Jun 09

Amazon Again

We all knew that Charlie Stross was pretty cool and had interesting stuff to say… and I’d suggest that his analysis of amazon and how it is basically evil is pretty on the money, really…

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2014/05/amazon-malignant-monopoly-or-j.html

Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/06/09/amazon-again/

Jun 05

Don’t Drill A Hole In Your Head

I love podcasts.  At a wedding a few days ago, it was only through my habitual fondness for podcasts, I suspect, that I was able to win the marriage-based quiz.  Win, as in 3/10 was a winning score.  (There was no prize, and one of the questions had a massively waffly answer so laced with subjective philosophy that I personally think doesn’t even count.  Competitive?  Moi?)

I listen as I cook, when doing the laundry, while fixing my endlessly tattered clothes, on long journeys and when heading to bed.  I do not use podcasts to educate myself – for that there are books, with footnotes that I can cross-reference, and more pages than can be aptly summarised in 45 minutes of chit-chat.  I do not use podcasts to provide facts, for the above reason.  I don’t even believe everything I can hear, but rather use them as a hopping off point for investigating whole worlds of awesome that hadn’t even occurred to me as being a thing.  As in… an actual thing that there might be something to know about.  As in the kind of thing from which one day, whole novels might spring or ideas might be born or might just be, pure and simple totally frickin’ awesome.

My new favourite podcast is Sawbones.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/06/05/dont-drill-a-hole-in-your-head/

Jun 01

Carousel

I love it when you reach a point in a creative relationship where you get to say ‘no’.  There are various different levels of conversation you can have with a director or designer.  With someone who you don’t know, as a lighting designer you frequently find yourself having to say something along the lines of, ‘I see what you’re saying, and it’s interesting, but I’m not sure if the image of the celestial archangel descending upon a shaft of gooseberries, invoked entirely with one profile and a gobo will read… perhaps this might work better..?’  With someone who is really very insistent, you might have to up the ante and go full-technical. ‘I definitely see why you want this, but unfortunately we’re out of DMX, the hot power’s gone cold, the cold power’s gone soggy, the dimmers are tripping the sweet fandango and I’m all up the zargees.’

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/06/01/carousel/

May 27

Public Copyright Abounds!

… or, equally, this blog post could possibly have been entitled ‘In Surprised Praise of Elementary‘.

So, as we all know, Arthur Conan Doyle has now been dead just long enough.  Long enough for his works to slip into public copyright, at which point any old mackerel can have a play with it.  Thus, we’ve had kung-fu Sherlock Holmes running around London fighting cultists, techno-savvy Sherlock Holmes flouncing round London in a coat, and then…

… New York Sherlock Holmes?

Let me say right now – I first read Sherlock Holmes while I had mumps.  It was an exciting week.  Three doctors and a hospital couldn’t work out why my face was the size of a watermelon, given that I’d had the MMR and the booster, until a very excited pediatrician solved it and, bouncing up and down with enthusiasm at having stumbled on a relatively rare disease, summoned all her minions in to come and poke.  Did this experience, combined with a soaring fever, colour my reading of the Complete Sherlock Holmes?  Maybe.  In one feverish week I devoured everything.  Similarly, I found Elementary in my local library while I had flu.  So, so much flu.  And as I write this blog post, I’m coming off the tail end of a) ten days of feeling pants and b) what I think we might call a binge.  A proper, old-fashioned, huddled-under-a-blanket-being-delirious binge.  (A delirium possibly not lessened by my previous followspotting career… but that’s another story…)

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/05/27/public-copyright-abounds/

May 23

Touch

So I’ve said some stuff about Harry August; I should probably also take this moment to say a little about the book that follows it, Touch.

This whole pseudonym thing comes with a caveat.  Now that I’m Claire North, writing books in a certain genre, it would be a bit wacky to diverge to massively from that genre after only one novel.  Claire North, it turns out, is a very different writer from Kate Griffin.  One of the joys about writing the Matthew Swift series was that a whole universe was created which I could play with at will – alas, Claire North doesn’t have that luxury.  Thus, when my publisher bought Harry August, a big question mark immediately popped up about what I should write next.  Something that was within the style of Claire North, but was still interesting and different.

This question mark hovered over conversations for nearly eight months.

A slightly worrying eight months.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/05/23/touch/

May 19

GO VOTE!!

May 22nd is the elections in the UK for local councilors and European MEPs.  GO VOTE.

That’s the main headline of this piece.  Thank you and farewell!

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/05/19/go-vote/

May 16

Eurovision…?

I don’t watch Eurovision.

Honestly, it’s just not my cuppa tea, even as a curious lighting designer who sometimes lights music.  And if I do watch, I tend to turn the sound down.

For any readers outside Europe who have wandered onto this blog, let me clarify.  Eurovision is a once-yearly celebration of the joyously camp, the pop-tastic glitz-fest of sequined shimeryness in which all of Europe from Ireland to… Azerbaijan and Israel?… hum… competes to be crowned by the international audience as the ruler of the musical waves.  It’s camp, it’s ridiculous, it’s sometimes hillarious, it’s frequently painful, and often out of tune.  I have little interest.  I do have a friend who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Eurovision, however, which keeps me endlessly enthralled.  Ask him who came seventh in 1974, and he’ll be there… he also is getting quite good at making a profit off the competition every year through a range of judiciously judged and mathematically balanced bets.  His enthusiasm enthuses me far more than the real thing.

However!

It’s noisy enough and on the BBC enough that even I am occasionally forced to look up from whatever the hell I’m doing at the time and notice, and certain things do immediately become apparent:

1.  Wind machines.  Wind machines are the enemy of dry ice effects.  If you want to look serene and mysterious amid a shimmering floor of low fog that swirls around your ankles as you poetically proclaim… something… probably about love or freedom… then a huge sod-off wind machine in the face is not your friend.  Yet year after year acts get up on stage with a cry of ‘all the toys!’ and lo, the hair billows, the skirts swell around them, and the dry ice retreats for the corner of the room.  Not even the full budget of the Eurovision LX department – and it’s a big budget – beats 5000W of wind in the face.

2.  Video.  I personally think it’s cheating, using too much video during a pop song.  I say this as a lighting designer.  I could see hundreds of moving lights, and punchy ones at that, active in every song for Eurovision, but not only were they spinning and flashing and generally being very pretty and nicely programmed, but video was everywhere.  On the floor, on the walls, on the performers.  It’s lovely, sure – but sometimes it’s also just pants.  Sometimes it’s low-res pants images of stupid things that make no sense.  Sometimes, less is more people – less is more.

3.  Haze.  The Eurovision stadium is soaked in theatrical haze.  Haze is a lighter effect than smoke, and settles more evenly, but make no mistake, if you can see beams of light in the air rather than only on the floor, then that’s because the atmosphere is soggy with haze.  As an LD who does music events, I am… frustrated… whenever performers tell me that they don’t like performing with haze.  Particularly if they then go and smoke ten cigarettes before the show.  Audience members see haze and they start coughing, even before the haze has begun to crawl towards the seats, and why?  Because there’s a psychological instinct to cough at the sight of smoke, and once you’ve heard one person cough, and seen the haze, you’re more likely to cough yourself.  Ironically, if a room is already saturated with haze before an audience enters, they’re oddly less likely to notice until it’s pointed out, and people are less likely to complain.  It’s when you can actually see haze being blasted in that people get ancy, and LDs get annoyed.

4.  The unseen stuff.  So as the viewer at home, watching Eurovision, we’re frequently treated to snippets cut in between each act about the wonders of the host nation or the beauty of the upcoming performer and their country.  In Britain, these are relentlessly mocked by the presenter, which is one of the experience’s few redeeming qualities; what other countries make of it, I cannot say.  However, as a technician, I really want to see the stuff that’s happening behind the snippets.  I want to see how many technicians pour onto stage between each act to reset things; what’s flown in and out, what pyros have to be reloaded, how they clear the kabuki drops, and – oh god, but this would be thrilling – I really want to see the lighting setup.  There are hundreds of moving lights at Eurovision, and for each song there have to be a few different designs so that the singer can choose something most conforming to their aesthetic.  (Raising the question of oh god, what’s going through some of the singer’s minds when they say, ‘yes, that one!’?)  The energies involved in programming must be immense, and the stage management team must be very large indeed.  Sometimes – very rarely – you can see a slip up.  A microphone opened up just a moment too late by the mixing engineer; a lighting cue just a beat out of sync, a performer out of their backlight beam, an imbalance in the mix that pushed drums too high, or bass too low – and then what an adrenaline surge must rush through the system of the engineers involved!  Far more adrenaline, I imagine, than I experienced as an audience member watching the actual song.  I would love to be in the control room for a Eurovision show.  That, I think, would be a sight to see.

5.  The audience.  The audience is probably more lit up than the stage, most of the time.  Eurovision is lit for TV – it’s lit to create a sense of giant, sprawling spectacle, and actually, performers vanish fairly fast into that space save by the use of clever camera work.

6.  Gimmicks.  Trapezes, dancers, rollerskates, water features, fire features, trampolines, circus performers, acrobatics – almost anything, really, so that you don’t notice the banality of the actual content on display…

7.  The points-giving.  For a long while, it was fairly predictable who’d give what to whom.  Ireland would usually bung Britain some points; Holland would usually give something to Germany.  The Scandinavian countries would always vote as a block, Portugal would give points to Spain etc..  This trend wobbles sometimes round the edges, but make no mistake, the voting can still be studied by scholars to find some national trends that have absolutely nothing to do with how shiny the shiny person bellowing into a microphone was.  Even if you aren’t interested in the mesh between cultural-socio identities across Europe, the presenters who call in from each country to announce the points allocated are… a sight to see.  After a while it gets too painful.  The cringing, the horror – just look away.  Look away now.

8.  The costumes.  This wouldn’t be a proper techie’s blog if I didn’t mention the costumes.  Oh.  The costumes.  So much costume.  Soooo much.  Although, can we just take this moment to note that between all the feathers, the sequins, the bodices, the furs, the gold, the glitz, the accessories, the huge hair, the ridiculous shoes, the tight-fitting trousers, the very fitted shirts, it’s sometimes okay for the men at least to look… rugged.  Because, so the performers seem to say, while today they may be singing a power ballad in the key of d sharp minor, tomorrow they’re going to wrestle bears with their teeth.  Hell yeah.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/05/16/eurovision/

May 13

The Story Behind the Story

So wrote this to say something more about Harry August!  I was going to put something on this blog, but this is better…

 http://upcoming4.me/news/book-news/the-story-behind-the-first-fifteen-lives-of-harry-august-by-claire-north

Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/05/13/the-story-behind-the-story/

May 10

More Thoughts On Violence

Ah escrima.  It makes me so happy.  It keeps me calm.  I love learning escrima.

That said!  If I’ve been in tech for a while (and these last few months, I’ve been in tech a lot), when I finally go back to stick-hitting, I really feel it.  My lungs try their very best to pack-up under nearly all conditions.  In winter, the air is so cold that it feels like everything’s frozen up inside, and I can feel my windpipe trying to contract down to the size of a small straw in my throat.  In spring, all the pollen comes out and sets off the hayfever/asthma whammy, and in autumn, when it rains, the old inhalers come out as the colds come in.

However, my dubious lungs are at least zappable with ventolin.  (Which, by the by, our government demand I pay for because asthma is a ‘controllable condition’.  Sure.  If I don’t laugh, walk or breath during pollen season… sure it is, government… sure it is….)

My week and weeble arms, however, are something only I can fix – assuming I even want to?

A few months ago my teachers decided that as a ‘treat’ we’d have a ‘fun’ session where they bought in a wide range of eclectic weapons – buckler, staff, machette, palm stick, biro etc..  (I’m particularly a fan of knives; just saying.)  However, amongst all the awesome that arrived in our club, there also rocked up an iron bar.  Now.  Leaving aside the basically valid merit of being able to hit someone with something heavy, I had qualms about training with an iron bar.  Being barely able to lift it in one hand didn’t aid my enthusiasm.  The fact that my teachers couldn’t quite hide their sniggering, despite their best attempts at ‘professional face’ as I failed to be able to complete a strike without almost falling over, only rounded off my sense of doom, and in fairness after only five minutes of making me suffer with this implement they, in their own words, ‘put you out of your misery’ and let me train with something I could carry.

Since then it’d be lovely to pretend that I’ve been doing push-ups every day and practicing my epic strength regime of awesome.  It’d also be a total lie.  Frankly, I’ve got a lot on my plate.  What with theatre, books, some semblance of a social life and feeding myself, I don’t really have time to embark on a ruthless strength-training regime.  Nor am I entirely sure that I want to.  It’s a tricky debate, one on which I don’t really have a firm position or deep thoughts – do I want to get physically stronger?

I mean, yes.  Obviously I do.  Of course I do.  Let’s not kid ourselves, it’d be lovely.  It’d be convenient for more than simply escrima. It’d up my stamina, my ability to train with more and bigger things, and would probably also help me move fast while holding heavy things, all of which are bonuses.  It’d also make doing fit-up in theatres and moving furniture around easier.  Universal win.

However, it also looks like it could be a double-edged sword unless carefully used.  I watch a couple of people in class who rely on physical strength to get through lessons, and it seems that when you’re a six-foot-three dude built like a concrete breeze block, there may not be such temptation to move your feet as I, being a somewhat frailer creature, experience in the face of oncoming doom.  From some of the stronger members of the class you can sometimes sense an aura of ‘I’m coming… doesn’t really matter how… I’ve arrived!  You still here?  I hope not.  Because if you are you are crushed.’

And this is awesome, and indeed rather enviable, but I can’t help but wonder what our Strong Man will do when, on arriving, he finds the skinny dude has got a knife, or a steel-capped boot and an unchivalrous attitude to his future fertility.  Strength, I suspect, is nothing unless it’s fiendishly matched with dexterity, intelligence and speed, and relying on it too much looks like trouble set to come.

I say this partially to make myself feel better.  I think the obvious counter-argument now leaps off the page – that I could be as fast as greased lightning, but if I can’t hit to hurt, block with strength when my movement fails (and it shall and does – because I mis-read an attack or just get myself in a tangle, sooner or later I end up blocking badly, and awkwardly, and needing to have a bit of heff to do it)  – then really, I should reconsider my own position.

All this theory is well and good, but do we not then sneak back to the original problem – when exactly am I going to find time to get physically stronger?  Answer: probably no time soon.  And this is actually one of the things I like most about escrima – that it feels like a martial art that is vaguely helpful even after only a few months of training.  I have a sparring-partner-in-crime who knows tai chi as a martial form, and studied it for three years.  Three years is long enough for him to have a few tricks up his sleeve, but by his own confession, it would probably be another five or six years before he was truly devastating, and I mean devastating.  Do not be fooled by the slow turning of the hips, or the gentle flutter of hands… I have sparred with him long enough to find myself on the floor, on the other side of the room, without quite knowing how I got there, to have massive respect for tai chi.  But to get to where he is has taken years, and yes, it will take me years before I am anything other than a novice in escrima.  But even in my very junior state, I still feel that I can aim to get out of the way (rule 1) of an attack and have no qualms about hitting with everything I’ve got should things go tits up. I’m not yet good; I am better than disastrous.

When I dallied with jiu jitsu, we had horrific warm ups of push-ups and sit-ups and squats while being shouted at and… oh the horror… simply because there were things we couldn’t do in jiu jitsu without a certain level of physical fitness.  And yes: the boys had an inherent advantage. When it comes to a 63kg International History student at LSE attempting to throw a 6’5 muscle-bound, 95kg Economics student over her shoulder, sure, I can twist at the hips for all I’m worth, but I dunno… I just think he’s going to have an easier time of it…

It’s that, right there, that bothers me.  I want to be good at escrima when I’m 70 years old and have an artificial elbow.  I want to be able to kick up a stink even after I’ve spent three months in tech and my arms are limp from too much novel-writing.  I want to be able to use my brain and my understanding of bodies and techniques, even when having an asthma attack, and to win against any opponent of any size in preferably less than 5 seconds, then waddle home on my zimmer frame for a nice cuppa tea after.  Working in theatre, you do have to do a lot of heavy lifting, but as a woman you also learn methods of getting round it.  Strong male technicians who have invested heavily in Being Strong, may pick up a Mac TW1 moving light, one in either hand, but they look like right plonkers when they have to stop, put one down, gasp for breath, and have a quick tea break after moving only two lights because they’ve worn themselves out.  As a woman, I’ll lift one TW1 at a time, bending at the knees, putting as much weight as I can on my shoulders, rather than in my arms, and sure, I’ll be slow, and I’ll hurt after, but I’ll get it done not through being strong, but through technique.  And sure, in theatre, there will come a moment when there is something you can’t do.  I can’t rig a VL3k by myself, because it weighs a lot more than me.  However, I’d argue that a man can’t rig that by himself either – at least, not safely.  Two big words that so easily get forgotten in a fit-up, and alas two words which I think we could apply to that escrima student who charges in with strength, weight, and no sense of moving out of the way.

So here it is.  I would like to be strong, sure I would.  It’d be handy and it’d be nice.

But I have techniques for now that get me through life, and more importantly, I find myself wondering whether good technique, once learned, might not last a lifetime, whereas my limited strength is at risk of always coming and going.

Right now – I don’t know.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/05/10/more-thoughts-on-violence/

May 06

The Joys of First Person Narrators

I write a lot of 1st person narrators.  When I first started writing books, back when the earth was young, I felt that it was almost a little… well… lazy… to do too-much 1st person.  A 1st person narrator is a gift to conversational narrative.  It’s the difference between:

‘Kate sat at her computer, her left knee aching from too much walking, trying to focus on writing the blog, the sound of Chinese-language music in the background, in the naive hope that immersing herself in a generic sound of a language might help her speak it.’

… and…

‘I sat at my computer, my left knee aching from a walk too far.  I tried to focus on writing the blog, but the sound of Chinese-language music didn’t help, either the process of writing or language-learning.’

The content is the same; the voice immediately changes.  We don’t merely see the world through the eyes of a character, but we interpret it through a character too. A 1st person narrator isn’t merely in pain, it’s not simply, ‘she felt so much grief she nearly fell over’ but rather, ‘I felt grief, and had to hold onto the ground before the grief smothered my mind’, a voice interpreting its own experiences and, moreover, often doing so unreliably.

Oh the joy of unreliable narrators!  How I love them!  Because, sure, when you’re writing a 3rd person narrative, you can omit information, but too often that’s a trick used by slightly-lazy crime writers who tell the reader absolutely everything they needed to solve the mystery, except for the bit of information about the blood-covered shirt at the back of the garden, which is only revealed on p359.  When you’re writing an omnipotent narrator, such an omission can only be in the interest of a writer stringing a reader along, but when you write 1st-person, it suddenly becomes the joy of a character stringing you along, and that’s entirely different.

Take, for example, Matthew Swift.  He’s a joy to write in 1st-person for two reasons.  Firstly, he’s got baggage.  He’s got great big electrical baggage which forces his narrative voice to jump between ‘I walked down the street’ and ‘we walked down the street’ on a fairly habitual basis.  And joy of joys, whereas ‘I walked down the street and saw people about their daily lives,’ yet at the same time, ‘we walked down the street and saw tiny mortals shuffling through their tiny existence’.  Two voices, same body, same page, looking at the same sight, and interpreting it completely differently.  It makes me happy just thinking about the chaos that can ensue.

However, oddly enough, while the I/we thing is a pleasure to write, one of the other great joys of Matthew Swift is the stuff he doesn’t say.  He’s a very conversational narrator, and very easy to sink into and write, but certain things he doesn’t say to the reader.  He rarely talks about his own state of mind, particularly where it pertains to something that might upset him.  In A Madness of Angels I think it’s fairly safe to say that he’d worked out who the villain of the piece was practically by page 2, but rather than face up to that reality, he barely even mentions the man’s name until absolutely forced to, and never during his stream of consciousnesses.  Suddenly, information being omitted isn’t about the writer stringing a reader along, but about a character stringing themselves along, and that’s far more interesting.

Another question that can sometimes be asked with 1st-person narrators that makes them a joy to write, is the question of why they’re telling this story.  In the case of Harry August, he starts the book very clearly addressing someone, and every now and then slips out of his story to speak to a very-specific you, telling you something that he wants you to understand.  Why is he telling us this?  Who is the ‘you’ that matters so much to him that he feels the need to pour out his life-story?  The question of what is pushing this character to telling us a story floats behind the narrative, and raises more questions than it answers, and this is simply a joy, adding layers of mystery and, hopefully, emotion, to a tale.

That said, there are certain disadvantages to a 1st-person narrator.  The most obvious being that it we are limited to what that character knows.  We don’t get so much insight into other people’s worlds, into the machinations of strangers in far-off places, we don’t get into the heads of a wider cast of characters except through our narrator’s unreliable eyes.  This was one of the reasons for writing Stray Souls as a 3rd-person book, as there’s such a broad cast of characters that just seeing them through one pair of eyes didn’t seem to do them justice.

There’s also the thorny question of how a narrator sees their world.  We’ve already touched on the difference between Matthew Swift seeing the world as a banal thing, and the blue electric angels (the other half of the I/we narrative voice) seeing something completely different.  But if you look at something even more specific – for example, historical fiction – then you run the risk of a 1st-person narrator taking for granted things we modern readers find fascinating.  Thus, with Horatio Lyle, a 3rd person narrator can take us through the mysteries and wonders of Victorian London, as a modern writer for a modern audience, in a way that a 1st-person narrator simply wouldn’t.  Horatio Lyle lives in Victorian London, and therefore takes a lot of it for granted, whereas we want to explore the city above and beyond the interest of that character.

To conclude?

The mode of telling depends on the story being told.  Matthew Swift would be a totally different book if it wasn’t 1st-person.  Harry August would be, I suspect, borderline unintelligable.  Horatio Lyle would lack for much of the history and birds-eye view of events that made it fun to write (and hopefully read!) if it was in 1st-person.  What story you’re telling, and who’s telling it, will completely change a book, and I guess as a writer the only real advice I can give to someone trying to decide which way to go on the 1st/3rd person debate is… ‘feel it’… listen to your characters and look at your world, and try to work out which one shouts loudest…

Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/05/06/the-joys-of-first-person-narrators/

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