Monday, June 5, 2017

The Last Unicorn Continues To Stand As An Essential Classic Fantasy




"When the last eagle flies over the last crumbling mountain
And the last lion roars at the last dusty fountain
In the shadow of the forest though she may be old and worn
They will stare unbelieving at the last unicorn"

                                                              ~ "The Last Unicorn" - America

Last year I wrote about Peter S. Beagle's astonishing classic fantasy novel The Last Unicorn at The Silver Petticoat Review. I describe, Beagle's story as "the typical quest story, but it’s full of the unexpected and of contradictions while at the same time employing well-known fantasy elements". I also described his language as "exquisite". No matter how many years pass, I don't think I'll ever change my mind about that. I suppose that's the true mark of a classic.

Beagle is definitely one of the authors who simultaneously inspires and depresses me when I see the genius of his work. I can't imagine attaining his level though of course it's important to at least reach for it.

The movie adaptation by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass is also very extraordinary. They had a unique style that captured the poignancy and beauty and darkness of the tale. They're not afraid to touch on dark themes, something you won't see in most modern animated movies. I wonder if we'll ever see anything like that again in popular children's films. The soundtrack by America is enough to pull the emotions out of you. I can't think of anything more perfect for the theme. 

There's been talk of a live action version of the book for years now. Occasionally there's murmurs about it, but then they die down again, so it seems less and less likely. I think it could be beautifully done if someone was committed to it. 

Let me know what you think of my review  and your views on this essential classic and its movie in the comments. What other fantasy books do you consider essential?


Monday, May 22, 2017

Local Best Sellers, Social Media, The Three P's and more: My Thoughts on the Bocas Lit Fest Part I



Well, the 2017 edition of the famous Bocas Lit Fest has ended, and I am still crafting a blog post on it several days later, but I am determined as a Jane Austen character might say. VoilĂ  Part I!

I was happy to have a chance to attend this year’s festival. As usual there was an eclectic mix of inspiring me to write more, and for that alone I truly appreciate its existence and hope it keeps up the excellent momentum its generated.
The very interesting Bocas Book Nook
interesting activities - spoken word, live readings, story telling, discussions. There was even a Book Nook where people could take a book as long as they left one in exchange, an idea that delighted me in its simplicity even more so because I actually saw people using it. As usual the festival left me inspired.

I attended two seminars. The first one featured four people involved in publishing and writing giving information for “budding and self-published authors on crucial aspects of the book business”. They each spoke briefly giving advice for a few minutes and then took some questions from the audience.

This was an interesting session, and I’m glad I attended. Each of the presenters seemed just a tad unnerved at the thought that they might have to speak for twenty whole minutes. But I suppose it was because they each were hoping to have an informal talk and were a bit worried that people expected something long, involved and more technical. They all in the end were informal which the audience appreciated. This casual approach worked well.

The True Confessions of a Literary Agent

Malaika Adero’s (of Adero's Literary Tribe) talk was entitled “The True Confessions of a Literary Agent”. She reminded the audience that “You cannot write anticipating a bestseller”. She seemed aware of the unfortunate situation we have locally where authors must fall back on self-publishing if they want their work out there. She talked about knowing why you want to write and why you want to do this particular work.

She emphasized having a manuscript read by people - people with names even if you want to self-publish because you’ll need endorsements. I thought this might be tricky for a beginning writer. There may be authors out there who might be willing to support them, but how do you get to them? How do you avoid bombarding them with requests to read and endorse their work?

Media Relations for Writers

Just before the sessions began
Franka Phillip the features editor of The Trinidad Guardian gave me a lot to think about as she talked about “Media Relations for Writers”. She gave a lot of good information about how authors could get newspapers to review their books for the paper. She suggested -

· Sending a press release
· Sending an excerpt of the book
· Sending an audio of the book being read
· Sending high resolution pictures of the book cover and the author
· NOT sending DVDs and CDs
· Sending everything by flash drive or drop box
· Giving lots of options to contact the author

All this will hopefully encourage the editor to assign a freelancer to read the book and review it.

Franka actually gave me ideas for two possibilities. I proceeded to jump up during the Q&A to ask her a question. After apologizing profusely and crossing in front of several other participants, I excitedly asked if they were interested in getting some more book reviewers. (Ah ha an opportunity for one of my dream jobs.) Alas Franka, quite frankly (ha!) explained that she wasn’t hiring any reviewers right now. The Trinidad Guardian let a lot of people go recently, so they are not in the market for new people.

My other idea involved the options she gave of authors promoting themselves. I think that is something that can tie into the services I already provide. I’ll be posting about that quite soon.

How to Win at Social Media

I’d never heard of Nicole Dennis-Benn’s book Here Comes the Sun before the seminar. She held it up right in front of her as she spoke and drew attention to it as she talked about the importance of promoting your work and not being afraid to do it. She noted that women, especially Caribbean women, aren’t socialized to talk about themselves. It brought back memories of times when I’ve had people try to squelch me if they thought I was being boastful in some way.

The fact that Nicole was born and raised in Jamaica is inspiring though she lives in New York now. The part about living abroad always deflates me. It makes me fear that getting published is almost impossible outside the states, but other information I’ve received suggests that it’s not. More on that later.

Nicole’s topic was “How to Win at Social Media”. She certainly seems to have achieved it with her best selling book “Here Comes the Sun”. Her publisher has provided her with lots of marketing support through publicists  of course, but she's certainly done her part with her own social media. Nicole talked about the fact that she built her platform as a blogger. (Encouraging!) When someone asked about how she dealt with the “darker” side of interacting with folks on social media, she said that she hadn’t really had a negative experience. Maybe she hasn’t had much exposure to it though because she noted that her method of dealing with anyone “trollish” is to block them immediately. I always hear good arguments for and against engaging trolls myself. I suppose I’ll see what I feel like doing if I ever draw any.

5,000 and Counting: How to Make your Book a Best seller

I think everyone was just delighted with Betty Peter who presented on “5,000 and Counting: How to Make your Book a Best seller”. When the MC said that she probably had one of the most best selling book in Trinidad, I think everyone took notice. We surely didn’t expect the cheerful, sunshiny, motherly lady who got up on stage. No wonder when people got up to ask her questions, several of them asked if they could call her “Aunty Betty”. She happily agreed to this.



Of all the presenters, I think she inspired her audience the most with her sunny attitude. She was clearly devoted to her book Brown Sugar and Spice written for children and set during World War II. Her advice consisted of three Ps: personality (including not being afraid of rebuffs); passion (which involves believing in the quality of your book and talking about your book to everyone) and purpose. I was particularly struck by her idea of talking about your book as I tend to not be very vocal about my own writing, but I’m working on improving in that area.

Aunty Betty has been talking about her book in schools across the country, and this apparently has helped with sales. She’s also received requests for her book from people all around the world. On top of that, before she was finished speaking, more than one person had gotten up, stepped up to the microphone and expressed interest in working with her and wanted to talk to her after the forum! You couldn’t really deny that we saw her own advice playing out before her eyes.
,
Another aspect I found of interest is that Aunty Betty didn’t self publish as so many people have done. Like me, she preferred working with a publisher. She found one that was willing to print her book, and from her description they did the bare minimum as our local printers always seem to do for fiction books. They also didn’t seem too concerned when she chose to take her book to another publisher. Surely they could have capitalized on this emerging local best seller, but I guess not.

My only issue was that this was yet another Caribbean book set in the past. It sounds delightful, and I’d love to read it, but sometimes I wonder if those are the only Caribbean books that are allowed to pass public approval. There are more genres to explore.


Anyway as usual, I found this Bocas Lit seminar pretty inspiring, and I left with the dough of several half formed ideas. It’s time to find the strength to shape them into something really tasty to share with everyone.

In Part II of this blog, I’ll discuss the other workshop I attended.

If you attended this seminar at the Bocas Lit Fest or any other workshops or events etc, please comment and let me know what you thought of your experience!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Literary Expectations - What I'm Looking For at the Bocas Lit Festival

This year is the sixth one for our local Bocas Lit Festival. Though so much time has passed, I still feel the sensation that the world is not such a humdrum place when I remember that we actually have an annual literary festival here. Think of it, this proves that there are writers in Trinidad as well as people who like books. People who enjoy them enough to organize an entire celebration devoted to books. I know that this makes me sound rather pompous, but I maintain that if there is anything I'm allowed to be a bit condescending about it's the number of people who like to read in Trinidad.

I admit that I don't have the numbers to back me up, but all my life I have been struck by the amount of people here who have no interest in reading, who have never picked up a book and who also hint at  scorn when they realize else someone is a reader. The fact that we have a book festival reminds me that there are kindred spirits out there who feel as I do about reading.

The festival organizers have been doing a great job every year to increase the value and diversity of the events and workshops they offer. (They've even been recognized internationally!) There are workshops for people interested in publishing and writing in different genres. There are live readings and appearances by some fairly high profile authors (Nalo Hopkinson was an amazing addition a few years ago.) They actually acknowledge the existence of people interested in writing in the young adult genre and science fiction and fantasy by having workshops on these topics.  I wish they would do more. I have often found that among the limited numbers of Caribbean writers out there, there doesn't seem to be a lot of quality work in those genres. I sense that some writers here still don't think these are "real" genres, and I am happy to hear of initiatives that take genre writers seriously and encourage them.

Despite my joy in the festival, I always know that there will be several events and activities that don't appeal to me. I think my interests are sometimes a bit too specific for that, so I don't blame them. I am just glad that there is a group out there championing reading and taking it seriously when so few people here don't. I want them to keep doing what they're doing and grow bigger every year.

This year I'll be attending Free Seminars on the Book Business. "True Confessions of a Literary Agent" looks interesting for example. Hopefully the seminars will run on time - one of the few complaints I have had when attending sessions in the past. I'm particularly interested in the Writing for Young Adults. Another concern I have is because of the awful situation of our local publishing industry, these kinds of sessions might be based on the budding North American YA market while ours is just stagnant. I hope that the workshop will address how someone from the Caribbean can reach international publishers. I think that's the best chance I have to eventually get out there. Look out for my take on my experiences soon, and check out the schedule of events and activities yourself. 

Are you going to be attending the festival yourself? What do you think of it? What have you enjoyed in the past and what do you think you could change?




Monday, April 17, 2017

Enchanted by Master Enchanters

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my plans to make sure my readers have lots to enjoy is that I plan to re-post content from my articles on The Silver Petticoat Review. Based on that you'd think all would be well, but I find that I have a small dilemma. I've been writing at SPR for over a year now, so there's a lot to share.

I began to wonder. Should I start from the beginning and go from there? Should I start from the latest ones? Should I post at anniversaries or just whatever I want at the time. I still haven't quite decided, but I think I might just let my posts fall organically.

Case in point is today's spotlight of a much beloved favourite. I've posted about Diana Wynne Jones here before, expounding on at my astonishment at her genius. I felt that the fantasy world had lost a treasure when she died.

It's not surprising that one of my SPR articles focused on one of the best characters she created. Like Jones, Chrestomanci is a powerful and skilled magic worker who conjures up your respect and admiration.  I surprised myself though to find that my article coincidentally appeared not long after the anniversary of her death this year. That might be a good sign of my future timing as I continue to re-share my articles.

When I first read Jones' Charmed Life many years ago I found it to be surprising, fascinating and amazingly well plotted, and my opinion hasn't changed much. I read more of Jones' books in the years that followed my first introduction to her, and for a long time I wasn't sure how I felt about her as a writer in general. I knew she was brilliant, but I wasn't sure if I was in love with her overall work, but I've since come around completely. I don't love every single one of her books, but I've come to appreciate the inventiveness of her oeuvre even in the books that I feel ambivalent about.

I feel no ambivalence when it comes to Chrestomanci though. It's a terrible shame that there will be no more stories of him to come. I think anyone who loves fantasy should give the Chrestomanci books a try.

As I said in my article
"One of her greatest creations in her extensive bibliography is the nine-lived enchanter Chrestomanci. Her chronicles of this character went on for several full-length books and short stories.  She not only developed Chrestomanci but introduced many more complex and unforgettable characters who play out Jones’ trademark twisty and intricate plots. As you fall into the creations of Diana Wynne Jones, be assured that you’re in for an amazing odyssey. The Chrestomanci stories are some of the best places to discover her own form of enchantment."
Read my full thoughts in  YA Book Review: Become Enchanted by The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones
The book that started it all for me - Charmed Life

 


Friday, April 7, 2017

Guess who?

My friends....I have returned.

I come back to you now at the turn of the tide...what'd I miss?

Recall if you will that scene in The Two Towers when Gandalf (now Gandalf the White thank you very much) revealed himself to the remaining members of the fellowship. Do you remember that exact moment when the fear and despair and hopelessness of the breaking of the fellowship was relieved by the return of a friend once thought lost forever?

Well...this isn't quite like that, I suspect I'm more akin to Bilbo Baggins than the mighty Gandalf, but I have come back to my little hobbit hole of a blog, and I am hoping to do some cleaning up and making it right again.

Fortunately it's still here waiting patiently. Fortunatrly during my travels away I haven't actually stopped writing about the things I enjoy and which inspire me. As usual, I could probably do with writing a lot more, but I have quite a bit to share, so soon I will be able to welcome you back for regular visits.

I started by choosing a new look for the blog. I find it fits my aesthetic quite well. Let me know what you think.

I've also been doing quite a bit of writing for a blog magazine called The Silver Petticoat Review. It's a lovely place where I continually find articles and topics about books and movies which interest me. (They may interest you as well, so I encourage you to have a look.) I write quite regularly for them, and as part of my routine posts, I'll be linking my articles back here. So look out for those.


I've also learned quite a lot from my journey away, so hopefully expect more posts with a different look and feel - some shorter - some with varying formats, interesting videos etc but with the same theme we all love still running through it. I'm also going to try and feature interesting content from other blogs. I'd love to feature articles from other Caribbean bloggers interested in books and movies, so if you're one such, please hail me, so we can start sharing all the great stuff we're creating.

I also hope to start posting more about writing, writing techniques, the writing journey, that sort of thing. More on that soon. I might have a surprise for you.

So until later friends, I welcome you back to my blog as meet once more at these crossroads. To start the conversation going, comment and let me know which blogs, tumblrs, blogazines etc you like. Doesn't matter what topic though I'm particularly interested in ones with similar themes to mind. Be generous and share!


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Film Festival Recap: Shaun the Sheep : The Movie


If you know anything at all about Aardman Animations' work, you will know that they are as reliable as Pixar in creating quality stuff, so I didn't have much apprehension when I went to see Shaun the Sheep: The Movie at the European Film Festival this year. I knew I was probably going to enjoy it.

Aardman Animations is behind the characters Wallace and Grommit who are charming, but I don't love them as much as I do the characters of the Mossy Bottom Farm crew - a community of sheep, a responsible dog, some piggish pigs and a slightly dim witted farmer. All are designed in the signature fashion of this company. The characters are awkward, long legged creatures with little white teeth and awkward smiles. Shaun is a very intelligent sheep who is the natural leader of the flock as the rest are far more sheep-like in their behaviour than him. His endless cleverness is endearing. Shaun's cousin Timmy, a little lamb, had his own TV show, featuring his adventures in pre school.  That show gave my family continuous delight, so I was inclined to love the whole sheep family and this movie, and thanks to the good work of Aardman Animations, this was very easy to do.

In the movie, all Shaun wants is a change from the dull monotony of his life which follows the exact pattern you'd expect of a flock, but this bores Shaun immensely. He comes up with his first ingenious plan to get the farmer out of the way, so they can all have a holiday, but a series of unforeseen and convenient accidents catapults them into an adventure which they did not count on and which proves to be much more stressful for Shaun. Very stressful indeed. If I were Shaun, I'd want a holiday by the time the adventure finally comes to an end.

The story is inventive and cleverly executed as Shaun and the flock try to navigate the city to find the farmer and avoid an insane (no other way to describe him) animal control officer. Whenever Shaun comes up with a plan, I found myself waiting in anticipation to see what this clever sheep had come up with next. After seeing this movie, I think it's safe to say that I feel the same way about the Aardman Animations team. They've created a madcap story which had me laughing hard and long, and they put together clever scenarios which come together into an amazing, delightful fabric of adventure, ingenuity and family.  The last, by the way, inspires some poignant moments which will surely pluck at your emotions. As with everything else it is done exceptionally well.

I don't bother much with whether a movie is meant for children or not. I'm more concerned with whether it's good or not, and this is a great one. If the audience for this movie is a deal breaker for you though, be assured that this is a movie that will appeal to young and old alike. Don't hesitate. You won't regret it.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

European Film Festival Recap 2015 : Gone Too Far

Every year I look forward to the annual European Film Festival here in Trinidad with great anticipation. The festival showcases films from Europe and is organized by the EU Member States with diplomatic missions in Trinidad and Tobago. It's an opportunity to see lots of movies which might not otherwise come here. Many of these are not the mainstream ones that tend to come to Trinidad as very, very few movies in limited release elsewhere ever reach this country.

They are often quirky, strange, confusing or disturbing and almost all are extremely memorable. This year I think I enjoyed all of the four movies I saw to a certain degree which doesn't always happen. I'll do a recap of each of them over a series of posts starting with....

Gone Too Far

There's something I like about movies which condense all of the story within a short period of time.
Something about the fact that so much happens and changes in such a short while tends to delight me. Gone Too Far takes place over a Saturday afternoon when British teenager Yemi sets out to buy ochroes for his mother with his brother Ikudaysi . Yemi's family is from Nigeria, and his brother has only just arrived - hardly stepped out of the taxi from the airport in fact - before their adventures begin. 

Yemi is understandably preoccupied with being a British high school student, rapping to his favourite music, pursuing the beautiful, shallow, obnoxious, brash Armani and being accepted by his peers. His brother appears and seems considerably older and is unapologetically Nigerian. From the moment Yemi sees him with his feet ensconced in sandals and socks coming out of the taxi, he is appalled, and truly his brother is a force of destruction to a young man's self esteem. As they wander around what their South London neighbourhood, they encounter Armani, her on again/off again/on again boyfriend who wants Yemi to stay away from her and is willing to use violence to make sure he gets the message and various other neighbourhood characters. There are also stinging nettles, vicious dogs and obnoxious little children. The quest for the ochroes becomes secondary despite the frequent calls from their mother trying to find out what is taking so long. 

Everyone crosses each other's paths over and over again, so when I discovered that this is adapted from a play I was not surprised as it has the feel of characters appearing and disappearing from the stage as their scenes come up.

In the background of all the conflict is the contempt many of the young people have for African people and their often hilarious ignorance of African culture. Yemi and his brother clash because of his distress and embarrassment while Ikudaysi is shocked and saddened that his brother seems to be ashamed of who he is. By nightfall by the time the wanderers find their way home, there are revelations all around. 

This movie was fun and funny. It's also very well directed by a woman, Destiny Ekaragha, who is apparently only the third black female director to have directed a feature length film that was given theatrical distribution in the UK, so well done to her! I am sure anyone who is familiar with this type of neighbourhood in London would recognize the mix of cultures, and they'd probably appreciate it more than some of the characters do.I found it a fascinating look into a community I am not familiar with. There is a very Caribbean feel to the area and the family life as well which I am sure would appeal very much to our local audience. Oh and beware if you're not familiar with the accents of young people in London because it will sometimes require a lot of attention to decipher what they're saying before you get used to the rhythms of it. It's well worth it though, so see this if you can, wherever you're from. 

Check out the trailer for the film here.