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Saturday 24 April 2010

Stand by for Action

Okay, maybe that's a bit too dramatic... but there are some changes ahead. I started this blog almost by fluke, not really intending to do anything with it, hence the dumb name and the dumb picture... I'd created a Google identity so that I could comment on other people's postings, and one day when I was logging in I clicked on some kind of 'create your own blog' button out of sheer curiosity. Five minutes later, the damned thing was online. Stupid name, stupid picture, and the first of my many stupid thoughts.

I've stuck with this minimalist blogger template for three years now. I mean, it does the job, and have you seen some of the others? But in the near future that's about to change.

Web designmeister Paul Drummond has been overhauling and rebuilding my online presence, and he'll shortly be turning his attention to the blog with a view to interlinking the two. If you're a regular visitor, don't worry, you won't need to do anything. The blog will still be right here, just with new teeth and a facelift.

And by the way, if you are a regular visitor... thanks.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Children's TV: a Rant from the Past

Both my website and this blog are being lined up for a design overhaul, and with content in mind I've been sifting through some old material. I don't know what occasioned this rant, but the Thunderbirds movie reference dates it.

I could have made changes... but nah.

The few times I've brushed up against children's television drama I've come away immensely frustrated at the received wisdoms and operating assumptions of those in charge of the production process. The general view seems to be that children's drama has to be drama about and featuring children. There's no concept of the adult avatar who'll embody a child's fantasies of empowerment, regardless of the fact that this principle has been at the heart of juvenile fiction since God Knows When. So from Tarzan, Zorro, Flash Gordon, Robin Hood, Roy Rogers, Biggles, Superman, even Doctor Who, they deduce nothing. From comics and computer games, they deduce nothing. From the kids' choice of movies when they're in BLOCKBUSTER, they deduce nothing.

Apparently the script for the new THUNDERBIRDS movie has the Tracy family stranded in space to be rescued by a 12-year-old Alan.

And I still haven't forgiven those bastards who decided that TV's Tarzan needed a little friend "for the kids to relate to". What are we supposed to imagine that Tarzan's thinking of? Half the police forces in Europe have spent the last few days chasing an ex-Marine on suspicion of those kinds of urges.

Sunday 11 April 2010

The Artisan Thriller

"Walking into her apartment, both of them laughing at something he'd said, the man made a mock bow for her to precede him, his eyes already seeing the room, darting around it, looking for something to kill her with."

So begins Tony Kenrick's Neon Tough, a novel published in '88 and set against the backdrop of Hong Kong's impending return to Chinese rule. I think it's a great opening line for a suspense thriller, complex and elegant, building a world and a mood and then subverting both, all in a handful of words. In lesser hands it would be the lead-in to some grim procedural of forensic misogyny, but Kenrick's a writer of a different class. Which didn't prevent his American publishers from cutting the line and the entire prologue that followed it.

I can add little in the way of hard info about the man himself... as with the elusive Adam Diment, he seems to have done his stuff and then exited the public stage leaving little in the way of information beyond old press handouts and flap copy.

He produced fourteen novels in a two-decade run. Not everything in the Kenrick oeuvre works for me, quite; for my money The Night-time Guy has an unlikely premise (a hero who's blind, but only in the daytime), while The 81st Site has a slam-bang action set-piece ending that doesn't involve the book's protagonist.

But I find much to enjoy and much to admire in Kenrick's writing, and reckon that the very qualities that make him shine also hampered him commercially. Every book was something different, and versatility can be an obstacle to success in a market where the big names get big by finding something that works and then repeating it, even to the point where the author can step away from the franchise and let someone else drive. The bespoke one-off, the artisan thriller, is rare beast in today's jungle.

Kenrick's last published novel was Glitterbug in 1991. The Madonna/Sean Penn bomb Shanghai Surprise was based on his novel Faraday's Flowers, and it's tempting to imagine that the lacklustre mangling of his material destroyed the will to go on. But I expect the reason was something more... I dunno. Prosaic.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Saw it/Heard it, Can't Quite Believe it

To put it delicately, what passes for normal in LA can seem a little bizarre when you move it out of context. While I'm away from home I tend to email back the odd observational nugget just to liven up the correspondence. Here are a few examples from last month.

"Coming up next. They're blind and armed with swords - two area high schools plan an unusual athletic event." (KNX 1070 NewsRadio)

"And after the break, we're gonna come back and talk about dressing babies up to look like Hitler." (Chelsea Lately, E!)

In the chiller cabinet in Gelson's - HE BREW - THE CHOSEN BEER. Flavours include Genesis Ale, Jewbilation, and Messiah Bold - "the one you've been waiting for"

And on the shelf in the Rite-Aid Drugstore, Glendale: ANTI MONKEY BUTT POWDER. "Relieve the friction of monkey butt and painful butt rash." The same company also produces Lady Anti Monkey Butt.

And then, of course, there's MIKE DIAMOND, THE SMELL-GOOD PLUMBER.