More On Being a Writer

This is another interview for a blog that appeared in February 2015, not long after the second novel in the Earth Haven trilogy was published.

Although I have never met the blogger in person, I had come to know her as a good online friend. She asked me for a humorous introduction—I hope it’s obvious it’s fictional! I don’t know if, all these years later, she’d prefer to be anonymous so have changed her name just in case.

On with the interview…

Welcome, Sam. Perhaps you could start by explaining to my readers how we met.

I met the lovely Lois when we were both inmates at Wormwood Scrubs. We ended up sharing a cell after we had each been caught trying to tunnel out using nothing more than, in my case, a teaspoon, in hers, a set of false fingernails.

Of course, Lois wasn’t then the sweet Southern lady that you all know and love. She was an Eastend bruiser named Ronnie, with tattooed muscles like painted boulders, a bald head the size of a pumpkin that could double as a wrecking ball, and fists like sides of ham with which I saw her take out Billy the Baby-eater Brown and Mikey the Manic Madman Malone as if they were schoolboys rather than the most feared bare-knuckle fighters south of the Thames. (Billy didn’t really eat a baby. It was a dead squirrel, but you know how rumours can stick.)

No one ever dared mention to Ronnie his camp tendencies. Not if they valued being conscious. I always knew he would one day give in to his feminine side. And I’m glad that he did. Welcome, Lois. You’re much nicer than Ronnie.

What is your most recent release?

The Beacon is the second book in the Earth Haven trilogy that began with The Cleansing. It begins where the first book ended so readers should start with The Cleansing. The trilogy is post-apocalyptic science fiction, a long tale about how humankind is brought to its knees by a manufactured virus. Who developed this virus and why… can’t say too much here as it will spoil it for new readers, but the makers have their reasons. The Cleansing deals with the spread of the virus and the immediate aftermath. In The Beacon, the handful of survivors face a new threat—as if they haven’t been through enough already, bless them. Again, difficult to reveal too much. The book’s blurb contains about as much as I can say without spoiling anything.

How do you react to bad reviews?

I stamp my feet, poke the cat, throw the computer out of the window, shave off all that remains of my hair, get drunk, eat chocolate, smash plates, pluck my nostrils, squirt shaving foam at my wife, speak in tongues, paint the house, and run naked through the streets, wailing and gnashing my teeth.

Nah, I don’t really do any of those things. What I also don’t do is respond to the review. The reviewer is perfectly entitled to his or her opinion; I’m just grateful they bought my book and took the time to read it. All too often I’ve seen authors bemoaning bad reviews, either in direct response to the review itself or by starting threads in various forums. Such authors rarely come across in a good light.

What occupational hazards are there to being a novelist?

I think the obvious one is becoming unfit (or, in my case, more unfit) by spending so long sitting down. To try to combat this, I’ve invested in a home gym that sits in my garage. I even use it now and again…

Do you have any claims to fame?

Not really, although one of my distant relatives was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the defence of Rorke’s Drift (immortalised in the film Zulu). He was one of the soldiers who helped save six injured men who were being attacked as they lay in the camp infirmary. He’s (something like) my great-great-great-uncle.

Name your favourite authors.

Too many to list them all, but here are some of my go-to authors: Stephen King (for his horror and fantasy more than his crime writing), Terry Pratchett, Agatha Christie (for her Poirot books), Bill Bryson, Iain Banks (and Iain M. Banks), Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Frederick Forsyth, Gerald Durrell (I have a soft spot for the Greek island of Corfu thanks to his books). That’s just off the top of my head. I could list many, many more, but I think that’s probably enough to be going on with.

And your favourite movies?

In no particular order: Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid; Inception; The Great Escape; The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (and one of my favourite film scores); The Wizard of Oz; Hair; Gladiator; Bladerunner; and, of course, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. At least once each year, my younger daughter and I spend a day watching the extended versions of all three films. We often quote our favourite lines to each other (‘My friends, you bow to no one’). She’ll be leaving home for university in September, but tells me she wants to maintain what has become a tradition when she returns home during the summer vacation. I won’t argue; I love our ‘Lord of the Rings days’ as much as she does.

Do you ever laugh at your own jokes?

Of course; someone has to.

Are you jealous of commercially successful writers?

No. I’ve never begrudged another writer their success, even if their books are not to my taste. I have, however, felt envy in the sense that I’ve longed to match their success, whilst at the same time cheering them on, glad they’re reaping the rewards of all their hard work. They are living proof that persistence, allied to no little skill, can pay off.

Does anything make you cry?

I almost skipped this question, but at the risk of looking a complete wimp, here goes.

I barely cried until I was twenty-six. In May 1991, my first child was born. As I sat in the hospital, holding her in my arms while she stared intently up at me with bright blue eyes, something inside me shifted. I went to the ground floor of the hospital to ring the new grandparents. I could barely get the words out. It must have seemed to passersby that I was imparting bad news, not good.

Since then, I find myself myself choking up during films, books, sad news stories and whenever Wales win at rugby. It can be embarrassing, but I’m powerless to prevent it.

Why do you write under a pen name?

I am by nature a shy person, who hates being in the limelight. That’s a bit of a problem in this game where visibility, at least of the books, is key. I decided from the off that, since I am not good at blowing my own trumpet, I needed to use a pen name. I still don’t find that self-promotion comes naturally, but it’s easier to promote Sam Kates than it would be the person behind that name.

Thanks, Sam. Good luck with your writing career.

Cheers, Lois. Thanks for having me!

Favourite films

Following on from my list of favourite novels from a few weeks ago, I thought I’d compile a similar list of my favourite films—that’s movies to American folks. Although this website is about reading, writing, publishing and marketing of books, I feel that a post on films is nevertheless a good fit. After all, a film-maker has to pay attention to much of the same sort of thing that concerns a fiction writer: characterisation, plot, setting, and so on.

By ‘favourite’, I don’t necessarily mean the films I consider to be the best written, directed or acted, or ones that champion the highest ideals, or ones fulfilling any other objective measure of what makes a great film. Nope, I simply mean the films that left a lasting impression on me. Some of the films on this list I’ve watched over and over, and will watch again.

I did originally call this list ‘Top 50 Favourite Films’ but dropped the ‘Top 50’. There are  films I’ve seen and loved that don’t appear on this list because I can’t now quickly recall them—I have seen so many over the years that I’ve forgotten loads—or because my mood when I compiled the list was such that a film didn’t make it when on another day it would have. So this is more properly a list of fifty of my favourite films, but not necessarily the first fifty and not in any particular order.

You could say I’ve cheated slightly by including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as one film to avoid having to bump two other films off the list. But I’ve always considered the book as one novel, not a trilogy. I believe Tolkien wrote it as one book and it was only split into three at his publisher’s insistence. Thus, the film, like the book, is one in my eyes. So there.

Since so many films have been (usually pointlessly) remade or rebooted (whatever the heck that means), I’ve included the year the version of the film I’m referring to was released.

Finally, where I’ve read the book upon which the film is based, I’m including an Amazon UK link* to the book for anyone who wants to check it out.

Enough blathering. On with the list.

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly [1966]

2. The Darjeeling Limited [2007]

3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [1969]

4. Random Harvest [1942]

5. The Longest Day [1962]

6. Inception [2010]

7. The Lord of the Rings trilogy [2001-03]


The Lord of the Rings

8. Shutter Island [2010]

9. Schindler’s List [1993]

10. Shrek [2001]

11. Kill Bill Vol I [2003]

12. Flight of the Navigator [1986]

13. The Wizard of Oz [1939]


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

14. The Life of Brian [1979]

15. Blair Witch Project [1999]

A Marmite film – I’m firmly in the ‘love it’ camp.

16. Gladiator [2000]

17. The Matrix [1999]

18. Memento [2000]

19. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood [2019]

Replacing Kill Bill Vol I as my favourite Tarantino film.

20. The Usual Suspects [1995]

21. Airplane [1980]

22. Se7en [1995]

23. The Godfather [1972]

Part II could as easily have been included.

24. The Ring [2002]

I’ve gone with the Hollywood version, but the original Japanese version—Ringu [1998]—is as good, if not better.

25. Stand By Me [1986]


Different Seasons

26. All the President’s Men [1976]

27. Three Days of the Condor [1975]

28. Cool Hand Luke [1967]

29. Twelve Angry Men [1957]

30. Once Upon a Time in the West [1968]

31. Blade Runner [1982]


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

32. Interstellar [2014]

33. Fight Club [1999]

34. Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]

35. Office Space [1999]

36. The Prestige [2006]

37. Little Miss Sunshine [2006]

38. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest [1975]


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

39. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004]

40. The Princess Bride [1987]

41. It’s a Wonderful Life [1946]

42. The Truman Show [1998]

43. My Neighbour Totoro [1988]

Two other Studio Ghibli animations might have made the list on another day: Spirited Away [2001] and the utterly heartbreaking Grave of the Fireflies [1988].

44. The Exorcist [1973]


The Exorcist

45. Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981]

Happy 40th birthday! (Man, that makes me feel old.)

46. The Great Escape [1963]

47. The Wicker Man [1973]

Britt Ekland… sigh

48. Don’t Look Now [1973]

49. Casino Royale [2006]

This is the Daniel Craig version, not the wackily psychedelic 1967 version starring David Niven as Bond that has very little to do with Ian Fleming’s novel. It nevertheless possesses some charm in its own right, not least being the catchy theme tune.


Casino Royale

50. Sideways [2004]

 

* they’re affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a small amount of commission from Amazon on any sales resulting from following the links; it doesn’t affect the price you pay to Amazon

From Page to Screen – Part 3

Favourite film adaptations

I thought it might be a bit of fun to list my top ten favourite film adaptations of books I’ve read. Until I sat down to compile the list and realised it’s not that easy because either the films haven’t measured up to the books, or I’ve enjoyed a film but not (yet) read the book upon which it’s based.

The other problem is that I have read a lot of books and watched a lot of films. I’m at that age where my mind refuses to hold onto names that leave no lasting impression on it. That being so, there might have been better film adaptations I’ve seen than some that make it onto the list, but that I’ve simply forgotten about. In fact, it’s quite likely.

Anyway, to the best of my knowledge, here follows in no particular order (I struggled to compile a list of ten, let alone having to rank them in order) my top ten film adaptations of books I’ve read.

The Lord of the Rings

One of my favourite books; one of my favourite adaptations— see From Page to Screen – Part 2 where I explain why.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I can’t imagine anyone more suited to the lead role of Randle McMurphy than Jack Nicholson in his pomp. Add a breathtaking performance by Louise Fletcher as his nemesis Nurse Ratched and it makes for a superb film, at times hilarious, at others heartbreakingly sad.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The 39 Steps

There have been many film and television adaptations of John Buchan’s adventure novel involving spy rings, military secrets and a man on the run. My favourite by far is the 1935 Hitchcock version, starring Robert Donat as the novel’s hero Richard Hannay. It is only loosely based upon the novel but, for me, improves upon the book with its ending.


The Thirty-Nine Steps

Blade Runner

Also mentioned in ‘From Page to Screen – Part 2’, linked above, this is one of those rare films that takes all that is good from the source material and improves upon it.


Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

The Da Vinci Code

I’m not a fan of Dan Brown’s writing style, yet I’ve read most of his books and will continue to do so because he tells a ripping yarn. The underlying concept behind this novel blew me away and I thought they did a pretty good job with the film version. Any film featuring Tom Hanks, Paul Bettany and Audrey Tautou (not to mention Ian McKellen and Alfred Molina) ought to be decent, and this one doesn’t disappoint.


The Da Vinci Code

Starship Troopers

The novel is up there, for me, with Robert Heinlein’s finest. The film version, although not originally even based on the book, does a great job of satirising the aspects, such as militarism and fascism, for which the novel came in for criticism. I thought both the novel and film were a great deal of escapist fun.


Starship Troopers

Stand By Me

This adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, The Body, just shades The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile as my favourite King adaptation. See From Page to Screen – Part 1 for more on this.

The Road

One of my favourite post-apocalyptic books. Unremittingly bleak and brutal, I couldn’t put it down. I sat to watch the film version with a little apprehension, but the film was as bleak and brutal, and as good, as the book. It’s also the first film I’ve seen starring Viggo Mortensen where I didn’t keep thinking about Aragorn.


The Road

Catch-22

The novel is a beguiling mixture of absurdism and grittiness, and I wondered how it could translate to the screen. Well, the 1970 film worked for me. What really made it was the casting of Alan Arkin as the central character John Yossarian. I watched the recent television serial adaptation, which was also a worthy effort, but couldn’t help comparing the actor who played Yossarian unfavourably with Arkin.


Catch-22

Day of the Jackal

The tension in the novel is superbly crafted and I doubted it could be reproduced on screen. How wrong I was. The film version, with Edward Fox in the title role, is as suspenseful as the book. They are both excellent.


The Day of the Jackal

Till next time…