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A Fantastic Woman (2017)

fantastic

★★★★

After a romantic night out, a woman’s boyfriend collapses in their apartment. Worried, she rushes him to hospital. Within an hour, she’s told he has died. Unable to process the information, she runs, and is dragged back to the hospital by security. They’re not only suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the man’s death, but also who the woman was to him, and what she might be hiding, because the woman doesn’t look exactly like other women, and when they look at her ID card, it has a man’s name on it.

It’s with a slow and steady hand that Chilean director Sebastián Lelio guides us into the world of Marina Vidal. A transgender woman, Marina lives in a time when LGBTQ+ rights have never been more talked about but, as we quickly discover, that doesn’t mean the fight’s over. In her first lead role, transgender actress Daniela Vega affords Marina a quiet dignity that belies her daily struggle as she’s ritually humiliated by bigots and businesswomen alike.

The tragedy of her tale is expertly handled by both Vega and Lelio, who never overplay their hand, and frequently look for the hope hidden in the horror. Flashes of surrealism leaven the mood, including a glittering dancefloor segment and a telling moment in which Marina struggles to walk down the street as she battles a gale that keeps pushing her back. These surreal flourishes aside, A Fantastic Woman forgoes a traditional narrative (its McGuffin leads nowhere; there’s no grand victory for Marina) which might flummox some viewers, but as a portrait of a woman fighting bigotry and prejudice with quiet self-belief, it’s gripping stuff.

Guest blog post: Welcome to the world of Sour Fruit by Eli Allison

Today I am very excited to host a guest post by Eli Allison, the debut author of new dystopian thriller Sour Fruit, which is out now.

The concept behind Sour Fruit is very cool – it’s set in a future hell hole known as Kingston. This ramshackle world is full of shady characters who’ll cut your throat as soon as look at you.

So over to Eli, who’s going to introduce us to this wacky, dangerous world…

Picture of The Body Quater 1

Want to say a big thank you to Josh for hosting my twisted novel Sour Fruit, on this second spot of The After Party Book Blog Tour.

So I thought we could do a fabulous sneak-peek into the world of Kingston; the setting for my dark dystopian novel. Kingston is a rotting scrap yard of misery, a river city in a country plagued by yearly devastating floods. VOIDs (people deemed unworthy of British Citizenship) are forced to survive in this place, and they try to have forged a life out of a city that year by year is rotting away under their feet.

We are going to look closely at one area in particular and the best way to know a place is to know its stories. There is a character in Sour Fruit who collects and tells people the stories of Kingston. Here is one of their tales about The Body Quarter…

Jane
There was two Janes, one tall, one small, one dusted with freckles, the other pale as bridal silk, one who danced amongst rubble and bullet holes, the other that couldn’t breathe.

These two Janes never meet, although they were forever changed by the other. VOID Jane and Citizen Jane, two tiny bubbles racing to the surface.

Citizen Jane, small and pale liked to slide the days away picking daisies to make crowns for her doll. She grew up in a nest of love, two hummingbird parents who hovered around their only child. But all her days were almost gone, she’d never fly the nest, never fly at all. She was dying and all that was left was nearly gone.

But there was a place, a hurried whisper of a last chance. ‘Kingston,’ they were told, but it came at a price.

‘Any price,’ they said. ‘Any.’

Who wouldn’t burn the world to save their child? The parents were lucky it wasn’t the whole world that needed burning… Just one girl.

Silly VOID Jane had asked for help from the wrong aid worker; he wore his bright orange vest like he wore his smile; tight. The worker had taken her blood like he had taken everyone’s blood he helped. He filed VOID Jane’s picture, name and test results into his private files and with the stab of the enter button everyone’s fates were sealed.

Citizen Jane took her first good breath in years, her new lungs stretched wide. Her eyes opened to see a shiny white room her parents watching. Her mother embracing her doll, her father embracing his tears. They thanked the doctor, the nurse, the porter, everyone but the one person they should have.

They found VOID Jane’s body burnt in The Black Quay, but those that found her knew the hollowed out child had spent her last days in The Body Quarter, carved up for parts.

VOID Jane, tall and freckled would slide the days away, twirling, and leaping to music played through the tinny speakers of an old phone. She would wait hours at the Charge shop, to fill its little battery. Racing to find an old room, secret and long dead and she would place the phone tilted against rumble and hit play. She would dance in muted light, etching graceful lines into the dusty floor with pointed toes, her fingers outstretched reaching for the sky.

The End

Hope you liked the glimpse into the underbelly of Kingston. If you’d like to know more about Kingston then my book Sour Fruit is out now.

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About the Author
EliAllison-iconEli Allison tells people at parties that she’s a writer, but she mostly spends the day in her knickers swearing at the laptop. She ping-ponged between one depressing job until finally she said, ‘This year I’m writing that book.’ Years later the book is done…There is a sneaking suspicion she would have kept quiet had she known quite how long it would have taken her. She lives in Yorkshire, works in her head and does not enjoy long walks on the beach or anywhere, in fact she gets upset at having to walk to the fridge for cheese.

Find Eli on Twitter @EliAllison3

And visit her website at https://www.eli-allison.com/

My Friend Dahmer (2017)

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★★★

“I like to pick up roadkill but I’m trying to quit,” says teenager Jeff (Ross Lynch) early on in My Friend Dahmer. It’s a knowingly dark line in a film that frequently flirts with the extreme darkness of its subject matter without ever indulging in shock and gore. Because, yes, this is Jeffrey Dahmer we’re talking about, the infamous serial killer who murdered 17 men between 1978 and 1991 before he was jailed in the Columbia Correctional Institute, and then beaten to death by his cellmate.

This isn’t Making A Murderer: Teen Edition, though. ‘Becoming Dahmer’ would have been a more apt title, as none of the Wisconsin native’s unsettling crimes are portrayed here. Instead, director Marc Meyers adapts John ‘Derf’ Backderf’s same-named graphic novel. As one of Dahmer’s high-school friends, Backderf was there for Dahmer’s formative years, and they’re played out here in slow-burn detail as Dahmer struggles with his fractured home life, with school, and with his own burgeoning homosexuality.

The disturbing moments are often beautifully underplayed, from Dahmer leading a happy dog into the woods, to the teen’s casual questioning of a black classmate’s skin colour. Meyers forgoes slasher movie cliche to perfectly capture an understated ’70s mood, and his star – former Disney kid Lynch – is equally mesmerising; his often expressionless, dead-eyed but hugely physical performance is a revelation.

Why did Dahmer become obsessed with dead things? Would it have turned out differently if his parents (played with grotesque glee by Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts) hadn’t abandoned him? Meyers refrains from offering easy answers, perhaps because there aren’t any, instead watching Dahmer as he careens towards the inevitable. The result is quiet and lingering, blowing apart the Hollywood notion of what constitutes a psychopath to reveal the troubling, unsettling reality.

This review originally published in Crack magazine.

The Win Bin: The Seven Deadly Emotions Of Writing

Hello! I’m Joshua Winning and I write things. As I start work on a new book, I’m going to chart my journey from concept to completion. Wanna come? This week: feelings.

mean-girls-feelings

Books are all about emotion. How does a story make you feel? Do the characters inspire empathy or apathy? A book is made to make you feel something, and while emotion is delicate and intangible, the best writers make capturing it look easy.

My editor on Vicious Rumer crystallised that for me when he suggested removing the book’s epilogue. “I’m not sure it leaves you with the right feeling,” he said of a coda that didn’t really do anything, and he couldn’t have been more right. Cutting the epilogue meant the book ended with a very specific feeling.

In my last post, I talked about planning a new book. I decided to research, write character bios, make mood boards and all that fun stuff. I ended up doing it for two projects – one a locked-in psychological thriller, the other a gay YA horror.

All that was great fun and really helped me zero in on exactly what I wanted to achieve with each book, but the big thing I realised is this: the book I’ve decided to sit down and write is the one that captured the feeling I want to explore at the moment.

That got me thinking about all the crazy stuff you feel as a writer throughout the whole process. Writing, editing, publishing, promoting… Sometimes those feelings are overwhelming. Here are a few that crop up time and again for me…

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The Seven Deadly Emotions Of Writing

Fear
“Oh god this is going to be awful. I can’t write. I shouldn’t be allowed to even try. Where’s the coffee/biscuits/pacifier?”

Apathy
“There’s no point doing this because it’s way too much effort when I could be sitting watching repeats of RuPaul.”

Excitement
“Woohoo, this is so new and everything’s shiny and I can basically do whatever I like because it’s my world. This is sooooo fuuuuun!”

Irritation
“Why isn’t this written already? What do you mean I have to figure out what everybody says and what happens next? Can’t this just be done?”

Pride
“Wow, that sentence was actually good!”

Serenity
“Well it’s done now. It is what it is. It’s done and I can’t do anything about it.”

Guilt
“Why am I eating dinner when I should be starting the next book?!”

 

Until next time!

Are you working on a new project? Are you experiencing your own seven deadly emotions? Let me know below!

Visit The Win Bin archive here

120 BPM (2017)

120

★★★★

In 1992, Robin Campillo joined a militant group of activists called Act Up Paris. Dedicated to battling government apathy towards the AIDS epidemic, Act Up Paris did everything it could to grab headlines and make its cause visible, no matter what the cost, in an era when the supposedly ‘gay disease’ wasn’t taken seriously.

The group’s spitfire spirit crackles through Campillo’s third feature film, 120 BPM, which is partially inspired by the French director’s time with Act Up, and sheds new light on gay militance in a time when LGBTQ+ people are enjoying more freedom than ever. The film’s plot follows a number of the group’s members, cleaving particularly closely to HIV-positive extrovert Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), and his growing closeness to new member Nathan (Arnaud Valois). Among the many other activists, all of whom get their moment, there’s a mother and her 16-year-old son Marco (Theophile Ray), who’s a haemophiliac and contracted the AIDS virus from an infected blood transfusion.

At two and a half hours long, Campillo’s film could have used a little judicious editing, but the freewheeling style and realistic delves into the group’s rowdy lecture-hall meetings are hugely seductive. As its title suggests, 120 BPM pulses with passion and anger on numerous levels. At times, it feels like an exorcism for Campillo, who lived this, and has lived with it for over 30 years. There’s hope, though, too. The sparse musical segments are euphoric, while the sense of community is warm and invigorating. For those who have watched How To Survive A Plague, 120 BPM offers a nourishing and rousing insight into gay activism outside of the US, and won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

This review originally published in Crack magazine.

The Win Bin: Starting a new book

Hello! I’m Joshua Winning and I write things. As I start work on a new book, I’m going to chart my journey from concept to completion. Wanna come? This week: ideas.

idea

Is it possible to have too many ideas?

This is the problem: it’s been a while since I’ve started something new. Last week, my YA thriller Vicious Rumer was published by Unbound. In July, the third book in The Sentinel Trilogy – Splinter – is being published by Peridot Press. I’ve been editing both projects for roughly a year, with no time to write anything from scratch.

So the prospect of starting something new is both terrifying and exhilarating. I feel like a clown in a costume shop. Which curly wig will I choose? Which enormo floppy shoes will prove the most rewarding?

Most of the time, I’m worried I don’t have any ideas. But the weird thing is that, as I start thinking about what I might want to write next, I find I’m drowning in little proto-concepts. I’m talking tiny book nuggets that could grow into full manuscripts, or could merely be brain farts that amount to nothing more than smelly, passing distractions.

Apparently this is a problem lots of writers contend with. And it has a name: TMIS, Too Many Ideas Syndrome. There’s a great post at Writer’s Digest here about how to overcome the trauma of having a brain just TOO FULL of the good stuff.

I currently have four (yes, four) ideas kicking around in my head. I’m not saying any of them are good, and I certainly don’t want to be all ‘poor me, I have so many ideas and my diamond shoes won’t come off’. But I really want to write something new and I honestly don’t know which one of the four I’d enjoy writing most.

Ideally, I’d like to thrash out a first draft of something by December. Not because anybody’s waiting on me or anything, but because it’s good to keep the ball rolling. You learn by doing, right? And I feel like I’ve learned A LOT in the past few years.

So this is what I’m going to do…

  • Write character profiles for all four projects. These will be as in-depth as possible (their fears, their loves, their favourite music) because stories are nothing without well-rounded characters. If a particular character really grabs my attention, that’s a great reason to tell their story.
  • Write single-page plot outlines for all four projects. This is the toughie because plot details can be tricky and I’m not hugely specifics-oriented. I’ve been both a planner and a panter – I planned Splinter meticulously but I wrote Vicious Rumer on the fly and really found the plot in the first edit. In that case, though, the character of Rumer was so clear in my mind that the plot almost came naturally. I know, living the dream, right?
  • Brainstorm titles. Sometimes coming up with a killer title can really make an idea come to life.
  • Create Pinterest boards. I’ve only ever played around with mood boards once, on Splinter, and it was fun but felt sort of like procrastinating. I’ve noticed a lot of writers using Pinterest to create mood boards as they prepare to write, so I’m giving it a whirl to see what happens.

Once I’ve done this, I’m going to leave them for a few days. And then I’ll figure out which one gets me most excited. I know, that’s a fair bit of work, so I’m aiming to have all four ideas plotted by mid-May so I can start writing.

70,000 words by December is doable, right? RIGHT?!

I’ll report back in the next Win Bin.

Wish me luck!

Are you starting something new? How are you tackling the ‘ideas’ problem? Let me know below!

Visit The Win Bin archive here

Vicious Rumer by Joshua Winning~Interview and Ellen’s Review

Bibliophile Book Club

Hi everyone,

Today I’m thrilled to be able to share a Q&A I did with Joshua Winning, author of the Vicious Rumer, AND Ellen’s brilliant review 😊

About the author:

Joshua Winning Sentinel Shoot 2014

Joshua Winning is an author and film journalist who writes for TOTAL FILM, SFX, GAY TIMES and RADIO TIMES. He has been on set with Kermit the Frog, devoured breakfast with zombies on The Walking Dead, and sat on the Iron Throne while visiting the Game Of Thrones set in Dublin. Jeff Goldblum once told him he looks a bit like Paul Bettany.

In 2014, SENTINEL – the first book in Joshua’s SENTINEL TRILOGY – was published by Peridot Press. The second book, RUINS, followed in 2015. Joshua’s short story DEAD AIR appeared in SPEAK MY LANGUAGE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF GAY FICTION and Joshua’s new novel, VICIOUS RUMER, will be published by Unbound in 2018. He also co-wrote ’80s teen…

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Vicious Rumer blog tour – with exclusive audiobook!

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The time has finally come to get this show on the road! Yep, Vicious Rumer is out THIS MONTH – cue screams even louder than those reserved for Justin Bieber fans. Want to get exclusive interviews, insight into the writing of the book, and more reviews than you can shake a tattered old paperback at? Just follow along with the blog tour, which will be rolling out over the next 20 days at the above locations. Yeah, count ’em!

To kick things off, I have a very special treat – the first three chapters in audiobook form! My very good friend Bobby Brook offered to lend us her rather lovely pipes, not to mention her considerable experience of working in the theatre, to give Rumer a voice! It was pretty surreal watching her record this (I couldn’t help peering over her shoulder a bit, much to her horror), but she made the book sound SO GOOD. Way better than I ever imagined it could.

So, without further ado, plug in, put up your feet, and say hello to Rumer…

Thanks also to Robert Gershinson for his impeccable editing skills.

And now on to the rest of the tour. What terrors will it bring? Well, only one way to find out…

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 11 – The one where everybody’s a superhero

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: 5.05 ‘Witches In Tights’
Writer: Mark Wilding
Director: David Straiton

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It’s crazy to think that it was in 2002 – six years before Marvel unleashed Iron Man and took over comic-book moviedom – that Charmed let its geek flag fly with a superhero episode. With its glittering cityscapes, smokey alleys and cool costumes (punk-chick Paige FTW), ‘Witches In Tights’ is an unapologetically camp love letter to comics that has fun sending up things like Adam West’s classic Batman TV series, all while giving the girls a chance to raid the dress-up box for possibly their coolest ever transformation.

This is also one of the busiest ever episodes of Charmed, which has a tendency to make it feel like it’s stuck on fast-forward, like one of the newly superpowered sisters. First up, Piper’s worried that her pregnancy is making her boring, particularly when she discovers Phoebe and Paige have been checking out a hot new club without her.

Meanwhile, Paige is having problems with a hot guy who she can’t seem to relax around, and Phoebe is attempting to take down a villainous landlord; but with Cole determined to prove he’s good, things get more than a little complicated. On top of that, Leo (remember him?) has been charged with bringing an actual live Elder to the manor as the Elder prepares to pass on his powers.

And we haven’t even got to the A-plot, about a bullied teenager with the ability to bring his sketchbook creations to life. Yeah, this is one seriously over-caffeinated episode of Charmed, but for the most part, it all coalesces into an entertaining 40 minutes, particularly when the Halliwells are transformed into superheroes by the sketchy teenager, Kevin (Andrew James Allen).

Ignoring the fact that we have no idea how Kevin knew the Halliwells well enough to draw their super selves, the superhero stuff is handled with a perfectly judged side of cheese. There’s a thrilling moment where Piper catches a bullet with her bare hand (naturally – Holly Marie Combs’ hand choreography was always excellent), and Paige’s slow-mo fist-fight with a supervillain in the manor is hellacool.

Mark Wilding only wrote three episodes of Charmed (he returned for underwhelming season seven eps Freaky Phoebe and Ordinary Witches), and he went on to write regularly for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. That perhaps explains the episode’s soapy feel, especially with regard to Paige’s bedroom bother and Phoebe’s tenancy crusade. Soapiness has always been part of Charmed’s DNA, particularly during its second season, which is probably why ‘Witches In Tights’ really resembles early Charmed.

505-2Easily the most interesting parts of the episode, though, are Leo’s conversations with Ramus the Elder (Gerry Becker). This is the first time we’ve properly met an Elder, after they briefly appeared (avec hoods) in season three’s ‘Blinded By The Whitelighter’. Ramus is every bit as enigmatic and snippy as you’d expect, and there’s a lovely scene in which Leo asks if his and Piper’s baby will be healthy. (That scene wasn’t originally in the script, but the episode ended up running short, and it was added in later.)

‘Witches In Tights’ was broadcast two years after the M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable, at a time when comic-book movies weren’t really a thing. Clearly, though, Charmed was ahead of the game – it probably helped that showrunner Brad Kern previously worked on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman.

Perhaps the episode’s funniest and most philosophical moment comes when Paige removes her superhero mask. “I don’t like it,” she says, discovering that the mask gives her more self-belief. It echoes a conversation Iron Man (aka Tony Stark) has with Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it,” he says. Luckily, we know the Halliwells are more than the sum of their powers; it’s their bond, brains and bravura that see them through.

Although, actually, Tony and the Halliwells… now there’s a team-up I’d like to see.

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