Movie review: Train to Busan (2016) 


Synopsis: A zombie virus breaks out and a group of survivors are caught on a train, but who is more deadly – the zombies or the survivors?
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Su-An Kim, Yoo Gong, Dong-Seok Ma
Review: I’d heard good things about Train to Busan and it had been on my watch list so I was really pleased when it became available on Amazon Prime. The premise is simple, there’s a toxic spillage from a chemical factory which turns creatures into crazed zombies (the 28 Days Later kind, not shambling Shawn of the Dead). I’m a fan of zombie films, but have been finding the recent crop rather stale and unoriginal which is why Train to Busan was such a joy.

So many zombie movies are all about the action but without the heart (or brains if you’ll pardon the pun). That’s what makes Train to Busan so different, the relationships are central: from the bickering relationship between the sisters, camaraderie of the teens, the married couple expecting their first baby (as an aside, I wish I was even half as mobile as this lady during my pregnancy. Given I was on crutches, I’d have been eaten before the opening credits stopped!), the train crew and the central story of the father trying to get his daughter to Busan to see his ex-wife. You’re rooting for all of them to survive, especially as they aren’t making the sort of stupid decisions you so often see in zombie films (I spend a lot of time saying ‘what the hell are you doing?’). There’s even a fantastic ‘baddie’ who’s motivation you can relate to but at the same time, you’re desperate for him to suffer a horrific end. All are played superbly by an excellent cast.

The direction is very good, with equal care taken during the action scenes as well as some of the more emotional scenes. Shots switched from wide shots of the beautiful South Korean scenery or train stations to inside toilet cubicles – and surprisingly the latter didn’t feel claustrophobic. I liked the choice of music which was in-keeping and never overwhelmed with the action or the talking. The special effects were very good, both the make up on the zombies and the larger pieces which can be rare in horror films with a small budget.

It’s been quite a while since a zombie movie packed so many feels into two hours – I raced between being scared, to angry, to ultimately crying. This is a fantastic movie and one I’ll be watching again and again. Go see it now!

Writer Wednesday: The Battle In the Blue I Didn’t Win…..

I’ve been pouring over my assorted writings in an attempt to get organised and I came across this piece, written but never submitted for a competition/anthology (it was written a long time ago so I can’t remember which). For assorted reasons I never finished it and have never returned to it until now.

Sometimes a story comes to you and it’s easy, a joy, simplicity itself to write. The characters are chatting and responsive to your guidance, the landscapes pour onto the page and as always the villain gets their comeuppance after a suitably exciting battle. And then there are the stories which, frankly don’t work. There’s no one reason why: could be that the characters aren’t fully formed in your mind, or your plans just aren’t fusing. Could be that you’ve only seen one ‘scene’ and there’s not enough for a complete story.

And that’s the case with ‘The Battle of the Deep (or The Battle of Ineray)’. I remember the submission asking for a short story set under the sea. I immediately saw a battle brewing between different sea creatures, with two ambassadors trying to stop the battle. I think I was partially influenced by the Gungans undersea home from Star Wars: Episode One, the Phantom Menace (say what you like about the movie, some of the concept art for the sets was impressive) and ‘The Blue Planet’ BBC show, narrated by David Attenborough. The characters are fairly ‘flat’ by which I mean, I didn’t hear their individual voices, style of speaking but most importantly I didn’t hear what they wanted and needed to say to get the story moving. Whilst my ideas for the characters were only half-formed (I could visualise them and my description didn’t ‘fit’ or do them justice) I wanted a really bright, vibrant and critter-filled underwater world which again didn’t really work out. However, the main issue was that whilst my ideas were vivid, I had no realy story. All stories start with an event, then some action followed by a resolution and with many of my stories I may not have a full map but there’s more than a vague idea but here, nothing. And frankly, all these issues show. It was a struggle to write and while I have no plans to extend this piece at the moment, never say never! Perhaps a rewatch of ‘The Blue Planet’ will help.

The Battle of the Deep (The Battle of Ineray)

*Translated from ancient slan-garr

Viceroy Glimpt looked around him, taking in the encrusted walls, the high scalloped archways and the large open windows. By now he knew every crack, every piece of peeling paint like the back of his hand by heart. He cast a furtive look at the two guards at the end of the corridor and tried not to let his agitation show: his every movement would be reported back to those in charge and he could not afford to cause an incident. Looking at the guards they watched him impassively.

A slight noise to his left altered him to the arrival of the Clerk to the Council. The Viceroy forced his face into neutral.

‘They are ready for you, Viceroy,’ the clerks bulbous eyes stated calmly as he gestured with one of his many arms.

The Viceroy uncurled his long tail. He was long, even for a merman, and his chest was broad, his gills on his neck undulated, fins spreading out from under his arms, silver tail ending in a whip snap, covered in scales, ‘And in what mood is the Council today?’ asked the Viceroy, a snap of his tail bringing him alongside the Clerk.

‘Grey, sir,’ replied the clerk,

‘As bad as that? It does not bode well for our meeting.’ The clerk did not respond to the Viceroy as they reached the large doors which signified they had arrived at the Council Chamber.

The slan-garr were perched around a large table, shaped like a toadstool a single root going down into the ground with the domed top in shades of red. The slan-garr were similarly shaped, with a large dome shell of interlocking plates currently flaring different shades of grey.  Pin-like legs protruded from under the shell, continually moving and filtering tiny food particles from the water and easing them up and into their beaks.

‘The dragons are angered, Viceroy.’

‘What do the dragons care? They are creatures of neither sea nor land, but of the air.’

The king nodded his head solemnly, ‘Aye, but their spawning grounds cover both our lands. We have agreed to adhere to the old ways, honour agreements made by our forefathers. You cannot say the same.’

The Viceroy struggled to maintain his calm composure, but the knowledge that the dragons would fight on the side of the slan-garr turned his water cold.

He thought for a moment, then his predator grin slashed across his face.

***
If you’d like to read some of my completed work (with characters I really liked), why not check out my other works, including my novels ‘Akane: The Last of the Orions’, ‘Weird Wild‘ and my children’s book ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard’.

Movie review: The Boy (2016)

Synopsis: An American nanny is hired to take care of a young boy, the only problem is, the ‘boy’ is made of porcelain. Violating the strict rules his parents said she must follow, she begins to sense the boy is alive, and may want more than just a nanny to care for him

Director: William Brent Bell

Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle

Review: I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this movie. It started with the typical ‘girl takes a job despite it having a dodgy job description to escape her ex’. The family she works for are very odd and their unease, portrayed excellently by Norton and Hardcastle. They ask Cohan to look after their ‘son’ a porcelain doll which is more than a little creepy, and they have a number of rules which must be followed to ensure his care.

Cohan will be known to viewers of ‘The Walking Dead’. The naiveté and winning smile she brings to Maggie Green in her battle against zombies on the show is also evident here (I’ll admit, we’re VERY behind with The Walking Dead so I’m not sure if she’s still smiling) as she plays a fairly likeable character, but it’s not soon before she’s left on her own and ignoring the rules for caring for the Boy. What happens next made me think we were on for a supernatural twist and Cohen plays it well, with a mixture of excitement and unease at caring for a ‘ghost’. Obviously, this idea is boosted by Evans telling her about Norton and Hardcastle’s son who was an odd child and died in mysterious circumstances.

The ending was a cliched surprise. By that I mean, the movie didn’t go in the direction I expected, but as soon as it did, there wasn’t anything new to add, although there were a few jumps. I suppose for me, part of the issue was that, as lovely as Cohan is her, I wasn’t really that engaged with her or any of the other characters. There was also no satisfactory explanation as to why the Boy’s parents had set up such an elaborate ruse. The direction was good in that it’s claustrophobic and made you feel as if there’s something unsettling in the house but at times was a little too light and breezy to maintain the suspense.

The Boy is a good Friday night movie: it doesn’t demand too much and delivers a few spooks and scares, but it needs to grow up a lot before it joins the big boys of horror.

Throwback Thursday: Exeter Respect 2012

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We have an annual festival in Exeter called the ‘Respect Festival’ which celebrates the city’s diversity. Way back in 2012 I’d help set up ‘Resident Writers’ and we did ‘flag poetry’ The idea was that there were different words written on the ‘flags’. Everyone was given five flags, and then had the option of adding three more words to create their poem.

My poem read: Love Means The Time Given to Ghosts

 

 

My Path to Publication

Geri meets Aggy

The publishing world has undergone a rapid shift in recent years, even in the time since I dipped my toes into the ocean of books, agents, ebooks etc. However, I’m often asked how I got my work published so I thought I’d share my story in case it helps someone else on their journey to publication and a few tips based on my experiences.

I’ve always written. One of my first memories was of sitting with my cousin, writing a very long and protracted story. I can’t remember all the details but I do remember it ran to about eight pages, quite a feat as I was only about 7years old! At college I’d written for our local paper and had written some short stories for myself. When hubby and I decided to take a gap year, I decided that would be the perfect time for me to get that novel out.

I remember writing the opening chapters to what would become ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ while on a beach in Brazil. Reading it to hubby, he was excited and I was keen to learn what happened to Akane and her friends but it would be another few years before I had finished the novel. In the meantime I undertook the London School of Journalism’s Creative Writing Course which gave me some useful guidelines and helpful feedback from the tutors. I also worked on a few pieces featuring animals and people we’d met on our travels. In theory I’d love to publish them one day, but I know they’ll stay safely in my computer.

I completed ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ as part of a National Novel Writing Month challenge but it needed a LOT of work. As an aside, if you’ve not completed NaNoWriMo before and are an aspiring writer, give it a go. It’s a fun challenge which can set you up with some good writing practices.

When we returned to the UK I decided to try and sell some of my work. I attended a writers conference ‘FantasyCon’ and was bombarded with information – ways to get an agent, ways to self-publish your books, reasons not to have an agent, self-branding, writing for YA, ensuring your book will be the ‘next big thing’. It was frankly too much and everyone I met had an opinion on how to do it ‘correctly’. I left slightly more confused than when I arrived, but filled with ideas. I had also met some funny, interesting and people who would ultimately help me on my writing journey.

I’d got chatting to Adele Wearing the first night of the conference and she contacted me a few weeks later to discuss a project she was putting together. That was the start of ‘The Girls Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse‘. It was a really fun project, one I hold very dear, and which allowed me to try different writing styles, from tongue-in-cheek articles, to opinion pieces, to short stories. It also gave me the confidence to submit my stories to websites and I’m still very happy that I won the poll on Fantasy Faction for my short story ‘The Last Dragon Keeper’.

My interest in writing grew and I helped to set up ‘Resident Writers’ which prompted me to write an assortment of pieces, including poetry which is definitely not my forte! I continued submitting to different websites In the meantime, Adele had decided to collate and publish a book called ‘Tales of the Nun and Dragon‘ and asked if I would like to submit. My short story ‘Into the Woods’ was accepted and I really enjoyed writing all the blood and guts. ‘Tales of the Nun and Dragon’ was well-received and launched at the next FantasyCon, with Adele deciding to set up Fox Spirit Books soon after. Further titles from Fox Spirit Books followed and Adele kindly agreed to publish my collection of short stories, Weird Wild, which included an adapted version of ‘Into the Woods’. The following year ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ was also published by Fox Spirit Books. All the while, I continued submitting my work, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so and writing on my blog.

I had a bit of a break when the toddler was born. The voices were still there, demanding attention, but not surprisingly there was a louder, more demanding voice who needed me, so my notebooks and ideas were put away. Although I still wrote a little, I had become rusty and my old website became slightly redundant. I briefly returned to work, but for a variety of reasons, decided to leave my job and devote myself to raising our daughter, trying my hand at crafting and focussing on my writing. In 2016 I took on the role of ‘Commissioning Editor’ for ‘Fennec Books’ an imprint of Fox Spirit Books and soon after my first pre-teen novel ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard‘ was published. I’m planning next year to try self-publishing so pop back regularly to see how that’s going and I’m also submitting to different magazines and publications, with a short story appearing in the June edition of Sirens Call.

So I’m by no means an ‘expert’ on getting published. My path is very different to other authors – I’ve met people who have agents but who have no books currently in print and others who’ve lots of work either self-published or published through small presses, I’ve met people who use Patreon and others who only show their work to family. However, I have a few suggestions (in no particular order) if you want to your your work out there.

 

  1. Firstly, make sure your MS is ready for publication. Get others to read it and offer suggestions (it’s up to you if you accept them). Check, then check again for grammar and spelling mistakes (you never get them all but sending something filled with mistakes with get your MS rejected as agents don’t have the time to sort your laziness).
  2. Sounds daft but be passionate about your book when discussing it. If you’re not excited, how will anyone else be?
  3. Ive been told that you need a minimum of 10k followers on Twitter, as well as an author page on Facebook. I’d agree and disagree about needing 10k followers on Twitter. I’ve met established writers who struggle to make 1000! However, most publishers or agents are looking for some sort of online presence and Twitter is great for that. Few pointers – it’s SOCIAL media. Don’t spam people with ‘buy my book’ ads-nothing will get you blocked faster. Engage with people and make it fun. I tweet about books (and promote my own) but also chat with people about movies, crafts, dogs, anything really.
  4. A blog is also helpful as it gets you writing regularly and improves your writing but you need to keep it up to date, which is why I took mine down after having my daughter as I didn’t have time to maintain it and it looked a bit shabby and unloved. Websites are easy to set up and you can make it engaging by inviting blog-hops (where others contribute content. I do interviews with inspirational women who had interesting jobs or were challenging the establishment) or a regular item – I do ‘Make It Monday’ and movie reviews. On my old website, in the run up to an anthology I was in being published, I did a month of promo, inviting contributions, which was really fun & got word out there about the antho but it was hard work coordinating so many submissions and getting them all scheduled so it’s not for the faint-hearted. Facebook is a good media but a) think about your audience – for example it’s not the preferred social media for under 25’s or over 60’s so may not reach your target audience and b) I struggle with private/public so some authors keep separate accounts (I personally don’t bother). There’s also Instagram which I’m learning to use and Snapchat as well as Reddit and more popping up regularly. All have their pros and cons. Whichever you choose, post regularly, engage with people and don’t spam!
  5. I’d recommend going to writing conferences. There are many which are genre specific (Romance, World Con, and FantasyCon are a few which spring to mind but there’s loads). I was lucky and met some great people at these conferences, who I’m happy to say are now friends. My first conference I met a lot of wannabe authors and it sounds awful but they smelled of desperation – they were buying agents drinks and generally sucking up to everyone. One man actually turned his back on my husband as soon as he learned he wasn’t in ‘the biz’. So just get chatting to people and you never know who you’ll meet. (We did the awards dinner and I accidentally sat next to an agent who after chatting about tv shows etc offered to read my novel.) These conferences are also great for learning more about getting published or just about your favourite authors or subjects so go and enjoy.
  6. Agents. There are a lot of pros and cons about agents. In theory they get your book into the hands of publishers faster, sort contracts and generally look after you. However, I know authors signed to an agent who haven’t sold any of their manuscripts so it’s up to you. If you’re going to approach an agent, check their submission guidelines CAREFULLY. Nothing will get your MS thrown into the slush pile faster than sending it in Word and they wanted it in Pages or set out incorrectly. This sounds simple but don’t send it to a wrong agent. Like readers, agents have their own interest areas so I wouldn’t send my horror story to a romance agent – it’s wasting both our time. As I said, follow guidelines and be polite – Twitter is filled with authors sending snotty replies to agents who they feel have taken too long or rejected their work. Publishing is a small world and you don’t need that sort of negativity against your name. You’re trying to sell your books, but also yourself so acting like a child throwing a tantrum is not professional. If they reject, say thanks for their time and that’s it. Take on board any suggestions they may make. If you want an agent, keep going – they receive hundreds of manuscripts a month so yours needs to really stand out.
  7. If you get an agent, or work with a small press, read the small print of any contract – check about foreign rights, who gets what if it’s sold to TV or movies, rights for audiobooks, how long you’re entering into the contract and who gets the rights to our work when it ends, who pays for editing and formatting, and what type of publishing will they do (print or eformat).
  8. Which brings me to small presses and self publishing. Some people dismiss these as vanity presses but in recent years they’ve been putting out some good work. As with agents, follow their submission guidelines and also check their contracts as above. For example my contract means my publisher gets the rights to print and e-format for a year, then all rights return to me & I can sell it elsewhere if I want. They’re fantastic for new authors, but their budgets are small so be prepared to do a lot of self-promotion.
  9. I’d also recommend getting your name out there by submitting short stories & articles to magazines. A lot aren’t accepting submissions from unknowns anymore (eg Women’s Own used to do periodical mags just of fiction but I think they’ve stopped them now) but there’s loads of online places to submit. As above, check guidelines, proof your submission and write a good story.

These are only a few suggestions, if you’ve got more (and I’m sure you do!), let me know in the comments below.

A Father’s Love

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On a rare ‘date night’ (that’s two sleepy parents who’ve managed to get the toddler to bed at a decent time) hubby and I watched the latest Beauty & the Beast. It’s been a looooong time since I saw the original animation (in the cinema, with my BFF, Karen something) and I was amazed that I remembered all the songs. When it was announced, I’d had mixed feelings about making a live-action of Beauty and the Beast, I mean, what could it add to the original, which won Academy Awards, Grammy’s and Golden Globes? However, I was pleasantly surprised by it’s quality and I really enjoyed the small changes Emma Watson brought to ‘Belle’. For those who’ve seen it, I’m sure you’ll agree that Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou completely steal the show but the other thing which struck me was the relationship between Belle’s father.

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People will argue that the Beast, or even Belle herself, is the hero of this movie (certainly in the updated version, Belle is more than capable of handling herself) but I have to argue that the unacknowledged hero of both movies is actually Maurice, Belle’s father. I thought on Father’s Day it seemed apt to look at this Daddy’s Girl and what a Daddy’s love for his daughter.

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*SPOILERS AHEAD*

One of the main differences between the animated and live action movies is that Belle is the inventor, not Maurice, who is an artist. This obviously plays out later, to explain why Belle’s such an outcast and Maurice is considered ‘unusual’, but whether she’s reading a book, inventing a washing machine or generally discussing what she wants to do with her life, Maurice supports her. He agrees, it’s HER life to do with as she chooses. beauty-and-the-beast-disneyscreencaps-com-910.jpg

I suppose having a daughter myself now, and seeing the encouragement my husband gives her daily (if there’s a higher branch to climb, he’ll tell her to do it, but always makes sure she knows he’s there if she falls) this really struck me. In how many other Disney movies, or movies in general, does the father give unconditional encouragement to his daughter’s dreams and ideas, especially when they run so contrary to the expectations of society. There are not that many which spring to mind.

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Maurice loves his daughter, that’s obvious but for me it’s shown in the number of sacrifices he’s willing to make for her. In the live action movie, there’s a scene explaining what happened to Belle’s mother and how Maurice was forced to leave Paris for his daughter’s safety during a plague outbreak, choosing to settle in the country to ensure her health. He had to leave his beloved wife behind, to die alone and this is played with nuance by Kevin Kline. So there’s poor Maurice, having to care for an infant whilst also grieving for his wife and his life in Paris, whilst settling in a village with locals who consider him more than a little strange and are not the most welcoming.


However, the ultimate sacrifice Maurice makes is when Gaston asks, then demands, Belle’s hand in marriage. Each time Maurice says no, even though he knows it may cost him his freedom, even his life. He loves his daughter so much, her safety and happiness is paramount to him, and he does what’s best for her without a second though as to what it will cost him. Can you imagine a greater love? It’s one thing to sacrifice your life, and certainly that’s been portrayed numerous times in films (think the mum in Findig Nemo), but to allow yourself to in institutionalised whilst sane and worrying about your daughters safety, that’s a fathers love. He’s the ultimate, unsung (I think he really is, as he’s about the only one without a theme) hero of the story.


So, what’s th e post of this slightly rambling post? Well, it’s a Fathers Dat, a day to acknowledge all the sacrifices, both little and big that our father’s make for us – be it working a job they hate in order to pay for things for their children, sharing their cake after a little one drops theirs, even getting up early to take the children downstairs so us mums can have a much-needed lay in. I watch my husband with our daughter – he’s constantly striving to be a better dad, to push her to be the best she can and ignore anyone who tells her what she can’t do.  He’s as fierce a feminist as I am. He has a level of patience I envy and loves getting stuck in with the toddlers latest game, be it a tea party for her imaginary friends or going on a bear hunt, he’s by her side and she adores him for it. He gets up in the night to chase away monsters and as soon as he gets home is dragged into games which he throws itself into without a thought of how exhausted he as. His only reward is a cheeky smile, raspberry blown at him & the ultimate ‘love you, daddy!’ As the toddler flings her arms around his neck. He’s mostly definitely hers, mine & the pups hero. 

How are you celebrating Father’s Day? 

Movie review: Below (2002)

Synopsis: An American submarine stops to rescue survivors of a sunken ship but as soon as they are on board, strange happenings start to occur in this claustrophobic supernatural thriller.

Director: David Twohy

Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Dexter Fletcher, Matthew Davis and Olivia Williams

Review: I normally avoid war movies but I was drawn to this one due to its supernatural twist and also Dexter Fletcher – who doesn’t love him? Plus, ghost stories set at sea? I’ve not seen or heard one I didn’t love.

Anyway the pretence is that an American submarine undertakes a routine rescue mission, saving Williams and Fletcher. There’s plenty of misgivings about having a woman on board the submarine, not helped by things going bump in the depths.

Due to the setting of the film, it’s very claustrophobic which helps to build tension but it’s also well acted with even the minor characters putting in a good performance. Williams plays her usual ‘too cool British character’ we’ve seen in other films and shows such as Dollhouse but she does bring a certain depth to her character. Fletcher is typical Fletcher and plays his character well, while Davis as the first officer struggling to follow the commands of a rapidly unravelling Greenwood is excellent. However, it is Greenwood who steals the show as the war-hardened captain with a big secret.

I’ve mentioned the claustrophobia caused by the set but the director makes best use of the space and you get a feel for what life in a submarine must be like. The creaks and groans as the sub descends also adds to the unease felt by the crew and the fact that you know there is no escape when things start to go wrong builds tension and you’ll find yourself wishing the crew weren’t so far under water when ghostly happenings start to occur.

This was no jump-out-of-your-chair horror but a well crafted and thoughtful supernatural thriller which kept me entertained from beginning to end. I think it’s a shame that it’s not been more widely viewed and for those of you with Netflix it’s a great Friday night movie.