Romance in Paris

The excitement begins at the airport. You know deep down that in that bag is a ring, a big diamond one that shoots doves at unhappy people, a ring that turns heads in the street. On the plane you feel yourself getting closer; you go for the bag but he says no, he smiles and reads his paper – he has the Financial Times because he has a powerful job that will secure you for life. In Paris you do the sightseeing thing, you go up and down Notre Dame, up and down the Arc de Triumph and up and down the Champs-Élysées. You know his left the Eiffel Tower until after dinner at the most expensive restaurant in Paris because that’s when it lights up, that’s where the romance blossoms. He is still holding his little bag and you’re carrying your new Louis Vuitton and that’s when he asks, slowly, calmly, you can see his nervous before he says it but that just makes everything a little sweeter.

“Is it alright if I meet up with Pierre and go to the game?”

You knew going to Paris on a Tuesday was weird, you should’ve paid attention to Sky Sports News – it’s Champions League night. You say yes obviously, as you’ve been planning to all day. He gets his shirt out of his bag and says he’ll see you back at the hotel. You get a cab back, seeing the couples walk past one on their phone the other taking in the sights alone and wonder, is romance dead?

Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and The Scarlet Pimpernel all come into your mind as you travel slowly through the streets, stuck in traffic behind a rubbish collection truck. Today’s tales of romance come in the obvious of Mills and Boon, the white horse sweeping away the fair maiden. You know now this isn’t real, you know that women aren’t wooed like they used to be and that the world has changed, every one is trying to cram as much in as they can – forgetting those around them. It takes the journey back to the hotel to realise that romance can come in different ways. That girl texting as her boyfriend looks up is still sharing something. It seems still that every book has a love story. Richard Milward writes tales of love that span up and down a tower block in Ten Storey Love Song. Alright it’s not a typical love story but what is these days? There are ‘girly’ books obviously. Sophie Kinsella writes vigorously about typical women in every day situations stumbling into full blown relationships and back out again.

You smile awkwardly at the guard. He has a huge grin on his face, probably because he knows what you’ve just found out. The lift is out of order so you’re walking six flights of stairs. On the walk you think about all the books you’ve read over the last year and how romance plays apart in so much of these. Fair enough you read books about gay gangsters and drug addicts, but they all have that element of romance, they all have a character longing for that someone who’ll appear on the next page. Romance is a bit more creative these days, romance isn’t a trip to Paris and a sparkling Eiffel Tower, romance to you is wanting to be with that person through thick and thin and sharing Sunday morning scrambled eggs with them. You reach your door and slip in quietly, smiling as you see the Eiffel Tower glisten in the distance from your window. He’s there, he beat you back and there are rose petals everywhere.

“Will you marry me?” He laughs.

“Very original.” You say, waiting for the horse.

Independent Writers: They Did It Their Way

The French have always done things in their own way. They’re headstrong and have a desire to be the best of the best of the best. They eat frogs’ legs and hold the Mona Lisa at the heart of their capital city. They have a 324m tower known as Eiffel and, most importantly, had the power to make McDonald’s change the colour of their logo on the Champs-Élysées.

The altered McDonald’s sign at Champs-Élysées

Every book we pick up is different. Every writer has his or her own style, but here’s a few writers that the French may be proud to call their own – writers that haven’t been afraid to buck a trend or fight their own corner…

Mary Woolstonecraft and Mary Shelly – This mother/daughter combo made their marks on the world in similar fashion. Mary Woolstonecraft accomplished many writing feats before her premature death just after the birth of her daughter. Woolstonecraft was a pioneer for women’s right; she was a keen believer in women having equal opportunities as men across education and much more. She wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which went on to be a seminal building block in gaining women a fair place in society. Her daughter, Mary Shelly, bucked a trend big time by releasing Frankenstein, which took the literary world by the back of its neck and shook it until it realised that women can write just as well as men.

George Orwell – If there was something to say about society, the chances are this guy said it. Orwell wrote almost the world we live in Nineteen Eighty-Four, probably his most famous work. He also penned Animal Farm and Down and Out in Paris and London, which gave lovely insights and opinions on society, capitalism, politics and a whole lot more – whilst of course remaining a splendid read and rather funny, even today.

Irvine Welsh – You might wonder how we’ve jumped from Orwell to Welsh, quite dramatic really. However, Welsh wrote Trainspotting, the book that changed the way we view literature. This book said it’s ok to write about drug addicts and violence in a way that’s entertaining and enjoyable to readers everywhere. Welsh decided to make the characters likeable, to create emotions within us that we probably wouldn’t feel for a drug addict that decided to walk into our life and start to change our world.

Phillip Roth – American writer Roth as been around since the late 50’s and can be seen to have a postmodern approach to his work. Using this, he writes about anything he wishes, with wit and irreverent humour. He has released titles such as The Breast, the story of a man who wakes up and is a breast on a woman’s chest. Roth also covers his integration into American society from his Jewish background, making his fiction hugely autobiographical at times.

Quentin Tarentino – Tarentino has brought us gems like Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. It might seem a bit strange ending with Tarnetino, but his work has changed the way we view world cinema and has most likely influenced writers everywhere.

Keith Hodges

Tour de France

The Tour de France is the most sought after crown in the cycling world. This epic race covers 2200 miles, takes 22 days to complete, has men with shaved legs and offers much inspiration for any professional cyclists-come-writers.

When writing it’s always the way that we take inspiration from our surroundings; right now I’m tempted to create an epic novel that highlights the struggle of an unmade bed and half a glass of orange squash. We absorb atmospheres and characteristics of places all the time and sometimes even pop out with a camera, a pad and a pen to try and get a feel for the busy London markets or the local dominatrix dungeon. The Tour de France covers 21 stages, so between cramp, sweating and looking at the person two yards in front of you for a few hours at a time – that’s a lot of possible inspiration.

Naturally the race concludes in Paris. We all know what Paris looks like because they sell pictures of it in places like TK Maxx and it appears on the front of travel guides globally as the must see place in France. On top of this though there’s a lot more little gems that can be found in France that cyclists are hogging and that should appear as a setting for some sort of new age novel involving a pig farm or two.

First of all there is Les Esserts, which is home to a 19th Century manor house. There are also intricate villages and lovely locals to get your imagination flowing. A little further down the route is the stage between Dinan and Lisieux that has a selection of architectural delights, such as an old Gothic church that would be more than at home playing the part of an extra in Dracula. Further on in the race is Aurillac, which hosts the Aurillac Street Theatre Festival, a celebration of everything colourful and fun. With entertainment for everyone there’s sure to be a character you can take on board and turn into the next big serial killer or the one man to save the human race from the octo-baby that was spawned when Jupitar and Saturn collided on a windy day. The festival is sought after by promoters and companies world wide and almost acts as a Cannes for those with an interest in live theatre.

The final destination on the route that I’d like to share is Montpellier on the South coast. Montpellier is littered with festivals of dance and arts, but also has a back garden that leads out on to the Mediterranean Sea. If you’re on your bike, having a stern pedal along and the sun starts to set over the sea then have a look, you’ll probably be writing until the next stage starts.

Obviously I’ve only mentioned a tiny fraction of what’s on view for inspiration during the Tour de France; all you need to do is become a professional cyclist and go visit them, or just check them out. Up to you.

Keith Hodges

Undead Uprising

The Walking Dead, Issue109

Board up your windows, hide your kids in the loft, shut the curtains and stock up on tinned food because tonight old pop stars and that woman who used to live opposite you are on their way back from the dead, for this is the age of the zombie uprising.

There was a time when zombie flicks were consigned to b-movies, poor sets and the ugly side of horror. In the past film fans, critics and producers have treated them as an ugly duckling with no chance of flying, something that will never blossom – the heroes were just out of shorts; the heroines were in no way going to get their white cotton gowns covered in brain goo.

In recent years however, zombie based entertainment has risen. George Romero revolutionised the way we approached the genre, giving accessibility to Pegg and Frost’s Shaun of the Dead to storm worldwide box offices. On top of this there are a number of movies clawing at our windows and going in for the bite from the shelves of the world cinema aisle, Rec, Horde and The Siege to name a few. Most prominently on our screens as of late is The Walking Dead, which is about to embark on a second series. Based on the series of graphic novels by Tony Moore and Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead uses various personal dramas and sultry looks to take the zombie genre through a roller coaster of brains, crying and out the other side with a barrel load more style than we see on something that generally ends up being aired somewhere between a dodgy roulette show and teletext highlights.

We’ve all decided to have a night on the sofa, a tub of Rolo ice cream and a hope to be scared until our pants turn brown, but often we’re let down and it’s the comedy aspect of these zombie flicks that get us through melted toffee and iron brew.

Could it be then that graphic novels have taken the once hated Zombie, the untouchable curse, and nurtured it? Have graphic novels taken in an unwanted orphan and raised it upwards into a fine specimen of man that holds court in the most elegant of situations? It is entirely possible.

Graphic novels were, for a very long time, the only place a zombie could go in this world without fear of being shot at, feared and made an outcast by bit-part mayor with nothing but the price of oil on his mind. Titles such as Fubar and Zombifrieze have been instrumental in the genre’s growth and of course The Walking Dead being on the receiving end of endless praise. Since the late 2000’s the books have been on the increase tenfold, and the ugly duckling of the 80’s reached swan-like status gaining notoriety in places they were mocked before, Colin stormed Cannes and the pre-mentioned Shaun of the Dead took a clean headshot at to the world of cinema.

There may of course be other factors involved in this growth, but the nanny role the graphic novel has played in keeping the zombie safe has seemingly been invaluable in recent times. It has seen the little un-dead gem grow from the first day of school, before biting his way through classes and lessons, the good and bad times, the first kiss and the high school dance before coming out the other side a very employee, in demand and much loved young man – with a hell of a future ahead.

Keith Hodges

Photographic Novels

Photographic novel fron Night Zero

Technology is always moving forwards, things are always changing – we went from two slice toasters to four slice toasters and onto those machines that make endless amounts of toast in just a few years. Now it seems the graphic novel could be in for a small change, or new a cousin at least.

The ‘photographic novel’ is a relatively new concept creeping onto the graphic novel shelves with the ambition of a young boy on his way to the beach with a very big net. Photographic novels use actors and actresses on location to create stories much like those in graphic novels, only using eye shadow instead of felt tip pens, and the weird alley behind your aunt’s house.

The website for the photographic novel series Night Zero, a collection based in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, has a strap line that reads ‘no illustrations or illusions, only what can be seen and touched’. This approach is an obviously interesting take on how the genre as sprouted a limb that moulds itself to the technology of today, the endless release of new cameras, as well as the accessibility of software that allows creativity to flow in ways that could only be dreamt of before.

The process has a film production feel to it, only with less Christian Bale and more drama students, ones to watch for the future maybe? Photographic novels create a story in the same way as a graphic novel or comic book would, there are dialogue bubbles, different scenes and all the drama you get from a graphic novel, there’s just no drawing, which of course limits how experimental photographic novels can be with monsters and crazy doctors in underground basements.

The Night Zero site offers a deep insight to the whole process though (click on what is a photographic novel in the bottom left), from the script cards to the post production adding of bubbles and beyond – all very enlightening stuff.  This process is in no way less painstaking than putting together a graphic novel, every intricate detail is mapped out before.

The differences are obviously vast as well, the process involves a huge amount of people, right down to extras, as well as the immense amount of technical issues you just wouldn’t see with a packet of pens and a large pad of paper. Of course the differences and similarities could be thrown back and forth all day, monkeys and humans are so alike, yet so different.  They both have their strong points, monkeys can climb trees but humans have ladders. This is the feeling here, the graphic novel is surreal, intriguing and wholly exciting; the photographic novel is realistic, in your face and offers a nice lemon twist on the average graphic novel. Check them out, see what you think!

Keith Hodges




Comics Get Technical

Marvel app allowing users to download comics

You’d be forgiven for thinking that iPads are mainstream, for people going to and from finance offices that want to pass the time looking at Facebook on a crisp screen, or play Angry Birds more intensely than the guy opposite with his tiny iPod.  However, the device offers a lot more – and has seemingly re-kindled a passion for comic books and graphic novels world wide.

Back in the day, when people wore orange flares and the Bee Gee’s were a starry eyed young trio looking out on the world with nothing the dream to sing angelically in high pitched tones to anybody that would listen, comic books and graphic novels had tatty corners, coffee stains and carried an essence of fear that your mum might throw them away.

“MUM!” You’d scream from the top of the stairs, “I hadn’t finished with it yet.” Then back to your room you’d go, the sun creeping through the crack in the curtains and casting a line across the floor that designated who was Good and who was Evil, and you’d wait for the next issue.

The iPad however has changed this; there is no waiting in the darkness, there is no action figure war of Good vs. Evil and most importantly your mum can’t throw away your comics because you don’t live with her anymore and you’ve put a password on the iPad, just in case. Seemingly the iTunes app store has more apps than there are people, so to say “there’s something for everyone” would be to say the Bee Gee’s took their flares and conquered their dreams one epic tune at a time, it was always going to happen.

The comic book and graphic novel selection within the app store is vast, with collections of comics such as the Marvel app offering the reader to download any comic from Spiderman, to Iron-Man, Captain America and Thor – all very popular with the recent film releases behind them. DC also have their app with Superman and co. all on board for a 2011 tablet revamp.

On top of this IDW Comics have their own app offering Transformers, Astroboy, Star Trek and more. They also have separate apps for each comic, such as the Star Trek IDW app, the Transformers equivalent and even G.I Joe gets a look in, once again all very popular with recent film releases. Something that brings all these apps together as one is the iVerse comic reader, the Spotify of the comic world. Much like Spotify lets you download the Bee Gee’s greatest hits in seconds, iVerse is a platform that offers iPad users the chance to read Marvel, Image, IDW and Archie comics, all at the click of a button whilst your mum waits anxiously for the enxt spring clean.

There are also various graphic novels available for download as apps, should you be more of a novelist than a superhero.  The Carrier, and Luke McBain get their own apps – both novels that would offer anyone hours of entertainment as they wait somewhere between London Bridge and New Cross to get home and feed the cat. Should you require something darker, something to release the pain of seeing a Spiderman special that your mum threw away being sold on eBay for near a thousand pound then there’s a selection of novels called Carnival Comics. Each app is a separate episode in the series and offer an alternative from capes and masks and gives you creepy clowns and shadowy figures with the glint of something sinister in their circus faces.

Obviously a real comic connoisseur may not entirely agree with the e-versions of all their favourites, they’d even argue that the Bee Gee’s sound better on vinyl and that tatty corners and coffee stains give feeling and character to the work. There is however something magical in the apps making the comics transferrable, accessible and enjoyed worldwide – without the fear of them being binned.

Keith Hodges

Literary Death Match – Litro Speaks To Todd Z

Literary Death Match in London. Photograph taken by Ben Meadows

American Todd Z. has lit up London’s spoken word scene with Literary Death Match events. We spoke to him to find out why the night is so successful, and what to expect if you attend.

Not everyone likes spoken word nights, but tell someone you want to take them to a death match and well well well, aren’t they interested now? Opium Magazine and Todd Z. have taken the Literary Death Match from America, across Europe to Britain, giving spoken word a new twist and a wider audience.

There’s a passion and enthusiasm that Todd Z. passes onto the crowd. This could well be down to the whole aim of the night, which Todd Z. describes as: “At the start, we wanted to create a literary night that was surprising, wild and just plain fun — where the audience didn’t get bored and dreaded hearing one more reader (because the last one went excruciatingly long). There are lots of moving parts with LDM, but they’re all in place for a specific reason: to bring a feeling of euphoria.”

The nights, mainly compered by Todd Z, consist of a number of contestants that are paired off in true gladiatorial battle form and given the opportunity to showcase their work, whether it be fiction, non-fiction or poetry. The aim is to get the crowd and the judges on their side, using not only the words on the page but personality, maybe even props, and a hunger to be remembered as one of the epic soldiers of the pen that took on the LDM and won, even if they do leave with a few scars.

Following the performance, the writers are subject to criticism or praise, or even both by three judges selected for the night. This has a kind of X-Factor feel to it, except Todd Z. isn’t trying to flog you a record, a washed up diva or make you pay to vote. As well as giving the writers a chance to bandage wounds and grow stronger, these judges are part of the entertainment , “a way of expanding the audience outside of the lit realm” and a chance to “incorporate comedy into the night”.

Upon choosing the winners, the rounds continue until the finalists are left; by this point everyone has picked a corner. Something within you taps into what’s happening on stage and you’re shouting and balling like Rocky in search of his pet shop-working lover. It really has turned into a death match by this point; if you can keep blood out of your eyes you’re in for a treat.

There could be a number of reasons why the night has been successful over here, such as a Londoner’s spirit towards the night that Todd Z. describes as being “such a perfect rowdy crowd: they plain love the f*** out of books and book culture, but are never afraid to have one more drink.” Adding to this success is the attraction of big name writers such as Richard Milward who wears the colours of Faber. Todd Z. says there’s a process in which “We ask very, very nicely. And nowadays everyone has a friend of a friend who’s done it. Beyond that, people show up in droves. I know lots of authors who do bookstore readings and they feel lucky when 10 people show up. At LDMs there can be up to 200 people, all with great haircuts, or fantastic shirts. It’s like a literary party, but once the readers go on: dead silence. I love that.

Commenting on why he thinks the night is so successful, Todd Z. said: “I’ve never said it this way, and it might sound ridiculous, but we’re very, very well-meaning. We want the authors to read to huge, book-curious audiences. We want the judges to get laughs from the throng. We want the audience to leave with a feeling like they’re floating. We want people to wake up the next day and tell their friends, ‘You wouldn’t believe what I saw last night…’ right before they run to the bookstore.”

Keith Hodges



American Youth Culture In American Writing – Books vs Screen

Our books and screens are filled with tales of growing up, missing buses, getting dumped, being cheated, winning at sports and realising dreams. In fact there’s so much that sometimes I forget how I grew up, then I remember evil dinner ladies and wet play – you weren’t there man. You weren’t there.

Scene from 90210

Portrayals of youth on screen are everywhere; the young sexy cast of Friends still graces British screens on a constant loop, Scrubs (although not all young) began life portraying the lives and times of junior doctors with references to college and med school. Also, let us not forget Hollywood after Hollywood blockbuster of high school proms, art students, vampires and the kid that always misses the bus that are written regularly to a formula, showing a tough American upbringing. On top of this, TV shows such as My Super Sweet Sixteen, Jersey Shore and 90210 show wealthy teenagers, big dresses, tears and fast cars as their representation of a young America. Seeing these from a more ‘average’ background makes these shows interesting – ‘let’s put the TV on and see a rich girl get hurt’.

Within literature we see writers such as Bret Easton Ellis, Chad Kultgen and Chelsea Handler (with her memoirs) portray a youth of wrong-doings, one-night stands, broken hearts and feeling awkward in social situations. The TV shows are entertaining in their own way; personally I love nothing more than seeing a stroppy fifteen year old not get the $1200 shoes she was after, but then again I also have a soft spot for Handler’s superb delivery of her late night encounters.

Bret Easton Ellis wrote Less Than Zero in 1985. As monetary backgrounds go, Clay, the main character, his close group of friends and pretty much every character of ‘that’ 90210 postcode are very similar. Well-off, houses with pools, the latest gadgets, such as iPod touch’s for the current 90210 clan and the constant playing of MTV and cassettes for Clay and his group.

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

This is where the similarities end though. Less Than Zero portrays a much darker side to the wealthy American youth with drug abuse, un-aspiring actors, casual sex and a few more horrific scenarios involving dead bodies, pimps and very young girls. I would imagine that the very latter of the list would be a metaphor for the youth that gets exactly what they want, going one step too far. There is a certain curiousness about the addition of such extreme situations, as well as the inclusion, in graphic detail, of drug abuse from not only Clay and his friends – but his younger siblings too. These sorts of storylines, or more so these approaches, are nowhere to be seen on our screens. Less Than Zero itself was subject to being made more moralistic, and swaying vastly away from the original in the 1987 film adaptation, with drug abuse, sex and pimping being removed, leaving an obvious scratch in the paintwork of Ellis’ book.

90210 offers a completely different character set up; all the kids are eager to study, are embarrassed by their parents like any sweet teenager would be, have the latest dreams and goals that seem to update with fashion, and already have the perfect after-college job lined up. This is almost the perfect life, even the nerdy kids are cool – they just have comic book fetishes that intrigue the hot girl and score them big boy status before the series ends.

Friends and Scrubs work similar to 90210 in the sense they offer the almost perfect life, and a low price with seemingly easy achievable goals and promotion throughout respective companies, such as JD’s promotion to leading the residents through training and Rachel’s climb through Ralph Lauren. Neither of which would be possible in Ellis’ world – whether this be decided by society, the lack of talent and ambition of the characters, or maybe the highlight that most of them seem to have had everything put on a plate for them.

Chad Kultgen, in his novel The Lie, outlines the overall message that in college it’s dog-eat-dog, you get what you work for and sometimes working for it could mean stabbing people in the back. Both Scrubs and Friends have similar views on sex, masking sexual moments with innuendos, whereas Chelsea Handler offers a much more frank and open view about what happens when the door closes and the covers roll back – sometimes not even getting this far. It should be noted that Handler is writing for a different audience and Friends for a watershed, but would we want to watch Rachel talk in-depth about certain elements of love-making, even though we know her and Ross must have done something at least once?

A truly realistic view of growing up in America probably lies somewhere in the middle; there’s most likely an Xbox, a half-beaten car and the American dream somewhere in the future. Literary work does seem to offer more flexibility to say what the screen misses out, taking a reader on a longer, individual journey through the eyes of a sweaty, hormonal teenager and out the other side into adulthood – via a few mishaps of course.

Keith Hodges 

British Books to Hollywood Screens

Film adaptations are becoming a very common trend, but where are all these stories coming from? Here are five books written by British writers that have made it big on the silver screen.

1. This list wouldn’t be a list without the obvious mention of Harry Potter; that cheeky little wizard spanned a school life of seven books taking on sports, fellow wizards and lords of the underworld. Somewhere in there he grew from a man to a boy, got a girlfriend and had a pretty good time. Rowling’s work made well into the hundred millions, been turned into a theme park and made her the most recognisable British author in a very long time.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

2. Alan Moore, British comic book writer and graphic novelist, was the brains behind epic superhero flick Watchmen, as well as V for Vendetta and From Hell. Moore’s unique work has created roles for Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Natalie Portman and Stephan Fry. The Watchmen is probably the most famous and successful of the three adaptations of Moore’s work, taking over fifty-million dollars in the first weekend of the films release – twenty million more than From Hell had done in its entire run at box office.

V for Vendetta

3. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, although made here in Britain, definitely made an impact over in the States. The film, nominated for an Oscar for its screenplay, highlighted a world that many people would never see and launched Ewan McGregor into an acting career that has included roles in Moulin Rouge! and the Star Wars prequel trilogy. The film gained excellent reviews in Entertainment Weekly and Los Angeles Times – for these critics it signalled the arrival of Danny Boyle.

Ewan McGregor in a scene from ‘Trainspotting’

4. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, written over a space of twelve years by J.R.R. Tolkien, have become the second highest selling novels of all time – beaten only by Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Tolkien’s work creates an epic fantasy world mixed with action and adventure that is portrayed in Peter Jackson’s on-screen version with stunning visual effect. A third of the books sales have come since the arrival of the trilogy of films. The film grossed $2.91billion; The Return of the King picked up eleven academy awards, matching the all-time record of Titanic.

Treebeard from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films

5. Finally, this film is yet to be released. However Twentieth Century Fox have announced that they have bought the rights to, and will be adapting, Mr Men and Little Miss books (the work of Roger Hargreaves) into a feature length film. The project has yet to be attached to a director or writer but Shaun Levy, producer of Night at the Museum and Date Night, has been given the task of turning the film into a success. The books themselves have sold over one-hundred million copies world wide so a high grossing film should be expected.

Mr Happy has already starred in a Specsavers advert


Keith Hodges