The Ritual and The Silence

Comparing books with other books, and films with other films I find dubious. But what of a film adapted from a written work? Here I’m not comparing the books or the films but adaptations of two novels.

The Ritual, by Adam Nevill is the story of a reunion trip gone wrong when one of the party of friends becomes injured and they choose the shortcut everyone knows is heading for trouble. More than they can prepare for when they find themselves hunted and the family of ‘crazies’ living in the woods turns out to be the least of their problems.

The book is two halves. I so wanted to give it 5 stars, but I preferred the first half of the book to the second, and, although I’m unsure what might be a better conclusion, the end felt abrupt. What I love in this book is the atmosphere the author creates capturing my interest in a way many books of this type fail to and making the author one whose works I want to read more. I imagine several readers may say they’d prefer to know the characters a little more, which occurred to me on some level, but in a horror story it’s not always necessary to know these men are little more than regular guys doing their best to get by in their average lives and who don’t deserve the situation thrust upon them. A wonderfully atmospheric lost in the woods horror story.

The film has sequences not present in the book and though well worked in confused me initially. Likewise, as is often the case with a novel to film adaptations, the ending is not quite the same. All the story is present on the screen and the film has a good cast, yet none of the actors presented, for me, the characters as I perceived them, although a good point of the film is that they come across as average people leaving viewers with the sense anyone could fall into the same predicament. The film lacks the creepiness of the novel and feels rushed.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon. When explorers discover a new breed of a flying bat type creature, existance for every living animal on Earth comes under threat. An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because two main protagonists of father and daugther tell the story. As a side note the film based on the book does not do the novel justice.

When I  saw this was another Netflix adaption, I was…not excited but interested. Netflix make excellent series and films. This was a letdown of the highest order, mediocre. I felt no connection to the characters, not caring whether they lived. The only one I cared for was the dog. The reverend comes across as a cliche in a way he didn’t in the book. And while such a threat of a unknown species might kill thousands before humanity got to grips with a solution, in part owing to the slow reaction and internal politics of various authorities, these creatures were not impossible to overcome. Mentions of this being A Quiet Place wannabe or clone are unfounded as the book came out prior. However, in both cases the one thing that makes humans vulnerable to them — sound — would likely be their downfall. Create noise and draw them to a place where an ambush can take place (though one might claim the same for any zombie threat). The addition of the wood chipper in the film of The Silence, was ludicrous. Many films work better with additions, subtractions, or scenes shuffled, but not when doing so creates a fundamental flaw.

In both cases I read the books before watching the films so wondered if my reaction was biased. My husband read The Ritual before seeing the film, but read the book of The Silence after watching the adaptation. In both cases he felt the same as I. The film of The Ritual would have enticed me to check out the book but the film of The Silence would not and so damages the book. Whilst both films lack the depth of the books, the Ritual does a better job of presenting the story.

One Bad Apple

I should be able to spot a bad apple when I see one. I’ve used apples many times in my writing. It’s the ultimate symbol of temptation. As Markis asks Uly in the short promo story I wrote for the Swithin series, “Bite?” Here, I decline the taste of spoiled fruit.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about head over to Dear Author and read their comments on a bad apple a.k.a. a bad book in this 2009 post. Though old it’s a prime example. I’m not suggesting you read the plethora of comments but I have to agree with those who feel sorry for the writer. This book and this author weren’t ready for publication and the publisher who put out the work harmed the person, their reputation, ebooks, and the writing industry. They did done no one any favours.

I imagine the ‘writer’ was thrilled. An acceptance is what every wannabe dreams of; that unequivocal yes, the vindication. Not only must she have felt devastated as a ‘writer’ but there’s no way such comments cannot be taken personally. Even if they didn’t heap praise on this poor unsuspecting person, the writer must deal with the flack now aimed at her. Maybe it’s justified but it shouldn’t have happened. She shouldn’t have to go through this.

Despite the poor writing there is a hint in the review that the writer had a unique concept. It doesn’t sound like one that would interest me but it happens.  A story can be good but the writing poor. The writing can be good but the story poor. If I look back at what I produced when I first put pen to paper (and back then those were the only tools I had at my disposal, but that’s another blog right there), I was a poor writer. However, reading my long ago work I can see I was always a storyteller. With the right nurturing and guidance many poor writers can achieve their potential so I will not aim a personal attack at this unfortunate person. I can’t, however, call her a writer. She hasn’t been given the opportunity. As brutal as a rejection can be, sometimes honesty can be more helpful than politeness. If I were an editor and came across a story which I believed had a hint of talent, I would advise that person to go away, learn how to write, do a course if need be, and then try again. One major mistake many amateur writers make is that they don’t study the books they read. They have little concept of punctuation or grammar, or how to plot stories. Can someone be taught to write? I would say no, BUT one can be taught the mechanics. The storytelling is something more instinctual.

Alas, it’s instances such as this that lead to one bad apple spoiling it for the rest. Some may not know that epublishing has always carried a certain stigma, a bad reputation. Some liken it to little more than vanity press (companies who will publish anything at the writer’s expense and reap profits for doing no work) and it’s a valid argument. It’s valid because like any industry there are those who jumped on the bandwagon. They opened their doors with little intention of being much more than a vanity publisher, or they opened with the right intentions but no business practices behind them. Some were and are run by authors and that’s fine. Authors and editors have run small press for years and produced excellent work and launched many famous careers. Stephen King started in small press and even wrote horror stories for porn magazines.

The trouble arises when anyone opens a press with the mistaken belief it will be ‘easy’, that it won’t be as difficult — even more difficult — than running a normal business. Many were opportunistic, and it’s the good publishers and writers who suffer.

I’m not commenting on this publisher and cannot even take a guess as to their reasons for letting this work go to press. It only harms their business. I calmly crossed them off my list of possibles. I’m sorry if there is anyone out there that has had a great experience with them. If that’s the case, speak up in their defence. Let someone come forward to explain why such a poorly edited work made it into the public domain.

Epublishers aren’t the only ones to blame. Poor books by larger presses make it to print so ‘bad books’ aren’t restricted to digital formats by any means. Sometimes what constitutes a bad book is open to interpretation. It’s a lamentable fact that gives publishing a bad name, it gives certain genres a bad name, and it demoralises the writers. I am pleased to say there ARE good epublishers out there, every bit as dedicated as some who specialise in print. Many print publishers now border that gap having eased into the new technology. The sad truth behind epublishing was that to entice a readership to embracing this original reading material, they had to offer something different. This was the reason for the influx of erotic romance publishers. In time greater opportunities came about for those in epublishing. In the early days I didn’t want to be one of those who said CDs would never take off to replace records, though vinyl has made a modest comeback and it appears printed books are regaining their popularity. Still, I’ve always believed people should have a choice and I’m happy to hear of people reading no matter what the format.

I have always tried to choose my publishers with care. Does that mean I’ve loved every book ever produced by the companies I write for? No it doesn’t, just as I may not love every book put out by even my favourite authors. You can’t please everyone all the time, or even try to, but try to do the best job possible and scrutinise your work. I cannot guarantee my work will never go out without a typo, but I’ve spotted many a typo in books by greater authors than I ever hope to be; I detest seeing errors in any book of mine and always do my utmost not to write substandard. I don’t expect everyone to love everything I write. I write too varied for that to be possible. I just try to tell a great story and check and check and check my work until it drives me to distraction in the right way. I will always do my best not to hand over a bad apple. Please please please don’t throw away a whole barrel. There are genuine publishers out there and there are some fine authors in unexpected places.

Update April 2018

OUT AND ABOUT:
Got out to a knitting and wool fest, amazed by the number of people there but worth going if only to see the giant knitted dragon — not one I think I can add to my collection.

TELEVISION:
Dirk Gently has to be one of the strangest programmes we’ve watched but as they’re based on books by Douglas Adams, we had to look. He didn’t write as much as his success would have many believe and now, I must check out the books.

The last season of Game of Thrones began and we’re having to keep avoiding spoilers.

READING:
The Searching Dead, Ramsey Campbell
First in a trilogy I’m working my way through. More of a slower pace than many modern day novels plus the protagonist is a teenager, unusual in a horror story though some may like to call this more supernatural than horror. It’s certainly not horrific, more creepy with some touches of sadness — the older generations do not seem to fair well, from Mrs Norris missing her deceased husband, to Mr Noble’s father and his dark memories of war. While I would have liked to discover more about the strange haunting presences (can’t say more without giving too much away), this is the foundation for a hoped-for deeper story. The setting makes for a nostalgic read, both good and bad, and I particularly felt the helplessness of being young and having no one believe or even listen to fears unfounded or otherwise.

Born to the Dark, Ramsey Campbell
In the best sense this book is an exercise in frustration. Carrying on the story begun in The Searching Dead but now several years in the future when the protagonist is now an adult encountering the strange Christian Noble again. The threat, now largely aimed at his son, Dom is still unable to shake off the vexation of having no one believe him, least of all his wife. With more of insight to the great overall peril, a deeper mystery dragging Dom and his family and his friends into an impossible darkness…I hope the third book in this trilogy has the payoff the series deserves.

The Way of the Worm, Ramsey Campbell

First, I have to draw attention to the cover on this one. The more one delves into the story the more I realised how well suited the cover design is. The eyes grew creepier the more I progressed with the plot. Where the first of this trilogy portrayed the protagonist, Dominic Sheldrake, as a teenage, the second an adult, the third instalment enters his twilight years, which reflects the semidarkness that has plagued his life. His son is now an adult, but this only exacerbates both Dominic’s fears and the frustration the reader shares. The result convenes on a colossal scale and, if any parts of the tale come across as vague, or dreamlike, or illusory this fits with the tale we’ve followed, the half-truths and semi-falsehoods Dominic continues to battle. This reads as a modern Lovecraftian tale of a warped universe and fragile dimensions of tenuous existence. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the disquieting subtle horror.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon
An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because the story is told by two main protagonists, father and daughter. The Netflix film based on the book does not do the book any justice.

WRITING:

Finished editing Cosmic but needs a lot more work if I’m ever to salvage it. Undecided as of this moment. Edited more short work.

You’d have to spare 10 minutes for this but this video dealing with information for writers on promotion goes a long way to explain what it takes to be successful these days. Though aimed at self-publishing the same applies for any writer.

Creativity vs Business

When my first novel came out, one of my first ‘reviews’ was a less than warm with approval private message from a reader. This person claimed the book wasn’t bad for a first novel —  the best thing the reviewer said. I’ve since discovered that such communications are not unknown, although I and many authors wonder why a reader wants to contact an author to give them a bad day.

Fine, any number of books make even me grind my teeth. They deserve a few of the negative reviews which stop others wasting their money because it’s an amateur author and/or amateur publisher. Saying that, I admit not all of my past writing has been exemplary but I wrote according to demand and learned. My writing has seen vast improvements mostly from various editing experiences. An equal number of those books are in mainstream publishing and on bestseller lists. It’s a grey area one might say. Therefore, most books I dislike I choose not to review — I realise  the story may not suit me but someone else may enjoy it immensely. I wouldn’t contact an author with anything but praise or a sensible comment. Even constructive critique (critique not criticism — a subtle but important distinction) can be subjective and questionable. It’s all ‘opinion’.

I also accept the book isn’t ‘my’ book. There’s no point writing to an author saying one doesn’t like how the book ended. If a reader only likes books with happy endings, there’s no point to rile against every book that doesn’t have one. Better to read with more care, or write the books one prefers to read. One thing I love J.K.Rowling said was she’s not taking dictation.  The work is the author’s vision, not the reader’s.

Or is it?

There were changes to my first novel. Some occurred because the publisher wanted a series from an envisioned one-off novel. I’m not complaining. I loved my characters and we’ve had a long and happy relationship. Some changes I wasn’t so sure of, but they were small and we compromised. Other changes didn’t happen, but with hindsight I would love to re-work the stories one day. The fact remains when a reader reviews a book they’re not only judging the work of the author, but often an entire team of people the author has worked with. I found that first ‘review’ frustrating, not because the reader didn’t relish my story (it was MY story, not hers and I still feel much of the problem was the reader wanted more sexual content) but because some things the reader complained of weren’t down to me. Sometimes, the failure (or success) of a book isn’t down to one person.

A team of people have looked over the manuscript and the synopsis and decided whether they want to handle a story before it ever gains acceptance. Then the writer will work with an editor, and perhaps a line editor and proofers. These may give input. Their jobs are to catch weaknesses in the story, plot holes, typos, spelling and grammar errors. Even those small things can cause problems. For example, British spelling and grammar differs to that of the US (a subject for another blog). On top of all the ‘rules’ individual opinions creep in, as does house-style. I’ve had editors who want speech to be grammatically correct, when that’s one thing that shouldn’t be unless it’s for specific effect. I’ve had editors who do or don’t like contractions. Editors who wouldn’t allow me to use a perfectly acceptable piece of punctuation because the person didn’t like it.

But…but…but the book belongs to the author, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t the author decide these things, or at least negotiate? Yes, but most contracts will state the final decision lies with the publisher. When contracting a book the title may be up for change. The author may or may not get to approve cover art. The author seldom if ever owns the cover art. Once the book is out of print, be it paper or digital, often the writer can no longer display said cover art. As for the story… Fact: many publishers will let a writer know along with the offer of a contract what changes to the story the publisher wants to create a publishable book — to ‘fit’ their market. Many won’t. Often, the writer signs blind, and then waits with bated breath.

Even if the publisher specifies edits, that doesn’t guarantee an editor won’t cut lines and paragraphs, doesn’t guarantee he or she won’t cut whole chapters. Sometimes, the writer can complain and negotiate. This should involve give and take on both sides…but, remember, the publisher has final decision. With or without previous agreement they can make huge changes to books. If the publisher decides a chapter needs to go, whether they’ve forewarned the author, the chapter goes. If they want an additional character or one removed or altered, then it happens.

Saying that, any ‘good’ publisher will do its best to negotiate and compromise. They will explain why they feel the book needs the changes. Often, the reasons make sense. It’s painful for an author to have someone point out a weak spot in a work, but if the editor can support the argument, the author can grumble (quietly) and then yield to good sense. Sometimes the author cannot see or doesn’t agree with those reasons. I’ve had edits made to books that may best serve the publisher’s market, but don’t serve my intention behind the story. This is where creativity and business clash.

The writer wants to create. The publisher wants to sell. So does the writer, but the story is all important to the writer unless they are writing purely for commercial reasons. A publisher will follow the market trends, see what sells best, and follow those leads, accepting and altering work to gain the most sales. This is often why many manuscripts get rejected, regardless of the writer’s brilliance. A writer also needs good timing. There’s no point writing a zombie novel when vampires are all popular and vice versa. Some books must await the right time and market. Sometimes a perfect market doesn’t exist, and it’s a case of tweaking a story to fit one that does.

It’s in the best interests of the writer to get in writing an indication of what edits the story will undergo before signing a contract. It’s in the best interests of the publisher to provide these. A publisher is nothing without its writers, and should a writer have a bad experience the publisher can guarantee to receive no more works from that source. Some publishers don’t care — there are plenty of people out there who want to write — but in this era of the internet and information exchange bad reputations can stick.

Let Yourself Fly

Usually the mere mention of Tim Burton will put me in a cinema seat, but with the release of the live-action version of Disney’s ‘Dumbo’*, I hear that the film lacks the heart of the original so I’m thinking ‘not this time’. I’ll watch but likely wait until it comes to television in some form.

*(An oxymoron considering much of it is CGI, but so was Jungle Book and that was enjoyable.)

However, what it did was recall a memory I thought to share with you. Many years ago I worked with a woman who had a six-year-old girl. If I say watching films at home on VHS was still quite a novelty and DVDs were still to be invented for consumer use, I’m likely aging myself, but Dumbo had been released on tape and ‘owning a Disney film’ created quite a stir in those days. Many no doubt paid more for the privilege than the often 2 for 1 deals for these films today. Yet I’m talking about another historical event — If memory serves me correctly, this was the first showing of Dumbo on British television. Many of us rushed to set our VHS recorders.

The week after this big event I was talking to my colleague and asked what her daughter thought of the film.

“Oh that,” my colleague said. “I turned it off.”

Confused I asked, “What? Why?”

“She started crying.”

Even more perplexed I said, “So? At which part?”

“The bit with the mother swinging him in her trunk. I told her, so silly to cry over a cartoon.”

“But… But… But…” I stuttered. “I cry at that part too.” This earned me an incredulous look of derision. “It’s sad,” I defended my position.  “And besides, now she doesn’t know there was a happy ending.”

As we all know, the whole point of Dumbo is to show having faith in yourself and taking chances can lead to magical outcomes, maybe not as enchanting as learning to fly, but had I not pushed through adversity I wouldn’t be writing. And I hope, wherever she is now, my friend’s daughter at long last saw the end of Dumbo, went on to great things, and maybe one day sat down to watch Dumbo with children of her own, all having a good cry. I hope you all do, and one way or another, let yourself fly.

Update Feb/Mar 2019

OUT AND ABOUT:
Not much to report in the way of going places. We’ve been working hard to finish all the window and floor trims they gave us in this house (they used sealant everywhere) and it’s a tedious job. Well worth the hardship, boredom and monotony but tedious all the same.

TELEVISION:
Love, Adult and Robots on Netflix is definitely animation for adults. Sexual, violent, at time humourous… the one thing I can say is the various animation used is superb, and some stories from a storytelling perspective excellent.

We’ve also been catching up with series 3 and 4 of Gotham (being behind). If you don’t share an interest in these universes, the programme wouldn’t be for you, but I like taking the Batman realm and giving it a factual setting even though it retains some supernatural flavour. The portrayal of Penguin and The Riddler are my favourite characters though I’m always happy to see Sean Pertwee.

Films have been lacking though we watched another award-winning animation of Isle of Dogs, though I won’t be able to see Liev Schreiber again without wanting to call him Spots.


READING:
The Key to Midnight, Dean Koontz
A re-read for me after many years. The opening mystery drew me in as much this time around as it did before. Though I want to love this book, the sexual violence seems to be a product of its time — I couldn’t help feeling the book could have been as threatening without it. Still the reveal is big enough and logical and there are enough twists to make this an excellent thriller. A pleasure to discover an early kick-arse heroine, although she has flaws, and, in places, a naivete that’s questionable (can’t say more without spoilers).

Mister Teacher, Jack Sheffield
A pleasant read of charming anecdotes. There’s little new to say after the first book, but it’s an enjoyable series when in need of some light, comfortable reading, no bad thing. I will read more in the series.

Mozart’s Blood, Louise Marley
An interesting story told in a non-sequential order, hopping back and forth between the present and the past. I found Ugo more interesting than Octavia but the book didn’t dissolve into overplayed romantic cliches as one might expect from the cover. It’s not a romance at all, though it has a romantic tone but one more to do with the close bond of circumstances and friendship. A well plotted book, blended with the operatic and historical setting with a different spin on the vampire mythos. It’s very much a plot driven novel. I so want to adore this book but can only like it…a lot, the one improvement might have been a little more emotional investment. I can’t say why I’m not drawn to care as much as I want to but I’m still glad I read this and may well keep it and check out more of this author’s work.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Hard to believe I’ve never read this classic before. The book opens to make the reader question what he or she is reading. It has a crazed, abstract poetry to it. It dawns the story is about much more than is on the page, questioning the meaning of books, the attention span of society, of works shortened, condensed into snippets, even of politics, censorship and, ultimately, war. The book feels timeless yet never more timely than now, speaking of people turning from books to technology. This story is visionary. Clarisse McClellan: ‘She didn’t want to know how a thing was done but why.’ Fantastic line. Even better ones: ‘If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.’ This on a page well worth reading alone. A subliminal work perhaps, certainly supreme. Some say works of fiction aren’t real but no fictional work can get more real than this.

Icebound, Dean Koontz
Another re-read for me that proved to be fun. This is the only real attempt Koontz says he made at a traditional thriller and he did a wonderful job. The factual details are enough to be engaging without boring and there’s a real sense of a ticking bomb. While there may be better thrillers on the market at the time Koontz wrote this he did a job good enough to translate to film although the ability to put this on screen likely didn’t exist to do the story justice. One particular mention, I love it when I’m reading and come across a sentence that expresses a perfect sentiment and in Icebound there is one: Politics was an illusion of service that cloaked the corruption of power.

Dear Teacher, Jack Sheffield
Another good instalment, although the back-and-forth romance element started to annoy me a little, which the cliffhanger helped to make up for. I’ll keep reading.

The Black Mariah, Jay R.Bonansinga
Someone gave me this book as a freebie many years ago which I kept thinking I’d get around to reading it ‘one day’. That day came, and yet, doing only glancing at the cover, the author’s name still didn’t click. Little was I to know the day I received this book its author would become involved with the successful ‘The Walking Dead’. The book was a better read than expected with a sense of movement and time running out at the heart of the story. I couldn’t help viewing it as a film and there’s a mention on the cover it was in development though whether anything came of that, I can’t find any evidence. The story takes a few leaps of suspended belief but it’s an eventful read.

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
The cover of this book says you’re in for a treat. I’m not sure I’d go that far but there’s something that oddly lingers. I can’t imagine I would have enjoyed this at all if I were younger reader and I admit I went into it not at all trying to figure out who did what or to whom so perhaps that would be half the fun. Still the quirky characters and the distribution of clues is hard to shake off. A classic book that’s bound to draw mixed reviews and muddled feelings. I’m most impressed that the writer wrote this straight off with no planning, but though I’m glad to have read it, I’m not sure it’s a keeper for me.

WRITING:
I’m editing Cosmic for the romance market and have to say some of my writing is a little cringe worthy. Still, it was all a learning experience. Mostly, I would use 20 words when 10 would do, and these days I can see where to add more romantic elements and character development.

I still cannot announce the piece of writing I’m dying to talk about but Barbara Custer who edits Night to Dawn Magazine also snapped a quirky short story of mine. Not sure when it’ll come out but I’ll let you know as soon as I do. I’ve featured before in Issues 15 and 26.