Back

20 Nov

I’m back. 

It’s been a while.

I’ll try not to be gone so longer ever again. Promise. 

I’ll be right back…

24 Apr

For various reasons, I’ve archived my blog. At some point, I’ll resurrect it. But not right now. Right now, I’m off to write some fiction…

Attack The Block – Watch It!

29 Dec

I’m late to the party with this, but how great is Attack The Block? (Answer: exceedingly great, fam.) I felt it worked on several levels, I found it tightly written, and I thought it contained some lovely action moments (especially the corridor scenes amid the firework smoke.) It also featured some memorable comic lines and genuinely poignant moments – for example, when nurse Sam learns her mugger Moses lives virtually alone and is just 15 years old. And not that I’m biased or anything, but a genre film about underprivileged London kids will always get my vote.

The film is about a group of London teenagers whose mugging of a young woman named Sam is interrupted when an alien drops out of the sky. The kids then kill the alien, bringing down a whole load more trouble in the shape of the alien’s bigger, faster brethren. This is the first of several ways in which the aliens and the threat they pose are used as parallels to Moses’ life. He and his friends are at first dismissive of Sam’s mugging, which they scarcely see as a crime, but in the end, just as they misjudged the consequences of killing the alien, they realise Sam is a person not so different from themselves, that mugging her has deep consequences, and they give her back a ring that has sentimental value to her.

There are a lot of ideas in this film about the meaning of alienation and territory, but aside from one or two slightly heavy-handed lines, the script manages not to be preachy or cringeworthy. Moses and his friends are initially presented as masked and therefore faceless, and we are half way through before we learn all their names. By the end of the film, it’s the police who are faceless, emerging from the smoke (as the aliens did moments before), lights and uniforms obscuring their identity. Although you might not necessarily like these teenagers by the end, it’s hard not to find a kind of sympathy for them. They have no money (at one point, a character only has enough credit for one text – one of several moments that is both amusing and poignant.) Although Moses has a Samurai sword, their most effective weapons are fireworks. The turning point for me was when we see the kids running to face the aliens, Pizza Go Go bike and tiny dog in tow. This is when we are given our first reminder that they are just children. Other moments, such as when one boy apologises for his bad driving by saying, “I’m getting lessons for Christmas” add to this.

Moses and his friends mistakenly apply their own code of existence to the aliens. They assume that the creatures turn up en-masse out of a desire to avenge their fallen friend. Likewise, it’s unthinkable that Moses and his friends would simply leave their home (they are deeply offended when Sam says she doesn’t like the area.) Despite their very different perspectives, Sam, gangster Hi-Hatz, and Moses and his friends each individually claim that this is their territory, and their actions are governed by their desire to protect it. And it’s the block that this film is really all about, as highlighted through a lovely first-person shot near the beginning when the viewer is drawn inexorably into its looming bulk. Though Sam seems both to Moses and his friends, and to posh, weed-smoking student Brewis to be alien to the block (Brewis explains he was headed to a party at Fulham and after asking why she’s there, is shocked to learn she lives there) by the end Sam tells police that Moses is her neighbour and stands united with him.

The idea that Moses and his friends appear aggressive out of necessity – from fear and self-preservation – is re-enforced repeatedly. Gangster Hi-Hatz accuses them of bringing both “feds” and aliens to the housing block – another way in which the police and the creatures are set up as parallels. Hi-Hatz at one point suggests Moses might like to graduate to selling cocaine for him, and we are reminded that it is very easy for children from Moses’ background to fall into such a lifestyle by the fact that, in this block, the safest place is the “Weed Room”, where Hi-Hatz grows cannabis. The viewer is drawn into Moses world of alienation and abandonment as the block is sealed off, his female friends flee and the police remain ignorant of the threat within, interested only in catching the muggers. As one of Moses’ friends says towards the end, with regard to his knife carrying (and unnecessarily, I felt, but never mind): “Walking around expecting to get jacked any minute – feels like just another day in the ends.”

I could go on. Anyway, bottom line – watch it!

Four In A Bed

28 Dec

Oh dear, two parenting posts in a row – this will never do. But I felt moved to write something about co-sleeping because of this campaign, which has had huge coverage in attachment parenting circles. In short, the campaign likens sleeping beside your baby to placing them next to a large knife. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me it’s all just a big, stupid joke.

Here’s our bed-sharing background: when I was pregnant with my first child, I was certain I would breastfeed, so I bought bedside cot because I didn’t want to have to cross the room in the dark. When my son was born, he cried when he wasn’t in contact with me, so I slept holding him. Then I slept with him right beside me in our bed. He’s nearly three now, and has his own room and bed available in it, but he also has a single bed next to our kingsized. Sometimes he sleeps in the single bed, and sometimes he sleeps in our bed. He’s yet to sleep in his own bedroom, but he will. It makes me laugh when people say, “you’ll never get rid of him.” …Because of course there are so many cases of fifteen-year-olds demanding to climb in between mum and dad. Now we have another newborn, and he sleeps beside me too – sometimes in the bedside cot, but mostly in my bit of the bed. He didn’t need to be held, so I didn’t hold him.

When I first became a parent I really beat myself up about bed-sharing. I didn’t think I knew anyone else who did it, and the midwives had told me I’d spoil my child by giving him what he wanted (midwives who clearly don’t understand attachment theory and its very sound scientific basis.) Then I read Three In A Bed by Deborah Jackson, which outlined the many reasons why bed-sharing is a natural and healthy thing (and the norm in most parts of the world, and even in the West until recently.) I learned that some of my friends co-slept. I began to see it as something enjoyable, and as something that could actually benefit my child. There are psychological and biological reasons why bed-sharing is A Very Good Thing.

So this time around, I have no qualms about what I’m doing. My newborn doesn’t sleep under the duvet- he has a baby sleeping bag, or his own blankets. He sleeps on his back, or on my arm. He never sleeps next to my toddler, or up against a pillow. And the chances of me rolling onto him – one of the supposed risks – are zero. As has been proven by various studies, mothers (and sometimes fathers) who bed-share are very aware of their baby’s movements, enjoy a much lighter sleep, and breastfeeding mothers often wake a moment or two before their babies, achieving a kind of beautiful synergy.

Now I simply can’t imagine not bed-sharing. I’d love to be able to sit up in bed watching TV, to be able to stretch out, to not wake up with a two-year-old’s foot in my face. But I think what we do is best for all of us at the moment. Our nights are less disrupted. We enjoy waking up to our children’s smiles (um… usually they smile.) I feel safer knowing that I’ll hear immediately if my child is choking (as happened once) or is upset (obviously my children are never upset. Never!) But although this is something I feel passionate about, I know it’s not right for everyone, and that’s fine. So when authorities trot out ill-informed campaigns that aim to inspire fear rather than informed choice, I get mad. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is such an emotive topic, and one there are no definitive answers to. So to lay such heavy blame at the door of co-sleeping is inexplicable to me, especially when most deaths involving bed-sharing also involve alcohol or drugs – something the Milwaukee campaign neglected to mention. I’m sure they’re well-intentioned, but the adverts are at best misguided, and at worst deeply offensive, and it saddens me that they might put parents off something that could benefit them and their children.

Lots more info on co-sleeping, (and why it actually reduces SIDS) here:

Dr Sears Addresses Recent Co-sleeping Concerns

Co-sleeping & SIDS FactSheet

Peaceful Parenting

I’m a parent again!

23 Nov

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Here he is – another baby boy, born earlier this month. Blame him for me not completing NaNoWriMo this year. And for my lack of inane Twitter rants.

My labour was quite different this time around: three days of mild contractions on-and-off before labour started in earnest at 3pm on the fourth day. I went to the shops, made dinner and watched TV, determined not to pay attention to the contractions (I mean “uterine surges”… I’ve been dabbling with hypnobirthing) until I was sure I really was close to delivery. Then at about 7pm my surges leapt to two minutes apart, and were very strong. About forty minutes after we got to the birth centre, I delivered. The midwife didn’t examine me once- she said from the look of me I was very close. At 10.40pm, my new son was born, in a birth pool, with my husband, mother and older son with me. It was magical.

I had worried about whether or not to have my almost-three-year old present at the birth. I didn’t want him to be scared, or to be a distraction to me. But because we practise attachment parenting, and have never had a night away from our boy (with whom we co-sleep) I wanted him to be nearby. And part of me also thought it might be a good experience for him. I prepared him by showing him pictures of his birth, buying him a book called Hello Baby by Jenni Overend (beautiful book), and explaining what might happen and how I’d behave. We asked him if he wanted to see his brother come out, and my mum was primed to take him out of the delivery room if he seemed distressed. And in the end, he was there throughout. He told me to push. He talked to me between contractions and was there to greet his little brother the moment I lifted him from the water. I’m so glad I didn’t exclude him from such an important event in his life.

It’s… different having two kids. Everyone said it would be a big change, and it is. True, I don’t have any of the first-time-parent culture shocks to contend with: I know how to change a nappy; I know I’ll be constantly exhausted, and covered in baby puke, and reliant on the people around me for support. I had also prepared myself for the fact that my older son might take time to adjust, and would need lots of attention. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I’d miss my older son. I can’t cuddle him as much as I’d like to, or read to him or play with him or make his snacks. For the first few days, I felt a little heartbroken because of this. Thankfully my older boy took it all in his stride, which I was pleased about, but also a little sad about.

Anyway, we’re finding our feet. Learning to manage our time all over again. Adjusting every aspect of our life all over again, and reassessing our expectations. But it is wonderful, and I feel so lucky to have another little person to share my life with.

Slightly Spoilery Ramblings About Ice and Fire

30 Aug

I count George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books among my favourite fantasy novels. I don’t think many fantasy series can match them for drama, plot twists, and the sheer size of the world, its history and its kaleidoscope of characters. As anyone who indulges in any form of geekery probably knows, this has been a good year for readers of Martin’s books, with the delayed fifth novel, A Dance with Dragons, and the first season of the TV adaptation, Game of Thrones, being released. Here are my (mildly spoilery) thoughts on both.

Continue reading

I heart Inception

23 Jul

It’s a long time since I’ve been as blown away by a movie as I was by Inception. I didn’t quite feel the skin-tingling awe that I felt when I first saw the Matrix, but it was still the best movie I’ve watched in a long time. It probably helps that I’m fascinated by dreams (yaknow… being a lucid dreamer and all that.) It’s the only film I’ve been to where people have both walked out at the beginning and clapped at the end (er… not the same people, mind. But I’m just saying… the range of reactions just highlights its uniqueness.) Given the conservative tendencies of today’s Hollywood, I found it so refreshing (and surprising) to come across something original and challenging – and this makes me very willing to forgive its few shortcomings. I loved the visuals – I want to see more crumbling cities and gravity-defying roads – and I loved the orchestral score. The ending was also pleasingly ambiguous (or not – discuss.)

I’m not entirely without criticism. I found the dialogue a bit info-dumpy at times. I thought that some of the “surprises” regarding Cobb’s wife were a little too well advertised beforehand, and the characters could perhaps have been more fleshed out. And I’m also not a hundred per cent sure of some of the logic. (Like, if they were dreaming about the van, why would the jolt of it hitting the water wake them, when it wasn’t really happening.) But damn! …What a film!

I’d tentatively say that I hope they make sequels. Tentative, because I want to see the possibilities explored more, but I wouldn’t like to see the life sucked out of the idea, because I think it’s such a great one.

One for the DVD wish list, methinks!

Recommended Reading: The Other Lands

18 May

“Develop legends. Heroes on horseback and such things…. Find stories that include horses. If you can’t find them, insert the horses. Plant the seeds. Add another layer to the lore and let it be spoken of in taverns and halls and told to children at night, that sort of thing. Get the people dreaming horses.”

So says Queen Corinn Akaran in the second part of David Anthony Durham’s Acacia series, The Other Lands, which I have recently finished reading. I love this book. There’s absolutely no padding – rare for epic fantasy – although there are enough fresh ideas in this one volume to fill an entire series. In the quote above, Queen Corinn is explaining how she intends to start using horses to inspire awe in others, and create a divide between the royal family and the rest of the populace. This idea, of how history is manipulated by those in power, runs strongly through the book, as does the theme of slavery:

“Some even forget that they are not free, forget that their individual desires could be any different from the orders given to them.”

I found the writing itself to be quite beautiful, particularly Durham’s descriptions of the “foulthings” monsters (you know me… I loves me monsters) and the heartwarming passages about Elya, the non-foul foulthing. It’s a long time since I’ve been so caught up in a book that I’ve had to skip to the end of a chapter to see if things turn out OK. I was pleased to learn more about the League – boat-faring traders who thrive on greed, consumerism, and exploitation. As with the first book in the series, The War With The Mein, Durham’s world is wonderfully multicultural – again, refreshing in a genre over-populated by quasi-Medieval Europes.

I have to admit that the characters I enjoyed reading the most were the less savoury types: the weak and perpetually terrified Leagueman, Rialus; vain, ambitious Delivegu; and Queen Corinn Akaran, so sympathetically written that, despite disliking her intensely, I can’t help but also feel sorry for her. Not an easy trick to pull off, I’d say.

I look forward to the next volume in the series, and in the meantime, I may well read some of Durham’s other, non-fantasy novels.

I heart writing (apparently)

14 Apr

I’ve been clearing out all the junk I had stashed in my parents’ loft. I can’t believe how much of it there is. It’s a great lesson to me not to hoard things: it’s going to take me days to sort through it all, and I am never in my life doing this again. For one thing, I feel absolutely compelled to look through everything I’ve kept. In amongst all the old toys, I found some tickets to the World Trade Center, almost all my old school exercise books, lots of very early stories (I mean, like, really early), and a few cringe-worthy journals I quickly abandoned. It looks like I always loved books, and here’s the evidence:

Don’t ask me why I felt it necessary to write these two sentences down, like normal other kids wrote down the names of boys or girls they had crushes on. Clearing out all this junk has taught me a thing or two about myself. I didn’t realise the extent to which my dreams influenced me, even at a very young age. I’m a lucid dreamer (don’tcha know. Only just learned this phrase, see.) I used to suffer with terrible nightmares when I was young, and false awakenings (which I still get now.) I think there may be a connection between suffering from frequent nightmares and lucid dreaming. When reading up on the issue (*ahem* Wikipedia *ahem*), I learned some therapists try to teach lucid dreaming to those who are troubled by nightmares, as a means of controlling dreams, and I wonder if this is something my brain learned to do as a means of escape. I remember I taught myself to bite down when dreaming: I used to suck my thumb, so I told myself that if I was having a nightmare, all I’d need to do was bite, and I’d wake myself up with pain. It never worked, but I have learned to wake myself up on demand by closing my eyes while dreaming and just willing myself awake. I’m also a very light sleeper, which may also explain why I’m able to control my dreams (which I can almost always do to a lesser or greater degree) and why I remember my dreams almost every morning. I didn’t realise that, even as a child, my dreams inspired me to write. Take a look at this:

Yes, I guess that really is all there is to know about me. I still do dream about being able to fly, read minds, perform magic and so on, and this is, I think, why I love science fiction and fantasy so much. And I guess that’s about all there is to me.Here’s some more of the junk I found in my parents’ loft, most of which I suspect will be interesting only to me…

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Finch: Recommended Reading

3 Feb

I’ve just finished Jeff Vandermeer’s Finch. Wow. What a truly amazing book; there really is nothing else like it out there. I’m a big fan of the Ambergris cycle, and the Gray Caps are absolutely my favourite aliens, mostly because they actually are completely alien. Everything about them is unfathomable, and I am so glad that the mystique surrounding them remains in this book, despite us also finding out a lot more about them. This novel is gloriously claustrophobic, and the relentless plot is reflected in the clipped language. The story can kind of be summed up in one line that appears towards the end of the book:

“You’re a man who did the best he could in impossible circumstances.”

I particularly liked the character of Wyte, and Finch’s relationship with him, and I think my favourite point in the book comes when Wyte attacks a group of Partials – the Gray Caps’ human servants, who have been transformed into fungal mutants.

The bullets. Wyte kept taking them like gifts. They tore through limbs, lodged in his torso. Leaving holes, Leaving daylight. That closed up. And running in the shadow of that magnificence…he felt as if he were following some sort of god, his own gun like a toy…

The theme of colonisation is at the heart of the novel. Ambergris, and the land on which it stands, is a land that has been repeatedly invaded and occupied, first by the Gray Caps, then by human settlers, and then again by the Gray Caps in the Rising. But an indigenous populations remains, and the idea of colonisation being not just to do with the land but to do with how people are transformed by invasion and occupation, is explored beautifully. Wyte secretly wants to join the rebels, but he has been infected by a Gray Cap fungus. Finch says, when referring to his infections, “…you’ve been colonized . And it’s gone too far. And they’ll never take you.” The land and its people are changing and transforming and there is no going back.

Highly recommended.