Thursday, 24 December 2015

Book of the year: The Girl in the Red Coat

The best book I read this year was Kate Hamer's The Girl in the Red Coat. I was lucky enough to discuss the novel with Kate, and as it's Christmas I'll share that with you. Then you go out and by the book, ok? (You can stay in and order off Amazon too)

Here's the interview:

Do you believe in magic?

What an interesting question! Magic certainly has its part to play in my writing, it’s a very strong theme. Do I believe in real magic in the non-fictional world? If pushed I’d have to say yes, although I imagine it to be a lot more complex, human and subtle than a magic wand being waved.

I find the book very magical, in what ways do you think it manifests itself in the book? Were these planned or was some of it happy accidents?

I think it all comes from reading fairy tales as a child. I had a copy of the Grimm brothers’ stories and read them over and over so they must have made quite an impression. I think it sort of ‘normalised’ magical happenings from a very early age – yes, of course a mirror can talk, that sort of thing. The main arc of the story in ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ was planned beforehand but there were surprises along the way – the twins for instance, I hadn’t planned on them. They just popped up completely formed and refused to go away.

Is there anything you’d change about the book? Do you look back like that at your work or does madness lie in thinking like that?

Definitely madness lies that way! Because of this I’ve yet to re-read the book since it’s been published because I know I’m bound to be unhappy with something. Maybe in about five years time I’ll pick it up and read it, but I’m guessing by that time it might seem like it was written by another person!

What makes you proudest about ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’?

Simply seeing it on the shelves and having the thought that people are reading it. That seems truly wonderful.

What do you hope people take away from it?

Fundamentally I feel the book is a love story. I hope that is the abiding sense that people are left with.

There are elements of fairytale, crime, even horror to the novel. How would you define the genre of the book? Did you worry about that when planning/writing?

I love all those genres to some extent or another but while I was writing I didn’t really think about placing it in any one of them. I wrote the story that I felt passionate about, personally I think it can confuse the fundamental truth of a story if you worry too much about genre. It’s been placed in a lot of categories – crime, domestic noir, psychological thriller, though my very favourite description has been ‘twenty-first century fairy tale.’ That sums up what I was attempting perfectly for me.

How do you plan to follow up on ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’?

I’ve finished the first draft of another novel and I’m working on the second draft of it now. Again, it’s a coming of age story. It has a strong supernatural theme with many creepy goings on. The appeal of the dark just seems to come naturally to me!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

My Top 20 films of 2015

Seems everyone does one of these, thought I'd join in. Was going to do a Top 10 but that was too difficult, even with a Top 20 there was a few films which narrowly missed out, and which were agonising to leave off. I've agonised over this, so you better read on, and as part of the deal I'll get on with it.

20. Inherent Vice - This was the most polarising PT Anderson film yet, I really went with it.

19. Age of Adaline - A real surprise this, as I knew nothing about it going in. there is something magical about the film, and it contains Harrison Ford's best performance of the year, if not his most memorable.

18. Ant Man - Just when I thought I couldn't take anymore Marvel they drag me back with a great fun film. some sequences still make me smile when I think of them.

17. Vacation - This got some terrible reviews, I'm a huge fan of the original and while this may stick close to it, it still found new things to make me laugh in there.

16. Krampus - I really like Michael Dougherty's style, loved Trick R Treat, a Halloween favourite, and think this will be an Xmas favourite of the future.

15. The Man from U.N.C.L.E - I hated the trailer for this and don't know how I ended up seeing it, but from the sound mix introducing the soundtracks from the back speakers slowly to the front I was won over. Not perfect but it really surprised me and sometimes that feels really great.

14. Blur: New World Towers - One of my favourite bands, that seems to have been there throughout my life, and a great documentary chronicling the making of their comeback album. Open and insightful.

13.  The Martian - Loved the book of this was worried the film would mess it up. It didn't. Really great performance from Matt Damon, on screen alone for much of the running time. The film really understood the humour of the book which made the film distinctive.

12. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - Could be called a Wes Anderson copyist, but that's only really fair if the style isn't saying anything, and this film had plenty to say, there's some shots and use of editing which really pack an emotional wallop. When you can combine clever with emotional you're onto a winner.

11. Far from the Madding Crowd - I preferred this to the 1967 original, it has a central relationship you can root for, yet still feel for other characters whose fate doesn't turn out as well. 

See, how could I miss any of those out? Now, we're into the top 10, this is where it became difficult to choose. I decided to make my choices on personal preference rather than best film. It's possible to like a film more even though you know another is a better film, right? We've all cried at something not that good, or is it just me. anyway, I said I'd get on with it.

10. A Walk in the Woods - Having not read the novel I didn't know what to expect, I loved the stunning vistas and Nick Nolte's sub human gravelly voice. I don't think I've laughed more in a cinema this year, helped by seeing it opening night in a packed screen.

9. The Longest Ride - I'd always steered clear of Nicholas Sparks adaptations, but this year a new Cineworld opened locally, and after getting an Unlimited card I spent a bit of time seeing everything. I'm really glad I saw this, yes it's corny, but the two leads really make it work, it has an assured tone. If you've steered clear of Sparks but are intrigued, give it a go. It's made me want to seek out more, although The Best of Me almost put me off searching anymore.

8. The Good Dinosaur - The version of a Walk in the Woods that's for kids, stunning vistas, the most remarkable animated water, and loads of laughs, but also tears. Wow, this is an emotional ride. I'd been prepared for a lesser Pixar film but choked back tears twice.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road - If i was rating this on best film this would probably be higher. It's flawless visual storytelling, this and catching up with the Mission Impossible franchise made me want to write action sequences this year. People who say there's no story, really need to rewatch and notice how it's layered in there beautifully. Initially the guitar playing thing annoyed me, but loved it boomingly loud in IMAX.

6. Carol - From the booming of Max to the quiet of Carol, a film that absorbed me. Still marvel at how it built tension out of romance like I've seen no other film do, it was tight like a vice, intense to the point of a horror film, but about romance. The two central performances were out of this world.

5. Tomorrowland - Oi! Stop laughing. I adored this film. I know it's got some problems, mostly with it's framing device, a bit like another recent Disney flop John Carter (which I also liked) but I loved the films positivity and retro styling. Made me really want to find a Tomorrowland pin badge. worst thing is I'd find and and turn up for the sequel which will never happen, and I'll end up stuck in the void forever.

4. Inside Out - One of those ideas that's so out there but also so simple that you kick yourself for not having it. But maybe only Pixar could pull this off. A brilliantly imaginative film, probably the most original film of the year. Still in pain at what happens to one of the characters.

3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens -  The film we've all been waiting for. What a relief it was great. Familiar yet new and different with great new characters, great roles for the original cast, so many punch the air moments, lump in throat moments. Designed to be rewatched again and again and again, and that's just the next week.

2. Bridge of Spies - From the opening moments this felt so assured, it looked brilliant, I loved the performances, the pacing was exceptional for my tastes and I never knew where it would end up. The ending really hit me hard. One of those films where I had to sit soaking up the credits for a while to let it soak in. 

1. Crimson Peak - Del Toro has sort of had a split personality career, his more personal foreign language horrors, and his big brash Hollywood blockbusters. This combined them, and it didn't seem to go down as well as expected. Which surprised the hell out of when I saw it. It's sumptuous, and I thought really scary, the sink scene truly sickened me and took my breath away. It felt beautifully hammer horror and Jessica Chastains' performance was my favourite of the year, terrifying and beautiful - my film of the year!