Friday, 23 June 2017

"In The Garden of Whedon": Why Joss Whedon Is Awesome

Get it? Garden of Whedon/Garden of Eden? Seriously, if Joss Whedon doesn't already have a religion based on him for his fans I'm totally starting one. Joss Whedon has created so many wonderful shows, films and characters over the years. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Joss Whedon and his work. Therefore, as it is his birthday today, here is a list of awesome facts about Joss Whedon.
  • Joss Whedon is a third-generation TV writer. As the son of Tom Whedon (who worked on Golden Girls) and John Whedon (who worked on the Donna Reed show) he is certainly carrying on the family tradition. 
  • Joss Whedon shot his film "Much Ado About Nothing" in a matter of days at his house. In fact is was done in just 12 days. What have you achieved in 12 days? Was it as impressive as that? Yeah, I bet not.
  • Whedon has provided female role models for a whole generation of young girls. In fact when I was growing up I had no queer female role models. No one ever explained to me that sometimes men can love men or women can love women. It was only really when I saw Tara and Willow's relationship that I even knew such love existed. Finally I didn't feel so alone. That little shred of queer representation really helped me and I am sure it helped so many others too. Representation matters. Also, characters like Buffy and Faith and Dawn and Anya who were not only compelling to watch, but complexly written female characters. 
  • But, I mean, can we talk about Buffy a little more and how amazing that show was? All you need to do is watch episodes like Hush, The Body, Once More With Feeling and more to see how quirky and experimental the show could be. Joss Whedon gave us several kick ass female characters and many of them started on Buffy. Buffy was his pet project that started as a film. The film didn't quite capture Joss's vision so he created a version for television that could live up to his hopes for the show. Even on Angel, Joss Whedon would take opportunities to experiment with 'what if' style scenarios to explore characters and situations further.

  • When Buffy ended her adventures on screen, Whedon partnered with Dark Horse Comics to share tales from the Buffyverse in comic book and graphic novel format. From further Buffy adventures to Fray: Future Slayer, the tales of girls fighting the forces of evil live on. Whedon has also written for popular titles from Marvel AND DC. He's bridging the gap, people!
  • FIREFLY. Nuff said.
  • Whedon co-wrote and produced the wonderful genre-busting film "Cabin In The Woods" which poked fun at the cliche pitfalls of the horror genre. This film is so good - definitely one you should sit down and watch without having read a review or watched a trailer. Horror connoisseurs are sure to love it.
  • Whedon seriously wanted to write and direct a Wonder Woman movie. Whedon had previously been in talks with Warner Bros for such a project but, due to artistic conflicts, it never happened. Now we have Gal Gadot in the role, and all we can do is wonder.... what if?
  • Whedon was one of the writers of Toy Story and if that doesn't impress you then clearly, unlike Angel, you have no soul.
  • I'm sure you know who The Avengers are, right? Whedon's take on The Avengers has rejuvenated the superhero genre and set new levels of awesome for comic book adaptations. In fact The Avengers is the third highest grossing film of all time at the moment.
  • As you may know, Marvel is now part owned by Disney. The Avengers and Toy Story are not Joss Whedon's only Disney credits. Did you know he worked on the script for Atlantis: The Lost Realm? Also Alien: Resurrection. Basically Joss Whedon is King of all your faves.  
  • Joss Whedon still has many awesome projects yet to be created so here's hoping that those projects eventually come to fruition. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

Songs That Changed My Life

A fellow blogger friend of mine recently did a post outlining songs that changed her life and I thought that it was a lovely idea. I've decided to highlight some of the influential songs I've known and loved in my life too. It's impossible to go through all the hundreds of songs that have really resonated with me, but these are the first few that came to mind.

Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

I remember where I was when I first heard the opening riff to this song. I was in the park in a town near where I used to go to school. I was sat with my friend Alex on a bench in the park and she played the song to me through her First Generation iPod as we shared earphones. Never have I had a more druglike experience. I was hooked. I had to know more about this band, about the man who sings with such pain and passion. Thus began my teenage obsession with Nirvana.

You Know You're Right by Nirvana

So, whilst very obsessed with Nirvana, I later stumbled across this gem. When you're a teenager, dealing with the heaviness of your hormones as well as being very mentally ill, this song hits home. When my depression would get really bad, I'd turn this song on and drown everything out. When I hear this song, I still get this feeling in the pit of my stomach I can't quite explain.

Past The Point Of No Return from The Phantom of the Opera

For me, The Phantom of the Opera was a dark, sensual piece of art. Past The Point Of No Return leads us towards the thrilling climax of the tale. It's dark, it's sexy and I never was quite the same again. Whenever I watch The Phantom of the Opera (which I save and only watch every few years as it's so special) I feel like I'm revisiting my first love.

3 Libras by  A Perfect Circle

I'd been a fan of Tool for quite some time but I stumbled across A Perfect Circle when I was in a bad and emotionally abusive relationship. This song really spoke to me at that time. In a time when I felt so low, this song reminded me that I mattered. I could love and care as much as possible, but some people will never appreciate it, never see what you do, never care about you quite the same.

But I threw you the obvious just to see
If there's more behind the eyes of a fallen angel
eyes of a tragedy
Here I am expecting just a little bit too much
From the wounded but I see through it all and see you
Don't Stop Believing by Journey

This song has been popularised via many TV shows, noticeably by Glee in acapella format. To me, this song always reminds me of my father and always will. His favourite line is: Some will win, some will lose and some are born to sing the blues.

Gravity by Sara Bareilles

This is another song tied to a relationship. Another relationship with someone who was very mentally unwell. Boy, I sure do know how to pick 'em, don't I? I mean... just listen to this song. There's a good chance it will gut you right down to that memory, that period in time, when you felt so raw.

Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson

This song was one I came across about ten years ago at least. It was used in Grey's Anatomy. This song reminded me, a depressed teenager, to keep breathing. Things are bad at times but you just have to keep breathing, you have to keep growing.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Interview with writer Toby Whithouse regarding his new play: Executioner Number One

This is not your first play to open at the Soho Theatre - what's it like to be back?

Fantastic. My first play at Soho in 2000 changed everything for me. It was an amazing experience. I was still finding me feet as a writer and their generosity and support was invaluable. I’m working with Jonathan Lloyd, who directed both my previous plays there. He’s a fantastic, rigorous collaborator. Soho is a great space with an incredible atmosphere. The variety of work they have there is jaw-dropping, I’m delighted to be part of it.

Executioner Number One covers a rather dark subject area: the death penalty. What inspired you to explore this topic?

I’m very anti-death penalty but I find it a fascinating subject. I think the problem with the death penalty, aside from the huge risk of getting it wrong, is that it’s lazy. It’s a kneejerk, rage-filled response. It’s far harder, and politically braver, to address the issues that lead to crime. There’s no evidence that a death penalty does anything to reduce crime. It’s not prevention, it’s revenge, and a civilised society has to be better than that.

Many years ago I worked on a play about the Holocaust, and one of the aspects I found most fascinating was the ordinary men and women who kept the machinery of mass murder going. The administrators and accountants, the secretaries and train drivers. It struck me that they would be workplaces like any other. There’d be complaints about hours and pay, rivalries and people vying for promotion - while they added up columns of fatalities and organised train timetables. I’ve always wanted to explore that workplace, where the peevish tensions of an office are played against a backdrop of murder and horror.

At present, from a sociopolitical standpoint, we seem to be living in quite an interesting time. Has this at all inspired Executioner Number One? What impact do you feel the current political climate will have on different forms of contemporary art?

Executioner Number One is set in a parallel present, where - following a referendum after the Guildford and Birmingham pub bombings - capital punishment has been reinstated. This has prompted a massive shift to the right, politically. It has allowed successive governments to bring in more draconian policies regarding surveillance and the restriction of civil liberties. Not to mention a deepening of suspicion and prejudice.
I finished the first draft in April 2015, and at the time it was just a vaguely high-concept flight of fancy. Of course there were elements of this (in fact one of the inspirations for the play was a comment under an article in the Daily Mail saying that all lorries coming from the continent should be pumped full of gas to kill any illegal migrants hiding inside), but I never thought humanity would embrace naked fascism again. But as time went on, I would find myself looking at the play and then looking at the news and being staggered by how closely the two were aligning. I’ve been tempted to rewrite sections of the play to reflect the news… but what would I change? I’ve tweaked elements, but the play has become far more topical than I had anticipated or wanted.

You've historically written a lot of works for film and television. Do you prefer writing for traditional or new media?

To be honest it all depends on the story. I first came up with the idea for Executioner Number One when I was looking to write a short film I could direct. I pursued that for a while, but I couldn’t really get any traction. So then I tried it as a traditional stage play, with other characters. But again, I couldn’t get past the first couple of pages. So then, purely as an exercise to get the idea flowing, I tried writing Ian’s monologue. And instantly the idea had found its voice. Sometimes you have to allow the story to tell itself in the way it wants.

Executioner Number One has been written as a one man show. What challenges did you face when writing the dialogue?

I did stand up comedy for a few years, and one of the first things I realised was that as you perform your material, you start editing it down. Finessing it and streamlining it. I’m writing this mid-way through rehearsals ad it’s been surprising how many cuts we’ve made, losing any extraneous lines or even just words. The thing about Ian is that he has absolutely no self-awareness. He doesn’t realise how peevish and cruel he is, how buffoonish and ridiculous. Those are my favourite characters to write, especially from a comedic point of view. I’ve always loved straight forward gag-writing, but making a character funny without them knowing it is much more fun.

You're stepping out of the writer's chair and performing in this show yourself. Can you tell us what this experience has been like for you?

I was an actor for 10 years before I became a writer, so this isn’t a completely vainglorious Florence-Foster-Jenkins type exercise. But it’s been wonderful to get back into performing. Obviously I’ve been through a thousand different emotions, from excitement to terror, from exhilaration to wanting to fake my own death. The first thing I had to do was get my voice back into shape, so I started doing voice classes again. Rediscovering those skills and exercising those muscles again was amazing, and reconnected me to my time at drama school and as an actor, genuinely happy periods. So it’s been a really lovely experience so far.

Have you considered adapting Executioner Number One for film or television in the future?

The first thing my brilliant producer Judith asked me when we first sat down to discuss the play many many months ago was what my ambition for the play was. I said it was simply this. I just wanted to do it at Soho. I know as an actor and as a writer I’ve occasionally done jobs not because I necessarily wanted to do them, but because of what they might lead to. Invariably they’ve led to sod all and I’ve just had a miserable time. So for this, my priority is simply the production at Soho. It would be great if it had a further life, but what I really want is for this run to be a success and for people to enjoy it.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read everything. Literally everything. Novels, screenplays, non-fiction, articles, comics, poetry, anything you can get your hands on. And write every day. What will make you successful is your voice, so that’s what you have to develop. And the only way you’ll do that is by writing all the time. Don’t imitate other writers. Be inspired by them, but don’t try to ape their voices. I say this as someone who has notebooks full of scenes written in the style of Miller or Mamet that are, frankly, dreadful. Writing is a muscle. Build it.

Friday, 24 March 2017

How Did You Get Here?: 2015 Edition

So every now and then, I like to look at my blog statistics to see what people typically Google to find my blog, and I often keep track of some of the weirdest searches. Here are some of the weird things people have Googled and somehow ended up at my blog. Altogether, it looks like a really bad slam poem.
  • bilbo film
  • pinterest birdcage tattoo
  • steve speros easy going
  • angelina adoption
  • lestat and jesse fanfiction
  • gabrielle leimon goth
  • elitism in the goth scene
  • gamer nerds female
  • only the face of akasha
  • IT crowd Jen wardrobe 
  • jerk off challenge
  • fake friends n sluts but love game of thrones
  • which is that famous actress in game of thrones?
and my personal favourite:
  • welcome to the nerd club

Friday, 17 March 2017

Let's Get Frank About Feminism.

Okay, so the 'F' word has been culturally very prominent in 2017 and I think it's time to have a quick chat about it. I say this because when we discuss feminism, there is still a heavy backlash. You see it all across social media:

'You think you need feminism? You try looking at third world countries.... it's bad for women there so you shouldn't complain'

'I don't like feminism. I believe in equality for everyone'

'But what about issues facing MEN?'

'Yeah, I don't really like feminism because I think there are negative connotations about the word, so I've never really associated myself with it because people take it to the extreme'

'I don't support feminism because I'm a woman and have never experienced gender bias or sexism'

I shouldn't feel at all anxious at times to state that I'm a feminist, but so many of us do. Being a feminist seems natural, even necessary. Why wouldn't I support gender equality? Many people out there are opposed to the notion of feminism simply because they do not know what it is. Misinformation on the matter is a huge issue.

So let's straighten this out:

Feminism, noun, the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of equality of the sexes. 

Did you catch that? Feminism is about gender equality. It's about everyone being equal. Feminism is often confused with misandry. Misandry is defined as dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men (i.e. the male sex). If you think that feminism and misandry are the same thing then I'm sorry but you are mistaken. Also, feminism focuses on pulling up people regardless of their gender identity. Feminism is about calling out and ameliorating issues that men face in modern society too. 

But from the distance I hear the cry of "Why be a feminist? That focuses on women. I'm a better person because I believe in supporting everyone. Isn't it better to be a humanist?"

Humanism is about empathising with human beings collectively and as individuals and that's great. Humans are great. Well, some are a bit rubbish, but as a species we're not that bad. Feminists want gender equality. They want all people to be treated fairly and equally. The reason it's called feminism is because women have historically been ranked lower than men. There have been certain injustices women have had to face whereas men have not. Women are still facing sociocultural issues that men do not have to face. This is called sexism. I can assume this is a word that you've heard.

I've encountered plenty of people who say "Well men have never treated me badly so sexism can't be that bad, can it?"
How lucky for you to have never encountered sexism. You must live in a wonderful little bubble of joy. I can tell you now that not everyone has your experiences. Just because you've not experienced sexism doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Just because you've not been murdered doesn't mean that murder doesn't happen every damn day. Your experiences, or lack of them, do not undermine the experiences of other people and in 2017 it's so important that we support people and listen to their stories.

Here's a quiz to tell if you're a feminist.
Are you a feminist?
Do you believe that men and women should be treated equally?
Do you feel that people should be held back, discriminated against or treated unfairly due to their sex/gender identity?

If you said yes to any of these questions then congratulations, you're a feminist!
If you said no... Are there women in your life? Are you a woman? Why don't you respect them? Do you want them to be seen as lesser beings? Are you comfortable explaining to the women in your life why they deserve to be treated differently and have less access to things men are entitled to?

Oh, and I've disabled the comments because of the old saying: "The comments on an article about feminism justifies feminism."

So if you were hoping to leave some comment against this article, it's probable that you're part of the problem. 

If you believe in equality, feminism is about pulling everyone up and providing equal opportunities in our society. Feminism is not a dirty word, it is a necessary fight. If you really feel against feminism, I just ask one thing of you: listen to the people fighting for it. Listen to their experiences. Listen to their concerns. Sure, some people may take things to an extreme. Some people may say things that you don't like. However, if people everywhere are discussing issues relating to feminism and you feel against it, I would caution you to just ask yourself why you're so afraid of feminism in the first place.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Writer Problem#11: INCOMING RANT - Entry Fees

Okay, so I've done a few of these 'Writer Problem' posts in the past just as little throwaway thoughts on things that impact us writers. One that bugs me is entry fees.

So you want to get your work out there, maybe you're considering entering a competition which could lead to your work being published. Okay, entry fees may cover some costs for the publisher, but can you imagine forking out money for all the competitions out there? It would be crazy. Some of them are almost £20. I don't want to pay just to not be published. Now okay, I get it. Sometimes the payment and the risk is worth it and it leads to good things, but I know some people who have paid a lottttt of money entering competitions and never winning, never being chosen. It's not something I've resorted to yet, but I'm sure I'll try to avoid it at all costs.

Monday, 6 March 2017

What I Do Is Not What I Am.

The milk steaming wand of the coffee machine begins to sputter tiny droplets of milk upwards as it froths into cappuccino foam. I have two and a half minutes to make three very different coffees, scoop two large tubs of popcorn, put together a hot-dog (after checking that it has reached a high enough temperature to be considered properly cooked) and take payment for the order. At the same time a colleague, one who is very new to the job, calls me over to ask for urgent assistance as it is my job to train her on how to use the tills and prepare food. The customer is giving me a look that suggests his impatience. He is already quite late to his film, having chosen to turn up when the twenty minutes worth of adverts and trailers are almost entirely over, and the film is due to start any minute. I am back by the till with all the items from his order prepared.
"Anything else I can get for you today? Any ice cream? Extra drinks?"
I have to ask such questions. We're graded on it via a mystery shopper system.
"A mortgage broker," he says looking at me exasperatedly as he eyes up the figure of his order. A common joke, because people always want to laugh at how expensive the cinema is these days. I smile it off. It is not my place to get into a debate with customers about pricing; this is stated in the handbook.

I do wonder, however, if this customer would treat me with more respect if he knew about my main job. As it turns out, I actually work for a highly respected law firm that often deals with the legal aspects of mortgages. But he doesn't know that. None of the customers do, the ones who yell and talk down to me and complain that there's too much foam in their latte like that's the worst thing they've experienced all week. Maybe if they saw me at my other job, or on my graduation day or at my book launch they would treat me with more respect. I've seen this in practice from friends, bosses, customers and clients alike. People who work in minimum wage, entry level jobs are seen as useless or without skills. It's like when you see the argument for raising the wages of people working in places at McDonalds and there are always people harping on about how working in the food/hospitality industries aren't hard or stressful and therefore aren't deserving of any more money than currently afforded. Performing a customer service role allows some members of society to think we are here just to serve you and therefore that makes you better. Spoiler alert: it doesn't. We are not here to be your personal servant or verbal punching bag. We are people with skills or access to resources that you do not have. We provide services that you want or require. It seems pointless to come to us for our services only whilst looking down your nose. We are working to make an honest wage and deserve respect.

I'm a millennial. You know - one of those lazy, entitled kids the media likes to blow hot air about. Yet I have spent the last two years working two jobs, often seven days a week. I'm always early at my desk at the law firm by 8:30am to start prepping files before the phones start to ring at 9am. Then I work like a dog til 5:30pm, walk across the river to the cinema where I scoop popcorn and clean up people's mess until almost midnight. Then back in the office the next morning. I am one of many of these 'lazy millennials' putting work before themselves because at this point in time, it feels impossible for most British young adults to even consider buying a house.

I worked in a cinema over three years. I needed to find a job when there weren't many going and, although it is only a 4 hour contract, I was lucky enough to be granted five shifts per week on average. I picked up the job not long after graduating from university. I was finding it hard to find a graduate job in my area. Working at the cinema allowed me a level of flexibility. It gave me time to work on my first book which has since been published. My family found it strange that, despite a good education and a publishing deal, I had never even had a salaried job beyond the minimum wage. I've never really felt like I had to justify myself to anyone however the way people have treated me based on my jobs. I then started working for a law firm, I kept my cinema job for a little while. I like getting to see movies for free and have so much love for my colleagues there. We're all in the same boat and therefore truly sympathise with the nonsense we all put up with on shift. I work, on average, six days a week now. Sometimes I work from 9am until 10:30pm or even midnight and I did this for two years. I feel a stark contrast in the way people treat me. Working in a food-serving, customer service role I've often found that people talk down to me and will be rude. It then feels weird to go into the office the next day to be greeted with respect for the same amount of effort I put into my job. Even in my personal life, friends and family members have acted differently towards me based on my employment.

The differences between both jobs are utterly strange. For my minimum wage job I have to be on time. To register my presence I have to clock in so I therefore work for every penny. You get a half hour break, but you should be back a minute or two before that break is over - just to be sure that the changeover of breaks goes swiftly. We have to clean everything ourselves. If I am more than four minutes late to work, my pay could be docked. If things are busy, and our shift runs over, we are only paid if it goes over by fifteen minutes and our manager has to sign off to this so we can be paid for our time. No authorisation? No pay.

At the law firm, things are very different. If anyone is late in my new office no one bats an eyelid. The company employs cleaners to clean up after us. At the law firm, we are provided with free tea and coffee to which we can help ourselves and we can eat or make a beverage whilst on the clock. At my minimum wage job, nothing is free. You can only eat or drink on your break period, which is allotted at some time during the shift by a member of management. You can drink water on shift, but you have to keep the cup around the back of the retail area, out of reach, and must dispose of the cup immediately when you are done. You cannot have a drink by your till, even when working in the middle of summer Blockbuster season when you're at your till serving hundreds of people for half an hour without rest. At my minimum wage job, if I were to stop and chat to a colleague for a moment, I can almost guarantee that a member of management will come over to break us up and give us work to do. Heaven forbid we let a moment go by where we're not earning every penny. When a job pays you minimum wage, I feel like they're saying that they pay you that amount because legally that's the lowest they can pay you and if they could pay you less for the same work, you bet your ass they would.

 In the office, people chat and experience those slumps of energy in the afternoon where you take a mental break for a second just to unwind. At my minimum wage job I'm expected to be working every second for every penny, often whilst multi-tasking and delivering perfect customer service regardless of my mood. I know many who work minimum wage, entry level jobs who find themselves policed and treated less than respectfully by the customers who think that their office jobs make them somehow better. It doesn't. Why are we building up this idea that some workers are worth less respect than others?

The other day I bumped into an old friend. I'd just come from the law firm to grab some lunch in town and he asked what I was up to these days as he pointed out my nice suit. I explained I was working for a law firm now and explained the kind of work I was doing. He then said, 'Well, I am so pleased for you. I mean, let's be honest - it's so much better than working at a cinema. I mean that must have been very degrading what with your degree and everything. It's good you've found something better to do with your time.' So I interjected and explained I still do the odd shift at the cinema. He realised he had made a huge mistake and back-pedalled saying that, as a film enthusiast, it was such a great job. It was too late. His opinion was already out there and reinforced what I knew to be true: people judge your job against you as if it is an indication of your worth. He's not the only person to have made such comments. We see good, salaried jobs as inherently better work to be doing and form our thoughts on the person around that over time.

What I do is not what I am. One would assume that in a salaried job in a 'respectable' field of work would require the kind of treatment I've experienced working for minimum wage, but this isn't what I've found thus far. My years of working myself to the point of death across two very different kinds of job have been eye opening. People will make assumptions about you based on your job which aren't necessarily correct. They will treat you differently. Sometimes those who are paid minimum wage have to deal with more stress than those with a comfy, salaried office job. As long as people are working hard for a living, they deserve respect, understanding and compassion - especially if you've never stood in their shoes.