East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Learning from anime

I’ve had this idea, about a series of posts about what I learned about storytelling from various media I used to spend my time with as a kid. This was in part inspired by a chat I had this morning with my friend Lucy, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
As a kid I watched a lot of movies and TV series, cartoons both western and Japanese, I read comics, I read novels and short stories and non fiction… each of these shaped the way I think about stories, and I think it might be fun to try and take a look at all these influences.

And I’m starting with anime because… ah, because we need to start somewhere, right?

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Creative mumblings

Among the many things I’ve been toying with, while I am trapped in a time-consuming, soul-killing writing job, there’s a ghost story. I’d love to write a “proper” ghost story, more or less novella-length, set in modern day and with a classic structure.
I even have a working title – The Cold Spot.

And this morning, while I was doing a modicum of chores, I set my brain to thinking about it, and a question came up – would I be able to do something different with such a story?
Because, really, writing classic ghost stories in a world where the readers can get Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or Peter Straub Ghost Story or, indeed, M.R. James’ collections, the risk is an exercise in futility.

Now there are two indexes, so to speak, by which I can measure a story, these being, for lack of better words, fun and significance. A lot of highly entertaining books are like a glass of water – they pass and leave no trace.
Others leave a sign, and offer us better insight in the world we live in.

It would be good to do a fun, significant story.

But on the other hand, there are moments what we need is just a tall cool glass of water, to bring us back to life.
So maybe all this is just a part of me trying to avoid the fact that I should sit down and write the damn thing, and get it out of my system.
It would be nice to have it in time for Halloween.
Or for Christmas.

But first, I have to clear my table.

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Not exactly real

My mother was born in 1938, so she was a teenager in the late ’40s and early ’50s, when teenagers were not yet a thing, but anyway… she was an adolescent when the big thing were movies, and she was absolutely in love with movies. In my mother’s family the rule was that even if money was short, there should be books and films. So my mother went and saw all the classics, Captain Blood and The Sacrlett Pimpernel, and all those.
She had to leave the room during The Four Feathers, because the humiliations the character was going through broke her heart.
Her favorite actor was Tyrone Power.

She would buy magazines, such as gossip/celebrity rag “Confidenze”, cut the actor’s and actresses photos, and stick them in albums. We found a stack of those, when we cleared my grandmother’s attic, forty years ago. Hundreds of pictures of classic Hollywood actors and actresses, and the occasional singer (Sinatra was a big hit with mom).
I don’t know what happened to those albums – maybe my uncle got them.

My mother would often say that for a girl in the early ’50s, movies stars were something unreal, the line between character and actor very thin.

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My very own canon

There’s been a lot of talking about “the canon”, after the recent meltdown at the Hugo Ceremony. You know, this idea that there is a big fat backlong of science fiction and fantasy books you just have to read to “get into” the genre. Books that act as gateway, and form the backbone of our genre of election.

The problem with all canons is that they tend to fossilize, and also can exert a sort of gravitational pull. There’s “canons” for everything, from jazz and rock’n’roll to movies to recipes and comic books.

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An obsession with notebooks

I was reading an interesting piece by writer and adventurer (or the other way around) Alastair Humphreys, about his tools as a writer, and I followed one of his links down a rabbit hole of posts, tweets and photos about notebooks.

The photo of Humphrey’s soaked notebook above reminded me of my time in the field as a geology student. The basic tools of the trade of the geologist in the field are hammer, compass and notebook. The basic destiny of the geologist student in the field is to get soaked.

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Buying fans

A few days ago I decided to invest part of the money I made with my last story sale to buy me a fan. During the last three years both the fans we had here at home died on us, and the one that’s left is one of those huge wind machines they use during concerts to keep the musicians cool on stage under the floodlights. It’s a blast. Literally.

So on Friday I started browsing Amazon, while I transferred some money from my PayPal – where I had been paid for the story – on my credit card, because Amazon won’t accept PayPal, which is a nice little medieval thing, like when the Sultan in Istanbul would not accept the coins of the King of France, but would happily cash in the money from Italian Merchant Republics. Makes you wonder about the future of our civilization, right?
So, I have a credit card I use only for Amazon, and I fund when needed.

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Little unplanned-for adventures

Two nights ago, I sat in the courtyard during one of the most impressive electric storms I ever witnessed. Clouds chased each other in the sky, the roll of thunder echoed over our village, and flashes of light made the countryside and the deserted streets of Castelnuovo Belbo look like a Hammer movie set.
I was half-expecting to see a carriage drive up the lane, carrying Peter Cushing or, with a little luck, Ingrid Pitt.

Instead the night only brought a drop in temperatures, from 40°C to a much more manageable 18°C.

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