Killing Rumer is 25% funded!

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Newsflash from the Killing Rumer campaign – we’re 25% funded! Yes, we’re a QUARTER of the way there! Slow-mo high fives and tears all round.

Thank you so much to everybody who has supported the campaign so far, whether pre-ordering a copy, sharing on social platforms, or lending words of advice/comfort (delete as applicable) when my nerves wobbled. I’m overwhelmed and grateful.

So, yes, we’re at 25% and it feels good (music cue: James Brown), but there’s still 75% left to go. Want to help with spreading the Rumer? Here are some handy tips:

  1. Share share share! If you have the time to email or message one person who likes quirky crime thrillers and kick-ass heroines to ask them to support the book, that would help HUGELY. One-on-one messages are the best way to tell people about the campaign, and be sure to include this link: https://unbound.com/books/killing-rumer
  2. Tweet/Facebook/socialise to your heart’s content. Use the hashtag #KillingRumer and @ any of your book-loving buds. If you can share this banner, you might catch a few eyes (in a non-violent way): https://www.dropbox.com/s/dkoo0uxa3fldugq/Logo.gif?dl=0
  3. Upgrade your pledge. If you ordered the ebook but you’ve decided you really want a paperback as well, that doesn’t mean pledging twice. To upgrade your pledge, simply click on the new reward you want, and rather than being charged twice, you’ll only pay the difference for the new pledge: https://unbound.com/books/killing-rumer

Once again, from me and Rumer, thank you thank you thank you!

Help get Killing Rumer published with Unbound!

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For the past few years I’ve been beavering away at a secret book project – and today I’m dragging it kicking and screaming out of the closet!

Killing Rumer is a quirky thriller about a teenage girl tipped into a world of gangsters and the occult. It’s dark, weird and (hopefully) funny. It’s about belonging and friendship and loneliness. It mixes The Craft with The Maltese Falcon, Jessica Jones and Final Destination. (See. Weird.)

So here’s the thing. Today, we’ve launched the Killing Rumer campaign over at Unbound. If you’re not familiar with Unbound, here’s the deal: it’s a UK publisher in which authors help to raise the funds to publish their book. We spearhead a campaign and ask fellow readers, friends, family and coven members to help get the book published by pre-ordering a copy – and perhaps signing up for some of the awesome bonuses that go with helping an author fulfil their dream.

I’ll be honest, I have no fingernails left and I’m comfort eating chocolate until I’m sick but that’s OK because WE’RE LIVE. This is not a drill! Klaxon and loud fireworks ahoy!

But yes, I need your help. Want to support Killing Rumer and bold new fiction? Here’s what you can do:

  1. Share this link: http://unbound.com/books/killing-rumer
  2. Post this logo (and a link to Unbound) on Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest: https://www.dropbox.com/s/dkoo0uxa3fldugq/Logo.gif?dl=0
  3. Email/text friends who love reading, kick-ass heroines, twisty mysteries and even twistier narratives.
  4. Pre-order! If Killing Rumer sounds like your sort of book, you’ll be helping to get it published by pre-ordering your very own copy. There are loads of cool bonuses, including naming a character, having your own name appear in the book (as a thank you) and you can even choose to let me loose on your manuscript. Be afraid.
  5. Write about Rumer! If you have a blog, please feel free to post about the Killing Rumer campaign. I’m happy to answer Q&As and write for you, just get in touch via https://joshuawinning.com/contact/

So that’s it. We’re off. Rumer’s ready to take her first steps into the world. Here’s hoping she makes it to the finishing line. My fingernails really can’t take any more.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 9 – The one with the hot hunk of Man-Wyatt

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 6.10 ‘Chris-Crossed’
Writer: Cameron Litvack
Director: Joel J. Feigenbaum

Adult Wyatt CharmedWho is Chris? Why did he come back from the future? And how does he always get his hair so perfect? These questions and more are (sort of) addressed in this flash-forward-heavy sixth season episode, which administers 1,000 volts to the show’s lethargic ‘Chris arc’, giving the whitelighter from the future an intriguing backstory (or should that be forward-story?) without ever managing to make him more likeable.

“That’s one bitchy whitelighter,” snips Piper at the start of the episode, and it’s hard not to agree with her. For over nine episodes, Chris has orbed around like a whiny stick-in-the-mud, shoving his nose in the Halliwells’ business and irritating everybody with his pious attitude. That changes, though, in ‘Chris-Crossed’, when Chris is attacked by Bianca (Marisol Nichols), a hot mama in leather he clearly has a past (uh, future?) with.

Weakened and even more puppy-eyed than ever, he remembers his future (past? Oh, I give up) in handy flash-forwards that reveal he and Bianca were engaged before he hopped back in time to protect the Halliwells from an evil that will leave San Francisco resembling Planet Of The Apes by way of Minority Report.

Which brings us to Man-Wyatt (Wes Ramsey). See, it turns out Piper’s grown-up son is the reason this future San Fran has fallen into ruin. Wyatt’s seized control of Frisco like some sort of supernatural Al Capone – only an Al Capone with a surfer bod and L’oreal-style golden curls (he’s worth it). With the Charmed Ones dead and their home turned into the Halliwell Memorial Museum (a fun touch), he’s run wild – and only Chris is brave enough to take him on.

This episode’s named after Chris, but it should really be titled ‘Wyatt, Erp!’ Though he’s given little more than five minutes of screen-time, Wes Ramsey owns ‘Chris-Crossed’. Kept mostly in shadow, he’s an imposing, smouldering presence, filling the attic with the kind of charisma that Charmed lacked post-Cole. Sadly, he’s at the centre of one of Charmed‘s biggest disappointments because, despite the promising storyline ‘Chris-Crossed’ establishes, the show never followed through on it.

Charmed Chris-CrossedA future San Fran destroyed by one of the Halliwells’ offspring is a thrilling idea ripe with story potential – so much so that fans spent years campaigning for a ‘Charmed Sons’ spin-off that never materialised. But, after his big debut, Man-Wyatt is all-but forgotten by the show’s writers. Wes Ramsey only appears in one more season six episode (the ‘blah’ finale) before fan demand saw him cropping up once in season seven (the forgettable ‘Imaginary Fiends’) and series finale ‘Forever Charmed’.

Apparently Ramsey’s schedule kept him from making more appearances, and season six – and the ‘Chris arc’ as a whole – suffers massively from that. After this, we got a string of filler episodes (‘Witchstock’, ‘Prince Charmed’, ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Halliwell’) before the show attempted to introduce a replacement Big Bad in the form of preening evil elder Gideon (Gildart Jackson). Yawn.

So ‘Chris-Crossed’ represents both the best and the worst of season six. In a year where the girls became involved with increasingly one-dimensional men (does anybody really remember Greg? Or Richard?), their real-life dramas were becoming oddly stale. Meanwhile, great ideas like Man-Wyatt and the Phoenix coven are left almost entirely unexplored. With Charmed getting a reboot, here’s hoping some of those ideas will finally receive the attention they deserve.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 8 – The one where Prue looks like Nicolas Cage

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 2.05 ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’
Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Director: Martha Mitchell

charmed_s2e05_800x450Did it just get hot in here? Between all the sweaty cleavages, gorgeous men-folk and Phoebe proclaiming she’s “aroused” every ten seconds, it’s a wonder the cast and crew made it through this episode at all. Thank goodness they did, though, because with its sexy themes, memorable female villain and snappy banter, ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’ is one of the show’s most entertaining (and yes, sweatiest) hours.

See, a heatwave’s hit San Francisco and Phoebe’s burning up. Supernaturally. She keeps having saucy dreams about seducing hot guys, but the dreams all end with her killing them. Instead of this being a return for season one’s duff Dream Sorcerer (god forbid), it turns out she’s psychically linked to a succubus, a spurned witch who’s mating with horny men in order to fill her wardrobe with eggs (that’s not a euphemism).

Meanwhile, Piper’s blissfully unaware that neighbour Dan likes her as much as she likes him, and Prue’s baffled when a date says he’ll call and then actually does (go figure). And with Morris asking the girls for help tracking down the hunk hacker, he’s getting closer to the Halliwells’ secret than ever.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the small matter of Prue being turned into a man. Yes (baby), a man. After a spell backfires (shades of ‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’ here), she finds herself sans boobs and avec ween, which sends her sisters into fits of giggles and, despite her startling resemblance to a young Nicolas Cage, they rename Prue ‘Manny Hanks’ for the rest of the episode.

The ‘Prue as man’ plot is a spectacularly subversive twist for a show that was all-too-often accused of putting its stars in the skimpiest of outfits. (“The joke was they would always promote the show as Tits And Witches,” showrunner Brad Kern said in 2006. “Like, what are you doing?”) By covering Shannen Doherty up in man-shirts and facial hair (the make-up artist used a picture of Doherty’s then-boyfriend as inspiration), the show’s whole dynamic changes, and the episode cleverly toys with the question: what would’ve happened if the Halliwells had a brother?

2.5So Piper gets annoyed at Man-Prue’s bullish nature (forgetting she’s always like that) and there’s some laugh-out-loud physical humour in Prue attempting to emulate Dan’s manliness (“How about those niners?”). This is Charmed with its thinking cap on – there’s even a great, grisly villain whose modus operandi (a strangulating tongue) is brilliantly/disturbingly phallic.

After their patchy first season, the Charmed writers had clearly been thinking about what they wanted the show to be, and the first half of season two features some of its most innovative ideas. This is just one of them and, despite indulging in the season’s soapier elements (was anybody ever really rooting for Piper and Dan?), it opens up a fun discussion about how miscommunication and misunderstanding go hand-in-hand.

It’s particularly interesting to compare this episode with season eight’s ‘Battle Of The Hexes’. Where that Billie-centric episode regurgitated many of this hour’s sentiments, it did it with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. With ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’, Charmed struck an impressive balance between Paul Verhoeven-esque raunchiness and Species-style body horror. Perhaps most impressive: it boasts an ‘equal rights’ approach to gender politics that argues that, when it comes to matters of the heart, men and women really are as bad as each other.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 7 – The one where everybody’s been taking happy pills (except they haven’t)

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 7.13 ‘Charmageddon’
Writer: Henry Alonso Myers
Director: John T. Kretchmer

ca1c9d81e9aaf43e741f1914499ba67eWhen it came to creating alt-worlds, Charmed often slayed the competition. Whether depicting a weirdly plausible near-future (in ‘Morality Bites’), the manor as asylum (in ‘Brain Drain’) or a post-Prue apocalypse (in ‘Centennial Charmed’), the show often excelled at turning its iconography on its head. And while the alt-world in this episode doesn’t quite pack the same punch as those other episodes, it still takes an interesting look at the impossibility of utopia.

Season seven’s Big Bads were the Avatars, an impressively ethnically diverse group of black-clad pacifists who first seduced Leo (by, uh, appearing as a scary floating head) before enlisting the Halliwells to help them bring about their vision of a ‘perfect’ world. In ‘Charmageddon’, that utopia has been rolled out globally, resulting in thinner newspapers (crime’s down), generally happier people (cue lots of awful bit-players) and, most importantly, a genuine shot at a demon-free existence for the Halliwells.

Of course, it’s not that easy. Phoebe’s boss (Elise, always welcome) may claim “it’s like everybody’s been taking happy pills”, but this supposed utopia hides a dark side – the cost of a ‘perfect’ world, it seems, is extreme fascism. With the Avatars stating they “simply cannot abide” conflict, anybody who rocks the boat is immediately scrubbed out of existence. Which, clearly, is sort of a problem.

‘Charmageddon’ came just 13 episodes after the hyper-happy world of season six’s (ultimately disappointing) finale, but it has starker questions in mind. Charmed was always best when it blurred the line between good and evil and, in this episode, it becomes increasingly clear that the Avatars are basically soft-spoken extremists – damn-near supernatural terrorists. Their message is essentially: “We want peace and we’ll kill to get it.”

On the flipside, demon Zankou (the excellent Oded Fehr) sees through the whole thing and quickly pairs up with Leo to try to fix things. We all know this utopia can’t last but it’s interesting seeing why it can’t. In particular, the peculiarly trauma-free issue of death (if you lose a loved one, you immediately accept “they’re in a better place”), which culminates in one of Phoebe’s best scenes of the season as she suffers an uber-premonition reminding her of every loss the Halliwells have experienced since becoming witches (yes, that includes a shot of Prue’s grave).

This is notable as the only time Charmed ever delivered a mid-season two-parter (it follows the brilliantly-titled ‘Extreme Makeover: World Edition’), and the concept certainly justifies it. Though its depiction of utopia is ultimately a little thin, ‘Charmageddon’ features a handful of great moments – Piper’s tearful breakdown at losing Leo, Zankou’s Egyptian tomb foraging (a clear nod to Fehr’s role in the Mummy movies), that uber-premonition. There’s even a poignant send-off for Kyle Brody (Kerr Smith).

The Avatars ultimately retreat, setting the world back to rights (and wrongs). If their withdrawal feels anti-climactic, it’s leavened by the fact that Zankou’s still around. There’s a wonderful cinematic shot in which he vanishes when a bus passes him on the street, and his prickly presence throughout the rest of the season offers a controversial explanation for why a ‘perfect’ world would never work – when the baddies are this good, who needs utopia?

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 6 – The one where The Seer proves she’s an evil genius

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 4.15 ‘Marry-Go-Round’
Writer: Daniel Cerone
Director: Chris Long

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-18-48-14“Is this a wedding or a coronation?” jokes Paige at the start of this fiendishly clever fourth season episode as Phoebe plans her predictably lavish (and eco-friendly) marriage to Cole. Of course, Paige is right on both counts: Phoebe’s Big Day is, in fact, a wedding and a coronation as she’s unwittingly coerced into marrying (gasp) The Source and being made his queen. And you thought your wedding was a ball-ache.

Naturally, the masterminding of this dark plan comes courtesy of Charmed‘s best ever baddie. The Seer (Debbi Morgan) hasn’t got a real name, but that doesn’t matter when she’s this brazen, sly and downright awesome. Like the best ‘mission: impossible’ scenarios, she sets out the episode’s seemingly absurd stakes early, informing Cole (now imbued with super-evil The Source, but still presumed “as defenceless as a cat toy” by Piper et al) that to produce an evil heir, he’ll have to marry Phoebe in “the dark way”.

That means Phoebe has to drink his blood, marry in a cemetery and be presided over by a dark priest (a nifty little role for Tony Amendola). Y’know, no biggie. The beauty of ‘Marry-Go-Round’, though, is watching the Seer slowly move all of the pieces in to place. With some ingenious twists and double-bluffs, she pulls off her plan and doesn’t even crack a smile afterwards – that’s how bad-ass she is.

Unlike so many of Charmed‘s one-dimensional villains, the Seer’s always one step ahead, and she’s forever looking to further her ambitions – here, everybody’s a puppet and she’s the one with strings soldered to her fingers. Debbi Morgan appeared in nine of the show’s episodes, and though the writers fudged her big moment (in anti-climactic exit ‘Womb Raider’), she’s integral to Charmed‘s first big (and deliciously dark) arc. It’s not hard to see why she was a must-have guest star in the show’s 100th episode a year later.

The Seer’s crafty gameplay revolves around pitting the sisters against each other. New witch Paige, naturally, is the weak link in the Charmed chain, and the Seer fully exploits the fact that Piper and Phoebe don’t know her as well as each other. Paige’s wedding preparation ‘mistakes’ are trivial (picking up the wrong dress, uh, accidentally making Phoebe invisible), but that’s their brilliance – who’d ever expect the Charmed Ones to be destroyed by a spat over night cream?

This episode first aired during ‘sweeps’ in the US (when all shows bring out the big guns), and Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs are given a load of fun stuff to work with. Though Phoebe is inevitably the bridezilla to end them all (that fringe, though…), Paige gets many of the standout moments – she niftily orbs a sofa to cushion Piper’s fall during a fight, and selflessly surrenders herself so Phoebe can have her wedding. She’s also the one who keeps asking all the right questions, paving the way for her increasing mistrust of Cole/The Source.

‘Marry-Go-Round’ really is Charmed at its smartest and most darkly humorous. Even stunt casting in the form of rapper Coolio (avec his spider-plant hair) can’t ruin it as the “mean and unreliable” Lazarus demon, and there’s a hilarious dig at Shannen Doherty as Piper remembers her own wedding: “Only Prue could make my wedding day all about her.” Which is sort of fitting – this may be Phoebe’s Big Day, but it’s the Seer who steals the show.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Hell’s belle

jessica-jonesThe inside line on Jessica Jones, Marvel’s second Netflix TV series…

INT. BAR – HELL’S KITCHEN. NIGHT. A dark-haired woman bowls inside just as a fight erupts. The bartender – big, imposing – trades blows with drunk patrons. The woman hurls a guy across a table. Breaks another guy’s hand. Within minutes, groaning bodies litter the floor. The woman and the bartender share a look, recognising that this isn’t exactly normal…

“I actually did punch somebody in the face by accident,” laughs Krysten Ritter, the dark-haired pugilist in question, chatting to Lounge six months after shooting that bar scrap on location in New York City. “I didn’t mean to, accidents happen! I punched a stunt guy, and I sent him a bottle of whisky to apologise. Honestly, I think he got a kick out of it. I feel like the stunt guys like it a little bit.”

That, or this stunt guy was understandably intimidated by Marvel’s latest superhero. After all, Jessica Jones isn’t somebody you mess with. Sarcastic, abrasive, always ready to throw a punch (or a barbed one-liner), she’s the star of the studio’s second Netflix TV series, which arrives in the wake of Daredevil’s acclaimed first season. Set in the same neighbourhood – Hell’s Kitchen – /Jessica Jones/ is equally as dark, following the titular private eye, an ex-superhero who snoops on behalf of freelance clients and sniffy attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss). At least, that’s when she’s not drinking herself unconscious.

“Because of her dark past, she can really see the darkness in others,” explains showrunner Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter, Dark Skies). “What she’s lacking is the ability to see the good in people. She’s a pessimist by nature.” They’re characteristics drawn directly from Brian Michael Bendis’ R-rated 2001 comic, Alias, but Rosenberg also references Chinatown as a tonal touchstone for a show that trades in gorgeous noir imagery. It also fosters a foreboding sense of paranoia, not least when Jones is drawn into a case involving dangerous mind manipulator Kilgrave (David Tenant), who may hold the key to her traumatic past.

Rosenberg initially pitched the show to ABC back in 2010, when Marvel TV boss Jeph Loeb gave her a copy of Alias, and she’d had her eye on Ritter to star ever since. Though Ritter was best known for comedies like Don’t Trust The B—- In Apartment 23, her role as Jessie’s girlfriend in Breaking Bad proved she wasn’t all sweetness and light. “The Breaking Bad role was like, ‘Ooooh-kay, I get it, you’re dark. You can go deep,’” Rosenberg recalls. “The range that she displays in this show is just extraordinary.”

For Ritter, it was a no-brainer. After reading the script in secret (“Jeph Loeb locked me in a room, took away my cell phone”), she was struck by the strength of Rosenberg’s story, and in particular how different it was from Daredevil. “That show is super-violent and has a lot of fights and cool stunts and shit,” she says. “And Jessica Jones is a much more character-driven psychological thriller, where the violence is more psychological.”

“There’s a need for redemption, which is a very traditional, heroic drive,” adds Rosenberg, “but buried on top of that are so many wrong moves, so many mistakes and bad choices… It’s quite fun trying to get there.” Perhaps hindering more than helping Jones on her road to redemption is that imposing bartender, who just so happens to be Luke Cage (Mike Colter), another Marvel hero. Where Jones possesses superhuman strength, Cage seems almost indestructible.

“They’re opposites, yet they have the same fucking thing they can’t tell anybody about,” Ritter says. “They’re, in a way, the same person. I love their relationship. A lot of it exists in the quietness, in the subtext. And I love me some Mike Colter.”

Colter’s getting his own solo series next year (it’s currently shooting), but Jessica Jones is notable as the first female Marvel superhero to get her own series – and it’s also the first time a Marvel character has been brought to the screen by an almost entirely female team.

“Don’t mess it up!” laughs Rosenberg on how it feels to be the first woman in Marvel’s hitherto all-boys’ club. “It’s incredibly inspiring and I’m utterly delighted and honoured to be here! I think women have earned their place in the cannon, but it’s also a great deal of responsibility, which I know Krysten feels as well.”

Not half, though Ritter is more excited than nervous. “This is amazing in so many ways,” she enthuses. “It feels very groundbreaking, very exciting. I would love for a generation, the girls coming up behind me, to be inspired by this character. There can be strong, amazing female antiheroes and complex characters we can root for. Jessica Jones is so unique.”

While Jones will eventually team up with Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist in mini-series The Defenders, Lounge can’t help wondering how she’d react to meeting the Avengers. “I think she might think they’re a little full of themselves and a little glossy,” Rosenberg muses. And Ritter? “Erm… I can’t talk about any spoilers,” she says. This is about to get very interesting…

As featured in Total Film magazine.