Interview: Gina Maya on Writing

Gina Maya is the creator of Edinburgh Trance, a website comprised of articles on cinema, books, theatre, and her life in Edinburgh. Gina has also published a novel, Utopia in Danzig, and completed an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh in 2016. Over the course of her life and career, Gina has lived in countless countries and cultures, which have informed both her fiction and nonfiction writing. In an article on her website, Gina describes herself as follows: “First of all, I’m me, made up of lots of pieces. Gender is the very important interface I use to engage within society. I sometimes think I’m trans, and other times non-binary, and perhaps most of the time I don’t stop to think about my gender at all. There are, in fact, several elements to my personality, varying by the second throughout the day.”

 In this interview, The Ogilvie’s Assistant Editor Angela Hicks speaks with Gina about her writing–fiction, essays, and analysis–and asks where these fields intertwine, as well as what lessons Gina has learned from her writing career thus far.

 


 

You set up your website, GinaMaya.co.uk, in 2016. How did you decide what topics and areas to cover?

I originally overloaded. I thought I would cover a broad sweep of the art scene in Edinburgh: music, theatre, books and cinema. Then I realized the only thing I could afford to do, given how broke I was becoming, was go on a weekly trip to the cinema. It evolved quickly after that into the two things that I do in my free time: I exist, and I watch movies. So what emerged was diary and cinema.

Having said that, for one month of the year, when the Edinburgh Festival kicks in, my theatre reviews emerge like that desert flower, the Rose of Jericho. Then die again.

 

Did you have much experience of writing reviews, personal essays and other nonfiction pieces prior to your website? 

No, but I’d just finished my Masters in Creative Writing and it was really a question of ‘now what?’ I wanted to keep writing, and I thought it might be useful to keep an online diary about my transitioning, as I’d only come out as trans some five months earlier. Reading other people’s online accounts of transitioning had been useful to me, so that was a motivation.

 

I imagine it can be daunting and draining to write so prolifically, particularly when the subject matter is your own life. Do you feel writing about your personal experiences helps you, either as a writer or just as a person?

It’s interesting, on the issue of it helping me. When I started transitioning through the National Health Service, I thought I would have counselling to help me adjust psychologically. But that hasn’t transpired at all. Perhaps the NHS don’t have the resources, or don’t think I need it. But I think writing about stuff does help, although I don’t write about everything–there are one or two no-go areas that I might write in a private diary, just for me. I wonder if I hadn’t written my diary posts, if I’d be loaded with more mental baggage, more anger or bitterness.

On whether it’s helped me as a writer, I think recording stuff is useful. I remember occasionally writing something down around 2014-2015, on feelings of being in the closet. I was able to return to these perspectives on the Creative Writing course. I hope my current website posts can be useful to me when/if I write another novel.

 

On a more specific note, I notice that Tintin pops up in both your novel and on your website (the chapter “The Killers and the Wrath of Tintin” and the article Is Tintin Transgender? respectively). Is there something particular which draws you to that character? 

The Tintin thing goes way back; I grew up loving the storybooks and did wonder about Tintin’s dark side, and imagined a ‘dark’ Tintin adventure focusing on the possibility of Tintin being transgender. I explored the idea in the novel, then a few years later thought it wouldn’t hurt if I returned to the idea in a posting.

So that was something quite specific to my life, a gentle obsession. Gentle obsessions: I’m sure I have several of them, appearing in my conversation, or mused about in a diary posting, or played out in a novel. My novel is full of gentle obsessions–I think that’s what drove it.

 

Let’s talk a little more about your novel. When did you first begin writing Utopia in Danzig?

 A long time ago. Around the end of 2007, I began writing a script about a magical hotel where the guests never left. It was meant to be performed, a kind of dark comedy. At some point around 2009 it had become another obsession, not so gentle this time, and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I turned it into novel form. From there, I wrote whenever I had the time and had it finished by around 2015. That’s a long time; from when it became a novel that’s six years of off-and-on writing. Whatever the novel’s merits, I guess it’s where I learned how to write prose in a much tighter manner than would otherwise be the case.

 

You self-published the book in 2016. How did you find that process?

It’s a kind of wilderness. I tried to do the right things. I got hold of The Writer’s Yearbook and looked up the agents who might be interested. I wrote to about twenty-four, and got rejected every time. I think at that stage I was ready to self-publish just to move on. I turned to a professional editor who gave me lots of feedback and nice support, which looking back was obviously the thing I should have done first. I got in touch with people to design the cover and the text layout, and finally uploaded on Amazon.

I have a section about it on my website, but otherwise I haven’t marketed it. I don’t know how I feel about it, and haven’t read it since the upload. It records a time in my life that I wanted to put out there, but I don’t have enough confidence in it to do anything more.

 

When you finished the book, did you feel that there were characters and concepts from it which you wanted to explore further?

Yes, originally. The country in which it took place was fictional and the way it finished was open-ended. I did imagine future scenarios. Part of me would love to return to the main characters. But the adventure was so surreal and layered in fantasy–as a means of expressing myself in a way I couldn’t in real life. Now I’m out, maybe I should write in a less surreal, fantastical way. I don’t know. I’ll only know when I write the next novel, but on my Creative Writing course, after I’d finished writing the novel, I’m conscious that I didn’t touch surrealism or fantasy, although I love those genres.

 

You’ve drawn inspiration from some of the places you’ve lived and from some of the people you’ve known in your writing; at the same time, the story’s setting is distinct from our world, and it exists in an alternate history. How much of Utopia in Danzig is based off of lived experience, versus imagination?

It’s based in a fictional European country which is an amalgam of Poland, Russia and Germany, and I have lived and worked in all those countries. I felt confident as such, but in making it a Jewish State, I wasn’t confident. It was actually my way of writing about being Welsh, from a Welsh-language community. I researched Yiddish culture, but emotionally, it was really about being from a culturally embattled minority, and of having a mixture of pride and defensiveness on the one hand, but also a yearning to not be involved in the survival of a culture that seems always to be struggling for its existence.

 

As you were writing fiction, were you also writing nonfiction like personal essays, or did you ramp up your personal writing when you started the website?

My fiction acted as personal essays. I convey quite personal stuff when I write creatively, either literally or emotionally. I also think writing fantasy can be deeply personal. In some ways, the website feels less personal. I don’t reflect much with the postings; I write one draft as a reflection on something, then upload. I think they’re the literary equivalent of busking: something comes into my head and I write without too much reflection or creativity. I wish I spent more time on the website uploads, but if I did, I might stop writing regularly. I guess that’s the trade-off.

 

True–you clearly spend a lot of time writing between reviews, fiction, non-fiction, and your doctorate studies. Do you find it hard to switch off from wanting to write or review?

It’s funny that you ask that; I had a Christmas break of not posting anything, partly due to circumstances, but I’ve found it difficult to get back into the swing of things. I’m not sure that I want to write on my site in the way I’ve been doing forever. Answering your questions like this, it does make one reflect on the future. So to answer your question directly, perhaps the switching off is happening now, as I’m writing this. I’m sure I’ll continue using the website, but perhaps it’s time for another project?

 

Speaking of new projects, do you have any writing planned for 2018 which you’re able to talk about now, or is it all still being kept secret?

There are no secrets, no big unveiling. A few days ago I applied to be mentored and funded for a literary project relating to LGBT identity, and it would be great if I got it. As with this interview, it made me reflect on how I haven’t tried to write creative fiction since 2016. I think that will change soon. I can feel another gentle obsession developing.


You can find more of Gina’s writing on her website, GinaMaya.co.uk. You can follow her on Twitter; her novel Utopia in Danzig is available for Kindle.

Discussion: Reflecting on a Year at The Ogilvie

Angela Clem, Angela Hicks and Calder Hudson began The Ogilvie in February 2017. At the end of the magazine’s first year, they took the opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months and to discuss their thoughts on the website.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors, who coincidentally are The Ogilvie’s entire staff.

 


 

Discussion: Reflecting on a Year at The Ogilvie

 

CH: So, we’re at the first anniversary of The Ogilvie–the Ogilversary, as it were. How are we all feeling about the magazine? Any particular highlights anyone wants to mention?

AH: Honestly, I’m still kind of impressed that The Ogilvie’s a thing. When Calder said that he wanted to start an online literary review, I mainly agreed because I thought it wouldn’t happen–I’d get friendship points without actually having to do anything. But then there was a site, and a Twitter page, and after that contributors–some of them even people we didn’t know. It’s been exciting to watch an idea become (virtual) reality.

AC: Exactly. I’ve never helped build something like this from the ground up. Like Angela Hicks (whom we lovingly refer to as Britangela so I can be Americangela), I was wary of putting too much hope in a project like this. But I’ve never been happier to be surprised.

CH: I’m shocked by your lack of faith, but, yeah, I get where you’re coming from. I was confident we could do this, but I didn’t anticipate the positive reception we’d receive. Before we launched, we hoped to start the website with five pieces, but we went live with nineteen, which was super motivating. Since then, we’ve got to watch the site gain momentum, which has been enormously rewarding too. Still, all that doubt from both of you is alarming; I may have to dock your pay for it.

AH: You don’t pay us.

CH: That’s neither here nor there.

AC: From a more personal point of view, working on The Ogilvie has also given me the opportunity to dabble in running a public social media page. It’s been fascinating to drive the social media bus, promoting our authors across digital platforms and helping them reach a larger audience.

CH: I couldn’t put it better myself; I wanted to start a magazine in large part because I knew a lot of talented people with a lot of drive who wanted a platform, and providing such a space for their work has been an absolute thrill. It’s been great to see both our contributors and our audience grow over the last twelve months. As Americangela says, being digital has really helped us on that front, so well done for doing such a great job with that, Americangela.

AC: Any other positives you’d like to mention, Britangela?

AH: I feel bad now; my highlight of the last year was going to be getting business cards. I feel so fancy and professional when I’m at a lit event and I can present someone with my card. But I guess helping people share/read amazing pieces has also been rewarding.

CH: [laughs] Yeah, on a less serious note, I’ve enjoyed getting to review TV shows for our workshop pieces. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal that our reviewing process is predominantly made up of drinking a lot of wine while arguing.

AH: Shh, trade secrets.

AC: On a new topic, does anyone want to talk about the more difficult parts of running The Ogilvie? Any things we hope to do differently this year?

CH: Managing the workload has been challenging at times. Outside The Ogilvie’s purview, we all work full-time, or near full-time, and it can be tough to balance work commitments with magazine commitments. We end up sacrificing sleep when we’re short on time. With that said, I don’t plan on changing my sleep schedule anytime soon–it’s well worth it.

AC: For me, the biggest difficulty has been the long-distance aspect. I moved back to the States just before we launched and the six-hour time difference has been a pain when scheduling meetings, as has imperfect video-calling technology. It would be nice if the whole team could sit down over coffee and discuss The Ogilvie, rather than parsing together what we can from lagging video and poor audio quality.

AH: True; I feel like a lot of our problems would be solved if Americangela moved back to Edinburgh. We just need to find a rich patron of the arts to sponsor her…

AC: We can hope.

CH: Let’s go back to the positives before we get too sad about our fragmented team. Another nice thing about running The Ogilvie is that it encourages me to keep creating–seeing the wonderful pieces from our contributors really motivates me to write. Is it the same for you guys? Do you have any ongoing writing projects?

AH: I tried to do National Novel Writing Month last November, writing a YA novel. Admittedly I was 10,000 words short, but I’m still further into a first draft than I’ve ever been before, which is exciting. I’d really like to complete that draft by the summer so that I can spend all of August going to Fringe shows (and Book Festival events) and not writing at all. Then, full of regret in September, I shall work extra hard all through the winter.

CH: My aim for 2018 is to start fewer projects and to complete more. In the past few months I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction; possibly as a result of that, I’m currently working on some personal essay pieces. I’m really enjoying that mix of writing and reflecting, so it’s going well right now. I’m also doing a lot of editing currently and I’ve got some Ogilvie-specific stuff cooking which I shouldn’t mention just yet.

AC: I don’t have the same strong creative writing background as you guys, so with The Ogilvie I’ve mainly been excited to read and edit so many amazing pieces. Having said that, I’m often inspired by what our contributors submit, so maybe 2018 will see me stretching those creative writing muscles!

AH: You can do it! Go writing! And also go reading, because you’re right, that’s a great part of editing The Ogilvie–getting all those sneak-previews of pieces before we publish them. I’ve also found that editing an online magazine has encouraged me to read more stories online. Is the same true for you guys? Any non-Ogilvie pieces you read last year that like to recommend?

CH: I’ve always been big on digital, which may be obvious given The Ogilvie and all, but I think good stories are easier to find than ever these days thanks to digital publishing. My stand-out short story from last year was Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian; that probably isn’t a shocker, as it quickly accrued acclaim after it was published, but it absolutely deserves those accolades. I feel like it reflected a lot of the social and political climate of 2017, and it prompted and furthered many important discussions. The current hard-copy books I’m reading are by Robert Graves and Roxane Gay, and I’d recommend both of those authors too!

AC: One of my favourite creative non-fiction pieces that you can read online is The Things I’ve Lost by Brian Arundel. It’s not recent–I think it was published in 2006–but it’s a great essay which I can’t recommend enough. Its simple style weaves together themes of material, emotional, and abstract loss, inviting readers to pause after every item on the list to imagine what it was like to lose that thing. Just beautiful.

CH: How about you, Britangela–any pieces you’d like to mention?

AH: Well, both of your recommendations sound great, but I think we can all agree that one of the greatest pieces of online fiction ever was published last year and we do need to mention it: Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.

CH: [laughs] True. I was going to go on to talk about what The Ogilvie’s planning on doing in 2018, but really I think that’s the perfect place to finish. All that’s left for us to say is thanks to everyone who’s helped make The Ogilvie happen over the last twelve months, whether it’s by contributing your work, or by reading the site, or by accepting business cards off us when we foist them on you. You are all amazing and the magazine wouldn’t exist without you!


All three Ogilvie editors can be reached via their respective Twitter accounts: @Angela_A_Clem, @MS_a_hicks, and @CMA_Hudson. Or you can email us at theogilviecontact@gmail.com!

Personal Essay: Going Home by Jonatha Kottler

Having previously worked as a university lecturer in Albuquerque, Jonatha Kottler now lives and writes primarily in Europe. Jonatha teaches at ECAS and was one of Edinburgh’s 2016 Story Shop writers; she has also contributed to the Dangerous Women Project and to Edinburgh’s Write Like a Grrrl community. Her work has also been published by The Guardian and by 404 Ink in their hit collection, Nasty Women. She is presently writing her first novel, and one of her essays is slated to appear in an upcoming collection entitled No Filter.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.


 

Going Home

 

It’s three flights home. Edinburgh to London, London to Dallas, Dallas to Albuquerque. It takes almost twenty-four hours. Multiple trips through security. What country am I in? Do I take off my shoes? IPad out? Obligatory millimeter wave examination, my socks fitting into the foot shapes that thousands of people have stood upon, my arms raised, like a hostage in a video game, while someone examines an image of me. A view of myself I will never see, more intimate than most doctor’s appointments. I feel that they should inform me if everything is okay in there. Any tumors? I mean, besides the ones that this barely-tested technology is probably causing? I bristle at the short line of people who have paid extra money to not be subjected to this. I bristle at the latex-gloved woman whose job it is to give me a public breast exam in the name of airport security. I see out of the corner of my eye a man lifting my son’s long hair to look beneath it. My mind shouts, “Yes, of course! We are terrorists who have cleverly hidden a two-part doomsday device—half in his hair, half in my tits!” But my mouth is silent; I believe I may actually have thanked the women at the end of her perusal, before setting off to pick up my iPad, phone, backpack, coat, holding up the end of the conveyor belt because my trip to second base with this stranger has slowed everything down.

When I land in America after a short flight to London and a hot bus to the terminal in Heathrow, and more security, and the flight to Texas, I have already endured: humiliation; heat; other people’s coughing in recirculated air; a chicken and mashed potato dinner and a breakfast item that was for some reason half chorizo pie and half lemon drizzle cake; a perpetually in-use bathroom; four feature films; six apple juices; and a trip through the first-class accommodation that has me contemplating revolution. I have to collect my bags and walk through customs with them into the USA, where, overtired and anxious, I prepare myself to answer questions about why I have been away so long. How dare I live outside the country? Don’t I love America? How did I vote in the election? I haven’t been home for a while.

I stepped on an airplane on 21 December 2012, leaving America just one week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I left a stunned nation in the hands of a president I admired and had just voted for, on the day the Mayan calendar said the world would end. And in many ways the world did end for me—I left my large house, two cars, a job as a university lecturer, and moved to Europe in my forties because I wanted my teenage son to see how people in different places lived and saw the world. So many things have happened since then, in our lives and in the world. A new president, one I definitely didn’t vote for. Now, almost five years later, I am afraid of returning home on almost every level I can imagine.

But the US Customs Agent just says, “Welcome home,” and jokes that he really likes shortbread. I am disarmed by how friendly he is, how chatty. He puts me at ease, checking our passports and telling us that unless we have $800 worth of shortbread in there we are good to go. The airport in Dallas is wide, expansive. Our departing gate is two away from where we’d landed. The bathrooms are huge and there are paper towels to dry your hands on (I know, I’m sorry Planet Earth, but I have used exclusively public transport for the last five years, so give me a break and let me have dry hands for once!) We order burgers while we wait for our final flight and a tension I was barely aware of, but I always carry with me, disappears. I am where I don’t have to explain Trump, apologize, disavow (I happily do those things on a daily basis in the UK). Where I don’t announce where I am from upon speaking my first words. Burgers are great, mustard is yellow, and there is no brown sauce in sight. Fries are fries and chips come in a bag. A frisson of otherness ceased.

A short hour flight and then the lights of Albuquerque come into view–well-known lights in grids that I recognize as the different parts of town, the West Side, the University, and then the blackness of the mountains. As soon as we are off the plane and walking (our airport is tiny, the gate I used to think of as so far away is near) there’s gorgeous Native American art all around me and the air feels right. Picked up, hugs, luggage into the car–the summer air smells like the heat going slowly out of the day, the cement wet from sprinklers watering the grass, clean mountain breeze.

Being home. It’s hard to articulate. A cloak of strangeness has been lifted off my shoulders. I can drive to any place you name here without consulting Waze. I know these streets, irrespective of a new store here and a leveled restaurant there. I know them from being in the passenger seat my whole childhood, and learning to drive here in my teens. I belong here in a way I haven’t felt in such a long time.

Still, I’m afraid. What if I have changed too much? What if living in Holland, in Scotland, has made me too other? What if they hate me here? What if I hate it?

Gradually, one meal at a time, I find my balance again. My friends are still my friends. I am happy to see them and they are happy to see me. The gulf existed only inside of me, and it closes.

But just as I become whole again, I find I must split into two selves, because while one of me is eating chicken tacos, sopapillas smothered in green chile sauce, drinking The Red Stuff at my favorite local hang Flying Star, embracing the people that I love, seeing how children have grown, laughing at old jokes and catching up on how much we hated Batman v. Superman, the other one of me is aware of the news of day-to-day America. Every day the President causes a year’s worth of scandal. What would once have been a season’s worth of legislative surprises happen in a week, and all of it erodes what I believe my country is about. So Jona A had a wonderful trip home, and Jona B tried to keep up with the news. Here are three weeks in two lives in America:

 

 

Date Jona A’s Fun Vacation Jona B’s Crushing Reality
July 23 Jetlag, American breakfast, shopping at Target! Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s first day
July 24 Fun times with my husband’s family Trump makes his speech to the Boy Scouts, mocks Obama and news media
July 25 More family fun times–breakfast with green chile cream gravy US Senate votes to open heathcare debate
July 26 Fancy tea with my beautiful friend Jennifer at St. James Tearoom Trump vows to ban transgender soldiers from the military
July 27 Lunch with my favorite college teacher where I gave him a book I was published in

Red Stuff at Flying Star

Dinner with cherished gaming friends

Boy Scout Chief apologizes for Trump’s speech

 

 

July 28 Shopping at REI

Green chile lunch with friends

Plane to California

Trump replaces Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff
July 29 Starbucks, Wendy’s, American hotel!

Spending time with my mom

Trump attacks Republicans for failed vote on Obamacare repeal
July 30 More time with my mom and sister; bringing home my father’s flag from his military burial New White House Chief of Staff encouraged to “reign in the chaos”
July 31 Reunion of kids I taught for ten years Anthony Scaramucci is fired from position as Communications Director
August 1 Flying Star (again!) Trump asserts, “We will handle North Korea”
August 2 Lunch with a writer friend, Dinner with our former comic book artists. (More green chile, more Flying Star. Hmmm… I’m seeing a trend here) Trump endorses a “merit based system” that would cut legal immigration
August 3 Lunch with an amazing former colleague

Fancy tea with former students–all grown up and paying for stuff!

Trump tweets: “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress.”

 

August 4 Visiting the Meow Wolf art installation in Santa Fe with a dear friend, a night of roleplaying with the best group in the world! North Korea threatens to send “unexpected gift packages” to USA
August 5 Breakfast with our fabulous French teacher, lunch with lots of old friends US Air Force General Silva warns that America cannot let its nuclear arsenal slip
August 6 All-day board game day with Trader Joe’s snack fest. Lots of tears when saying goodbye Three marines lost after a US military aircraft crashed off Queensland coast
August 7 Lunch with our high school English and Drama teachers–these women are amazing and taught me so much Trump tweets: “How much longer will the failing nytimes, with its big losses and massive unfunded liability (and non-existent sources), remain in business?”
August 8 A sunny goodbye to two dear friends (at Flying Star)

Last-minute shopping at Target

Trump threatens “fire and fury” against North Korea
August 9 Flying home, so many goodbyes, so many tears FBI raided Trump’s ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort’s home as part of the Russia investigation
August 10 Mostly in the air, the plane’s movies are broken but Logan and I watch eight episodes of Jane the Virgin New Orleans declares emergency as threat of flood looms

Trump declares the opioid crisis a national emergency

 

My holiday back home is longer than an entire “the Mooch” White House career. Some of this I followed while I was there, or rather it followed me, relentless CNN on screens in restaurants, newspaper, and social media headlines. And some of it I willfully ignored, catching up only so that I could understand Stephen Colbert’s monologues back on my own couch.

It makes me shake my head as I write it. What has happened? How did my home become the Biff Tannen dystopia from Back to the Future II? And how to go on from here? How to protect my “column A” self and yet be a participating part of my democracy? Going forward, I actually just end up casting my mind back. Back before Trump, before moving, before even being an adult. Sitting cross-legged in kindergarten, singing “This land is my land, this land is your land, from California to the New York Islands, from the Redwood forest, to the Gulf Stream waters, this land was made for you and me.” (Already, now-time me is butting in–the land in question didn’t originally belong to the people singing the song. Set it aside for now. I’m setting aside, too, the knowledge that the songwriter, Woody Guthrie, lived in a slum owned by Trump’s father.) I’m thinking of myself, with red, white, and blue ribbons braided into my hair, singing past baby teeth and celebrating the USA’s bicentennial. There are things that I believe in, down deep, that are still there. My giant, beautiful country filled with natural splendor, that welcomes the tired, and poor, and huddled masses. That we are entitled to speak freely, and have a free and independent press, and not be expected to share a national representation of God. That there are opportunities for people who have dreams, and that it is our responsibility to help each other, to provide opportunities for others when we see that we ourselves have them. That I should be able to have non-crêpe pancakes at any time of day or night.

Going home was beautiful, complicated, and powerful, and having lived in other countries I returned very much aware of how others see us in America. There was something essential to it, too. I don’t know how long I would have to live here before being here feels like wearing the most comfortable pair of jeans. Of being the most me.


You can follow Jonatha follow on Twitter. You can read her previous essay, Dear Body, here.

Festina Lente by Julie Barker

Julie Barker lived and worked in South Africa as a scriptwriter and story producer for television. In 2015, she completed an MA in Creative Writing for which she wrote a novel called Other People’s Countries. From 2013 to 2016 she worked in the TV Drama department for BBC Scotland as a Story Editor, and worked on River City. She produced a short film, The Hide, which won Best Drama at the 2017 Women over Fifty Film Festival in Brighton. She is currently working on a series of memoir pieces; Festina Lente is one of those extracts.

 


 

Festina Lente

 

Dear Archibald Knox,

In 1903, sixty-three years before I was born, you made a clock. It is silver, with a round face. Instead of numbers there are letters enamelled in blues and greens with the Latin phrase, Festina Lente, which translates into Make Haste Slowly, or the more common phrase More Haste, Less Speed. The hands have red enamelled hearts at their ends, and the face rests on a rectangular column. The column has art nouveau flowers engraved on it, which remind me of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. If you look at the clock from any angle, the flowers appear to move because of how their shape was sculpted on the reflective surface.

Somewhere in my distant and forgotten past, a set of parents, or even grandparents went to Liberty’s of London to buy a present. I suspect it was for a wedding, but I will never know.

On a South African winter’s evening when I was about seven years old, I became aware of an unusual silence while sprawled in front of my grandfather’s fireplace. As if a devoted heartbeat had ceased, and all that was left was a hollow absence, devoid of sound. I looked up at the mantelpiece and noticed that the small silver clock had stopped. My grandfather showed me how to hold it. The clock stood upright on my lap, cold but not too heavy. He gave me the key and taught me to wind it so that I would not overextend the mechanism.

My grandfather was a man who took excellent care of his possessions, and was concerned with–some may say obsessed by–the contents of his will. He explained that, as the firstborn grandchild, I was entitled to inherit his large mahogany grandfather clock and the family bible. However, because I was a girl, this could not happen. Both items needed to be carried down the male line. He was a colonial man who had old-fashioned notions of gender. He was deeply apologetic. He assured me that one day I would receive the silver clock instead, as it was more suitable for a girl.

I’m sorry, Archibald, but at that point clocks–large or small–did not impress me.

When my grandfather died, he kept his word. By this time I had grown to love old things. I placed the clock on my mantelpiece and continued to wind it up when needed. It became a stationary compass of sorts, a link to the few quietly secure moments of a tumultuous childhood while pointing to a future ripe with hope. I breastfed my first child staring at it, numb with lack of sleep. It starred in a short film once. Occasionally people would admire it–not many though; it was humbly unobtrusive. It moved with us from house to house, always occupying a mantelpiece, and sometimes became the object of conversation.

I moved to Glasgow in 2013. After three months, a massive house pack, a content purge and transportation of the cherished family cat, my husband and children arrived with the clock in their hand luggage. We began our new life.

In May of 2016, I encountered an adaptation of William Morris’s Utopian novel, News From Nowhere, published in 1891, in which a character from the present visits the future. You have probably read this book more than once; in fact, you could have been the inspiration for the central character, William Guest, who wakes up one morning to a transformed London. Although it is clearly in the future, the thrumming pulse of that huge city has been transformed into a lush and rural landscape. People don’t work, there is no such thing as money, and the beauty of art and craft is everywhere. In this Utopia the central premise is the celebration of beauty; in limited possessions, natural surroundings, and flexible emotional attachments. It is a world where humanity is living the highest ideal of itself. In the end, William learns that this life needs to be fought and won in his present reality. So he returns to his old life to do just that.

Later in 2016, I lost my job. It was a devastating blow as I was the primary earner in my family at the time. I spent three months applying for every job imaginable, probably close to a hundred. I received very little response and five interviews. With each interview my confidence faltered. I signed on for benefits. Fraught with anxiety, diminishing savings and escalating credit card debt, I took to walking in forests and meditating while trying to find a way to earn a living. On one particularly dark day I got lost and lay down, spent with fear. It occurred to me that my usefulness to my family and the world had come to an end. When the damp earth seeped into my back I realised I had some power left, namely the ability to damage my children for the rest of their lives. I got up and kept walking. Not all powers are wanted. The ones I needed, like self-respect and courage, I would have to fight for and grow.

I came home to an empty house. I found a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions arranging a meeting to discuss my benefits. I sank into the sofa and through the burning blur of tears stared at your clock, gracefully adorning a Glaswegian mantelpiece.

The following week I polished and wrapped it carefully in a cloth bag. Our lack of money was critical. I had reluctantly decided to get the clock evaluated. I went to my first appointment of the day, a meeting with the Department of Work and Pensions. A cadaverous young man was hunched over a keyboard with missing letters. After an unsubtle interrogation, he accused me of benefit fraud. I had delayed in declaring my husband’s recently acquired six month contract because he wasn’t earning enough to cover our bills. The young man told me I would no longer qualify for benefits, and I would have reimburse the total sum I had been paid. His delight at my misfortune was contaminating; I too began to believe that I deserved poverty and would never know anything else again.

I crept out of the job centre and drove to the auction house. A tired nicotine smelling man watched as I hauled out my clock. His demeanour changed when he examined the markings on the underside. It was quite possibly the most animated he had been that year, judging by the thin and arched eyebrow of his associate. I looked at your clock on the stained tablecloth and realised it deserved better.

I learnt that the clock was designed by you, Archibald, a prominent influence in the Arts and Crafts movement, and one of the most far-reaching design movements of modern times. It began around 1880, and grew from a concern about Industrialisation. Not only did it break down divisions between architects, and craftsmen, it believed that design owed its inspiration to nature and real materials. That every day things should be made with love and celebrate beauty. It worked to change the dehumanising effect of Industrialisation and also strove for equality. For the first time, women were embraced as architects and artisans.

I sent photographs to a London auction house and allowed them to process the clock for auction. Six months later the hammer settled on a substantial amount of money, enough to dig my family out a bottomless hole of debt and start again. The first time I’d ever heard your name I was raw from the wounds of my own failures. Your clock had been an enduring companion, its silvery reflection a landscape of my changing life. Finally, at just the right time it could also become my saviour. These are the things dreams are made of; this is what the presence of the divine means.

I imagined you, a solitary child roaming the Isle of Man, your artistic mind absorbing those intricately ancient Celtic Crosses. And in your design heyday for Liberty’s, those same eternally intertwined patterns pouring out like a primeval inspiration into molten silver. How the designs echoed the seemingly fluid permanence of a precious metal. I wondered at you working in the alien detention centre on the Isle of Man during the war, after such a successful career.

Then I visualised you after that, a bearded and self-effacing man with a pipe clenched between your teeth as you brushed watercolour on paper. Until you were exhausted, and would sit back to view your roughly hewn strokes, which became the ruggedness of an old Elm tree or an island coastline. Your paintings were also a spontaneous coupling of nature and design. I read that your grave’s inscription says: ‘Here lies Archibald Knox, humble servant of God in the ministry of the beautiful.’ I felt you reaching towards me through the grace and splendour of your clock and I heard you breathe: ‘beauty changes lives.’

Liberty’s never acknowledged the designs in your lifetime. Did you realise that your work would become so valuable? Festina Lente. Well, you did take your time. The clock was never really mine, as it belongs to the ideals of the Art and Craft movement. However, I was lucky enough to know it for a substantial period of my life. But more than anything, Archibald, who you are and how you created beauty has given me a new way of being.

Yours Sincerely,
Julie Barker


You can follow Julie via her Twitter, @burningsky6.

Workshop: Stranger Things, Season One by Angela Hicks & Calder Hudson

Angela Hicks and Calder Hudson were both Creative Writing MSc students at the University of Edinburgh for the 2015-16 year. As part of their ongoing workshop series, the two sat down and discussed their varied thoughts on Season One of Netflix’s Stranger Things, which was released in 2016 to widespread acclaim.

This discussion contains spoilers for Season One of Stranger Things. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Ogilvie’s entire editorial staff.

 


C: In anticipation of Stranger Things’ upcoming second season, we wanted to take a closer look at how the show got the ball rolling last year. Unlike most of the series we’ve workshopped, this was the first that we really binge-watched, and that fast pace is probably indicative or our positive feelings towards the show. I, at least, am already excited about Season Two.

A: Definitely. But because we’re curmudgeonly people, and because this is a workshop, we’re still going to look at what it could have done better as well. Should we start with the cool things, or…?

C: Hmm.

A: I mean, I think the 80s is probably where we should begin. This show has taken a lot of distinctive, iconic 80s films and melded their plots together to end up with a crazy, retro mash-up of ET meets Nightmare on Elm Street meets Pretty in Pink.

C: Sure, yeah. Stranger Things’ 80s aesthetic is very immediate. I had some initial cynicism about the setting–it seemed superficial, an attempt at evoking nostalgia from the 80s without really doing anything new within this genre. Initially the show’s sole aim appeared to be the accumulation of tropes and visuals akin to those which were prevalent in the 80s–and while ST does definitely bank on that quite a bit, sometimes almost to the point of parody, it’s nonetheless very substantive, and it draws you in largely through its characters, who emerge from the 80s woodwork as the show develops.

A: I agree; at first I wasn’t convinced about how well ST juggled its smorgasbord of 80s genres, and, as you said, it felt like it wasn’t doing anything new–it had just harvested parts from other films. But I came round to it over the course of the season, in part because ST really commits to its decisions. They make the 80s work because they were determined to thrust both the positives and (some of) the negatives of that era into the foreground.

C: Yeah, that’s a good point. By the end of the season I was all about the 80s vibe. And they use the 80s aesthetic well and make it work for them. Things like the walkie-talkies fit for the time period but also help to ramp up the drama at certain moments. There is a lot of nostalgia and referencing in the show and it’s very indulgent with regards to the setting and with the genres and tropes which come with it–but yeah, ‘indulgence’ works well here.

A: Right. And it’d be wrong to say that it just steals from earlier shows and films. As you mentioned, it adds a lot of depth to its characters, which in turn adds more layers to the plot and keeps the audience engaged throughout the season.

C: I’d say that ST has very recognizably taken inspiration and ideas from early works. It makes some cool choices which help rework tropes and plots you’d otherwise recognize, but ultimately it’s the mixing of the plots which makes this show stand out. It’s buffet-style cinema–it delivers lots of different things which are pretty standard within their own genre, but what makes them unusual is having them all together. It succeeds as a strong, character-driven story in part because it indulges in a lot of different elements which we’ve seen before while reworking and interweaving them effectively.

A: It’s one of those rare shows where the end result is more than its sum parts. And it does get rid of or subvert some of the more problematic elements in 80s TV and film.

C: Exactly. Would this be a good place to talk about the characters, in particular the show’s presentation of female characters, within its context as Horror, Action/Adventure, and 80s-esque TV?

A: (laughs) With those caveats, I’d say it does great women–but I think it also does well without those caveats. If we look at Nancy and her plotline, for example–I think they do a great job of building her up slowly and developing her character arc. She starts off in a pretty standard teen romance, but as events around her happen, she changes in response to them. ST is excellent at developing its characters so that none of their actions feel unjustified with regards to their original portrayal, but the audience gets to see them develop throughout the series.

C: I wish they’d emphasized her interactions with Barb more–to be honest I feel like Barb is just undervalued throughout–but yeah, Nancy is initially thrust into a pretty recognizable love triangle, but the show tinkers with that narrative in interesting ways, and throughout that storyline, Nancy has agency. It feels like her decisions matter and factor into the narrative, into the larger story… in that respect this show has avoided more uncomfortable aspects of how films and shows from the 80s depict women.

A: And Joyce! Joyce is great. Some of that just comes from the fact that it’s nice to have a single parent portrayed as the responsible, caring adult in contrast to Mike and Nancy’s indifferent parents. But also Joyce is a really well-developed character; she feels so human and motivated.

C: Winona Ryder does a really good job bringing out the drive behind the character. There aren’t really negatives to workshop here. I’d say that other writing and shows can learn a lot from Joyce. The fact she’s shown to be vulnerable and flawed makes her no less compelling and sympathetic to the audience.

A: Yeah; I think when TV shows especially want to create strong female leads, ‘strong’ often tends to mean ‘genius woman who needs charismatic/buffoonish man to humanize her’. ST has three main female characters whom I would describe as ‘strong’ and none of them are in the way that TV shows often mean that adjective. One of the great things about ST is that it takes the risk of actually making its female leads three-dimensional.

C: It shouldn’t be a risk for a show to present women as more than just a handful of character traits, but you’re right that that’s often not the case, and it was refreshing to watch something which bucked against negative TV trends. On top of that, you spoke about ST having three main female characters, which reminds me that we still need to talk about Eleven, or Elle.

A: Um… having just raved about how great the show is for its women, I did sometimes feel like Elle was more of a plot device than a character, especially in the way that the other children interacted with her–Mike and his friends tended to view her as a weapon, or as a slightly dangerous pet, rather than a person. But I think that’s an issue to do with the writing in a wider context, rather than to do with the show’s portrayal of women.

C: Hmm. Yeah. I don’t know if that is intentional by the writing team or not–maybe the kids are just supposed to be dumb kids who don’t really understand how to comfort someone who has been through so much trauma. That narrative gets stronger throughout the season and leads to satisfying conclusions–and Elle stands out there, in a good way. Also, the fact that this show’s gifted hero character is a girl is cool–and as you said earlier, women stand out in a positive way across the board. I love Hopper, but the most iconic characters in this show are far and away Joyce and Elle.

A: One of my favorite scenes is towards the end when Joyce is comforting Elle in the paddling pool; I really liked that moment. We’ve seen in flashbacks that Dr. Brenner hasn’t done this for Elle, so it’s very gratifying when she finally gets a kind parental figure.

C: And it adds to the feeling that Joyce is just this unequivocal force for good.

A: It’s a lovely moment. But from a workshopping perspective, it’s a really great demonstration of the confidence this show has in itself and in its audience. In the moments before and after Joyce comforts Elle, we aren’t subjected to Dr. Brenner flashbacks or anything like that–these happened in earlier episodes, and the show trusts its audience to be engaged enough to remember and understand how important a moment this is. I think I’ve spoken about this in other workshops we’ve done, but it’s just so nice, as a viewer, to not be continually hit over the head with foreshadowing and the like.

C: And to watch a show which doesn’t keep demanding points from you for achieving the bare minimum with characters. That’s refreshing.

A: I feel compelled to mention (as we do every workshop) that the acting in this is great.

C: True. Though at times we’ve brought up acting in part to say “look, these are very skilled actors; they shouldn’t be held accountable for the faults of the writing team”–and in this case that isn’t why we’re doing so. ST’s acting really helps to ground and legitimize the fantastical elements within the narrative. This show incorporates elements from a ton of genres and some of its buildup might not have worked as well without a strong cast. The writers and the cast alike do a good job of maneuvering between emotional tones, not to mention genres and situations.

A: That’s true. Are there any areas where we think the writing could’ve improved? What about the flashback scenes–did they work for you?

C: Yeah, they did. Flashbacks can be a risk–they take away from the action and can be really ham-fisted sometimes–but here they work terrifically. They aren’t overused and they’re always relevant.

A: I agree. They don’t go overboard and they provide very useful depth. Um, what about the cliffhangers then? And the melodramatic moments like finding Will’s body?

C: Hmm.

A: For me, that was one of the few times where the show is too concerned with being dramatic and in doing so loses sight of the characters. They’re so focused on the suspense within the situation–what are the State Troopers doing at the lake? Is it really Will?–that they entirely miss the human tragedy of the moment. It was a shame that things like Hopper’s devastation were overshadowed by their desire to create a cliffhanger.

C: It is odd how many cliffhangers they inserted into ST. People consume shows like this through Netflix binges, so cliffhangers aren’t needed to bring people back week after week. And a lot of them don’t work because they feel superfluous, unlike most other aspects of the story. For example, Nancy’s brief foray into the Upside Down ends on a misleading cliffhanger which was then resolved about five minutes into the next episode. It was one of the few disappointing elements.

A: Yeah, there’s the sense that they lost confidence in themselves when they put in these overly dramatic moments.

C: And generally the plot is very believable, though admittedly there were a few times that you and I exchanged a look while watching this. After one episode we discussed how the mysterious governmental antagonists have a penchant for the dramatic.

A: They really do. And some of the human villains’ decisions feel very over-the-top and unnecessary.

C: Like shooting the café owner?

A: Exactly. He was sweet but dense. They could’ve lied to him instead of going for this excessively dramatic but ultimately stupid murder. I think that probably all the human villains are slightly too basic; they’re almost pastiches of their characters. We see this especially with the bullies in both the younger and older bracket. Given the lengths ST goes to show how multifaceted the major characters are (and also many of the minor characters, like Scott the teacher), it’s a shame the show drops the ball with the minor bad guys. And that’s true for the main villains too.

C: Yeah, that’s fair. I think we may fundamentally disagree on the nuance, or lack thereof, which is necessary for bullying to happen… actually, I don’t know, I was initially going to disagree, but the more I think about it, there is perhaps a shared lack of depth between the schoolyard antagonists and the big-scary-government antagonists, plus of course the supernatural-horror antagonists. Like many shows and movies, ST (rightly) focuses on establishing its expansive cast of characters first, but as a result they don’t leave a ton of time to build up the first-season villains. The antagonist they spend the most time developing is probably the Demigorgon, who doesn’t really appear that much, especially in comparison to the other villains–

A: Although it is a good monster. I was worried it would end up being a letdown, and that moment-of-reveal would fall short, but actually the weird plant face and everything works well to keep the horror vibe going. And yes, agreed about the human antagonists; as you say, the show mostly gets away with it because they build up the protagonists so well, but they could have given their villains more depth.

C: And possibly some of their minor characters too, like Nancy and Mike’s parents, especially their mother, Karen. She’s this parody of a parent who wants to be approachable but doesn’t understand her children–she spends most of the show telling Nancy either “you can always talk to me about what’s wrong” or “you’re a promiscuous liar”–often in rapid succession… I don’t know, I couldn’t tell if that was intended or accidental, but you leave the season feeling much less sympathetic towards her than you could have, given the show’s circumstances.

A: It was especially annoying because it felt unnecessary to demonize her. I don’t think we’d have felt differently about Mike or Nancy, or even Joyce as another parent, if Karen had a little more substance.

C: To be fair, they do manage to give depth to a lot of the characters. Like Steve–he starts off pretty two-dimensional and you think he’s mainly there to juxtapose with Jonathan, but over time they take the self-centered high school jock trope and develop it into someone with real nuance.

A: Oh my goodness, that scene in Jonathan’s house when Nancy and Jonathan are hunting the Demigorgon and then Steve arrives–it was so stressful! That was not an emotion I’d been expected to feel in connection to Steve.

C: The show does a great job of weaving together the different stories and characters, and of making you care about all of them. To begin with, it matches each of the core casts with a genre: the adults are on this mystery track with horror elements, the teens are entrenched in this high school romance plot, and the kids are in an ET kind of scenario, which contains horror elements intermingled with notions of youthful exploration and imagination. As they bring these casts together, they also bring more horror elements into each of the core stories, which makes it easier to synthesize them.

A: Definitely. ST has a large ensemble cast, which can be tricky for a show to do well, but all the main characters and their plots are engaging, in part because of the way they interact and influence each other.

C: The last ten minutes or so of the season finale are present entirely to set up Season Two. In most shows that would bother me, but here they’ve earned it.

A: Yeah, there are some odd moments in the story where events, fortuitous and gratuitous, save characters from otherwise certain death, but it holds together. It gets stronger as it goes on, too, and whether that’s them finding their feet or just building momentum, I’m not sure, but it works. Unlike a lot of its inspirations and predecessors–particularly horrors and mysteries we’ve seen in the past few years–it follows through and builds on itself well, slowly and steadily. And I really hope Elle’s going to come back.

C: Who can say.

A: (laughs)

C: Within the context of the shows we’ve workshopped, this ranks high; they’ve absolutely earned a second season, and in many respects I think they’ve gone above and beyond.

A: Also, their allusions to Season Two weren’t frustrating. They concluded Season One well and then sprinkled in more details, unlike some shows we’ve seen, which have been so concerned with setting up Season Two they don’t end Season One in a satisfying way.

C: True. As per tradition we should also mention the opening sequence. It establishes what they’re aiming for; it’s an ominous, deep 80s synth. Works well.

A: It’s also super distinctive, and I think they made the right call to have a pared-back opening which is simple but strong. It’s not overlong, which is nice given how much goes on during this show; we want to get to the characters. It’s like the opposite of the American Gods intro. So, I agree, it works.

C: You think it’ll be different in Season Two? I wouldn’t be bothered either way.

A: They could have… blue writing.

C: (laughs) That’s the change?

A: Yes.

C: Yeah. Get it together, Duffer Brothers. Why so much red? That’s the takeaway from this workshop: great show, excellent work, too much red.

A: I meant it’s the blue to red shift–you know, soundwaves? The Doppler effect? And they’re going to go back in time.

C: (processing)

A: Have you never watched the opening sequence to Doctor Who?

C: I’m not really smart enough to process what you’re saying here, but I’m sure it’s right, whatever it is. Let’s just end it here and go watch the Season Two trailer. I’m jonesing.


Angela and Calder are available at their respective Twitter accounts, @MS_a_hicks and @CMA_Hudson. Their previous workshop of American Gods is accessible here.

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Angela Hicks

Angela Hicks is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor. She graduated from the University of Edinburgh’s Creative Writing programme in 2016 and was one of the storytellers for Edinburgh City of Literature’s Story Shop 2017. She is currently working on her first novel.

 


 

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

 

As part of the Harry Potter generation who grew up with the original book series, I was naturally interested when, in 2016, J.K. Rowling announced a new sequel of sorts in the form of a play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (written by Jack Thorne, with story by Rowling, Thorne, and John Tiffany). But I was also apprehensive–would the magic hold after all these years? I resisted buying a copy of the script for several months; the seventh book ended with the line ‘all was well’–did I really want to discover that that might not be the case? A slew of positive reviews from the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, and other mainstream newspapers convinced me to give it a go. Nevertheless, I was aware before I picked up the script that a portion of book-fans disliked Cursed Child, muttering that it was little better than fan fiction and resolutely refusing to view it as canon no matter what Rowling said. Thus I embarked on the task of reading the script with much anticipation and a certain degree of trepidation.

The first thing to say about CC is that the plot, in the broadest terms, is fine. It’s a time travelling romp; there are tense scenes and humorous moments. The concept of a character travelling to the past and thereby altering the future is not new (think the Back to the Future trilogy), but CC manages to be an enjoyable narrative for all it lacks in originality. Time travel plots often suffer from their sheer illogicality–if one stops to consider what’s really happening, things tend to fall apart pretty quickly–but CC has so much going on that there’s no time to think, much less care, about whether it holds together. One doesn’t dwell too much on what paradoxes are being created, nor how likely certain things connected to Voldemort are, because you’re caught up in the story. Similarly, it just about gets away with most of its more outlandish moments (such as the transformation of the Trolley Witch in 1:11) because of this fast pace as well as the quick and often light-hearted dialogue.

That dialogue (along with the stage effects) is probably the element which translates least well from the stage to the page, since we’re given no sense from the script alone how certain lines should be delivered. As just mentioned, there are a lot of one-liners or rapid fire exchanges (predominantly between Albus and Scorpius, but also between Ron and Hermione). It makes for a fun read, although there’s the sense that the writers were more concerned with making their protagonists witty and amusing than in having them speak like normal people.

There’s also the peppering of colloquialisms and slang throughout the script. On the one hand, making them sound more like today’s teenagers is a way of differentiating the younger generation of witches and wizards from those in the original series. However, part of the reason that the Harry Potter books have stood the test of time (20 years since the publication of Philosopher’s Stone) is probably because they manage to not be period-specific–they exist in their own private sphere outside most real world influences, and they avoid obvious time-markers such as slang. I doubt CC will age so well.

I also wonder how future generations of playgoers will react to several of the character portrayals. To begin with, there is Albus and Scorpius’ friendship/relationship. The script spends a lot of time and energy setting them up as a couple before finally deciding that they’re both straight. Naturally a very deep friendship between people of any gender can exist without it needing to transform into love; however, the script actively promotes the idea of their blossoming romance for nine-tenths of the narrative. One reason I’m upset that Albus and Scorpius don’t become a couple is because of the blatant disregard for the author-reader contract. I would be annoyed that CC laid this groundwork and then didn’t follow through regardless of whether it was about a gay relationship, or whether it was about Albus getting a pet dragon/becoming an animagus/introducing Irn Bru to the wizarding world. Following the principle of Chekov’s Gun, when a piece of fiction sets something up, your expectations are raised and if–as is the case with CC–it doesn’t deliver, the reader ends up feeling frustrated and betrayed.

In a less literary vein, it would have been nice to have the leading characters being a gay couple. CC as a stage-play has rightly been praised for its representation of minorities through its casting of black actors in major roles (Noma Dumezweni was the first actor to play CC’s Hermione in the West End, followed by Rakie Ayola when Dumezweni reprised that roll on Broadway). However, these casting decisions were made by individual productions and aren’t guaranteed to always be the same; it would’ve been better if the script itself included representation of minority characters. Moreover, leading with a gay couple would have worked well with CC’s plot: the play focuses on people not fitting in and being pressured by society, and other’s assumptions about them, so it would have made sense to add coming to terms with one’s sexuality into the piece. I feel like several opportunities were missed with Albus and Scorpius in this respect.

There are also problems with other characters. There were elements of disappointment with the ‘old cast’, as it were, from the books. Some of these are more overt, such as the fact that Harry–someone who was always portrayed as a caring, well-balanced individual who just happened to be fated to fight the Dark Lord–has transformed into a grumpy and distant parent. Others only occur on reflection; it’s slightly galling to learn that an unmarried Hermione is considerably meaner than a married one. It’s also disappointing to discover that Ron and Hermione, again people who in the original series were generally depicted as nice children who weren’t particularly prejudiced, have raised a snob like Rose.

However, the most egregious discrepancy between the original series and the book with regards to characters is Cedric Diggory. Although he appears for a limited time only in Goblet of Fire (and is briefly mentioned in earlier books), he is clearly depicted as a good person–he helps Harry figure out the second challenge and accepts Harry’s proposal to be joint winners of the tournament. In CC, however, his innate goodness is apparently so flimsy that he turns completely to the dark side when he’s laughed at. Not only is it a shame that probably the most famous member of the often least well-regarded house turns out to be evil, but it’s also infuriating that no one comments on how stupid his reasoning is. Being laughed at is never a good reason to commit mass murder, and I really wish that someone in CC had remarked about how messed up Cedric turns out to be, instead of tacitly endorsing his behaviour. Or better yet, not made him so messed up. It wouldn’t have been difficult to change Cedric from incompetent Death Eater into incompetent good guy–Neville could easily have died shielding Cedric, or in friendly fire from him. Instead, the script goes out of its way to portray Cedric as someone who is only nice when people are nice to him. Moreover, the audience/reader’s knowledge that Cedric became a Death Eater really damages the ending of CC–Harry visits Cedric’s grave and has a sort of poignant moment with his son about how he goes there to tell Cedric he’s sorry (4:15). That would be a beautiful ending if only we weren’t all thinking that Harry is wrong to be sorry because Cedric would have probably turned out to be a terrible person in this time-stream too.

Perhaps my expectations about Cursed Child were too high, both in terms of the script itself, and also in its ability to bring back my childhood. I certainly found it enjoyable while I was reading it; as a play script, especially one primarily aimed at a teenage audience, it was a quick read, and it was nice to romp through the wizarding world again, albeit briefly. But once I’d finished, the illogicalities and odd choices started to pile up, while my regrets at the script’s missed opportunities, particularly with regards to characters, became harder to ignore. While a lot of fans of the original series have embraced Cursed Child, the vocal minority describing it as nothing more than fan fiction remains undaunted. For all that I want to love this new addition to the Harry Potter universe, I cannot help but regretfully side with those who prefer to view the play as an Aunt Muriel of the books–invited to family gatherings when it has to be, but generally best left forgotten.


You can follow Angela on her Twitter, @MS_a_hicks. More of her work is accessible here.

Personal Essay: Dear Body by Jonatha Kottler

Having previously worked as a university lecturer in Albuquerque, Jonatha Kottler now lives and writes primarily in Europe. Jonatha teaches at ECAS and was one of Edinburgh’s 2016 Story Shop writers; she has also contributed to the Dangerous Women Project and to Edinburgh’s Write Like a Grrrl community. Her work has also been published by The Guardian and by 404 Ink in their hit collection, Nasty Women. She is presently writing her first novel, and one of her essays is slated to appear in an upcoming collection entitled No Filter.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.


Dear Body

 

Dear Body,

I recently wrote two articles about being fat. Being fat isn’t new for me, but writing articles about it is. One was published in a collection of essays and was subsequently picked up by a major website in the US. They wanted to re-publish it to help promote the book. It had a moderated comments section and the things people said weren’t all that bad–mean things that I expected, but nothing as mean as I’d heard about, or seen written about other women online (like those who dared to read their own poetry on YouTube and were threatened with death—levels of criticism that Charles Dickens never had to deal with).

I wrote the second article for a major UK newspaper, and there were a lot of comments–about a thousand at the time that I decided I had read enough–and that came as quite a shock to me. They were still not at the level of what some people have come to expect (for doing things like simply playing or writing about video games). I had promised myself that I wouldn’t get caught in the comments–I would take the high road and not read them–but of course, I did read some of them. I was glad that I did—there were many friendly suggestions for places I might consider looking for clothes (it was about plus-size shopping) and some people who felt that I articulated things which they couldn’t say themselves. Things I wrote meant something to someone, and that’s part of why we write things, isn’t it? To share our ideas and experiences and hope they connect with someone else.

But then there was one man’s comment–the one that made me wish I’d never looked at any of them, made me even wish I’d missed out on all the kind and important things that others said. It was a comment about my size, and obesity, and how I look and whether or not I should be allowed to take up the space that I take in the world. He read the piece I wrote and went looking for other mentions of me on the internet (I imagine he found some old comments by my students, too!). When he found a link of me at a reading, on YouTube, he linked back to it in the comments section of the article and said, “This is what this author looks like. I don’t think we should normalize this.”

I was caught in this spiral in my head where I couldn’t help but imagine: he read what I wrote–a piece about my own life experiences–and had been so upset about it, disgusted or angry enough to go out and Google me (it doesn’t take long, I know, but I cannot imagine bothering to do this after reading something in the newspaper. After all, it was the first sunny Saturday in April). He’d had a “ha HA!” moment when he found me, looked at my image–on a day when I was pretty proud and happy, doing my first public reading–and decided my image was an excellent exhibit to submit into evidence in the trial, The People v. How Jonatha Kottler Looks. He’d linked the piece in, to save others the arduous task of finding it. He’d felt that he had a point so trenchant that it only needed the 1,000 words my picture stood for to make it.

I try to keep a positive perspective. I’ve had lots of lovely comments and messages–a woman who used the articles to reconnect with her sister and speak honestly on this topic for the first time. My words broke down a wall between them.

But I was thinking about that link. The case against me being normal. Judged guilty by the comments section of your local newspaper and the sentence pronounced: your words don’t matter because your body isn’t normal. And I’m the one who let him in, invited him to have a lovely place at the banquet in my mind, where the smorgasbord includes my self-worth, my dignity, and my desire to put words in public, and he can devour as much as he wants. All for the low, low price of a Google and a copy and paste.

How utterly fucked up is that? He’s fucked up–a moralising asshole who judges and destroys in a few clicks what took much longer to create. And me, I’m fucked up, too, giving him the comfy chair in my psyche.

So, no more. Last call for assholes. You don’t have to go home, but you aren’t allowed to take up space in my mind, my heart. I will not populate myself with the members of the comment section, or be one of those people, either. I am writing a new comments section: the one my body deserves.

Dear Body,

You have taken some serious shit, my friend, from the outside world, and also from me. This is a letter of apology to you, for things I’ve thought, and things I’ve done, and things other people have said that I have let burr against you. I pledge to protect to you from this, to be your armour, and to shine that armour with my words of praise.

Dear Body,

You are my companion–we have been through everything together. You have held me and taken me places, all the places of my life.

Miracle-Strong Body,

You have battled germs, and made the tears for me to weep when only tears would do. You are there, strong to hold me up, or tired to drag my buzzing head down to rest. From inside you have cradled my thoughts, and laughed to dizziness and known pleasure, somehow, without any help from my Hamlet-swirls of endless thought and decision-indecision-regret.

Dear Body,

In spite of all of that, you turned some cells into another person, you transformed food into tiny earlobes, and eyelashes, and a brain, and toenails and a heart muscle. Sometimes old brain here has trouble choosing dinner from a menu, and yet you, quietly, steadfastly, made a completely separate and marvellous human being, and brought him into the world, and fed him and held his hand and held the book of stories and read the words over and again. And all of this while keeping me going, heart, brain, toenails, all moving along.

Dear Body,

I have treated you unkindly, giving you too much of some things and not enough of others, and criticizing you all the while. Reducing you into segments to appraise minutely–eyes too narrow, thighs too wide. I have made you into a letter of complaint: the person next to me has got a much better nose, why is she so thin, so beautiful, so glossy, so unwrinkled, when what I got was this.

Dear Body,

Recently I described you as an old reliable car–you keep running but if I try to explain you to someone it is as a list of quirks: the passenger window doesn’t open and you can’t listen to the radio and use the windscreen wipers at the same time…

But, Dear Body,

You aren’t a list of complaints, or a series of regrets, or a mass of scar tissue, or a thing to be judged. You are GLORIOUS–a home and a companion and the only one who has been with me my whole life, and instead of wishing you were thin and unwrinkled and not sore, instead of being a quirky car that I’d keep until it wore out but would never buy in this condition, instead of all of that, I will say:

Dear Body,

Thank you. Perpetual motion chug chugging heart, expanding lungs, gentle touching fingertips, blinking eyes. Thank you. You deserve my gratitude and my care and my shining armour against those who would hurt you with sticks and stones or words. Dear Body.


Jonatha can be followed on Twitter.

Workshop: American Gods, Season One by Angela Hicks & Calder Hudson

Angela Hicks and Calder Hudson were both Creative Writing MSc students at the University of Edinburgh for the 2015-16 year. They set out to workshop Starz’ new series, American Gods, shortly after the show’s debut; once they’d completed its first season, the two conducted the following discussion to express their thoughts.

This discussion contains spoilers for Season One of American Gods. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.

 


 

C: As is tradition, we’ll begin by specifying our knowledge of the source material for this show. Angela and I have both read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (in its original 2001 version, rather than Gaiman’s preferred text–the slightly longer tenth-anniversary edition). I don’t think either of us are Gaiman fanatics, but we were both interested in this show and we’d planned on watching and workshopping it for a long time. I was super enthusiastic about this going in; I’d been reading a lot about the show–interviews, promotional materials, that sort of thing–and it all looked promising.

A: American Gods felt like a good book to adapt for TV. It’s a long tome so they had plenty of source material; it has one main story narrative–Shadow’s journey with Mr Wednesday; it has a lot of interesting characters. But the book also has weaknesses–times when characters are underdeveloped, for instance–which I felt that a show could change and redress quite successfully.

C: Yeah, agreed. [sighs] With that said, having watched the first season, I have to admit I’m colossally disappointed in the results. I don’t think this is the weakest show we’ve workshopped but I’m overwhelmingly disheartened by the end product. The show has many positive aspects, but its execution felt wholly underwhelming.

A: Underwhelming is a good word to use for this show. It has the source material, it sets things up, but somehow it fails to deliver, leaving me pretty indifferent with the end result.

C: Now we have the challenge of considering why that is. We do these as workshops rather than reviews because we’re interested in looking at the way certain things work–or conversely don’t work–in shows, and how they can be fixed.

A: That’s part of the reason, I think, that we review the first seasons of shows–because they can often still be in that developmental stage, finding their feet and working things out.

C: Right, and because it means we get to watch lots of new shows.

A: [laughs] That too. But back to AG–what do you think the main reason neither of us were…super excited at the end of this first season?

C: I think if I were to describe the show in one word–and I don’t think this word is necessarily a damning thing–it’d be “indulgent”. That’s true of the book as well–particularly Gaiman’s preferred edition–and on the one hand the detail is often very visceral and evocative. But the negative of this approach is that pacing can feel laggardly and blunted by the excess of interjections and information in the main narrative. The takeaway the show should have had from the book was, put bluntly, the story needed more conciseness and forward momentum, but if anything, it’s worse than the books in this respect. The show had the chance to improve on some of the book’s vulnerabilities, but it didn’t learn from those lessons at all.

A: I think when you talk about overindulgence and slow pacing, it falls into two separate categories, both of which are detrimental to the show. Firstly there’s the drawn out cinematography which overemphasizes many details. We’re shown a gramophone, then we’re shown it being set to play, then we’re shown the needle start, and then we watch the record turn… Any tension is undercut by boredom as the audience waits for things to happen.

C: It’s clearly a conscious choice by the show, but I think you’re right–it doesn’t work, at least not to the extent they use it.

A: And secondly, they add in even more material which doesn’t appear in the book. And it’s not a short book to start with. Some additions work–I think Vulcan as a gun producer nicely brings it into 21st century America. But then we get an entire episode–the seventh out of eight, so really close to the end, when we should be building up to that big finale–which is all about how the Irish fairies came to America via the tales of a random woman called Essie. It just feels like superfluous filler.

C: To be fair, the story behind the seventh episode exists within the books; it’s just not as overemphasized. I expect the Essie narrative was included to try to create a more multitudinous, mystical atmosphere, but given the pacing already felt slow before then, it was exhausting. In some cases this same issue doomed more interesting ideas, too, which is a shame–like how we’re given more backstory for Laura Moon, Shadow’s dead wife. It’s a nice idea to develop her story, but they dedicate an enormous amount of time to it without giving it any drive.

A: I didn’t think the Laura stuff worked. This is one of those cases where less is more. Adding in so much doesn’t make her sympathetic or engaging, it makes her less interesting. Also, by showing her so much from the start, it undercuts the power and impact which she has in the book when she returns to Shadow’s life.

C: I think we disagree about that to some extent, but I do agree that Laura’s enigmatic agency, which really comes through in the book, feels obfuscated by the show’s excess. From a workshopping perspective, you’re right; there are whole shots, scenes and pretty much whole episodes which could all be heavily cut or removed entirely without the audience feeling they’d lost something conducive to the show’s central premise.

A: Agreed. And I also think that they have too many narrative threads which aren’t streamlined or interwoven.

C: Like Czernobog–we meet him in what might be my favorite sequence in the show, and he seemingly joins the core cast, only to never show up in this season again. The book is already sprawling, but the show takes this to a new level and it’s so frustrating. In the book Czernobog’s there in the famous ‘House on the Rock’ scene for the big reveal about the gods–the plot’s crux–which is where I assumed they were going to end the first season of the show. Instead they don’t get to this natural focal point, which would have established the show’s goals and stakes really effectively in a poignant finale. They get seven-eighths of the way there, but because they’re moving so slowly, they don’t make it–but they still want the content from that scene, so they shoehorn it in earlier, lessening the impact of those big, exciting reveals.

A: If they’d cut the Essie episode, they could’ve easily reached House on the Rock, and it would have been nice to tie in Czernobog and Mr Nancy again.

C: Exactly. It’s… it’s disappointing, to say the least. But, on a happier note, I want to touch on all the positive things about the series too–some of the additions and alterations the show makes are really great. Some minor characters are reworked from cameo appearances into much more fleshed-out roles; for example, the character of Salim (played by Omid Abtahi) has only a minor role in the source material, but he is transformed in the show into a more crucial (and interesting) figure. I wish the show had included more of him.

A: That’s true. I also think the depiction of Media (Gillian Anderson) is very well done and an occasion where the show’s penchant for stylization is effective and suits the character.

C: As always, we can’t fault the casting of the show. Anderson does terrifically in the role of Media.

A: And, as mentioned above, the show’s addition of the character of Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) and his acceptance of the new world order also worked well. The show does a good job of updating itself while partnering certain atmospheres with certain characters. The same is true of Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), whose role has been nicely expanded from the book. The show takes time to set up why some of the old gods take the deals offered by the new regime of Mr World et al., something which the book doesn’t manage as effectively.

C: The show also makes sound choices and changes with respect to Shadow himself (played excellently by Ricky Whittle). He’s far more vocal than his book counterpart–an expected change given the different mediums; as a result we get a bit more of his immediate reactions to situations he and Wednesday find themselves in. Shadow’s been adapted well for the screen and Whittle does a terrific job of bringing him to life.

A: You’re right; keeping him predominantly silent wouldn’t work–though Whittle is very talented and gets a lot across with facial expressions and body language. I found this Shadow more likable and nuanced.

C: Another positive part of the TV series–my favorite segment from the season, which I touched on earlier–is the chess game between Shadow and Czernobog (Peter Stormare). Not only are the individual performances top-notch, but the atmosphere in that scene is excellent–and to give credit where credit is due, when this show is good, it’s good, and it certainly knows how to establish atmosphere. Moments like that are incredibly satisfying. It’s just a shame that too often the show hasn’t considered the book’s vulnerabilities or learnt from mistakes made by other shows of its kind.

A: Such as its often iffy portrayals of women? The book also isn’t always excellent at its female characters, but it was admittedly written some time ago–TV shows today should get less sympathy, given they have a chance to modernize.

C: I think the way this show tackles some issues like race and sexuality is quite effective, but yeah, I wouldn’t really say it tackles anything relating to women or femininity.

A: I don’t know that it really is that good at portraying different races and different cultures–it has quite a cherry-picking approach to representing their mythologies which perhaps means it veers closer to voyeurism than true representation. But to focus on women for the moment–there are certainly some issues regarding its portrayal of women. There’s Laura, who sort of… asserts her dominance through espousing a fondness for sex, and through distancing herself from other women in this regard.

C: Yeah, you can tell a guy wrote a lot of that.

A: Yes. It’s… it’s whatever–lazy, under-developed, out-of-touch, cheap. And then there’s the voice-over line uttered by Mr Ibis of “Intelligence has never been uncommon among women”, which is at best weird, and at worst incredibly patronizing and insulting. It’s one of those lines you can’t quite believe that all of the writers, editors and actors read and thought was good.

C: It’s one line, but it’s an immensely disappointing line indicative of overarching issues with the script.

A: Speaking of immensely disappointing…

C: Sure.

A: That opening scene of episode one–the prologue–the scene which is meant to hook viewers in. I hated it. It’s one of those many times where the show’s languorous style really doesn’t work. It could have been a powerful scene, but it ends up being tedious and, as is so often the case in this show, raising too many questions which it has no interest in answering–for example, why do the Vikings, when they decide to fight to please the gods, fight each other and not their enemies inland? I think that the book’s opening–of Shadow in prison–is a better beginning, and more coherent.

C: I had fewer problems with the show’s opening, but yes, if you’re going to change things from the source material, then you need to be damn sure that it’s better; this show doesn’t manage that.

A: And about the show’s ending, which, as you mentioned earlier, is not that similar to the corresponding scene in the source material. I got the sense watching AG with you that, while I was annoyed at it from pretty early on, you gradually lost patience with it throughout the season. But did that dramatic finale redeem it for you at all?

C: Sadly, it didn’t. This show takes so much time–a whole season–to establish one of the central tenets of the story: for the gods, belief is power, with worship strengthening them and disinterest making them atrophy. And yet the show repeatedly overrides said rules; in cinematic situations this central rule is thrown out the window. The show ends with Easter (or rather, Ostara)–who is described as having only a sort of proxy-power at present through her alliance with the modernist cabal–essentially depriving America of all its crops and agriculture. This is a much greater display of power than any other god or deity has shown in the show thus far, so it’s disorienting, given that Ostara has supposedly been living off of referential praise and not true worship as the show asserts. The rules don’t seem to matter all that much.

A: I had similar questions about AG’s internal logic in other places too. For example, it adds in deities like Jesus who are still worshipped today. The plot of “old, forgotten gods versus technological dominion” is good, but through adding in religions which are still followed in the present day, the premise starts to get a lot more confusing and woolly–why does the character who believes in Allah end up with the Egyptian god then, and so on? I think having ‘modern’ gods was an unnecessary move which clutters things up. The show would’ve been better to shore up and improve what they already had rather than introducing more partially-explained concepts to the narrative.

C: I actually disagree there–I do think they could have made the inclusion of the different representations of Christ work, had they exerted a bit more effort. But you’re right–the world’s rules are very unclear in the show, which is disheartening given that it has time to make them clear. The show has plenty of source material–what it needs now is gumption.

A: And to return to your comment about the finale–yes, if it’s going to invent an ending which diverges quite heavily from the book, it needs to have increased its pace and plot a lot, because otherwise viewers have too much time to consider plot-holes, and to find faults in what you’re watching. The show should either have done a whistle-stop tour of action, or a very pared-down adaptation with respect to characters, but with a lot more depth. Instead it fails on both fronts.

C: Yes indeed; though there are benefits to the show’s indulgent approach, this indulgence causes significant problems in relation to depth and pacing. To go back to the show’s opening, we spoke about the prologue, but not the credits; I think–if this isn’t too cliché a thing to say–the opening credits are emblematic of the show with respect to overarching flaws. They aren’t ugly, but they’re excessively long, and don’t do much other than take up time. This show has a very specific visual aesthetic–one achieved predominantly through a lot of vibrant colors and CGI–which actually works well by and large; some of the animated sequences are very pretty. But it all adds to the feeling that, for all the show’s glitz, there isn’t enough substance beneath it; it’s all frosting with no cake underneath. And look: I understand that this show is beginning with some preset laurels it can rest on. Similar shows are doing well on TV; they clearly paced this out to have multiple seasons; Gaiman’s book is already beyond celebrated. But their desire to set up a long-running saga has resulted in a bumpy introduction.

A: You said, after the end of the last episode, that you’d grudgingly watch a second season of this show; I’m not sure I would. The show isn’t abysmal–as you argued, the visual style works at times, and some scenes are wonderfully atmospheric–but I gave it eight hours and it couldn’t bring it together for me.

C: That’s tough, but fair. Though I quite liked the book and though I had immense hopes for this show, I’m not sure it deserves the second season which will assuredly follow this one down the line. Even if they failed to learn from the book’s missteps, I hope the writing team behind the show can learn from the mistakes they made when starting out; moving forward, I hope American Gods can find the momentum and substance its first season lacked.


Angela and Calder are available at their respective Twitter accounts, @MS_a_hicks and @CMA_Hudson. Their previous workshop of The Last Kingdom is accessible here.

Commentary: Self-Publish and Be Damned by William McIntyre

William (Willie) McIntyre is a criminal defence lawyer and the author of the Best Defence series, a continuing saga of Scottish criminal law novels enveloped in themes of noir, wry humour, and social commentary. Having been both published and self-published, Willie is readily familiar with the ins and outs of the Scottish publishing scene.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.

 


 

Self-Publish and Be Damned

 

At the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, there was recently an exhibition celebrating the 30th year of Ian Rankin’s famous fictional creation, Detective Inspector John Rebus. One of the items on show is the first rejection letter the author received from a publisher. Brilliant. I know if I’d had Mr Rankin’s good fortune I’d be sending those rejecting-publishers a Christmas card from my yacht in the Caribbean every year. Not that I’m knocking publishers. They’re running businesses–they need to use their best judgement and sometimes they get it wrong (but, seriously, Inspector Rebus? There’s wrong and there’s really wrong).

Speaking as someone who submitted his own book (Relatively Guilty, first in the Best Defence Series) to a number of publishers several years ago, it’s the ones who don’t give writers a fair chance that annoy me. One of my first submissions was to a publisher whose guidelines refused electronic transmission–it might have been the 21st Century, but they wanted it in size 12 font on paper, double-spaced and with one inch margins. That’s a lot of ink and paper for a 95k word book. Fortunately I ran an office with a large stationery cupboard; I printed it off, put it inside a large brown envelope and placed it and my covering letter in one of those large grey indestructible plastic bags, along with a similar plastic bag stamped and addressed to me for return of the manuscript if, inconceivably, it was to be rejected. And returned it duly was… more than three months later, with a standard rejection letter. This surprised me on two counts: firstly, I thought it was a good book (admittedly, I’m biased) and, secondly, it was clear to me that the brown envelope containing the manuscript had never been opened. Unlike Mr Rankin, I didn’t keep the letter, and, although I don’t remember the date, what I do remember is that it was the day I thought, ‘Stuff this’ (or words to that effect) and self-published the book on Kindle, where five years later it remains my best seller.

Many traditional publishers complain about those who self-publish. One never hears of artists being criticised for self-hanging-paintings-on-a-wall, or would-be popstars for self-singing-to-folk-in-a-pub. Literature is different. Publishers and agents view themselves as the gatekeepers to quality, and that’s fine, so long as the gate is kept open and your book, or even part of it, is actually read by someone–and you don’t mind waiting… and waiting… and waiting.

On the other hand, publishing an e-book is straightforward and immediate. The finished product may not be quite as well-polished as it would be had it gone through editing and proofreading by professionals, but then again, one doesn’t have to hang on for months only to receive a pro forma saying how much the publisher ‘adored *insert title of book* but don’t think it’s a good fit for us’. Moreover, it was self-publishing my books on Amazon that acted as a portal for me to being traditionally published by the discerning folk at Sandstone Press.

If the ink is in your blood, you will write. Do not be ashamed to self-publish. Let the world see what you’ve written. Somebody might like it. I don’t mean to come over all Gray’s Elegy about things, but think how many potential Ian Rankins and JK Rowlings there are out there who can’t wait forever, hoping that some astute publisher will take a chance on them. Think how many budding Ian Rankins have given up on that rejected manuscript which could have made them famous, or at least could have made them a living?

Do it yourself. Publishers don’t always get it right. Mr Rankin has that in writing.


More of Willie’s writing is accessible via the Best Defence website. The next book in the Best Defence series, Last Will, arrives in stores this November.

Interview: Chrys on Game of Thrones

Chrys is an online exegete known for her distinct blend of humor and insight. Several years ago, she began her popular series Chrys Reviews, in which she analyses TV shows through episodic recaps. These are presented as a compilation of stills from the show with her thoughts as subtitles (often satirizing the characters and scenes being portrayed). Chrys’ commentary thoroughly dissects the episode, paying special attention to dialogue, relationships between characters, and the (sometimes unabashed) mishandling of tropes. Chrys’ reviews are well-received on multiple platforms, including Tumblr, Reddit, and Imgur. Over time, she’s incorporated a number of different TV shows (including Westworld, Sleepy Hollow, and How to Get Away with Murder) into her Reviews series; she’s reviewed more Game of Thrones than anything else, with thirty-five episodes of the show’s sixty episodes covered.

In this interview, The Ogilvie’s Chief Editor Calder Hudson speaks with Chrys about her review process as well as her thoughts on HBO’s Game of Thrones and its upcoming seventh season. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.

 


 

What was it that first made you decide to do the Chrys Reviews series? With respect to the screenshot-style, did you have the format and presentation planned out in advance, or did your method develop over time?

I wanted to make people laugh and to challenge myself as a writer (or as a friend lovingly says, “shitpost generator”). The screenshot-style recap has been a Tumblr staple for quite some time, and while I’d never actually seen the show, Hannibal screenshots that made me laugh (even though I had no context) were the reason I thought it might be fun to do my own. At first I didn’t really know what I was doing, as might be evident in some Teen Wolf recaps, but I soon found that giving each character a voice of their own helped tremendously. The format itself shaped the style more than anything else. Text on a limited space means verbosity is out of the window, unless you make the very deliberate effort to turn that into a joke–a wall of words can effectively communicate the fact that a character is monologuing or rambling. Screenshots are also great for pacing; there’s nothing like a text-free shot to give a joke time to land.

 

Between the screenshotting and the commentary, how long does it usually take to complete each episodic review? Is there a particular process you have with respect to making them?

It really depends on the length of the episode. I normally go through every single frame of a scene to find the best facial expressions (Conleth Hill–Varys in GoT–and Ed Harris–the Man in Black in Westworld–are prime examples of actors that spoil me for choice). This also helps me to notice details I might have otherwise missed. The time it takes to write an episode recap can vary, especially from show to show. Since I go frame to frame, the longer the episode, the more work I have. It usually takes between five and eight hours total. Writer’s block can happen, but I think it usually affects the quality of the writing (and my mood!) more than the length of time spent on a piece.

 

In some cases you’ve written an accompanying text post with your thoughts on an episode. When you begin the recaps, do you usually go in with a skeleton-structure of what you want to address in the episode, or do you do the full write-ups after you’ve finished the recap?

The write-ups always happen after I finish the recaps, while I’m waiting for the images to upload. I keep notes while watching the episode and always have a mental list of things I want to address, for the most part managing to get my point across as succinctly as possible without forgetting anything. The trouble with writing something at around (or past) midnight is that memory and editing become… interesting creatures.

 

The shows you’ve picked (Westworld, How to Get Away with Murder, Teen Wolf, Game of Thrones, etc.) cross an array of genres. How do you select which shows you want to review?

All those shows are high drama, with ridiculous plot twists, situations, and characters. They’re fun! Even Westworld, with its more cerebral approach, can become a parody of itself without particular effort on my part. Additionally, they’re shows that sometimes become controversial and deeply affect the fans watching. This means I can be critical at times and provide much needed levity during others. My Patreon supporters also have a say, but they still choose from shows I’m interested in doing. Westworld recaps could just have easily been Luke Cage recaps save for a few votes, so that’s an interesting road not taken. The most important thing is that I either love the show or love-hate it. If I find myself bored, disappointed, or just plain tired of its nonsense, I stop (and have done so for at least three shows off the top of my head). I do have to admit to liking my version of events so much I’m still watching Game of Thrones as part of some sort of weird and narcissistic exercise in writing.

 

Yes—you also mentioned earlier that you wanted to challenge yourself as a writer. What sort of writing do you do outside the Reviews?

I’ve written a few short fanfics and generally like to play with characters and ideas. I’m currently wrestling with an original fantasy novel and the recaps have been excellent training for letting myself abandon the pursuit of perfection in order to get something (anything!) down.

 

On the subject of Game of Thrones—you’ve done more GoT episode recaps than you have for any other TV show, and earlier you mentioned you either need to love or love-hate a show to proceed to review it. If you had to put GoT into one of these two categories…?

Game of Thrones is something I have a lot of thoughts and emotions about, especially as the show relates to the books. I will always love the show for introducing me to the world and to a lot of people who enjoy talking about it. I also kinda hate the show for the way it cheapens and distorts the source material. A Storm of Swords is my favorite A Song of Ice and Fire book and I started recapping the show during Season Four, extremely excited to witness the Lannisters tearing themselves apart. To say that I was disappointed by the way certain elements were adapted is putting it lightly, so the recaps became a way to deal with all my nerd rage… and Season Five was just bad! However, the recaps help me adapt the adaptation—and having enjoyed the sixth season, I think GoT has become a show I’ve accepted. Like the weather, good or bad. For the most part I just like talking about it. It also doesn’t hurt that people apparently like what I’m doing; getting feedback of any kind is wonderful and the response to the recaps has been overwhelming.

 

GoT gets a lot of flak for how it’s adapted George R.R. Martin’s ASoIaF series, as you mentioned. Book fans and show-only fans often end up at odds with one another—do you feel you enjoy the show more or less because you’ve read the books and have that awareness of the differences between them?

Ignorance is bliss, yet it’s pretty hard to remain engaged and ignorant on the internet, no matter how hard YouTube commenters strive to disprove this point. I think I’d probably enjoy the show a bit more if I hadn’t read the books, but given how loud book fans can get, I doubt I’d remain in the dark and would eventually be disappointed.

 

Some of your recaps touch on the fact that GoT has gradually moved away from ASoIaF, especially insofar as how certain characters and plotlines are represented (or, in some cases, are not represented). Do you think this differentiation is why many fans feel less enthusiastic about recent seasons (particularly, as you said, Season Five), or are there other causes for that fallout?

I know a lot of people, book readers and show watchers alike, who were extremely excited about Dorne. I think disappointment hit both sides hard. It’s probably one of the few things we can all agree on: the Dorne plotline was subpar and a waste of everyone’s time and talent (particularly that of Alexander Siddig, who played Doran Martell). And then there’s the whole mess with Stannis which was… poorly executed. I’ve also noticed that production values just aren’t what they used to be. Screenshots from Season One make later seasons look like they were filmed in a basement using post production color grading as lighting… and let’s not even mention the wigs. At the end of the day what hit the hardest for me personally was seeing a whole bunch of people who used to love the show abandon ship and write quite bitter, eloquently phrased articles about it. To say it didn’t help quell my own dissatisfaction is an understatement.

 

With respect to “adapting the adaptation”, what do you think is missing most from the show which is present in the books—and on the flipside, is there anything you’re glad the show has altered from the source material?

The books make an effort to show that war and revenge slowly strip away people’s humanity. While graphic at times, the writing doesn’t glorify violence and savagery, and contains beautifully written anti-war rhetoric. The show is not only missing this, but also refuses to give characters the complexity they have in the books, a sin I could forgive in a movie adaptation but not in a series of ten-hour seasons. As far as things that are better… the aging-up of some younger characters makes for more palatable watching. While certain actions can’t be excused of adults–resulting in characters who are rash or stupid rather than childishly immature or overwhelmed–it’s easier to see horrible things happen to people around 20, rather than to people under 16.

 

As you said, a great many fans of the show have jumped ship in the last few years. Meanwhile, some book fans are also voicing resentment, having grown increasingly impatient during the wait for the release of The Winds of Winter. This has created another point of contention within the fan community, with dissatisfied readers going head-to-head with those defending the speed of GRRM’s writing. Has this controversy impacted you or your reviews?

I’m not that impacted by the controversy. This is probably due to the fact that the parts of fandom I’m most involved in are comprised of writers who are almost unanimously defenders of his speed, even while joking about it. Essentially it’s a conflict happening far away and which my environment ensures I’m on the right side of, since I’m of the opinion that we don’t own GRRM’s time, no matter how much we love his work and how disappointed we are by the fact there’s not more of it (and I find it all kinds of hilarious that show watchers get to be smug about spoilers).

 

Back in May, Entertainment Weekly reported that HBO is considering four different Game of Thrones spinoffs. Given your feelings towards the show in its current state, what are your immediate thoughts on that?

Honestly, my immediate thought was “Ugh…” but having read the article, I can think of at least a couple of stories from GRRM’s canon I’d love to see adapted (the fall of Valyria in particular). Maybe by a completely different team of creators, though.

 

The Fall of Valyria would an interesting base for a spinoff. Most people initially predicted that they would cover Robert’s Rebellion, Dunk & Egg, or the Dance of the Dragons… all parts of the canon which GRRM has already written a great deal about. Choosing something he hasn’t elaborated on much would allow for more artistic liberties and would enable them to avoid some of the lost-in-translation issues GoT has faced. Would you like to see the Fall of Valyria because GRRM has kept it ambiguous in many ways, or is it just part of the canon you’re very interested in?

I love the stories surrounding the fall of empires. There’s just something about the grandiose tragedy of it all, especially when combined with a kind of sick, morbid delight at seeing something that epic falling to its knees. In all honesty, though, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that curiosity has a lot to do with it.

 

With Season Seven of GoT only a month away, some spoilers have already surfaced through set photos and leaks. Have you looked into these, or are you keeping away from them until the start of the season?

I don’t go hunting for spoilers, no. I like to go into new seasons knowing next to nothing, though I have inadvertently seen set photos and that wonderful paparazzi shot of Kit Harington in full armor with sunglasses on.

 

With Season Seven in mind, is there anything you’re particularly nervous or enthusiastic about with respect to the show’s direction?

Sansa’s characterization is always a worry. That’s the big one. What I’m most looking forward to is all the characters’ roads converging as we head into the final season.

 

Is there anything you’re planning or predicting with respect to the new season of GoT—or the other shows you review, for that matter?

I have more than a few theories about what will happen in GoT (e.g. Jaime killing Cersei which I’d love because of the Aerys parallel, or Jon and Dany hooking up which I’d hate because it’s boring). As far as actually using any of them in the recaps, well… we’ll see. The GoT subreddit has rather draconic rules concerning spoilers and I’d rather censor myself than deal with the appropriate spoiler tags. In the case of Westworld, on the other hand, I felt completely at ease jumping on a theory’s bandwagon before it was revealed to be canon.

 

As far as those predictions are concerned, I expect only time will tell–though in the meantime, the Chrys Reviews series will continue to offer hints! On that note, do you think your close analysis of shows–even shows which can at times be so frustrating–honed your artistic instincts? Has making all these recaps left you with any lessons on writing and creativity at large?

Pointing out other people’s mistakes should help one avoid making them, right? I would hope that’s true, but we all have our particular quirks. I’m still someone who edits as she writes, doubting word choice and structure to distraction, yet the fact that I had to have something delivered every Monday has helped me to learn to just let go. It’s been good. Typos are still annoying, but they’re not the end of the world and I’ve made enough to know. What else… setting limitations for yourself is great. I’ve tried to avoid obvious and lazy jokes or references and the result is almost always better than what I might have originally written. Comedians who complain about PC culture really annoy me in this regard, because if we remove the whole hurting people aspect of their comedy they’re really just demanding the right to rest on the same lazy old tropes… deciding to not use the word “bitch” was hard, particularly because I swear a lot and Jesse Pinkman made it goddamn hilarious. But: the format is great for learning to create characters and flowing dialogue. I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to improve.


Chrys’ reviews and other projects are accessible through her website and her Patreon; she is also on Tumblr and Twitter.