Remakes is always a touchy subject. Name your five worst remakes (The Haunting starring Liam Neeson is pretty hard to beat for me) and five films that should never be re-made (hubris).

Well I just love the way the word being used is “re-boot” instead of calling it what it is – a remake. It is a sad state of affairs when we are more inundated with remakes now than any other time in history but the movies being rehashed are not old chestnuts from the 60’s but titles as recent as Total Recall or Point Break.

Sadly the list is endless regarding worst remakes, the worst of which I have had the good sense to stay away from. But I will happily nominate The Amazing Spider-Man which was unforgivably lame and idiotic by opting to tell the exact same story as the Sam Rami film but this time without any semblance of humor, style or imagination. A film only the lead character of Memento could enjoy.

For me an ideal candidate for a remake is a film that has a strong premise but a dodgy execution or something that is so dated now it could benefit from being updated in a new version. The movies that should be left alone are the ones that were perfect as they were, were of their time and could never be improved upon. So here is my list.

1. BLADE RUNNER: Not only a unique combination of style, genres and ideas but a real rarity in that this is basically a science fiction film for an art house audience. So an art film in other words but one that just so happened to have a budget of $28 million. Try replicating that. A sequel is in the works.

2. THE FLY : The shining example of a remake being a good idea as Cronenberg took a B movie premise and gave it a radical make over with stunning make up effects and queasy metaphors on everything from disease to ageing. No remake will ever match the uncompromising and shocking vision of this film but a remake was in the works recently before getting stuck in the web of development hell… for now.

3. ROBOCOP: A classic mix of satire and ultra violence, Robocop in retrospect was a marriage of the perfect material with the perfect director at a time when his career was at a crossroads. With  his back to the wall and with something to prove, Verhoeven made his best film, one that arguably was just as symbolic of the 80’s as Wall Street. A remake is out next summer.

4. E.T.: If this had not being made by someone as powerful as Speilberg, who resisted suggestions to do a sequel, rest assured the remake would have been out long ago. E.T. would have been CGI, Elliot would have a facebook page and the John Williams theme would get a trendy hip hop cover version. But the magic would never have been recaptured.

5. AMADEUS: For better or for worse, nobody in Hollywood will probably bother remaking this as it’s  doubtful a complex study of the corrupting power of artistic envy and the beauty of music would seem like a safe bet for a box office hit nowadays. However, the good news is that remakes of Gremlins and Ghostbusters (released the same year) are in development.

We’re getting near the end so now come a couple of even more frivolous questions:

You have been convicted of murder (wrongly) and tomorrow you hang. What is your last meal?

My mum’s Irish stew.

If you were an artist (musician, painter, actor, film directoretc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single piece of existing ‘art’ by someone else. 

If I had any musical talent (which I don’t) I would aspire to create something as beautiful as The Sun & The Rainfall, which is one of Depeche Mode’s most overlooked songs. Arty but accessible, beautifully produced but emotional. I’d happily request that it gets played at my funeral.

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