Anthony Vercoe

Screenwriter/Writer/Actor

61 (0)404 948294

Me, Aikido and 700kg of Man Meat

Note the white belt. 'Pure of knowledge'. That's me.

Note the white belt. 'Pure of knowledge'. That's me.

At 180cm and 90 plus kilos, it’s not often I’m the smallest in the group. But that was exactly who I was the day I was surrounded by a group of gigantic, irritated scaffolders and slightly less gigantic, downright annoyed builders. Let’s make it perfectly clear here – the collective 700-odd kilos of man meat was irritated with and annoyed at yours truly. Although, it must be said, there was a strong urge to curl up in the foetal position under my bed, sometimes you just have to dig your heels in and fight the good fight.  

It’s a good thing I had Aikido on my side.

A disclaimer: for those of you that are looking to hear an exciting tale of little ol’ me in an underdog, completely outnumbered, Steven Seagal–esque chucking baddies on their heads and stiff arming them across the throat – you’re about to be disappointed. Sorry about that.

As far as the martial arts are concerned, I’m not a complete novice, but there was a decades wide gap between training sessions and my rapidly greying bearded self is not exactly as spry as I used to be. As far as Aikido goes, with just two years on the mat, I am a beginner. But here’s the revelation – while I struggle with mastering techniques training session after frustrating training session, it seems the intention behind them has, unbeknownst to me, permeated my psyche.

The situation went thusly: there’s this very, very unwelcome building site next door. On the day in question, they needed to erect a scaffold between the building next door and ours to protect our home from the one they were about to reduce to rubble. The gap is not wide. When they arrived in the morning, being the amiable sort of chap that I am, I bid them welcome onto our side of the fence should it assist with reaching their enormous Meccano set. We were all friends and I got called ‘brother’ a lot. Then I disappeared into a set of noise reduction headphones to listen to some Gregorian chanting (don’t judge).

About 1:30 or so I ventured out for a little look see and… this is where it all gets a little pear shaped… they’ve deemed it totally acceptable to span the fence with the scaffold. My offer was a kind one of access – I wasn’t inviting them to move in! By putting the scaffold where they did, they reduced access to my backyard and laundry to little more than 50cm.

They were trespassing, right? Yes, yes they were. When I informed them of the fact, they retorted with things like, “Just a subcontractor doing my job, Brother,” as they literally walked around me to gain access through the gate I was trying to block with my body.  

So, here’s the bit where I totally wig out and start screaming and throwing things and threatening violence and all the wrath and flying flippery my fledgling Aikido skills can muster.

No. Didn’t happen like that at all. Made that bit up.

I wonder if the pre-Aikido Tony might have done those things, or maybe he would have just worked up a nervous ulcer from the self-loathing associated with not taking any action at all.  

So, what did I do, I hear you ask. This is the interesting bit – I engaged. Whether it was a conscious decision or not is debatable. In Aikido terms, I ‘entered’. There are many who believe Aikido is a passive art – it’s anything but. The trick is to enter the conflict and take control of it somewhere between your opponent intending to act and actually doing so.

As you can well imagine, this takes a little practice.    

I’m not talking engaging as in engaging in combat. I doubted any violence would ensue, but when you’re telling a large group of moose-sized gents who get paid by the square metre to undo their entire day’s work and head on home with no coin to show for it, I’ll admit the thought did sneak across my mind.

The first thing I did was get centred as best I could. As I’ve said, I make no claims to having expansive Aikido nouse but I know that nothing good can come until I get my energy down where it belongs. Once a semblance of balance was established, I was in a good place, despite the plethora of agitated giants barking at me, telling me how unreasonable I was being. My Sensei has frequently told me during technique and ki training, that once I’ve found balance, do not give it up for anything. I’m paraphrasing, but in this situation, I know exactly what he means. If I take a single backward step, or even a little shuffle, they’ve got me.

For two hours this went on, during which all manner of intimidation technique was thrown at me. From invading ‘maai’ (personal space), to passive-aggressive insults, to raised voices informing me of my unreasonableness, to pleading. That last one was a bit pathetic and came from the boss, not the afore mentioned man meat. One look at them and you know – they do not plead.  

Anyway, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t rattled by the end of it all, and there was one nanosecond there they almost convinced me I was being an irrational clod, but in the end, the scaffold came down. The entire altercation depended on me remaining calm, never letting my energy rise, blending with each assault, and redirecting – putting me back in the centre. Once again, I hear my Sensei telling me during technique training, “You are the centre of your universe – they move around you.” OK, I’m paraphrasing again. Sorry if I buggered that up, Sensei.

Every day, we face conflict. Be it at work, driving (oh my goodness – driving), at work, within casual relationships and not so casual relationships with loved ones.

There is much debate over whether Aikido is an efficient martial art - it is. The true beauty of Aikido, as I understand through my very limited experience, conflict can and bloody well should be resolved through blending and harmony. If you allow it all to come to blows, or even an angry yelling match or a little hissy fit for that matter, you have already lost.

Don’t take my word for it. If you want to know more about Aikido, I’d suggest speaking to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. Alternatively, you can hang around for a few years (quite a few, more than likely) waiting for me to get enough experience to speak from a place that goes beyond jabbering about man meat and watching me wrestle with the conflict caused by seeking harmony with a would-be assailant and the desire to kick someone who desperately deserves it right in the plums. I make no apologies. As I said… I’m still a beginner.

 

And now for the shameless plug (Oh, come on – you knew it was coming): I’ve been studying at Sydney Aikido Dojo in Artarmon under Jamie Terley Sensei’s instruction. Check it out – it’s worth it.

How the hell did I get here? Part One.

I see they have the machine that goes, 'bing'.

I see they have the machine that goes, 'bing'.

It’s been eight or nine weeks since Doctor Feelgood went to town on my vertebrae with an angle grinder, my ruptured discs with a pair of secateurs, and cleaned out the flotsam under my mangled nerve with a garden trowel. I’m fuzzy on the details but I’m pretty sure the procedure went down something like that.

On the whole, I’m feeling better than a smashed crab, which means a hell of a long way from good. I think that’s what I mean anyway. I keep dropping things because of the lack of strength in my arm and I get shooting pains if my ears are anywhere other than directly over my shoulders. However, when compared to where I was before the operation, I’m an all singing, all dancing, gymnastic yoga master.

Now I am feeling better, I thought I’d dive into my journal from the period affectionately titled ‘The Pain Diary’.

Day 2: “Ouch!”

Day 3: “Oh God, is this as good as it gets?”

Day 5: “Pain controlled with  morphine… oh, look – something shiny.”

Day 7: “New painkiller. Pain managed. Comes with depression and compromised eyesight.

Day 9: “Sigh.”

OK, the pain diary might be a tad depressing. Let’s just start at the beginning, ay? I’m pretty sure it had something to do a fish.

On the last week of the school holidays I took my six-year-old daughter for a trip to her grandparents’ place on the far South Coast.  A little father/daughter one on one time – what could go wrong? It might be worth noting that the last time we did a trip like this my then three-year-old daughter was bitten on the face by a bastard dog, leaving a scar above her eye.

So this time we were fishing in the river with nary a dog, bastard or otherwise, in sight. The river in question is lined with oysters. When I say lined, I mean absolutely freaking covered in the damn things. For a previous tale of my tussling with the dreaded shelled beasts check out “For the dog lovers” from a couple of years ago.

Being sure to keep well above the snot filled razor blades of death, my daughter and I were having a grand old time. She’d even managed to catch a fish. Nothing to write home about but when you’re 1.2 metres tall and weigh in at 20kg, any fish with half a kick in it is decent.

As most Dad’s would know, the paterfamilias doesn’t do a lot of actual fishing. The Dad’s role is to cut bait, bait hooks, untangle reels, free any fish that might have wandered by and copped a hook in the eye and – this part is significant – free the tangled line and fish with the hook in the eye from the Goddamn oysters!

I took the line and a tentative step onto a flat rock. It looked like a stable enough platform. No oysters… just a little weed… take care not to slip and –

– the whole rock flipped over like a hammock does when Great Aunt Morag in her unflattering muumuu has had a little too much to drink and needs a little lie-down.

Nowhere to go but down from here, and down I went. In my defence, the thought of sliding down Satan’s cheese grater didn’t bear thinking about and I had the presence of mind to push out for the water as hard I could. I cleared the walls of oysters and made it to the water – Yay! But not the concealed watermelon sized rock under the water – Boo! As if slamming into a concealed rock from a great height wasn’t bad enough, slamming into a concealed rock covered in oysters from a great height… you get the picture.

My hand looked like a piece of cheap steak cut open with a butter knife. I got out of the water (after the freeing the fucking fish) and assessed the damage. Lots and lots and lots of blood. Then I remembered my daughter. How was she dealing with the sight of her dear old dad all busted up? Pretty well as it turns out.

So what to do next? No phone reception and 50km from the nearest hospital. I looked at the shiny new Subaru we’d bought only a couple of weeks earlier. I looked at my soaked clothes and the torrents of blood from my hand, elbow and legs. I looked back at the car.

Wherever we're going, it looks like we're walking. 

 

Watch this space for Part Two. 

What is it with foodies?

Foodies fascinate me. And not in a good way. In the sort of way a praying mantis eating its partner’s head after sex fascinates me.

One of the best friends I’ve ever had was a Swedish chap named John Håkansson. I didn’t have to tell you his last name, I just wanted to show how clever I was in locating that ‘a’ with the circle over it in Word. John was a connoisseur of the finer things and, at the time of this story, I was a disgusting hippy. I think he took pity on me.

It was a rare weekend that I didn’t go to John’s house for dinner and drinks – always fine single malt. He would slave over a hot stove to come up with three courses that would make each of a foodie’s taste buds pop on a horned hat and sing an arietta.

One night I caught him watching me eat. From the expression on his face, I might as well have been shoveling in scraps from a dumpster with a garden spade. “It’s all just chow to you, isn’t it?” he would ask bitterly after I cleared my plate and thanked him. “What do you want, Man?” I would ask, perplexed. I would eat the food, all of it, and thank him for it. Even on those very rare occasions that I didn’t like it.  

John was right – it is just fuel to me. Where John was disappointed, most people are just bewildered. When I returned from abroad recently a friend asked if I’d eaten any good food. I really had trouble answering. “Umm… I had some salmon for lunch one day that wasn’t bad.” I said after thinking for a long time. “Don’t you like food?” the friend asked. He seemed angry with me but the truth is, no, not particularly. OK, it’s not that I don’t like food – pizza’s good. So is cheesecake. I’m just not ‘into’ food. If I didn’t get hungry, I would forget to eat and truth be told, I long for the day food came in pill form and I don’t have to respond to: “What do you feel like for dinner?” The answer, by the way, is: “Anything that makes me not hungry anymore.”

To me everything associated with food is a bit of a bother. Shopping for ingredients is like shopping for anything else that isn’t fun. There is little difference in selecting and purchasing, say, deodorant. I have to have it, it’s just a nuisance going and getting it… preparing it… scoffing it… and then spending an hour cleaning up the damn mess I made putting together a meal I could take or leave. Not that I eat deodorant.

Dinner parties with foodies – now there’s a thing. Trapped in the most uncomfortable chair in the gaff as course after course comes out. Conversation never strays far from the food you’re eating, the food you ate, the food that’s coming, recipes, restaurants, cafes… and I’m trapped in this chair between two people who have to give you a running commentary on every morsel that passes their lips. I try to change the record but the foodie is a tenacious devil. And clever! One minute you’re talking about the Syrian refugee situation and somehow the foodie snaps the conversation back to the crème brulee they had for morning tea like I give a baboon’s big red butt. It’s enough to drive a man to drink! And I frequently am.

Foodies never leave the table. I can’t be the only one that’s noticed this. They stay in the uncomfortable seats long after the food has finished to continue talking about food over coffee. It’s just a few short steps to the living room and the comfortable chairs, but they’re never offered. Those chairs are reserved for the times when there’s no eating. As far as I can see, such times either don’t exist or I haven’t been invited to them. Social etiquette dictates that if I’ve been invited over, I am to be jammed in one of the small seats and stuffed until I’m sick.  

I am extremely fortunate to be married to a wonderful woman of like sensibilities. She doesn’t complain quite as much as I do, which, I freely admit, is saying nothing. In the early days of our romance, the reason either of us would ever volunteer to cook was to save the other the discomfort of having to do so. Ah, new love.

Our wedding anniversary is a night I look forward to every year. “Where are you taking her for dinner?” People ask me every year. It’s like they don’t know me at all. “Where did he take you for dinner?” They ask my wife. It’s just assumed. You people are obsessed! Why on Earth would we spend potentially hundreds of dollars on something we will barely appreciate so we can have the same conversation we would have over Sushi Train? I do like trains, though. Sushi Train is a bit like dinner and a show. No, most anniversaries we squeeze Sushi Train, or the like, in between two cinema visits. I can guarantee you I’ll still be thinking about the movies, good or bad, long after the food has broken camp to travel through the ess-bend of fading memories.

I thought we were the only ones there for a while; minorities in our own society, but recently other non-foodies have been creeping out of the shadows to make their presence known. Just the other night some new friends came over to ours. After ordering dinner, take-away Thai, chosen because it was easiest, the subject of food was not broached again except for me asking a polite: “It’s all right?” “Yeah, good. Did you see Doctor Who last night?”

Yeah ok, I made up that last bit. True, they had little interest in food but, bizarrely didn’t want to talk about Doctor Who either… or Star Trek. Wackos!

 

 

 

Apu & the Push-Up Bra

Unless you’re a tub of yoghurt this is not a story for the cultured among you. It is not an incident I’m particularly proud of, but it makes me laugh with guilty glee just to think about it. You will undoubtedly think less of me after reading it but I’ll try not to lose too much sleep over that.

A few years ago I was working in retail. Quelle surprise, I am a writer, you know. Anyway, every year we took a truckload or two of stock and set up in a huge showroom kind of affair bringing our wares to the country masses. It was always a couple of days of hoards of colourful locals haggling over already greatly reduced prices to be followed each day by a couple of hundred beers to unwind. There is many a tale of debauchery not to be relayed here, mostly because I’m a little fuzzy on the details. However, I do recall serving one customer who jumped back three feet when my stale alcohol and cigarette breath reached out and punched her in the face.

One year I was driving back from Wagga in a three tonne truck with a gut full of stale alcohol and, judging by the way it was sitting, a whole boiled bandicoot. My passenger was a pretty, eighteen-year-old blonde Christian lass. I wanted to think she was an innocent little thing but, now that I think about it, she really did know how to use a push-up bra to great advantage. Hmm… ok, not so innocent. All the same, I didn’t want her to know that the old chap (at least in her eyes) next to her had a turbulent gaseous combat zone going on internally threatening to explode into the external realm at every bump. For five hours, my sphincter muscles performed their duty with honour but I’m here to tell you, small talk was pretty monosyllabic as the beads of perspiration dampened my brow.

Yeah, yeah… it’s a fart story.

Anyhoo, we stopped at a petrol station. Interestingly, I felt fine. All systems normal. I was feeling pretty manly pumping my $50 of petrol until I looked across at the guy filling his eighteen-wheeler. $900, ay? “Well,” I thought to myself, “lost that dick measuring contest. Time for a wee.”

Feeling so fine, I practically skipped to the miniscule toilet – one cubicle, one sink that one had to squeeze past to get to the urinal.  Here’s where it gets exciting. Remember when I mentioned five hours of explosion resistance?  I was no longer resisting.

I once stayed in a caravan next to a horse paddock housing a gelding who had eaten thirteen tonnes of cabbages. He sounded like the mothership in Close Encounters but he had nothing on what happened to me next. Have you seen the movie Brassed Off? About the Colliery Brass Band? Ewan McGregor? No? Doesn’t matter. What does matter is the film’s climax is the band’s rendition of the William Tell Overture. It’s loud, it’s powerful, it’s triumphant! And I was paying it homage in volume, enthusiasm and duration. It went on for so long, in fact, that I had time to get the giggles, that morphed into chuckles with an escalation to full blown guffaws.

And then… it finished. That’s it. End of story. Me relieved, face damp with laughter tears and happy with the knowledge I had avoided subjecting a nice young Hillsonger to a cabin full of Odeur de Roadkill.

Not so fast.

When I turned from the urinal, I looked straight into the eyes of a chap who was washing his hands behind me.

Picture a short Apu from the Simpsons in pinkish pants pulled up a little too high and a shiny purple shirt stretched over a beer belly. This poor chap was looking at me like… well… like an unfortunately dressed little man in a tiny toilet standing behind a big ginger, flatulent rhino who’d just farted all over him laughing maniacally while he did it. OK, I’m disgusting – and I’m laughing as I type this.

What did I do next? What would you do? I was hungover and I was more than a little embarrassed, understandably, but I consider myself somewhat of a wordsmith so was sure I could smooth this over.  “Whoops.” I said, as eloquently as I could manage and I left.

And the girl? I never told her.  I’m not sure why, I suspect it had something to do with the mystical, hypnotic qualities of the push-up bra. I’m not usually so easily manipulated… perhaps God had created the thing for recruitment purposes.  

 

 

 

 

Tony's Writing Rules

Every writer has a bunch of rules they stick to. Here are mine:

1. Find the time that is conducive with your best results and make it strict routine. For me that’s 5am until 2pm. If I go to bed at 10pm, I get up at 5; if I go to bed at 3am after a ‘70s British gangster film marathon, I get up at 5. After 4pm I am a big ginger zombie and have no business writing so much as a shopping list.

2. Facebook is the work of the devil. Attach electrical probes to your testicles that are set to go off every time you check in to see amusing photos of cats or what someone is having for lunch.

3. Put your shoes on. You’re going to work – dress like it. Pants are optional.

4. Tell people you trust to give you honest feedback about your project. Tell people you trust to boost your ego about your project. Make sure you know the difference.

5. Accept that there is nothing in the fridge. There wasn’t anything there half an hour ago, nor half an hour before that. There won’t be now.

6. Take naps. Set an alarm for 20minutes. If you sleep for as long as your body wants, you’ll get groggy and never go back to work. You might even tune in to Ellen DeGeneres and that’s your day over.

7. Take walks. It’s amazing how much writing you do when you’re not sitting at your keyboard. Make sure you don’t walk too far from your keyboard.

8. Pick up where you left off the day before. Don’t go back to the start or you’ll never get as far as the second act.

9. Finish the draft even if it’s crap. Better to have a complete pile of crap than a collection of incomplete piles of crap. Trust me, I know – I have a folder entitled, ‘Incomplete Piles Of Crap’.

10. A script is never finished. The trick is to know when to interrupt it. 

12. Read the books by the experts. Embrace everything that feels right. Disregard everything else. It’s your project and said experts are unlikely to ever read it.

13. Read as many scripts as you can in a variety of genres. Read the bad as well as the good. You can learn a lot from a complete pile of crap. Not so much from an incomplete one.

14. Grammar is important. English is the tool of your trade. Would you trust a carpenter who doesn’t know which end of the hammer to hold?

A little shameless self-promotion

When David Steinhoff from Presence Films asked me if I'd mind talking a little bit about myself for the Journey Of The Seeds website I answered, "You want me to talk about my favourite subject. I'm in." This wasn't true. I get very uncomfortable talking about yours truly and usually sabotage myself with self deprecating humour. The poor interviewer was subjected to a tirade of nervous jibber jabber and babbling but I think she did a decent job of making sense of it all in the end.

I'm not sure how to feel about the Wolfman transition, though.

What do you think?

http://www.journeyoftheseeds-themovie.com/2014/02/14/tony-vercoe/

 

The Spider, The Midlife Crisis and the Yummy Mummy Next Door

Here’s the thing about travelling around the world for a dozen years, when you get back home you think everything will be the same – including yourself. That’s what happened to me anyhow. I returned to Australia with $200 in my pocket, still gagging on the shitty taste of a nasty divorce. Like there’s such a thing as a nice, fruit scented one. Actually, as far as divorces go, mine wasn’t bad. I woke up one morning about three months after the ceremony and she was gone.

Three months! Have I forgiven her, you may ask. And I would answer that I would rather nail my testicles to a crashing aeroplane.

Anyhow, back to Australia after a thirty-two hour flight in the same suit I wore to my going away party the night before I left Sweden (or was that two nights?). I smelt like the armpits of a thousand camels, about two hundred beers and forty thousand cigarette butts. I had a shower, changed my clothes and had a nervous breakdown. Then I moved in with my brother – the lucky bugger. Paul is about a decade younger than I am and has always been about forty degrees cooler. If I was going to have a midlife crisis and recapture lost youth, this is the dude who was going to get me there.

So, trusting Paul’s professional advice, we bleached my hair white and put so much gel in it, I could have scratched glass with my head. Did I look cool? As fuck! The photos lie.

Paul had a big bastard bull terrier with a head the size and shape of an esky. A rescue dog, he had more neurological problems than I did, and that’s really saying something. He was also annoyingly affectionate. His tongue was deadly accurate and quick it could go so far up your nose and so fast that he could hit your frontal lobe three times a second.  And don’t get me started on the saliva – it had the texture of KY gel and you found yourself sneezing the slime from the Alien movies for hours afterwards. Tasted like dog biscuits.

He also shit all over the back yard. Paul and I weren’t real big on house keeping and yard keeping to us was for the crazy folk with lawn mowers, whipper snippers and Bermuda shorts. Our back yard looked an Amazonian rain forest that neatly concealed the dog shit land mines scattered around the clothesline. And that is exactly where the crux of this long-winded tale takes place.

So, picture the scene if you dare. My hair is white and gelled straight up and I look cool (alright, I looked an absolute albino tit). I have chosen an appropriately cool shirt to go with said hairdo. From the waist down I am sans pants other than boxers due to them being on the clothesline in the middle of the Jungle Of All Things Awful. I tiptoe across the lawn barefoot (can you see where this is going?), delicately calculating each footfall like Indiana Jones crossing that breakaway floor in the Last Crusade. “Jehovah starts with an ‘I’.” Gently, gently… I’m watching my feet here for obvious reasons. I do NOT, under any circumstance, want that soft, fudgy feeling between my toes. Dog shit, to me, is about the most repugnant thing ever. I’m a dad now, and I’ve seen nappies filled as if with three litres of chocolate thickshake, and I still gag at the tiniest whiff of a wet puppy turd.

Gently, gently… there! Hooray – and I walk straight through a massive spider web. Full in the Goddamned face! I froze! Let me tell you what I like about spiders – fucking nothing! And here in Australia, they’re big enough to eat your head. Like a statue, I didn’t know what to do. I’m covered in this web, I mean covered. When I blink, the web pulls in my eyelashes. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear… pull yourself together man!

And then my eight-legged little buddy – about the size of my thumb – ran up my cheek!

I did the only thing I could. I cried out like an eight-year-old girl and my arse fainted. I have a few spider stories in which this phenomenon occurs.

I swipe wildly at my face and hop around like a lunatic, miraculously missing every turd in the jungle. This went on for some time, it must be said, until I finally calmed down enough to reassess my situation. I froze once again, waiting in awful anticipation of the damned spawn of Satan to start crawling once again in areas it should never crawl. I move my eyes – nothing. I move my head ever so slightly.

Have I mentioned how big this web was? Well, the majority of it was caught in my ridiculous hair, and the rest ran along the back of my neck. Of course, when I moved my head and dragged the web across the fine hairs I shit myself and had a bloody meltdown. I dragged my shirt over my head and, believing the spider to be within, started smashing it repeatedly to the ground, dog turds be damned. Again and again, emitting all manor of demon exorcising screams. Of course, there was dog shit oozing up between my toes but I was well and freakin’ truly outside my mind by this stage.

And, at the end of it all, I stood red faced, white haired and heaving, wearing nothing but boxers and a crazed look of triumph. Hands in the air I cheered and turned to look…

… straight into the eyes of the yummy mummy next door. She was a gorgeous divorcee with a surfer tan who always made me a little tongue tied when I talked to her. So, what does one do, what does one say after being caught in such a situation? What could I do? I strut! Straight through the jungle and the turds and into the house.

If you’re wondering if it were possible that the spider may have been in my shirt, and I was therefore justified in assaulting it so, let me share the epilogue of this little tale. Once I got to a mirror, through the sweat and tears, I saw that the spider was now a ghastly smear of yellow guts and hairy legs from the corner of my mouth to my ridiculous hairline where I had most likely killed it on the first swipe.

Ghost Stories

The other night I was at a good friend's place sharing a fine meal (which means I didn't make it) and good wine (I may have bought that) and the subject of ghosts came up, as it tends to. I'm always surprised at how much credence ghosts are given by even the most logical of 21st century adults. Perhaps we're just looking for something to replace Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Queen of England and the Tooth Fairy . 

If you haven't noticed, I am a sceptic. If I can see it, smell it, hear it or taste it, it may or may not exist – I'd need more proof.

And then there was that thing in Massachusetts that night ...

About twenty years ago, (crikey, I've got to an age where I can say, 'about twenty years ago' and not be talking about my childhood), after several months of travelling, I was staying with a friend I'd met whilst backpacking the year before in Europe. She lived in a very old house, by American standards, just outside of Boston and I was sleeping in a room on the third floor.

During my first night, I had a visitor.  

ghost-faces-ipad-background.jpg

I awoke in the wee hours quite clear headed (I'd had little, if any, alcohol that night and gone to bed early) to find a girl of about eight-years-old or so sitting on the end of my bed. There was nothing remarkable about her except for her dress — it belonged in a Jane Austin novel. So, I'm dreaming, right? But I'm here to tell you, this visitation is as real as any memory I have. I was startled of course, but only because there was a little girl on the end of my bed, not because she might be the spectral remains of one who'd succumbed to grisly demise centuries before. I said Hello and asked for her name, as you do when you meet kids. She looked at me silently for a long time, long enough for me to shift uncomfortably. Then she smiled and turned to the window. I remember looking to the window too, keeping her in my periphery.  

It was morning, the girl was gone and I went down the stairs to breakfast and said nothing about my nocturnal visitor.  

The next night frightened me more. Again, true as any memory, human eyes watching me though the window. Again, after several minutes the occurrence ended and the sun was shining. I kept all this to myself too.  

The third night was without specific incident, but I did sleep fitfully. The following morning at breakfast (my last as I was moving on that day) my hosts were exchanging glances like they were sharing a secret. "How'd you like the room?" asked one. "Sleep all right?". So now I'm suspecting I might have been the victim of a practical joke. I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction. "Fine thanks. Why do you ask?" She tells me that I am the only person to have lasted more than a night in that room.  

Well, cheers for putting me in the boogyman boudoir!   

So that's the story I told the other night at dinner. Of course there were a few other stories to follow, some quite a bit freakier than mine. I know I was I dreaming those nights because I must have been — the manifestations of an overstimulated, insufficiently rested mind. Still, I enjoy people's reactions.  

Ghosts don't exist, but I enthusiastically invite you to prove me wrong. Have you got an eerie story to share? I'd love to hear it. I'll dismiss ghosts, aliens and monsters as folly, but like everyone else, I'll really enjoy the ride. 

 

One for the pro smackers

To The Pro Smackers

Striking a little kid? Seriously?

My daughter came home from Pre School one day in a very melancholy mood. It took a long while, we’re talking a night and a day here, but eventually she told her Mum that she was sad because a boy had told her it’s ok for adults to hit kids if they were naughty. Her trust in our relationship had been compromised. We sat her down and promised that she would never, under any circumstances, ever be hit by us. And she never has.

It disturbs me greatly to think, that in this modern day, with access to infinite information, parents simply accept striking a little kid as the best way to teach them right from wrong. Think about this: Striking a little kid!

How do you teach them that striking people is wrong? “By striking them”, can you hear the absurdity? And don’t tell me a little tap is different to a big smack – too subjective and the object of the exercise is still to hurt your child.

I’ve recently taken an interest in the Facebook Page ‘Ban the Physical Punishment of Children in Australia’. There’s been a considerable amount of hubbub about a proposed law to ban parents smacking kids in Australia. I’m pretty surprised at the opposition but more so at the arguments. I wanted to believe that it was the opinion of the knuckle dragging, mouth-breathing minority. Alas, this is not the case. It seems to be the consensus of most Australian parents.

“My parents smacked me and it never did me any harm.”

How do you know? You might be psychologically broken and don’t even know it. It happens, you know. When I was a lad, I got a hiding for damaging a piece of furniture (extenuating circumstances, I might add). I recall the ‘crime’ clearly but have absolutely no memory of the punishment. I only reason I know about it is because it’s been brought up at parties. Where is the memory? What did I do with it? It’s not like I lost it under the couch. Can anyone say ‘repressed’?

Your folks likely hit you because they didn’t know any better. Let’s be clear here – I do not blame my parents for a single action. They did the best they could with what was at their disposal, and a fine job if I do say so myself. But crikey! Just look at what we have access to now. The Internet is for more than memes of grumpy cats, you know! There has been a heck of a lot of research gone into this subject (I won’t list the resources here, they’re easy enough to find), and the evidence for is considerable.  

Oh, and also, you think it’s ok to hit little kids! Surely that raises an alarm bell or two.

“This is a law that can’t be policed.”

Oh, this is a dilly! Are you saying that you wouldn’t obey laws if there were no consequences? Really? Would you steal, assault, kill, rape if there were no chance of incarceration? Hmm … I suppose you are teaching your kids that going against your wishes will result in an assault on their person, so …

I know I’m some sort of wacko, but I’ve been trying to teach my daughter to do the right thing because … well … because it’s the right thing to do, not because she will be physically harmed otherwise. I will never give her reason to fear me, not ever.

“It’s impossible to reason with a toddler.”

Wrong! Difficult, sure. Impossible, of course not. It’s one of your jobs as a parent to teach your child reason. You can reason with a dog, and most kids are brighter than dogs, right?

Wait. You hit dogs too, don’t you?

Sigh.

So, you pro smackers, I’m simply asking you to dare to question convention. It hasn’t been easy for us – parenting isn’t. We’ve done a hell of a lot of reading and a fair amount of trial and error, but we’ve reached a place where we don’t even need a naughty corner much less corporal punishment. My little one is a good kid. Sure, she gets frustrated, angry and, on the extremely rare occasion, downright defiant. Goodness knows we have our altercations, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, we are able to talk things through and reach a happy compromise.

Isn’t that what reasonable people do? 

For The Dog Lovers

bosun.jpg

I’ve known many boxers in my time and have always found them to be energetic, oafish and drooling. I am speaking here of the canine, not the pugilist, as if there was any confusion. I have also found them to be utterly lovable. This may very well be true of the pugilist – I don’t recall knowing any intimately enough to say.

The boxer in question was a fine specimen named Bosun. Forty-seven kilos of rippling muscle carved from a block of granite. I once clocked him at forty kilometres an hour as he ran alongside my farting and spluttering 1983 Ford Laser and he was accelerating. Further monitoring was halted as I almost collided with an oncoming pelican and steered into a sand dune – but that’s another story.

It goes without saying that most flat nosed dogs drool, but what Bosun did deserved a new classification; slobberoobbing perhaps. I recall a time when he had cords of drool reinforced by scaffolding of sand hanging a full thirty centimetres from each jowl. He was seated proudly in the rear seat of my Laser, looking as though he’d swallowed a piece of gym equipment and was having trouble with the ropes when I turned the stereo on. He swung around to source the noise and when he turned back the drool was gone. I never did get the sand out of the speakers.

One cool September morning, Bosun and I were in a little town called Bermagui on the New South Wales south coast. Nearby, the women’s surf life saving team was preparing the boat for practice in the mangrove-lined estuary. Bosun wasn’t particularly interested in them, preferring to run along the shore barking at the pelicans. That was until the girls pushed the boat into the water. Then he was very interested indeed. He charged in after them leaving me to yell at him to get back to shore. I may as well have been yelling at the wind.

An interesting fact about boxers, at least this particular boxer: they can’t swim worth a damn. Where the majority of dogs cruise along, floating like a piece of driftwood with propulsion; Bosun floated along like … well … at least his gargantuan lips floated.

I wasn’t concerned. He would tire quickly, turn around and come back. At least he always had before. On this occasion he did seem particularly interested in that boat. On retrospect, I suppose he figured that as he was tiring, the boat itself was the closest point of refuge rather than the shore. And then the boat disappeared around a mangroved corner and was gone.

I’m sure I saw Bosun’s shoulders slump with disappointment. As he turned for shore, I readied myself to administer the bollocking of a lifetime. Then he turned away. Had he read my mind? And then he turned again … and again. Now it was my shoulders that slumped as the reality dawned on me. Bosun was caught in an eddy current and from my perspective his eyes were lower in the water than his lips. “Oh, good.” I thought.

I suppose I should have been rushing with panic. Ready to bound to the rescue of my faithful companion. I should have, but I didn’t. I walked up and down the bank cursing. Then I walked up and down some more. And I cursed some more. Then I started to undress with about as much enthusiasm as I would for a prostate exam.

I know how to swim but it’s not an activity I enjoy and generally avoid if at all possible. I also don’t like being cold and wet. Now in my jocks I started into the frigid water. Truth be told, it was probably closer to a little on the chilly side than frigid but in my memory, each footfall broke a layer of ice.

One thing that Bermagui is famous for is its seafood – everything from fine fish like snapper and kingfish to calamari, octopus and prawns. It also boasts delicious oysters and the bottom of this stretch of the estuary was teaming with the razor sharp little buggers. “Oh, good.” I thought again.

Hobbling to about knee deep I made the decision to dive long and shallow. The skin on my feet was in tatters but was thus far holding the claret in. I braced for the impending dunking and, with a mighty push, an oyster claimed the end of my middle toe. I often wonder which of God’s aquatic creatures made a meal of it. I hope it choked.  

I cursed, took in a mouthful of seawater and tried to keep myself flat along the surface away from nature’s implements of torture. I took a breath and commenced my impressive Australian crawl. (Actually, I’ve seen my swimming stroke on video. The only thing impressive about it is the sheer volume of uncoordinated flailing.) Hand over head, into the water and … along the oyster shells. I had misjudged the depth of the water by about a centimetre and to this day sport a scar running most of the length of my left ring finger.

Like most people I am a little afraid of a few things. And like most people I am a lot afraid of others. At that moment one of the latter was the sole occupant of my thoughts. Sharks. Couldn’t they detect a drop of blood in an Olympic swimming pool? Granted the estuary was a little bigger than a pool but there was a reasonable amount of blood coming out of my digits. I decided to turn my attention to my motivation for getting to Bosun and rescue began to make way for dogocide.

By the time I got to Bosun I was cold, fatigued and let’s not forget about the bleeding but I was pretty certain I had the energy to get us back to dry land. That went out the window when Bosun used his talons to climb up my chest and onto my head and shoulders. I sank like a stone. The thought of getting him back to shore to administer that fatal beating must have given me Herculean strength. I wrestled him to a position where I could grab his collar and hold his head aloft. It didn’t take much wrestling – he was exhausted.

Recalling my Intermediate Swimming Certificate from high school decades earlier I stretched out with my right arm to execute a flawless sidestroke. Interesting how long it takes the brain to register that the action you are executing is absolutely fruitless. Around and around we went in the eddy for a silly amount of time now that I think about it. I wiser man than I would have quit much sooner.

I treaded water with my legs (helping the blood to pump into the water) and held Bosun’s collar with both hands drawing his drooling, panting face against mine. I politely asked if he realised that I was going to kill him as soon as we got to shore – that is, if the sharks didn’t get us first. I understand they prefer the taste of dogs. I don’t suppose it would have mattered; it would have been difficult to tell us apart since I was covered in Bosun’s gigantic lips.

And around we turned.

It was about here a sight met my eyes that started me thanking deities I have no belief in. The Bermagui Women’s Surf Life Saving Team B turned the corner. They’d seen us! I heard them informing one another that we were in trouble. Stupid thing to say, really. What else would I be doing in the middle of the bastard river with a dog on my face?

Closer they came … closer … trumpets and hymns sung by angels filled the air. I told the dog joyfully that his impending doom at my hand was close. The boat was almost on top of us …  oars up and then … it cruised on by. “Oh, good.” I said it aloud this time.

The girls got back to us eventually. It took a little while though. Those surfboats are directional and have a turning circle of about seventeen and a half kilometres. Bosun was first. He got his front legs over the edge of the boat but, in his exhaustion, his back legs refused to cooperate and the girls were having trouble getting a good purchase on his wet skin. I tried swearing like a sailor at the dog but it didn’t offer much by way of assistance. Made me feel a little better though.

Then the solution presented itself. Bosun was a big dog. He had a big head with big lips; a big chest of big rippling muscles and he sported a pair of great big testicles! Not too big for my hands though and I grabbed them like they alone were to be my saviour. Bosun howled and was over the edge of the boat like he’d been fired out of a canon. Can’t really blame him.

My turn next. Hands on the edge, haul myself up, get balance before I throw my leg over. Bear in mind that I am naked here and there is a boatload full of surf live saving type girls. I wanted to appear at least a little macho. Clearly the girls failed to be impressed and didn’t take the time to admire before they grabbed my arms. My elbows buckled and I speared, nose first, into the bottom of the rescue boat.

As I lay there in the bottom of the boat bleeding, throbbing nose and exhausted, all thoughts of murdering the dog faded away …

… until he put his great drooling lips over my face by way of thanks and damn near suffocated me.  

As much as I wanted to throttle him that day (just one of several), I was deeply saddened when Bosun was bitten by a Brown Snake a couple of years later and died. An irritating buffoon much of the time, he was consistently a loyal companion and is greatly missed years later. Although he went the way so many dogs in the country do, he has the distinction of being the first and, as far as I know, only rescue of the Bermagui Women’s Surf Living Saving Team B.

 

The Cicada Incident

It was always assumed that I would one day enter a sciencey field, probably entomology. It was a rare day in which I hadn’t invited a multi legged critter to take up residence in my pocket (Mum’s shrieks were not of joy as she went through my clothes on washing day). Indeed, even now when I’m in need of a ‘happy place’ (usually on crowded public transport when some miscreant has invaded my personal space with their buttocks), I am transported to running through a chest deep field of dry grass, parting the myriad tiny brown grasshoppers like Moses taking his cut-off through the Red Sea.

Interestingly, I’m terrified of spiders. If one wanted to analyse, I imagine they’d arrive at the time the whole family were tenants of a couple of caravans while our home was being renovated. I was about eight years old, lying on my belly in the tiny uncomfortable bed, reading a Superboy comic. I felt something unusual – a tingling of sorts on the top of my head. A quick gentle pat with the hand yielded nothing out of the ordinary, however, a second, more vigorous movement landed a gigantic huntsman spider squarely in the middle of the comic. Now, having met several huntsmans (huntsmen?) since, I know they rarely grow bigger than, say, a man’s palm and are completely harmless, but as clear as any memory I have, this particular specimen was as big as my shirt and ready to tear my arm off in order to beat me to death with it whilst still dripping before devouring me like a lamington. I handled the incident bravely, running screaming like a little girl into my mother’s caravan. I sobbed out the story of my brush with death to which my unyieldingly pragmatic mother replied, “Did it bite you? Then why are you crying?” But that’s spiders – two too many legs and seven too many stories about how they have scared the utter bejabbers out of me.

Cicadas have always held a particular fascination. Seven years under the earth; just biding their time until they’re ready to emerge, climb to lofty heights, discard their drab, subterranean armoured garb and reveal to the entire world their true winged beauty before bursting into song and serenading some besotted cicada babe. 

In every case, not for lack of searching, I only ever found the brown husk, still clinging to the bark with appendages like those found on alien machinery from the imaginings of HG Wells.

During the summer holidays of ‘80 or ’81, while searching for a shady spot to immerse myself in the latest edition of the Blue Falcon and Dynomutt – Dog Wonder, there, on the trunk of a stringybark, was the armour of a cicada newly split down the back like a fat woman’s dress and the brilliant red eyes of its occupant staring at me through the gap. Oh, rapture! Mesmerised, I gently took the beast, helped it from its shell and nursed it in my hands while its fairy wings extended and dried. This seemed aeons for an impatient little ginger mopped lad (being ginger has nothing to do with anything, I’m just painting a picture), but I was determined to stay with it for the entire glorious process.

And I did. I carried the thing around for the afternoon like the newborn it was and grossed everyone out who dared come close enough to take a peak. I can’t remember the details of conversation, but you can be sure I discussed something at length with my new bff. Thinking back, he didn’t seem that interested in anything I had to say. He just kept trying to get away – one can only assume he wanted to get singing and have some sex.

Eventually, late afternoon, I let him go. I was full of fare-thee-wells and may have even teared up a little as I gave him a tiny peck (yeah, yeah, I know) and launched him into the air as high as my puny arms could manage. I watched joyously as his new wings took hold of the air to propel him to his new life.

And then a butcherbird ate him.

Nature, it seems, is a hard-hearted bitch.

 

 

Diversity of Public Transport

A minor emergency saw me on the train to Campbelltown the other day. Now, I'm not opposed to public transport, quite the contrary. The area I live in boasts clean and reliable buses and trains (if you don't compare them to Swiss or German services) populated by polite, respectful passengers. In a word, boring. The service I was fortunate enough to ride on that day was a lesson in the diversity of Sydney, its people and their customs.

Although I was grateful to the passengers who listened to the music through their headphones loud enough to share with me, I thought I might look for a seat where I could get some reading done. I found an empty one in a quiet area of the carriage and spread out my paperwork. Luckily for me the ride was smooth as I stuck to the seats and floor. Neither my papers nor I were going anywhere! There a unique aroma to challenge my olfactory range as well; I think it's best described as urine of transient. 

I remember catching suburban services regularly in the late eighties and I'm pretty sure this particular train hadn't been cleaned since then. Luckily for me – I do hate the smell of cleanliness and the products providing it.  

By Liverpool, I had been entertained for some time by a rock medley from the eighties being played at full volume by a group of unwashed gentlemen who clearly weren't at all shy that they couldn't carry a tune. Singing at the top of their lungs, the fact they didn't know the words wasn't a concern either. One must admire their confidence.

After that, I took notes on parenting from a woman in pink track suit pants and ugg boots who referred to her four offspring (who looked very different from one another) as f$%*# little c&%$! I will try this bold technique on my own daughter the next time she has the audacity to ask to go to the toilet.

Another chap gave a very visual lesson and I regret that I didn't take the opportunity to photograph him picking his scabs and examining them in the sunlight streaming through the graffitied windows. I don't believe I have adequately commited the details to memory. 

Unfortunately, my colourful journey ended a mere hour and forty five later. I stepped off the train, took a deep breath and contemplated the wonderful, diverse city in which we live. 

Solo cinema going.

I like going to the cinema on my own sometimes.

To me, one always goes on their own anyway. Although, there was the time I sat next to a massive guy named Trevor who had a lapful of popcorn, chips, drink, ice cream, Maltesers and Jaffas who stuffed his face with both hands for the entire film. He elbowed me in the chest everytime he went in for another pudgy fist of popcorn and snorted like a pot belly pig with each mouthful. I wasn't alone that time. 

When I do cinema-go lone-wolf, I resist all urges to look at the board to see what's on - it's not easy. I just shuffle along with the queue like the workers in Metropolis looking at my feet until I get to the counter. Then I ask for ticket to the next film to start, regardless of the film.

I've been lucky thus far – I haven't seen any real turkeys. Devil worried me – M. Night Shyamalan has not impressed me since ... well ... I can't even remember the last time, but I wasn't too unhappy when I left despite the pretty mediocre line delivery. I ran into the opening of Fighter knowing nothing about it and was horrified to see the hand held camera work. And damn, I hate hand held stuff. I've since bought that one and return to it often. 

I utilised this esotheric method of film selection last week and jagged Django Unchained. I was a little apprehensive. Although a Tarantino fan on the whole, it seems I am the only man in the world who found Inglourious Basterds (have I spelt that correctly?) a little underwhelming.   

My review of extreme brevity for Django? Long and long-winded, absurdly violent (considerably more realistic than QT's previous numbers), frequently silly and utterly excellent! I had a bloody good time. 

So if you have trouble choosing between films, I thoroughly recommend you take away the choice. Roll the dice! Walk up to the counter, level your gaze on the poor bugger sitting there and tell them with authority to tell you which film you are going to see.

2012 - goodbye now

An interesting year, 2012. 

It saw the end of my nine to five due to the change of a educational requirement which stated that my five years experience counted for nothing and a piece of paper meant everything. The job was just a job and a long way from a passion but I felt a considerable amount of resentment nonetheless. My ever supporting wife and best friend in her infinite wisdom put forth the challenge. "You call yourself a writer? Here's your chance to prove it!" There's an ultimatum for you. 

I managed to secure a few professional gigs, the first of which was a draft of a screenplay based on a novel on the NY Best Sellers list. A bit of a challenge as the book is written in the first person and it was stipulated that there wasn't to be any voiceovers. Verbosity is a flaw of mine and the draft finished up at 137 pages or so. As I get more experienced, I am learning to love the red Sharpie. It is a very liberating feeling to go to town slashing and burning the scenes you think are imperative only to find the story might actually be better off without them. Important lesson learnt but still difficult to do.

In July, I had my first experience of a face to face with an LA producer. I've pitched on jobs before via email but I've never had the money fly from LA to meet me. Well, I'm sure he had other things to do while he was here but grant me the chance to indulge my ego for a bit. Now, I've been told I have been known to waffle, so I told myself to sit, smile and shut the hell up unless invited to speak. There I was – sitting in a bar in Sydney with a notepad on my lap, a pen in hand and a dopy grin on my dial. I needn't have worried the guy barely paused for breath. He knew what he wanted and tore the pitch to pieces. There wasn't a problem with character or story that he didn't address and at the end I was sure he hated it. He gave me a chance to stammer out how I would make it all work when it came time to write the script and then, after a brief pause, he says, "I'm excited! I'm fucking excited!" Then he sweeps out of the joint and into a cab leaving me to wonder what in the blue blazes just happened. The wheels are turning on the project as I write this. 

July also saw the first meeting set up as a direct result of a hit on my website. It remains to be seen if anything will come of it but it was a great feeling all the same. I am rubbish at all this Interweb business. I have a good friend, Maurice, who is in the trade and tells me what I have to do as far as web design and social networking and what not is concerned. I tell him if he thinks it'll help to just do it, because trying to teach me how to do it will cause him brain damage from smashing his head against the desk in frustration. 

Last month, I got to meet a truly crazy man who gave me a part time job in his retail outlet and fired me in less time than it takes to make a green apple, brie and thinly sliced crisps baguette. The reason? He created a lot of rather far out excuses but I learnt later it was because I was 'loitering' outside the shop rather than coming in and looking him in the eye. The shop in question happens to be on the street I live in and on the day in question I wasn't working there. I was stopped on the street outside while I chatted with my wife on the phone about where we should eat lunch (for more on this question consult Douglas Adams). As I have difficulty doing two things at once such as walking and talking on the phone I suppose it could have been construed as loitering - if you're completely mad! So if you'd like to see crazy unhinged for yourself, drop into a certain DVD/music store in Crows Nest and ask for the owner. The bonus from this experience? I shall immortalise him in fiction. I think I will call him Loons McParanoid.

In the last few months I have started working with copywriting. Although a distant, unpopular, redheaded country cousin of my beloved scriptwriting, it does offer me the opportunity to combine many skills I've acquired over the years in my various employment capacities. And my first copywriting job? To write an article on a man's perspective of Labiaplasty. Believe me when I tell you I'm pleased that I also get to write about snowboarding.

On the personal side, there have been mercifully fewer funerals than births and marriages this year. My tight knit circle of six continues to stay strong. There are three women and three men and when we're together I hear I'll Be There For You and I want to dance in a fountain. As much as I'd like to think of myself as the funny one in the sweater vests, I can't help but think I might be the stupid struggling artist who likes sandwiches.   

It has been a year of ups and downs. The downs where actually ups (although I didn't know it at the time) in that they meant the end of things that I thought were important but weren't and the ups where also ups and continue to climb. I choose to believe that 2013 will be my finest to date and I sincerely wish the same for everyone in whatever they aspire to achieve. 

 

 

 

 

Pixar Storytelling Tips

Pixar artist, Emma Coats, tweeted a bunch of tips on storytelling she's picked up while working with the masters. This has been floating around the web for a while now but I still thought it worth sharing.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.             

#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone. 

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

 

Blog Assignment

I was digging through some old uni assignments and what not the other day and found this, my first assignment on blogging.

Two films I love to hate …

… or more accurately: Two films that have duped audiences into thinking they are good and I love to soapbox about why they are not. It should be added here that these are two movies that really did want to like. I even tried to turn a blind eye to their shortcomings. Unfortunately, it appears I have no blind eye and my fully 20-20 sighted eye could not be dragged away in much the same way as one is compelled to gawk ghoulishly at a car wreck.

Avatar

James Cameron’s multi-besquillion dollar behemoth was one of the most anticipated films in the history of film and the fanboys and girls flocked like locusts to a field of biblical Egyptian wheat. No real surprise here. The real surprise is that they came away from the viewing thinking that what they had just seen was a good film. They were wrong. They had witnessed a mediocre roller coaster ride at best – with pretty colours. Maybe it stood a chance if the story had resembled something original. Sorry Mister Cameron, Disney got there first with Pocahontas.   

Slumdog Millionaire

Oh, so many were fooled by this one. “A hard hitting, gut wrenching story about the hardships street children must endure in the slums of India.” If you thought this, you thought wrong. Slumdog Millionaire is about a chromosome off being a romantic comedy. “What!” I hear bellowed from the indignant masses. “Were you watching the same movie?” Yes, but I was paying attention. Boy meets girl, boy and girl have zany adventures, boy loses girl, boy finds way to get girl back in a wacky way, boy almost loses girl forever, and boy gets girl in the end. Romantic comedy!  

 

 

Yep ... I stand by this. 

 

Why write?

It's not easy to start a choc top when you've got no teeth. 

 

I imagine it's difficult for most people to remember their first outing to the cinema. Earlier this year I took my daughter to see Puss In Boots – she was two. I have doubts as to whether the experience is eternally etched in the recesses of her memory.  

I grew up in a town populated by just five hundred people. There was a pub, two corner stores, two petrol stations, no public pool - we local kids used the one at the motel - and certainly no cinema. Even the nearest city, little more than a big country town itself, could only offer a drive-in to which my Dad packed up the family often to see whatever masterpiece was on. Pretty sure that's why I have a fear of killer bees.   

When I was 12 years old I had already decided that I wanted to tell stories but thought they'd be in novels. Then something amazing happened. My Mum came to me with the exciting news that we would be driving the couple of hours to Sydney to see a new movie called ET: The Extra Terrestrial. My Dad didn't want to go – he hates sci-fi to the extent that he has never made it past the few bleeps and bloops uttered by Artoo Detoo and maintains that English is not spoken in Star Wars. Many of my fondest childhood memories include watching old Westerns and War movies with Dad, but science fiction was to be viewed with Mum.

We went to the Greater Union Cinema on Market Street (now the State Theatre). The screen was framed by great red velvet curtains and the old guy sitting next to me had so few teeth he struggled to crack the chocolate on his choc top. Thinking back, I suppose he resembled a baby gumming a tomato. Then the movie started - and what a movie! 

Writers, the cave dwelling, Gollum-like creatures that they are, will give you all sorts of reasons for wanting to tell stories, but for me it is in the hope that I can give that skinny kid with the mop of red hair the great movie that followed fidgeting in anticipation of the curtain opening while trying not to giggle at Ol' Gummy duelling with his choc top. 

 

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Greetings ...

... and welcome to my new site. This concept of blatant, shameless self promotion is new to me so I hope you'll bear with me as I bumble along. 

If you have a look around, you'll find out who I am, where I come from, what I do and why. There are examples of scripts I quite like and in this section, News & Musings, I'll be letting you know what I'm up to and what's on my mind. I hope to update this fairly regularly so drop in from time to time. 

I'm genuinely interested in hearing about the projects you are working on. Please feel free to start a conversation. 

Looking forward to hearing from you. 

 

Photo by Erik Johansson