Watching A Girl On Fire

 

We went to see Catching Fire today. I am a big fan of the Hunger Games novels. Big fan. I’ve read them multiple times, and each time I get to them again, I finish all three in 18 hours, tops, because they’re so damn compelling and readable. Every time. Every time I know what’s next, there are other layers, other thoughts, all the feelings. They are the heart-and-mind successor to Harry Potter, to all manner of great literature, but recently, at least, to Harry Potter, because they take hard times and difficult life and dark things and conflict and conflicting emotions to new levels.

I love the Hunger Games because they are always Katniss’ story. She is always the story. Even when her life is pulled this way and that, used by both sides, manipulated to the extreme, she is so consistent and strong a character that she’s never lost within the will of others. She survives a love triangle by being the best thing about it. She is the goal, the object, the fascination of the whole thing. She is a joy, a pain, a problem and an aspiration in turn, sometimes simultaneously.

I love the films because they understand Katniss’ story, but aren’t afraid to round it out. The perspective remains the same, but we get just a little more, just a touch more of President Snow, a little more of the districts, of the gamemaker, of things outside Katniss’ control and sight. Because we are lost when she is lost, and she finds the viewer, as well as the answer. Because she’s lucky…but not as lucky as she thinks. Because Katniss does the next thing, and survives the next obstacle, and barrels on through the most appalling situations…only because there is no other choice. She has something to live for, but even that is not always enough to convince her to stay alive. The fates conspire as much as everything conspires all around her.

The look of the films helps, undoubtedly. They capture the high technology and utter desolation of the outer districts perfectly. There are a few issues – mostly with the pace with which we’re forced to move through the story, an unfortunate constraint of legitimate cinematic timing, which, to be fair, I think is respectfully overcome in terms of the watching audience, and, still resonating, the fact that Katniss was racially miscast. I don’t know how much it’s my place to wonder about that, but, for all my utter and absolute adoration of the flawlessness that is Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss (and Jennifer Lawrence as an actress, more on which shortly), I still feel there was an opportunity inexplicably lost. I don’t like to forget that that happened…still, this is not Lawrence’s fault, and oh my, does she embody the strength, weakness, emotion and self-centredness of Katniss in an absolutely defining way.

And she is a magnificent actress, unashamed of being funny, of crying, of epic bitchface (I hope it’ll be infinitely in place on ONTD posts everafter), of being wrinkled or out of breath, exhausted, puffy, blistered, bright, beautiful, over-dressed, under-dressed, anything. Lawrence has a belief and confidence in herself as Katniss that makes Catching Fire in particular an extremely easy film to watch, even whilst its content is tough and challenging, or edging on cheesy or typical, or confusing, or quiet…it is always easy to look at her face and feel completely within her character. You are as within Katniss’ mind as her dialogue in the books, if not more so, for she’s much less irritating when shown briefly kissing characters than when extensively thinking about it – not something I ever hold against her, for I too have been a teenage girl; still, brevity is the soul of romance sometimes, and particularly in blockbusters.

This isn’t to forget Lawrence’s surrounding cast, which always match her. The chilling head peacekeeper sent to District 12? Just the right amount of conviction, self-belief and understated horror to be so unnerving that you only want to look away, but never can. Haymitch, and his slightly reworked, damaged, weatherbeaten, circumspect mentorness. Effie Trinket, showing that anyone from the Capital might, if only shown the truth of things, come to understand, although they’d never be willing to relinquish their hair. Cinna – the ever-gorgeous Lenny Kravitz who will apparently never age – making the most beautiful stand against anything that I can imagine. Peeta – such an important part in Katniss’ story, yet, in this film, so welcomely underplayed. Yet, if you’ve read what’s to come, you know that this part is played with such professional, even coolness that every line could, could be duplicitous. Could be a reflection of anything. Could be whatever you believe that character to be being at any point.

The biggest strength of Catching Fire, for me, was that, for the first time – and, as I said, I’ve read the books a lot – I really believed in Peeta/Katniss. I’ve understood, perhaps, but never cared for their partnership, hoped for or otherwise. But I felt the film brought the necessity, the edge that I wanted that pairing to have. I also found myself leaving with an unexpected slice of Peeta/Finnick (manipulated, sure, but hey, I’m always willing to be manipulated in the cause of attractive pairings). “I wish I’ll love someone like that one day…” – film, you make it too easy.

And let’s talk about Finnick for a second. i’ve seen the actor in a good few interviews and whatnot. I didn’t quite get his casting. Couldn’t see it. But, didn’t mind all that much. I thought Finnick a most interesting character, and worthy of a lot better than he gets in his peak sequence in Mockingjay (indeed, my biggest fault with the whole novel trilogy is Finnick’s latter storyline in Mockingjay which I had to read about three times to fully understand), but he wasn’t of my heart like Katniss. I wasn’t moved by him as much as some readers were, and he didn’t capture my emotions like he might have. And yet, and yet. Within seconds of being introduced to film!Finnick, I had fluttering heart and twisting stomach. I was genuinely surprised by his physicality, his understanding of how to play surface charm, bright, bold character with edge and heart and potential and past all there in the fewest of lines. That he came over hugely attractive was obviously at the heart of it, but as I say, I’ve seen the actor around aplenty and felt not a thing. This was the character brought to perfect realisation, for me, and there was a lot riding on the shoulders of the Finnick-casting, so again, I say gold star.

There are odd parts of Catching Fire – it’s always difficult to do crazy monkeys without coming over all Return To Oz, say – but the actors hold it perfectly at every single moment. No-one ever lets up their game. When the writers explain things, it’s only so you can watch the film (how does the clock work, what’s the forcefield), never to let you into things you’re better unearthing in the text of the novel (how does the Capital work, what’s the point of the Games). The faith in the audience is absolute, and the willingness to take them on a real ride – tough, uncompromising portrayals and teasings-out of the real violence, the real horror of the system – is admirable. The sequence in which Cinna is beaten against Katniss’ capsule whilst she, helpless, is lost as she begins to ascend to her own greatest challenge…utterly breathtaking in its unpleasantry, in precisely the way that a 12A can be, should be, when it deals with the consequences like Catching Fire does.

This is why I loved the book. It’s the greatest sequel, in terms of consequences of the actions taken in the original, that I have ever read. It isn’t simply a continuation: it’s cause and effect. It’s z because y because x. It’s think before you speak. It’s mass media, state persecution, rebellion, control, defeat, hope, desperation and despair, brought together like very few novels can. It’s got points to make about almost anything and everything, and it’s got a lot of whatever you want it to be saying right in there.

Catching Fire lets you start any conversation you want to that will take you to almost any kind of issue. That’s no mean feat. It’s a door to bigger problems than cinema, It’s a way to start thinking about how revolutions begin, and what they do and don’t mean. It’s a way to analyse the hard things, to get into that state of mind that lets you see the worst (and, rarely, best) of humans, and how and why extreme situations bring these things to the fore. The film is the perfect version of everything in the book.

I am in awe, frankly, of how beautiful and strong a viewing experience it was. My brief logistical issues aside, it is a perfect realisation of the novel, which I found to be a pretty perfect novel. Given that I am not the greatest fan of the third book (despite my utter love of the conclusion of the series, which I think is completely, perfectly spot on…l just feel there are content and editing issues with the first two thirds of it), I await the remaining two films with intrigue, hoping that they can distil the essence of Mockingjay and make the best of the brilliance assembled for Catching Fire, and behind the scenes. These are momentous films, for some of the greatest storytelling of our time, and how fortunate we are that its protagonist is an utterly real young woman whose faults and excellences are treated with complete evenness throughout.

 

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Getting Over The Hump

And so we slide fully into Week 2 of NaNoWriMo, and perhaps your journey is going considerably better than mine (if you have written your daily words, or even if you just don’t regret picking the thing you chose for NaNo, then yes, your journey is vastly improved upon mine). But perhaps, even if this is the case, you’re still wondering how the hell you’re going to get another 30-odd k out of your tale, or you’re still not at all certain how you’re going to finish this, even if you’re full of ideas and everything. Or perhaps you’re not worried at all, and just joining in the blog-reading of NaNo and the procrastination and seeing the suffering of your fellow participants. Either way, all are welcome here 😉

I think Week 2 is the scariest part of NaNoWriMo, because it’s about Week 2 that it becomes clear that 50k is a LOT of words. Unless you’ve been hit by that wonderful literary lightning, or are really, really good at this, and have hit the word count already. It happens. Not for quite as high a percentage as following the NaNo hashtag on Twitter might have you believe, but it does happen.

The nice thing is that I still have no doubt that I can hit my 50k. I know I can abandon all pretension at writing quality and write quantity if I must. Last night, I was certain that I ought never to touch this book again, for fear of ruining it perpetually, but I made myself do another hundred words, and then that inevitably turned into 500, and even if my count is still now only just over 11k, I’m not worried, that’s fine.

What worries me more. curiously, is getting to 35k. 35k seems to be the number that plenty of people fail at, also, have you noticed? It’s so near, yet still quite far. For me, that’s the hump of NaNo. The halfway point is simply horrifying – you realise just exactly how bloody long 50k can be, and the idea of having as far to go again is brain-numbing, unless, of course, you really do have that surfeit of ideas. But at 35k, you are over the hump. You’ve the bulk of your book and you can quite easily finish it simply by extending every scene you’ve already written by a few words (this is quite a fun tactic which I do recommend if you get heartily stuck once you’re over the hump – it can make for some quite entertaining twists and revelations…).

At 35k, you can see what you’re doing, see your destination. That’s scary, sometimes it’s almost as horrifying as being ‘only’ halfway, but it is a reality, rather than a panic, and as with all horror, it’s easier to get through when you know what you’re dealing with, rather than dealing with the ghost that is fear itself.

And 35k doesn’t even come until Week 3. So, much as above, knowing it’s so much easier to get through a panic about something you can see, rather than something you can’t, I am steadfastly refusing to acknowledge any feelings or panics I have at all until I’m over the hump, and can really, truly see what it is that I’ve done. And then if, as last year, I still hate it, it doesn’t matter for it is only the work of a few more days to achieve the goal. The best part of NaNo is when you are on the downhill slope, flying towards your goal, knowing you’re going to meet it. At that point, you can disregard any emotions or fears altogether.

But that part doesn’t come until you get over the hump. And for me, as I say, that’s at 35k. So I’m aiming right squarely for 35k and I’m not going to be scared and I’m not going to stop doing the million other things that have suddenly started to seem so attractive during this November because that too is part of NaNo and its joy – you learn that it is possible to accomplish infinitely more than you thought you could. And, even if you knew you could do NaNo, sometimes you get to also be surprised at all the other things you can accomplish simply by spending time at the keyboard not only riffling through Tumblr, but also writing all the other things, or chatting with other writers, or making friends (or enemies) in communities you only just happened upon.

It’s a great month, is NaNoWriMo. Fear not. We’ll all be over the hump soon enough.

 

This Week’s Distraction: In Praise Of NBC’s Dracula

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It’s only taken three episodes (although, to be perfectly honest, I was captivated within the five seconds of the first episode), but I am quite clearly and officially in love with NBC/Sky Living’s reimagining of Dracula.

There are three reasons that this isn’t surprising.

1) When I was 15, I fell utterly in love with a young Jonathan Rhys Meyers when he got in the way of my Liam Neeson infatuation by featuring in Michael Collins. He may well remain the only actor who has never let me down in terms of acting choices, although, sadly, I will never get back the two hours and ten minutes I spent watching Mortal Instruments last night (I genuinely expected to enjoy that, but really did not…that’s another post, though).

2) When I was 12, I fell utterly in love with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, first in novel form, and then, shortly afterwards, in Gary Oldman form. Dracula may well remain the only character who has never let me down in any incarnation, be it musical, theatrical, Buffy or Supernatural. I loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula so much that I managed to pass my English Language A-Level almost entirely on the basis of my 100%-scoring Dracula pastiche coursework, which my tutor claimed was so good, he couldn’t tell it from the actual book. (NB: I’m not claiming any inherent writing quality here, more that I’m a good copycat and you can’t get better starting material than Dracula).

3) When I fall in love with things, I fall hard. I have always been completely happy to devote all my waking hours to whatever is currently making me happiest, particularly if that’s aesthetically happy. There are aspects to this that people find bothersome, or childish, or plain peculiar, but I’ve made it to 31 without actively caring about that and have had a jolly good time of things along the way, so I’m not going to start worrying about that now. I don’t regret any of the days in 2002 I spent watching Fight Club on repeat, nor the amount of times I saw Jonas Malmsjö performing Hamlet in Swedish to the sounds of CocoRosie (probably my most random, but glorious obsession).

So, all that given, you can see why the 2013 version of Dracula wasn’t going to have to do much to make me happy. The presence of Jonathan Rhys Meyers was a good start (a very, very good start), and the addition of her-from-Merlin, the best Renfield I’ve ever seen, Patrick-from-Coupling and a man I’m going to refer to only as “will never be Jack Davenport” were welcome bonuses all, and that’s before you get to the ace ninja lady and gay Victoriana (bonus bonus points for having men kissing before showing women kissing).

Still, there were some things that would’ve put me off. A complete irreverence for the book would’ve done it, as would any total disinterest in the history, or a failure to embrace the sense of humour one requires when making a TV series this pretty and lavishly costumed. Fortunately, it’s quickly clear that a) the writers know their source material b) decisions to depart from history/mythology have been made with history/mythology in mind and c) it’s not so up its own arse that you can’t have a laugh with it occasionally. Also d) it’s made an effort to bring something new to the whole vampires/Victoriana thing, and that isn’t easy to do. Oh and e) Van Helsing gets the sort of edge I always wanted him to have. And – I could go on, but I shan’t. I’m hoping Tumblr’s doing that. Tumblr is my next stop after this post.

On a Tumblr note, like many a modern show, there’s an effort to appeal to the internet’s interest in pretty people being gif-able and shippable, and I like that very much. The best gift you can give an audience is scope and permission to imagine outside the script, especially when you’re stretching an established canon yourself. Shows like Merlin and Supernatural got marvellously long shelf lives out of knowing what they were (are – sometimes I forget Supernatural is still going, and may it never end) and who’s watching. I’m guessing that Dracula is aiming itself at a slightly different, wider audience than those, but, at the same time, knowing who to get on side to get the buzz going, and that’s all very commendable. More, please.

So, it’s only been a couple of episodes and it might all go wrong later, but I don’t care, I don’t care, it’s a great start and it’s made me want to read the book again, watch Gary Oldman again, watch Nosferatu again, and watch all three episodes repeatedly until there are four episodes to watch repeatedly, my taste for aesthetics, entertainment and character thoroughly and wholeheartedly catered for.

Planning vs. Pantsing

It’s the infinite NaNoWriMo question. I’ve tried both, and would say I’ve had considerably more success pantsing, but that planning is easier. Make sense? About as much sense as the process of making things up and writing things down can, I suppose. Here’s my pro-con list, in which each method’s pro has its con in the opposing method’s pro. Eh.

PANTSING:

  • No prep work. Perfect for the lazy/disorganised.
  • No restrictions. Want to flip from technobabble to dinosaurs? No problem! Gritty inner-city modern-slice-of-life to Tudor period drama? Go for it! (Already I am constructing both of these stories in my mind.)
  • The imagination is completely free! It’s so much easier to be creative when you have no walls and boundaries.
  • Writers’ block? Write something, anything at all! You can always work out how it makes sense with your story later, and who knows where that’ll take it?

PLANNING:

  • Lots of prep work. Great for when you want to get going early, or if you have so many ideas you’re scared of forgetting something.
  • Enough restrictions for the brain to function properly. You’ve got a great, linear story idea? It probably needs, shock horror, a storyline. Yes, you might not know whodunnit yet, but you’ll want a vague idea of how you – and the reader – is going to find out.
  • The imagination gets to do the cream of its work – the colouring in, if you like, of creativity. It’s so much easier to be specific when you have a nice neat outline.
  • Writers’ block? No problem! You can just pick up the next neat bit of outline and get going on that, with no worries that it won’t work, because you already have a map for where you’re going and what you’re doing!

So, even with this tiny, four-point list you can see that it’s all much of a muchness, and that the main thing is, still, just putting one word after another. My best advice, if you’re not sure which you are, or if you’re one and are rapidly, at this end of Week 1 phase of NaNoWriMo wishing you were the other, why not try a tiny switch? If you’ve been pantsing up until now, take precisely two minutes to construct yourself an outline. Then confine yourself to that for exactly one day’s writing and see how it goes. If you’ve had a fine plan and you’ve run out out at 10,001 words, or you’re bored of everything about it and wish your characters would jump off a cliff/form a knitting circle/time travel already, hide your outlines and character assumptions from yourself for the day and write a sidebar, a prequel, a parallel universe, hey, why not stick them in space for a minute and see what happens?

It’s not original advice, but then, there really is no original advice when it comes to writing, and if you’re not one of the wonderfully inspiring/soul-crushing types who are powering into the 20ks and beyond already and tweeting gleefully about it, you might well be procrastinating exactly as much as I am and trawling the blogs of fellow NaNoers looking to be told once more things you already know in order to simply keep going. So, I’m just doing my bit for the community here, k?

Happy NaNo; here’s to Week 2!

(P.S. full disclosure: I’m well behind at only 7,676 words. But I’ve got plenty of time to catch up today, and no fear for it.)

Write the Next Word, then the One After That.

 

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This is my old writing office. You don’t need one of these.

I have a great many things to discuss, but this is not the post for those because the most important thing about November, which today I must considerably address, is that it is, at last, NaNoWriMo! One of my very favourite times of the year, although there are many moments in the depths of forcing one word out to the tune of another where I wonder how and why I ever thought it a good idea.

But, it’s always a good idea. I like to think of last year, where, even now, I can’t really remember what I did for fifty thousand words, I can only remember how much I loathed it. I was so upset with myself that I’d taken a good idea and ruined it. I was so angry that my amazing concept for a novel had been beaten into a bloody and miserable pulp and left crying on the frosty grounds of December that I thought I might just never NaNo again.

See, it only took about a day after that, where I didn’t fight with it, for me to think…hey, that was a great idea I had there. Hey, that was interesting. Hey, maybe some day, one day, I’ll come back to that.

And now, as I begin to push forwards on another, different project, I’m finding it quite a comfort that I’ve already won NaNo four times, which means I have four fifty thousand word lumps of material to tweak and play with…or three, really, because one I already moulded and chopped and lopped and so on and turned that into The Pulse.

This couldn’t be a better time for me to NaNo, though. I’m in a new home, back home, with space and time and opportunity and to have the structure of NaNo to get writing into my every day is precisely what I need right now. And if there’s one thing that you can get from NaNo, it’s material, and if there’s one more thing you can get, it’s the gift of fitting writing into your day.

I think a thousand words a day is pretty easy. I can, if I go to WriteOrDie, bang out a thousand words in fifteen minutes (and sometimes they’ve been my best ones XD). But it’s that damn 667 that get me. They mount up so quickly. It’s easy to feel behind in NaNoWriMo, and that’s why sprints and marathons are a great thing. I’m going to do a couple of them today. And I’m not going to use up any more of my easily-coming words blogging about it.

It’s just a hey NaNo, yay Nano, missed you NaNo sort of post. Anyone else doing it? How’s it going?