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Robin Hood Review

27 Mar

Just a quickie to say that there’s a new review of Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood is Wrong from Reader Views. The nice girl who reviewed it, Rachel Dehning,  describes the book as being “akin to a humorous research project” which seems entirely fair. Sometimes it seems my whole life is akin to a humorous research project…

Anyway, I’ll let you read it in its entirety if you like:

WEYKARHIW review on Reader Views

And hopefully in the not-too-distant future I’ll be posting about my experience of self-isolation. Just like every other blogger in the world.

Blake’s 7°C

11 Feb

You may remember that I decided to make a temperature blanket this year. It’s going pretty well, so far, although the temperature has been stubbornly sticking between 6 and 10 degrees centigrade most days, meaning that my blanket is largely midnight blue. It’s a good job I like midnight blue.

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Bible Hit Parade

27 Jan

I’m a bit scattered at the moment (rather than scatterbrained, as I always am) because I’m trying to learn Dutch for my research trip to Leiden; carry on writing the novel that the research trip is for; organise the next stage of my asylum seekers craft project; pitch my alchemy book to a publisher who showed a vague interest; interview people for an article I’m writing; and do my usual interpreting and translation on top. But I don’t see why I should neglect the poor blog – what’s one more plate?

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My Year in Review – 2019

31 Dec

It is the final day of the year (and indeed the decade) so I thought I would do a quick and thoroughly arbitrary review of my 2019.

It’s been a pretty good year for me, certainly better than last year, so here’s hoping that pattern continues into the ’20s.

Oh, and we’re all agreed it’s straight into flapper dresses and feather headbands tomorrow, right?

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Let’s play Hyndland bingo!

26 Apr

It probably says a lot about the neighbourhood of Anniesland, in Glasgow, that after spending a month here I am writing a post about Hyndland. Anniesland is a bit betwixt and between, both in a literal sense (its main landmark is Anniesland Cross, a major junction between roads that run west out of Glasgow and south to the Black Hole and the Death Star (as I like to call Govan and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital) and also in terms of character. It’s kind of west end but not posh, a bit down at heel but not cheap, not that far the city centre, but not actually close. Continue reading

Robin Hood 2018 Review

22 Nov

This review is going to contain one or two spoilers, so if you’d prefer a quick summary, here it is: just plain daft.

Robin-Hood-quad-poster

Looks cool. And…that’s about it.

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Robin Hood on the Other Side

20 Nov

I recently had a cross-timezone Skype chat with Mike Huberty, a rock musician who also runs a podcast called See You on the Other Side. The podcast deals with pop culture and the paranormal (fairly interesting, right?) and I was talking to him, naturally enough, about Robin Hood in connection with my new book, Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong.

If you want to listen into to our conversation, and find out my fun facts about Will Scarlett and the dodginess of medieval May Games, you can listen to the podcast on Mike’s site, or on Podbean, or iTunes.

Happy listening!

My Top Ten Films

13 Nov

I’m not much into vlogs, but one thing I do enjoy watching on YouTube is videos about films – best ofs, worst ofs, critiques, techniques. I watched the recent(ish) Mark Kermode documentary, Secrets of Cinema, too, and very much enjoyed it (apart from its obsession with Moonlight, which still doesn’t appeal to me at all).

filmklappe-1078812_960_720In short, I’m an armchair cinephile, which is great because an armchair is a very good place to watch films from. So I thought I’d share with you a list of my top ten favourite films (as they stand now), and what I like about them, and hope that it doesn’t reveal anything too disturbing about my personality.

There will be everything from rom-coms to cult classics to Cold-War-era sci fi; films everyone has seen, and probably some that you’ve never heard of. The oldest film on the list harks from the 1930s, the newest from 2010. This will be a long read, so grab a coffee, or alternatively a pair of sunglasses and half a packet of cigarettes, and let’s hit it.

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See Paris and Diet

1 Mar

The other weekend, hubbie and I went to Paris for the first time, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Paris in the springtime is supposed to be very romantic. Of course, we are still in the Never Ending Winter® so it wasn’t really like that, but despite the gloves and big coats, we had a good time. Here are a collection of impressions and musings about Paris, for you to be enlightened by or disagree with, interspersed with random photos of Paris Metro signs, because I just really liked them. (My husband didn’t. In one of the photos you can see him hiding his face in embarrassment at my touristy snapping.)

You can get surprisingly far with schoolgirl French

In fact, I topped up my half-forgotten French with a quick Memrise course, but even so, I was astonished how much of it I was able to use. I had heard that people in Paris just take one sniffy look at you trying to speak French and then reply in English, and there were a couple of those, but mostly people were perfectly happy, even pleased, that I was trying to speak their language. And at least two people we dealt with didn’t actually speak English. Yes, even in Paris.

Paris is not as lovely as I had hoped

Probably most of the top tourist destinations are over-hyped (except Rome – Rome is amazing), but it was still a bit of a disappointment to find at the end of the trip that I didn’t really like Paris. I was disappointed in the city and also kind of disappointed in myself because I really wanted to like it. But…

  • it was pretty dirty and smelly;
  • lots of people were rude and pushy – literally, in the context of public transport;
  • waiting staff take your drinks when you’re not finished. Just because I’ve asked for the wine list, that doesn’t mean I’ve finished with my champagne. It’s called planning;
  • waiting staff make you move seats for no reason at all. Seriously, in an empty cafe they will come up and tell you that you must move one chair to the left, or you must sit facing your date instead of beside him. In one case my coffee ended up all over the floor because of an unnecessary move and I was fumingIf I’m in Paris again and asked to move, I may just say ‘non’ and see what they do about it.

It’s not all waiters, waitresses and shop staff who are condescending and pushy, but enough to leave a bad taste in the mouth. I should say, though, that most of the time we received decent, friendly service. Just keep a firm hold on your drink.

The food was amazing

Whatever we may have disliked about the weekend, the food was definitely the bit we liked best. From a seriously stuffed bagel, eaten at a grubby outdoor table, to a cosy little restaurant (Un Air de Famille – strongly recommended), to the various chocolate shops peppered around central Paris, we scoffed with abandon. The coffee was also uniformly good. I discovered that the way I take my coffee (with a splash of milk) is called noisette  in Paris (maybe the rest of France too), which saved time. The length of the coffee varied from barely more than espresso to proper coffee-cupful, but the quality was unfailing. A place with good coffee and good food can’t be all bad 🙂

But now I’m back in Glasgow, where we’re no slouch at metro signs ourselves (okay, it’s the subway, but you know what I mean), so here’s a lovely picture of Cessnock Underground. And my husband thinks I’m weird…

Cessnock Underground Station

Four things that are wrong with The Dark Tower film (and one thing that’s right)

9 Sep

This is one for the fans, as I’m afraid this post is going to be a bit of a moan about the new Dark Tower film. It’s not a bad film, as it happens, although it’s not good either, but the issue I take with it is that it is supposed to be “based on the Dark Tower series of novels by Stephen King”, and that is only very loosely true.

I am a big fan of that series, you see, and it is AMAZING. Epic in scope, exciting, moving, meaningful – one of those books/series that stays with you and becomes part of how you think about the world. I more or less had to see the film, since I’m such a fan of the books, even though I knew from the trailers that I wasn’t happy with the casting of two out of three of the main characters. And I was disappointed, as I expected to be. (But is it disappointment if you expected it? Hmm.) So after a bit of rumination, here are the things I objected to (and one thing I liked):

1. It’s not about Roland

The main character in the Dark Tower books is Roland Deschain, a gunslinger (a bit like a knight of the Round Table, but with guns). Other people come and go through the stories, including a young boy called Jake, but it is essentially a story about Roland’s personal quest for the Tower.

In the film, the main character is Jake. The story is about how Jake is unhappy at home, how Jake dreams of the gunslinger and his world, and how he meets and eventually saves Roland. Maybe this was a marketing ploy, since dystopian sci-fi/fantasy is so big amongst young adults at the moment, but given that the most book readers are in their 30s or older (the books were published between 1982 and 2004), that was probably a mistake. Plus, an unhappy tween is just not as interesting as an ages-old questing knight steeped in ancient lore and with some incredible skills to boot.

2. It’s not even about the Tower

Roland is defined by his single-minded pursuit of the Tower. It is his monomania, and he will let nothing and no one get in the way of that. That’s part of what makes Roland’s character interesting: he’s basically very decent, but that’s sometimes overridden by his obsession with reaching the Dark Tower.

In the film, Roland doesn’t give a stuff about the Tower. The idea of reaching it doesn’t seem to have entered his mind, and even when the thing appears to stand in imminent danger of being destroyed, he’s not that bothered. He only cares about killing the Man in Black. (They make a big deal of this in the film, about how Roland is deserting his duty towards the Tower in order to instead kill the Man in Black, apparently unaware that there is no conflict between those objectives, since the Man in Black is the one threatening the Tower. That somewhat undermines the narrative tension.)

Now I realise that this is a reboot (I won’t go into the reasons for that here, though it makes sense in the context of the books) but there is no iteration of reality in which Roland is not in pursuit of the Tower, otherwise the ‘reboot’ thing couldn’t make sense. (I know that this point is very obscure if you haven’t read the books, but I refuse to spoil the ending for you!) If they make a sequel to this film it shouldn’t be called ‘The Dark Tower’, but ‘Jake and his Pal Roland Wander Aimlessly around Midworld’.

3. There’s no emotional weight

The Dark Tower series is full of flawed, broken people in difficult circumstances, mostly (though not always) trying to do some version of the right thing. Roland’s relationships with his companions are hard-earned and deep. His relationship with Jake is particularly special, as he has no children of his own, which makes it all the more excruciating when his obsession with the Tower leads him to betray the boy. Nobody is safe in the books. You can lose fingers, toes, legs, or your life. Main characters die. One main character dies twice (in different worlds) within one book.

In the film, all the main characters are basically going to be okay. Other, hastily-drawn characters (especially parents) are in danger so that the heroes can suffer manfully, and obviously a few baddies and randoms have to die to prove it’s serious, but you know that for Jake and Roland, there will always be a handy portal or other deus ex machina when they need it. Roland receives injuries that are not only life-threatening but inescapably life-ending, but just gets up and dusts himself down. It’s cartoonish, it doesn’t hurt, and it doesn’t matter.

4. It’s actually a mash up of The Dark Tower, The Shining and Monsters Inc.

I very much like the Jake of the books, and I like the kid from The Shining too. However, if you combine the two and add on a couple of extra years so he’s a gawky tween, I do not like him much at all. If you’re coming to the film cold, you’ll assume Jake has psychic powers, since it’s a crucial part of the plot. I have no recollection of Jake having psychic powers. I’d have to re-read all the books to swear that he has none at all (and I’ve only re-read the first two so far) but it’s safe to say it’s not a major plot point.

In The Shining, it’s pretty much the whole plot, and the Dark Tower film makers must have liked this so much that they decided to incorporate it. Now it’s true that Stephen King’s literary worlds have lots of connections (and the Dark Tower stands at the centre, naturally, since it is supposed to be the lynchpin of reality) but a sneaky photo of the Overlook hotel doesn’t mean you can just switch characters around at random. Not without incurring my wrath, at any rate.

And then Monsters Inc. Oh dear. If any of you saw King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (and if you didn’t, don’t) you’ll know that the CGI battles are exceptionally silly, making serious scenes laughable. The Dark Tower is a bit that way, too, since the screams of children being converted into a CGI weapon to attack the Tower just made me think of Sully and co. from Monsters Inc collecting screams. And that’s not a good thing in a fantasy film that’s trying to take itself seriously. It’s also irritating, because efforts to destroy the Tower in the books are a good deal more subtle and insidious than shooting it with a big blue light.

5. But it’s a good advert for the books

Here’s where I am prepared to admit that there was something good about the film (other than the casting of Matthew McConaughey, which I thought was perfect): it makes viewers want to read the books.

I watched a number of reviews when I was formulating my thoughts for this post, partly to see what people thought if they hadn’t read the books, and many of those people commented that it had made them want to read the books. There are things mentioned in the film that are never followed up, things that hint at a much larger mythology. Who on earth are the gunslingers, and why is Roland the last? Why does the Man in Black want to destroy the Tower? And why does Roland hate him so much? The reviewers supposed that these things must have been explained in the books, and they are, apart from the things in the film that are wrong – but let’s not get into geeky nitpicking when we’ve almost reached the end 😉

So I can’t recommend the film, not even as an hors d’oeuvre for the books, since so much of it is so far out of bounds that it will just confuse you. But I can’t recommend the books highly enough. So do yourself a favour and spend your ticket money on the first book, The Gunslinger, instead. It’s your passport to other worlds than these.

I’m happy to admit the poster’s cool, though.