Friday, July 25, 2014

Music to My Ears

My musical tastes have changed radically in the past ten years. When I was thirteen, I didn't listen to anything. Not really, anyway. I never chose what music would be played.

Then I gave Green Day a try, and they were all I played for a year. Literally. It wasn't until reading and watching The Commitments that everything changed. I found Soul. I became especially fond of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, and Bill Withers. I would switch their CDs around, listen to their greatest hits, attempt to sing along - all the usual things a teenager does when they listen to music, except that most of my favourite artists were dead.

Over the following years, I was introduced to Muse, Nightwish, Hollywood Undead, Smashing Pumpkins, The Doors, Elbow, Oasis, and a plethora of others from the 60s and beyond, including The Beatles, She & Him, and The Mountain Goats.

These days, I find myself listening to three different things over and over again, two bands and one "genre" of music - Walk Off the Earth, A Great Big World, and Disney songs.

I first found Walk Off the Earth when one of the papers printed a link to a cover they did of Gotye's Somebody I Used to Know, when the whole band played the same guitar for the performance. That turned into subscribing to them on YouTube, going to see them live in Dublin, and playing their EP on repeat in the kitchen until I knew next to all the words.

My discovery of A Great Big World is a little more geeky than that. I first heard one of their songs on Glee. I loved This is the New Year so much that I looked up the original song, and fell in love with the band right away. I waited for months for their album release, played it constantly in the house, even got my niece singing along to Rockstar, and have tracked their tour right to London - which is still too far away for me to travel to for the day to go see them.

The Disney music varies quite a bit, depending on my mood. Sometimes it's songs from Frozen. More recently, Hercules and Mulan found their way in there.

All of this leaves out soundtracks, and a collection of albums from DFTBA Records. I don't listen to single genres anymore. I'm more open to listening to new bands for the first time. And I love it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Top Ten Favourite Movies

I go to the cinema a lot. I mean, every week, sometimes twice. In the past seven years, I've seen over 300 movies on the big screen alone, never mind the movies I saw on Sky or on DVD. Narrowing it down to a top ten is a little bit unfair, but it comes down to this: if I'm looking for a movie I want to re-watch, whatever I think of is worthy of a place on the list.

In a similar fashion to my book list, there's a caveat or two: there is no set order to this list, and, if a movie is an adaptation of a book I read before seeing the movie, it won't appear on the list. (So, no The Fault in Our Stars or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example.) Onto the list!

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

My first time seeing it, I was alone, and I loved every bit of it. I loved it so much that, the next day, I watched it again with my brothers. It was quirky and weird and funny, and it played off so many perfect video game and comic book devices that I couldn't not fall in love with it. (So far, I've only read the first graphic novel, but I loved that too. Double win!)

The Breakfast Club

First year in college, when I should have been studying for exams, a bunch of us sat around a laptop in a lecture room and watched a movie. This movie. This was during a tough period of my life (see A Bad Seven Months), and it helped me come to terms with myself in a way that I needed about five years beforehand. I felt more secure in who I was. More than that, I felt confident in who I was, for maybe the first time in as long as I can remember. I needed the movie, and the experience, and the people I shared it with.

Ferris Bueller's Day off

Did you ever see a movie that made you want to take a step out of your life for a while? For me, Ferris Bueller was that movie. I can't remember the first time I saw it, because I've seen it so many times since. I've watched it with family, with friends, with family of a friend, drunk and sober, and sometimes I've barely been able to hear it, and every time it made me want a friend like Ferris who could make a day off possible.

Stranger Than Fiction

My favourite Will Ferrell movie isn't a comedy. It's funny, in a way, but it's more charming and romantic and weird than it is funny. It forced me to think about what I write a little more closely, and it made me want to try new things in my life. I revisit it every time I'm feeling a little lost in my writing, and while it doesn't always serve as a therapy session, it does succeed, every time, in making me feel better.

Never Let Me Go

When I needed a story that sought out life, I found Never Let Me Go. I found a story of people who just wanted to live their lives together, against all the odds. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, and I fall in love with it every time I watch it.

Across the Universe

What do you get when you take Beatles songs and make a movie out of them? A pretty damn amazing movie, that's what! We watched it in a friend's house, on a laptop, all of us cramped together in a little room, and when it was over, I wanted to watch it again. (So I bought it, and did.) It has all the psychedelic nonsense you need from the Beatles' later albums, it has pro-peace rallies, and drinking, and bromance, and all the sort of stuff you need to make a movie set in the 60s all the more awesome.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Don't even ask me how I heard of it. Somehow, it found its way into my life, perverse and sexual and full of crazy dance numbers, and I never let it go. On the off chance I'm ever out on Halloween night, I request that the Time Warp be played, so I can teach people the dance moves. It takes everyone by surprise. The show even found its way into The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which made the reading and watching all the better, and when Glee did a Rocky Horror episode, complete with soundtrack, it was all I listened to for a long time. (And, you know, sang along to. Every time. In public. Including Touch Me.)

Chef

New to the list, after a salivating viewing experience a few weeks ago, is Chef. It's all about what it says in the title - a chef. Specifically, one who loves to cook real authentic food. And he drives a food truck. And makes amazing sandwiches. And between the outright food porn and the score, I came out of the movie feeling more upbeat and thrilled with life than I ever have.

The Muppets

Yep, the Jason Segel one. When I watched it, I was reminded of an experience that no one should ever truly forget - my childhood. It felt like being a kid again, sitting in the cinema, laughing out loud and not caring whether anyone was judging me. It was upbeat, hilarious, and released a soundtrack that I still listen to to this day. (I even ended up watching old Muppet movies afterwards, and getting two mugs from the Disney Store in Dublin.)

Seven

Ending on a darker note, we have Seven, the crime-thriller with a series of murders, each based on one of the seven deadly sins. It was disturbing when I first watched it, and it stuck with me. Years later, then, when I was writing my undergrad. research paper, I had something I could use as part of my research, as a primary text I could study. It was one of several saving graces that made the paper more enjoyable to write overall.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Top Ten Favourite Books

Today, I want to do something different - I want to look at my ten favourite books. It's a list subject to change, it's what I think of when I look at my shelf, and it doesn't do nearly enough justice to books that I read a long time ago. In fact, the list is of books I've read in the last 6 years, give or take, and comes with a caveat or two: I refused to include two books by the same author, and I don't have a particular order of preference to them. They are what they are.

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

It's simple, but smart, and it digs down to the core of how we place meaning on things. It's also short, which - for a college student - is perfect. I was able to read it guilt-free, and did so in one weekend while working. I couldn't put it down.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Challenging my ability to feel, it carries a certain weight over Green's other titles simply because it's the most recent one I've read. I think, if I'd read it before Paper Towns or Looking for Alaska, I would have preferred them. To put it clearly, I love his writing style, his wit, and the characters he creates. Deeply insightful, and the sort of book I wish I'd discovered when I was younger.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

In a desperate need to find something like John Green's books, I found Chbosky. I found Charlie, who was weird and hurt and who found friends who were just that little bit older than him to make a difference, and a lot of how he felt about life and a lot of what he was experiencing - though not the Thing That Shall Not Be Spoiled - were identifiable in myself, when I read it. (And, yes, definitely one for fans of John Green.)

Gone by Michael Grant

When Gone was being advertised, it was with a comparison to Heroes. This boded well with me. For the weeks and months before its release - a release to which I was savvy thanks to working in a bookshop - I allowed myself to build up a degree of excitement. I was not let down. I fell in love with the book, and the series, and aside from a couple of the more gruesome scenes, it's one I recommend wholeheartedly to a lot of parents looking for books for their young-teen kids.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

One evening, on Twitter, John Green and Maureen Johnson were talking about a book - We Were Liars. I looked it up. I liked the sound of it. I bought it. I struggled, on a tired day, to read it. Then I forced myself to try again, when I was a little more refreshed, and I loved it. I couldn't put it down. It was full of mystery and charm and it said a lot about the world in a very beautiful way.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Did you ever notice everything always seems to come back to one person? In the book, that's Gatsby himself. But my reading of it? That was John Green. I had tried to read it for college, only a few months before John announced it for the Nerdfighter book club, but I couldn't. Then I tried again, and I looked more closely, without the pressure of exams, and I fell into its charm. Plus, John Green agreed with a point I made about it in the comments on YouTube, and that made everything really awesome for a while.

Screenplay by Syd Field

Syd Field changed how I look at stories, and how I looked at Hollywood. While I've always had a burgeoning interest in screenwriting, one which I never truly followed up on, I didn't know much about it. Even that aside, I was granted an insight into cinema in a way I never would have imagined. It's a remarkable book, and very easy to understand.

The Curve by Nicholas Lovell

The future is digital, and people need to understand that more. I didn't, not for a long time, not in the way Lovell talks about, and it was this book that helped me realise what it was that I wanted to study at a Post-Graduate level. I owe him a lot, with that in mind - though the repeated mentions of his book on my blog will have to do for now!

The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard

This book shaped my online activity for a time. Simple, direct, and filled with powerful lessons to be learned, it was one I loved when I really made myself read it. I forced myself to do every exercise, to give myself the time - no matter what else I wanted to do - to complete them fully, and I came out feeling like I had a better sense of what I wanted to do with my life and with my writing. I'm not a millionaire, but I know I've learned some valuable lessons on how to address my life in the future.

The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss

I never thought I could do so much with my life, realistically, until I read this book. I didn't think travelling and working at the same time was really a possibility. I didn't think other people did it. I'm at a point in my life where I'm just getting ready to take on life fully, and while it's still early days, I'm allowing myself the dream. I'm allowing myself to think about it, as a reality, and while it's not entirely Irish-based, it's an excellent push in the right direction that I don't just need to dream.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When I'm Not Writing

When I'm not writing, my time gets divided up with a few different activities, some regular, others less so. Work aside, because that's a whole other kettle of fish, I tend to do as much as I can to fill up my time. Sometimes it's productive. Other times, not so much.

The biggest regular activity is my weekly visit to the cinema. I've gone almost every week for the past seven years, or so, sometimes twice a week, and almost always with the same 2-3 people that I went to secondary school with. Take that as a load off your worries if your academic situation is in any way like mine was when I started college - none of your friends are in the same college as you, and none of them are studying the same subject. We managed to use the cinema to ensure we met up regularly, and as a result we've also seen a huge chunk of the movies that came out over that period of time.

Aside from that, and my various online activities, I try to work in a balance of reading, baking, and watching television. Don't get me wrong on the last one, though - I despise just casually watching reruns of something. I end up doing it, occasionally, for nostalgia more than anything else. Usually, I'm watching a particular series, and it's more likely than not that it's been recorded in advance.

The latest edition to any of my non-writing hobbies is photography. But let's just be clear: as of writing this, I am not a photographer.

I own a nice camera. It takes really good pictures. I enjoy taking them. But I can't exactly call myself a photographer. When I start taking pictures more often, when I start getting around with the camera a bit more, I'll describe myself as an amateur photographer. When I actually start making money from it, then I'll upgrade the description to photographer.

But not a moment sooner.

The most I've done is an excursion to the Botanic Gardens, to take as many pictures as I could in the blistering heat. And, because I'm so new to this, I want to keep doing things like that. I want to try get to the point when I'm taking pictures a lot, so I can call myself a photographer, of some description. But for now, photography is just a hobby, and one I'm not even sure I'm any good at yet.

Something I'd love to do would be to combine my various hobbies - taking pictures to accompany writing pieces, food photography when I get my ass in gear and go beyond a couple of different recipes, writing about film and television and stories generally. That sort of thing.

Is it bad that I want to make a living from hobbies? Maybe. I mean, from a bank's point of view, yeah. But in terms of personal fulfilment, I don't think I could find anything better.

Monday, July 21, 2014

First Stop in a Bookshop

When I visit a bookshop, I tend to go to the same sections first, every time. It varies from shop to shop, of course. In my own shop, I'm usually there to work, so I'd leave my belongings out back first. That in mind, we'll leave my own shop off the list.

Let's take Chapters, though. It's a big bookshop in Dublin, with a huge range, and I always find myself tucked away in the corner of the Business section first (unless it's been a while, in which case I have a look at the tables at the front for some good deals I'll only end up ignoring anyway.) I don't know why, but I always browse the Business section, even when I know I won't be buying anything.

From there, I move on to have a look at the books on writing, then to the Children's section, for the YA books. Following that, I end up looking at Classics and Science Fiction. Every time, even when I'm just trying to pass the time.

A similar path is taken in Eason on O'Connell Street. Business, Writing, then over to the Personal Development section, and back upstairs to the Teen section. But that's about it. Unless I'm getting stationary, I tend not to buy anything in the shop at all - not unless I've never seen it anywhere else before!

With Hodges Figgis, the journey is a little bit different - right to the top, and work my way down from the Writing section. I go through all the usual places, while I'm doing that, but I always seem to want to start at the uppermost level. It's a habit, and I don't intend on breaking it. It is, after all, where I found Screenplay by Syd Field.

The big three out of the way, there's really only one other bookshop I like to visit whenever I'm near it - The Gutter Bookshop, on Cow's Lane. It's small, but it's one of the nicest shops in the city. Plus, the owner, Bob, shares some of my interest in books - he's the only other person I know who reads Andrew Kaufman's books, and it was thanks to his interest in Kaufman's books that I was able to get my hands on Born Weird last summer. So thanks, Bob!

When I visit The Gutter Bookshop, I literally do a lap of the entire shop. Their range isn't huge, but they stock lots of titles you wouldn't find anywhere else - because no one else seems to realise they'll sell! Thanks to the size of the shop, people who go in looking for something to read usually end up with something that most Irish bookshops don't sell. Bob makes use of an American supplier that many find too inconvenient. The end result is that he gets to stock niche books for his very popular Indie bookshop.

What about you? What's your first stop in a bookshop?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Favourite Genres

A couple of years ago, I decided to be a little more open minded with my reading and stop avoiding certain genres. The biggest step I've taken is towards reading more fiction that wasn't a Fantasy or Young Adult novel.

For me, that was pretty important.

See, Young Adult is my favourite genre to read in. Up until John Green, this meant Young Adult Fantasy, but I've since opened up my reading list. In the end, it's led to me placing Michael Grant, David Levithan and Cassandra Clare all on the same bookshelf.

Why is that important?

Well, Grant is - more typically, anyway - for male readers. At least, by sheer observation. (The real reason it's noticeable - the female readers where I work read lots of other books, as well!) The Gone books are Science Fiction-Horrors, gruesome and violent and scary at times.

Clare is generally considered to be writing for a female audience. There's obvious romance. The male characters are described in terms of beauty, not by their masculinity. The lead protagonists are always female. And yet, I've read the entire Mortal Instruments series. And I loved it. It was heartbreaking, and exciting, and it's easy to look beyond the elements of it that are designed to make a teenage girl swoon with delight.

Levithan, then, is a mixed bag. He's funny, his characters can be male or female, straight or gay, but he doesn't include something that Grant and Clare do: magic. (Okay, yes, the powers in Gone aren't necessarily magic, but think of it as an inclusive term, for now.) Levithan, with the exception of A in Everyday, writes about normal people, living normal lives, who fall in love or go through tragedy, and most likely both. Love is the Higher Law deals with the consequences of 9/11, from the fear of the parents, the responsibilities of the teenagers, and the consequences of being a homosexual person in post-tragedy America.

None of them are alike, and of the three, only Grant would have appealed to me a few years ago. In fact, before my adoration of John Green as a person, I would never have considered fiction without a Fantasy element to it. Except, I had already. I just wasn't willing to accept that there were other authors out there like Roddy Doyle or Harper Lee or Mark Haddon, authors whose books I'd read in school, and loved.

The consequence of this, for me as a writer, is that most of what I've written has had a Fantasy element to it, or has attempted to emulate the feelings I had when reading "standard" fiction. (Contemporary Fiction?) I wrote about superheroes, or girls with magical powers, or gods and fairies.

Then, this month began, and I began writing something more like Levithan and Green. And you know what, it's more fun than I would have thought two, three years ago.

The point of all of this, of course, is that readers should always be willing to try something new. Read something new. If you need a suggestion, and your friends and family are proving useless on that front, ask your local bookshop. In my workplace, we all have different interests in reading, and even with a small staff we're still able to address most customers' needs.

So give it a shot, and then see how it affects your writing. It might surprise you.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Influential Reading

Like many readers, there are stand-out books that have influenced my life significantly. Ignoring the obvious answers of In Deep Dark Wood and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (my first favourite book, and the first book in a series that would get me hooked on books), the fiction options dwindle significantly.

Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak threw me into his books quickly, which lead to his overall influence on my life. That was important for me, at age 12, to find a new series that I could read, a new author whose books I adored.

But the non-fiction is where the biggest changes have occurred in the past few years.

When I got my hands on Tim Ferriss's The Four-Hour Work Week, it opened up my mind to the idea that I didn't necessarily have to live a standard life. I didn't have to restrict myself to the idea of working a 9-5 job, if it ever came down to that.

However, it wasn't a full set of answers.

It was Americanised. It presumed prior knowledge or prior work experience. It presumed that I wanted to live my life in a particular way, and it avoided one very important issue: how did I want to earn a living?

While Ferriss's idea of a four-hour work week was appealing (except, you know, if you get paid by the hour), it wasn't for me. I didn't want to set up or own a business I didn't believe in. I would rather work 40 hours at something I loved and could talk about passionately than to do four hours of maintenance per week on a business that was just a source of income.

I couldn't sell the idea to myself.

When I read Nicholas Lovell's The Curve, things changed. I had a model to follow a little more closely. I could see how I could run a business I loved, on a time-scale similar to that Ferriss presented. I could see the value of free, I could see how what I wanted to do in life could be both fun and profitable.

I was almost there.

I had a near-ideal model. I had an explanation of how that model might work for me. All I needed was something to make that model make sense to me passionately.

Enter Syd Field's Screenplay.

I know what you might be thinking. That's not a business book. Hollywood is incredibly competitive. Blah-blah-blah. It's a dream. It's an aspiration. It's something to strive for. But that wasn't all I got out of the book.

I could see myself using his teachings. I could see my craft explode in front of me - not into nothingness, but into something more. It was like a new beginning, and it gave sense to the model. I worked it out.

You see, I want to work in publishing. But publishing is a big business, and a loaded term. It could be my own business, or it could be for one of the biggies, but it's the dream. It's also not a great way to make money.

The only way I see this working is to combined writing and publishing, and the writing can't just be fiction. It needs to be non-fiction that seeks to help others. It needs to be screenplays that, if they're lucky enough to make it to cinemas as a finished film, will give people a sense of joy. I need to be able to teach people about the world in some way, shape or form. Movies change lives. They can show people something with just enough reality that the message gets through.

That's the passion - the message. That's what Ferriss couldn't show me how to deliver. That's what Lovell was guiding me towards. And Field, he finished the job, by going back to the basics, back to where my dreams started - with writing, and with the business of it.

The thing is, I didn't go looking for change. I went looking for an interesting read. The books that influence us most aren't the ones we expect to change our lives. The books that influence us just happen, mostly by accident, and that's where the pleasure lies in them. While there are other books that have helped shape my life in different ways, like Brendon Burchard's The Millionaire Messenger, there's less than a handful that actually piece together to form a cohesive model that I can follow - one that requires my own input in the making. Those are the books I'll cling to, the ones I'll return to for advice and wisdom, again and again.