Tuesday, 23 October 2012


I have added a new page, which you can locate up there in the tab bar.  It’s very important as you can see.  Yes, it’s a list of all of the films I have ever seen. 

Okay, so it’s more for my own interest than anyone else’s, but hello, this is a blog.  I have handily written a one-sentence reaction (or in some cases, one word) to each film, so perhaps it’ll make a handy reference guide.  I’ve also put the films in order of the year they were released (and may one day edit it further to order films within each year by release month, or I may not) because I think that shows an interesting progression in film making, and not at all because alphabetical order drives me nuts because I’m the only person who thinks all the words in a title are valid, that’s why they were specifically chosen to be in the title, and therefore words like ‘the’ and ‘a’ should not be segregated into oblivion or relegated to trail after the title as if they’ve done something wrong. 

So, if you fancy watching a film and want to know whether it’s any good (according to The Hill), then pop on to the list, search the film and away you go.

In other news, I have been working on The Novel-In-Progress Working Title: The Selfish Dead.  I may finally have made a little progress with it, but having rewritten the basic plot and changed the genre or POV at least five times, and re-edited it over forty times, I still don’t seem to have made significant improvement.  This is the hardest story I have ever written, because I didn’t decide what the focus of the story was about before I started and it has remained something of a mess.  Anyway, for this brief moment in time, I’m fairly satisfied-ish with the plot, but the actual content is still lacking something, y’know, interesting.

For example, this is a scene from its current incarnation:

I seem to have writer’s block.  I was staring at that scene earlier and just… despairing.  Those three characters are supposed to have nerdy debates but it’s so DULL.  Why didn’t I write three action heroes or wizards instead?  I like the story, the arc, the progression, the character revelations, but everything else just needs… it needs… no, why have writer’s block now?  Why?  I need to make this story more interesting and The Brain has just stalled.

In other other news, I have to go away so won’t be able to post for a while. 

Perhaps by the time I get back, I'll have more creativity.

And if you miss me, feel free to find out exactly what I thought of all those films and it'll be like I'm right here, going on and on and on in your ear.

And that about raps things up.

Monday, 22 October 2012

My Favourite Spider-Man

is (by far) the one from the 90s cartoon.

“Why can’t I be one of those galaxy helping superheroes?  Why do I end up in the sewers?  You don’t find the Fantastic Four in a sewer.  Or the Avengers.  Never have I seen the Avengers in a sewer.  Or the Defenders.  Well, maybe the Hulk.”
~ Spider-Man, in episode 1, Night Of The Lizard.

Here is my overview of Spider-Man, Season 1.

It’s surprisingly good.  Considering the others of its ilk.  Fantastic Four is unbearable, with poor animation and terrible scripts.  The Incredible Hulk is just boring.  And while X-Men is okay, it’s so po-faced, the animation is sometimes shoddy and any episode about Jubilee is shoot-yourself-in-face nauseating.  Whereas Spider-Man has excellent animation (only let down by its bizarre insistence on throwing in the occasional CG cityscape shot, long before computer animation on a TV budget was remotely doable, so that everything turns into amorphous blocks), the plots are always exciting, the characters are well rounded and the dialogue is witty.

It takes a couple of episodes to get used to Spider-Man’s incessant babble, but once you do, you’re hooked.  Peter never shuts up, ever, whether alone or not, and Christopher Daniel Barnes, the voice actor, handles this brilliantly and he’s genuinely funny.

So, the premise:
Peter Parker is a college student studying science in New York, a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle and, oh yeah, Spider-Man.  We don’t get his origin story, although he is briefly seen getting bitten by a spider on the starting credits.  He makes a joke about having radiation in his blood in episode 2, and has a ‘great responsibility’ flashback in episode 5, but that’s all we get this series, and in this age of endless superhero origin story films, what a relief!  His powers are an ability to stick to walls, a spider sense and strength and dexterity.  Added to this he happens to be a bit of a genius and has invented ‘spider tracers’ and ‘web shooters’, but he regularly fails to change cartridges (like every episode).

Main Characters:
  1. Peter Parker/Spider-Man ~ our hero.  I love Peter, he’s constantly entertaining.  
  2. J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Daily Bugle ~ Peter refers to JJ as his ‘Moriarty’.  This rivalry is a lot of fun, but more on Peter’s side than JJ’s.  In fact, JJ’s involvement with every single plot this season (apart from the Kraven one) does get a bit tiresome.  Still, he does have a vaguely decent reason for his actions: he has sworn to keep the city safe from people who hide behind masks and think they’re above the law (because his wife was shot by one).  And no matter how many times he claims Spider-Man is a criminal, he follows the truth, so he always retracts the false stories once the real evidence becomes known.  You gotta respect a newspaper man with that much integrity.
  3. Aunt May ~ Peter lives with his dithering elderly aunt, who happens to absolutely hate Spider-Man.  Although Peter moons on about her and how she has been a mother to him, her relentless and illogical hatred for Spider-Man pretty much kills any sympathy the audience can have for her.  An example of what a bitch she is: when she sees the party aftermath at Harry and Peter’s new place, she has a seizure and tells Peter he’s not ready to live alone, forcing him to move back in with her.  I am just waiting for her to die so Pete can be FREE.
  4. Joe ‘Robbie’ Robertson, editor of the Daily Bugle ~ one of the only people in the city who stands up for Spider-Man.  There’s not that much to Robbie, but his ability to stand up to JJ makes him pretty cool.
  5. Mary Jane Watson ~ a theatre major and niece of Aunt May’s best friend Anna Watson, May repeatedly tries to set Peter up with her, but Peter is always busy, although they do eventually have their blind date.  MJ is over-emotional and totally self-obsessed (her first words to Peter are ‘Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot’ which pretty much kills her for me, especially as I was already invested in his relationship with Felicia), and frankly, I just want to punch her in her smug face.  For some reason she fancies Peter, but although Peter is excited by the attention MJ gives him, he continues to date Felicia at the same time.  Which brings me to…
  6. Felicia Hardy ~ one of Peter’s classmates.  She’s rich and her mother funds science research, so she’s a bit of a target when it comes to supervillains.  Peter tutors Felicia but wants to date her.  At first she’s reluctant to change the nature of their friendship, but after he runs off in the middle of this conversation, she’s impressed that he has the guts to stand up to her.  Although she is also dating Flash ‘all hands’ Thompson, she is far more drawn to Peter’s charms and even forgives him when he leaves her in the way of a Spider Slayer (giant robot).  She also has a soft spot for Spider-Man, who rescues her twice this series.  Felicia is great.  At first seeming to be a superficial bitch, she quickly reveals deeper layers and I am totally rooting for these two to make it work.  Screw MJ.
  7. Wilson Fisk/Kingpin ~ controlling most of the crime in the world, Kingpin wants Spider-Man eradicated.  Although he is behind several plots this series, Spider-Man is unaware of his existence and even, as Peter, saves Fisk from the Hobgoblin.  Kingpin is a decent threat and a well-played character, but knowing more than the hero is always irritating for an audience and I sure wish Peter would wise up and notice what is going on.
  8. Alistair Smythe ~ to cut a long story short, Smythe’s father is (possibly) killed trying to destroy Spider-Man, so Smythe blames Spider-Man (though it is really more Kingpin’s fault, but Smythe doesn’t know that).  Kingpin hires Smythe, who is forced to work for Kingpin until he succeeds in destroying Spider-Man.  Smythe is trapped and only lives to avenge his father’s death.  He’s a decent enough sympathetic villain and his relationship with Kingpin is deliciously complicated.  He hates Kingpin and is stuck working for him and yet he craves Kingpin’s attention, as if Kingpin is his new father figure.  Part of me is rooting for Smythe.
  9. Eddie Brock/Venom ~ a reporter at the Daily Bugle, he continually loses out to both Peter and Spider-Man (which is greatly amusing), eventually getting fired.  The culmination of this arc is when Spider-Man rejects the alien symbiote and it joins with Brock, their mutual hatred of Parker turning them into Venom.  This arc is beautifully paced, building up over half the series and probably the strongest story of the season.

Recurring Characters:
  1. Norman Osborn ~ a rich industrialist and inventor, owner of Oscorp who has weird black hair with red stripes, because that’s a thing.  He hates Kingpin who is financially crippling him.  Knowing where Norman’s story is eventually headed makes him a fascinating character to watch, but boy is he a shitty dad.
  2. Harry Osborn ~ son of Norman (you can tell because he is the only other person in New York with weird stripy hair), one of Peter’s classmates, he is painfully neglected by his father and mostly follows Flash around, so shocks Peter when he asks if they can live together.  Harry is a sweetie and pretty much ignored by everyone in the show, including Peter, so despite not having much to do, makes it on to my radar as a character I’m rooting for.
  3. Flash Thompson ~ another of Peter’s classmates.  Flash is your typical jock and he hates and bullies Peter and yet he idolises Spider-Man which makes for mind-bending fun.  He is trying to date Felicia, which makes him hate Peter even more and it’s always a pleasure to watch Felicia put him in his place.  Felicia ROCKS.

This series, Peter battles:
  1. Lizard ~ Dr Curt Connors, Peter’s teacher, is an ‘expert in recombinant DNA’, a ‘reptile mutagenic genius’ and inventor of the ‘neogenic recombinator’, whatever any of that means.  He and Peter have been working on a way for mammals to grow back missing limbs like some reptiles can.  Testing it on himself, his missing arm grows back, but then he turns into a giant lizard.  Convinced the whole world would be better this way as there is no more pain, he wants to transform the entire race.  He’s not the most fascinating villain, his plan makes no sense and he has one hell of a temper, but it’s always nice to have villains who aren’t necessarily villainous.
  2. Scorpion ~ JJ hires Professor Stillwell to use the neogentic recombinator on moronic and diminutive Gargan, altering his DNA with that of a scorpion (‘the natural predator of the spider’, apparently).  Gargan beats the crap out of Spider-Man but before he can unmask him, he sees his reflection and realises he is still mutating.  Horrified he has become a freak, he turns on JJ and Stillwell, rampaging through the city.  Being stupid, he figures he can use radiation to cure himself and nearly causes a meltdown.  Gargan is quite funny but the fact that JJ creates him is way too far into stupidland.  Still, he’s a tragic character and a bit of pathos is always good.  Although his costume does look a bit rude.
  3. Mysterio ~ a mysterious man with a fish bowl for a head who can seemingly perform magic.  He frames Spider-Man for robbery and presents himself as the hero.  Turns out he’s Quentin Beck, a special effects man who was sent to jail after he caused a helicopter crash on a film and was caught by Spider-Man.  He’s gone nuts and wants revenge.  Mysterio is less fun than he sounds and it’s shocking how easily he turns EVERYONE against Spider-Man.
  4. Dr Octopus ~ he was Otto Octavius (who taught a 10-year-old Peter at science camp).  When trying to invent a cold fusion battery without safeguards, an explosion welds his metal arms to his spine (which somehow means he can control them with his mind) and he becomes Dr Octopus, obviously.  He kidnaps Felicia and JJ for ransom so he can continue his work.  I don’t know what it is about Dr Octopus (is it the embarrassing haircut?), but he really grates on my nerves.  He’s only in one episode this season and that was one too many.  His stupid ‘anything is justified if you’re doing it for science’ attitude pretty much sums up what a loon he was BEFORE he turned into a monster.  When he returns in later seasons, he isn’t even being villainous in the name of science, he’s just a jerk.  Still, it’s a good episode for Peter And Felicia.
  5. Alien symbiote ~ alien tar that has been alive since the start of time.  Brought back from a space mission, it covers Spider-Man, becoming a black version of his suit.  It augments all his powers (and can turn into different disguises) and he loves it, but he becomes more aggressive and violent, until he is nearly driven to murder.  BEST EPISODE EVER.
  6. Rhino ~ he’s presumably a guy in a rhino suit, although he seems to wear this 24 hours a day, and the suit appears to be made of bum.  Lots and lots of bum.  He’s super gross to look at.  His power is that he’s strong, in an unstoppable kind of way.  He is one of Kingpin’s grunts, he’s an idiot and there’s nothing to like about him.  Bum bum bum.  Seriously, ugh.
  7. Shocker ~ wearing a suit invented by Smythe, Shocker is another of Kingpin’s grunts.  His power is shooting electricity or something.  After both he and Rhino are nearly killed by the black-suited Spider-Man, they team up to kill him and are only stopped by Venom, who wants Spider-Man to himself.  Awwww.  Shocker has the second least personality of all the villains this series.
  8. Venom ~ rejected by Peter, the symbiote bonds with Eddie Brock.  They combine their hatred of Spider-Man to become Venom.  Really creepy threatening stuff.  This show is full of pleasant surprises.
  9. Kraven The Hunter ~ ready?  Sergei Kravinov was an African guide, hired by Dr Mariah Crawford to find her missing colleague Dr Reaves.  They fell in love.  They found Reaves, who had synthesized a miracle drug that could prevent disease and infection, but he tested it on himself and turned into a ‘feral creature’, whatever one of them is.  He gave Mariah the last vial but warned her not to use it in its current form.  She was immediately attacked by wild animals and Sergei saved her, but was fatally wounded (although there’s no blood or visible wound of any kind because this is a kids’ show).  She used the drug on him and he revived but turned feral.  She fled to New York to create an antidote, but, convinced she had another man, he followed to force her to return, which is where Spider-Man gets to join the party.  Uh, Kraven is irritatingly better than Spider-Man at everything, irritatingly completely insane and is followed around by jungle drums, also irritating.
  10. Hobgoblin ~ okay, try to keep up with this one.  Hobgoblin is an unidentified hoodlum given a suit and a glider by Norman Osborn and hired to kill Kingpin.  Hobgoblin fails when Spider-Man gets in the way, so Norman refuses to pay.  So the Hobgoblin goes to Kingpin instead and tells him of Norman’s betrayal.  Kingpin wants revenge so has Hobgoblin kidnap Harry.  When Kingpin doesn’t pay up straight away, Hobgoblin switches sides again, agreeing to get Harry back for Norman in exchange for a better glider.  He attacks and defeats Kingpin and takes over the empire, then refuses to release Harry.  What a bastard.  Hobgoblin is by far the most entertaining villain of the season.
  11. Chameleon ~ a hit man being tracked by SHIELD, he can change his appearance by taking a copy with his imaging device (magic belt).  (How this copies voices is unclear, since he takes the images from photographs.)  (MAGIC BELT.)  He has been hired by terrorists to stop a peace treaty.  An infuriating villain, because he has NO personality (they don’t even hire a voice actor) and he simply switches identities, with only Spider-Man on the ball enough to work out who is who (the Chameleon is ALWAYS the one with the GIANT MAGIC BELT).  Despite being the blandest villain so far, he is given the final episode of the season, which seems odd until we get to the scene where Spider-Man fights Peter Parker.  This is awesome cool and also a nice metaphor for the themes of the series as a whole.  But mainly AWESOME COOL.

Other characters of note but who are only in one episode this season:
  1. Nick Fury (and the moronic Agent 1 and rest of SHIELD’s bumbling soldiers) comes to catch the Chameleon (a plan which for some reason he lets JJ in on).  Spider-Man is pleased because Fury thanks him for his help.  It makes a nice change.
  2. Lieutenant Lee, a cop with a bit of a Spider-Man obsession.  When Mysterio turns the city on Spider-Man, Lee believes in Spider-Man’s innocence.  When Peter gives up his alter ego, Lee convinces him that Spider-Man would never turn his back.  She’s pretty cool and it’s always great to see decent female characters.
  3. Debra Whitman, as Peter puts it ‘the little sister I never had, or wanted.’  She’s another of Peter’s classmates and the only one who’s smarter than him.
  4. Glory Grant, JJ’s receptionist, seemingly added in the final episode just so the Chameleon has more identities to steal.

Season Arc:
The main theme this year is 'making the right choices', which is seen most strongly in the season arc of Peter learning to accept his responsibilities as Spider-Man even though it harms his life.  Character arcs include Spider-Man’s rivalry with JJ, Peter dating Felicia and MJ, Brock becoming Venom and the power struggle between Norman and Kingpin.  It’s all excellent.

So, I guess all that’s left is to check on the final score.

Final score:
  • Villains Cured Of Villainy: Lizard and Kraven.
  • Villains Put In Prison: Scorpion, Mysterio, Dr Octopus, Eddie Brock and Chameleon.  (We don’t see Rhino or Shocker get caught, but in season 2 they are in prison.)
  • Villains Dispatched In Other Ways: The alien symbiote is sent into space.
  • Villains Still On The Loose: Smythe and Hobgoblin.
  • Villains Spider-Man Doesn’t Even Know Exist: Kingpin.

“Yeah, okay, bye bye.  What a beautiful happy ending.  I feel like I’m trapped in a Danielle Steele novel.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the hero supposed to get the girl?  I saved the city from jungle boy and I’ll be lucky if Mary Jane or Felicia ever speak to me again, not to mention the fact that the animal kingdom walked all over my costume.  Never again do I get in the middle of a lovers’ spat.    Stick a fork in me, I’m done.”
~ Spider-Man, in episode 7, Kraven The Hunter.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Definitely Evil

This is what happens when The Housemate and I pass each other in corridors:

Sometimes The Housemate likes to mock me.

I’m used to that.  But sometimes he becomes downright evil.

Having discovered that putting his dirty laundry on top of the laundry basket lid rather than IN the laundry basket drives me NUTS (he’s made his way to the basket, how DIFFICULT would it be to lift the damn lid?), he has at different times:

  • claimed that he thought that’s what I wanted him to do, since I talk about it so much,
  • left his clothes on the stairs, even further from being IN the laundry basket,
  • taken all the clothes out of the laundry basket and piled them up on the lid,
  • and finally, after I wrote a blog post (here) about how annoying it is, he went up to the laundry basket and left this:

He’s not just leaving his dirty washing out, now he’s adding mocking notes.


Of course, he’s also weird.

But he has his uses.

Oh, and I wouldn’t want to misrepresent him of course, so just to clarify when he said, ‘He’s not my type’ he meant ‘I’m not gay’.

Although… we watched the 1930s Scarlet Pimpernel the other day and…

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Tacky Home Shopping Catalogue!

I love tacky home shopping catalogues, with their items you could never possibly want, like containers specifically to put your banana in, or items that blatantly had another use that now they’ve renamed and are trying to fob off on you as something new, like cheese slice boxes that look suspiciously like floppy disc boxes.

The highlights of this month’s Tacky Home Shopping Catalogue have to be:

Sonic Cleaner.  A revolutionary new cleaning product for all surfaces that happens to look exactly the same as an electric toothbrush.

The Invention Of The Sonic Cleaner

Toilet Roll Fresheners.  Odour neutralising tubes that you put inside your toilet roll.  Because toilet rolls are known for smelling bad…  Firstly, does loo roll ever smell bad – it is after all clean, and secondly, what the hell does it matter what your toilet paper smells like?  You wipe your bum on it and throw it down the toilet.

Tomato and Onion Keeper.  A special container to keep partially used tomatoes and onions fresh in the fridge.  Except it is specifically shaped so it’s only big enough for half.  If you only use a quarter of an onion, you’re screwed.  There’s no room in here.

Pink Rubber Gloves and Pink Dish Brush.  Kooky cleaning things in pink to keep the ladies happy.  That’s right, cleaning is the woman’s job.  And women like pink. 

Modesty Panel.  A lace bib to hide your cleavage.  If for some reason you own low cut tops but find them too offensive to wear.  And can’t just wear another top underneath.

Thank you Victorian lady.

Sink Skirt.  ‘Update your bathroom with this self adhesive Sink Skirt’.  No sink wearing a skirt looks up to date.  Also, Sink Skirt? 

Victorian lady is offended by naked furniture.

Moustache Glasses Holder.  A thing to balance your glasses on, so they look like they have a moustache!

Okay, that one is pretty cool.

And it’s now that time of year that Tacky Home Shopping Catalogue comes with Tacky Christmas Edition!  Rapture!

Silver Snowflake Light Up Tube.  Yes, for just £14.95 you can own a glass someone put a couple of LED lights inside.

3D Christmas balloons.  Decorate a balloon to look JUST LIKE Father Christmas. 

If he was the Tasmanian Devil.

Santa’s Magic Key.  For houses without chimneys, hang a key on the door.  That’s right, hang a KEY on the OUTSIDE of your FRONT DOOR to lure in burglars.  Sure it’s a fake, but they’re here now and they’re grumpy.  They might as well break in.

Christmas Bells.  Bells that you hang on the door handle, so whenever you open the door, they jingle, to DRIVE YOU INSANE.

Christmas Robin.  An ornament that chirps whenever you move, to DRIVE YOU INSANE.

Christmas Clock.  Plays a Christmas tune each hour to DRIVE YOU INSANE.

Santa Fridge Magnet.  I just love the wording on this one: ‘Features individual pieces of Santa’s body’.

Santa Toilet Seat Cover.  Sit on Santa’s face!

And finally, Jolly Santa Window Cling.

Santa is watching you.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Books That Shaped My Youth

A (non-exhaustive) list of the books that influenced me as I was growing up:

The Usborne Book Of Words To Read by Carol Watson, illustrated by Colin King.

A picture book with words dotted all over it, so you learn, surprisingly enough, words.  This follows the daily activities of a family, in the home, at the shop and in the town.

This was one of many learn-to-read books we had around when I was a kid. Most, if not all, belonged to my brothers and were hand-me-downs by the time I got hold of them (or possibly I just stole them for myself). For some reason, this particular book resonated with me and (despite the fact that one page had been completely shredded by The Brother and meticulously stuck back together by The Mother) I continued to read this book many year after I had outgrown it, which almost certainly looked really odd to anyone else. But a supply of drawings without narrative was something I eagerly lapped up, from baby books to catalogues, because it gave me the chance to use The Imagination.  When playmates or toys were absent, I was still able to make up stories.  Without these many (lonely? pathetic?) hours of The Childhood, I may never have become a writer.

As an adult, I do still own this book for sentimental reasons, though obviously I have no reason to read it.

The Tale Of Mr. Jeremy Fisher by Beatrix Potter.

A frog does a spot of fishing and nearly gets eaten.

One of the first things I ever saw as an infant was the Tales Of Beatrix Potter ballet. I guess we had it recorded off the TV and I used to watch it repeatedly. We also had a small selection of Beatrix Potter's books, some new, some second-hand, plus I used to watch that TV show of Beatrix Potter, so I was pretty heavily immersed in the universe from the get-go. I was mesmerised by the Tales Of Beatrix Potter ballet, and particularly fascinated by the Jeremy Fisher section. I'm not sure why Jeremy Fisher was my favourite as such, but I'm pretty sure it was based on the ballet more than the book, because the book has an extra bit at the end not featured in the ballet, and I'm much less familiar with this part of the narrative. All these years later, it is actually the Two Bad Mice that is most fixed in my mind from the ballet. I can't handle a piece of cutlery without getting a sense memory to Tom Thumb sharpening his knives together. I think one of the things that I liked about Jeremy Fisher was there was water on the floor of his house which is a level of detail you don't really expect in a ballet (plus he was a cool dancer).  The ballet and the books became one in The Mind.  Potter’s anthropomorphism of animals was exactly the kind of detail that hooked me.  Fisher’s boat is a lily pad, his fishing rod is a ‘tough stalk of grass’ and the line ‘a fine long white horse-hair’.  It’s pretty dramatic too which impressed The Young Mind.  Beatrix Potter was my first taste of drama, action and horror.

Jeremy Fisher was The Favourite Literary Character when I was seven.
As an adult, I still have about three Beatrix Potter books that I think are the best ones, Jeremy Fisher, Two Bad Mice and... um... I can't remember. Peter Rabbit maybe.

The Church Mice Books by Graham Oakley.

Large picture books with incredibly intricately detailed drawings.  They follow the adventures of Arthur and Humphrey, leaders of the church mice, and the long suffering cat Sampson who has vowed not to eat them.

We had three of these, The Church Mouse, The Church Mice At Bay and The Church Mice At Christmas. I believe they were probably library-sell-offs and belonged to The Brothers. But they were the greatest picture books I ever saw in my entire life. Pretty much after reading these, I despised all other picture books for being so bland. The drawings are so detailed that I often spent hours lost in them, each tiny character having their own individual thoughts and experiences.  This showed me that every character, every person has a life and plot, even if we’re not focused on it, and changed my perception of story telling forever because it eradicates the idea of a black and white universe.  Every character does things for a reason.  Added to this, the humour is delicious, with a dryness that I incorporated into myself. I later got The Church Mice And The Ring to add to our collection.

As an adult, I have managed to hunt down all of Graham Oakley's books and most of them are works of genius.

Kingfisher Field Guide To The Mammals Of Britain & Europe by John A. Burton, illustrated by William Oliver and Guy Troughton. 

A book with drawings of mammals and little fact lists about them.

I don't know why or how I got this, but it began The Obsessive Need To Know Stuff Other People Don’t Necessarily Know.  I never actually read the paragraphs of writing, just looked at the pictures and handy fact file on each page.  The relations between animals fascinated me, such as the otter and badger are of the weasel family.  I would carry this book around with me so I would always know more about European mammals than anyone else in the room. Despite not actually reading the damn book, I used to take it to school with me so I could prove various animal facts to other children. Bet that really endeared me to them.

I also once thought it would be funny to put an egg between the pages of the book. I have no idea why I thought this was funny, but I was wrong, the egg cracked, gluing the pages together and now I can’t read about wolves or feral dogs.  Stupid egg.

As an adult, I still own this because I intend to actually read it one day.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.

Wilbur the pig finds out what happens to pigs on farms.  Only Charlotte, the intelligent spider in his sty, can come up with a plan to save her friend’s life.

Don't recall when or where I got this book - it was one of four children's novels (along with Tom's Midnight Garden, Ozma Of Oz and Freaky Friday) that I simply seem to have always owned. I don't recall them being hand-me-downs, or bought second-hand from the library, or books that I asked for on a birthday. They just have always been on my bookshelf. Anyway, I chose to become a vegetarian by the time I was six years old, and generally the parents reacted to this by wearing HAZMAT suits and charging admission to the freak show (that may have just been The Father, The Mother at least allowed me the freedom to make this choice), so it was exhilarating to find a story against pig murder. Finally I wasn't alone! It also introduced me to the concept that fiction can be more affecting than reality.  It made me cry.

As an adult, I still like this book. I was surprised when I tried to read Stuart Little which could not be more different in style. Unsure which book represents what White's usual writing style is like.

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.

Part ghost story, part time travel adventure, this is a beautifully compelling tale.  When the clock strikes thirteen, the bin yard outside is transformed into an enormous Victorian garden where lonely Tom can play, but he can’t touch anything and only one little girl can see or hear him.

Like nothing else I had read, this was evocative and atmospheric.  Reading this book really was like travelling to another world, and it completely absorbed me when I opened it.  Meanwhile, it is about loneliness and freedom, which was very relatable for me as a child. We later had to 'study' this in Junior School, but I was long since familiar with the book because as mentioned above it was one of those ones that I simply seem to have always owned.

As an adult, I still love this book. One of my favourites. Have read a few of Pearce's other books, which are okay, but not like this.

The Animals Of Farthing Wood Novels by Colin Dann.

Developers are building over Farthing Wood and the animals must escape or die.  The unlikely band form a truce and travel across country to the fabled Nature Reserve.

I first knew about The Animals Of Farthing Wood like most other children of the 90s, through the CBBC cartoon show, which would have appealed to The Vegetarian Nature (like Charlotte’s Web). There was also an accompanying magazine series that I continued to get long after I had stopped watching the cartoon. For one of my birthdays, 9th or 10th I think, one of my best friends (The Butler) gave me a completely random book in the series, The Siege Of White Deer Park. I quickly got all the other books in the series. At this time, The Mother read to me every night, so she read these books to me and I made her change the genders of the characters to fit those in the TV show, which must have been a nightmare for her. But at some point my allegiance switched, and I began to loathe the cartoon for being inaccurate to the books. This may have coincided with the show killing off Badger (badgers were my favourite animal) when he clearly survives in the books, but I feel like I had actually stopped watching before that. This was my first experience of ‘the book is better than the adaptation’, this opened The Eyes to a world of literature that I felt I must defend, to the irritation of everyone. I became a crusader for 'the book is better', constantly correcting other children in the playground and getting pretty hot-headed about certain Disney cartoons as well. (The Mother was unable to read The Fox Cub Bold without sobbing, so I think this is what set me off on just reading to myself!)

As an adult, I still like The Animals of Farthing Wood, though the writing is a little clumsy at times. The sequels however are not worth going back to.

The Garfield Super Selection by Jim Davis

A big hardback book containing a selection of Garfield strips and illustrations that roughly follow a year from beginning to end.

Again, no idea why I had this book. Pretty sure it was the first Garfield thing I owned, although I got quite a few more books afterwards, as well as a calendar, toys and video. Where The Church Mice had helped me develop a dry sense of humour, Garfield developed The Sarcasm.  The Admiration of Garfield led me to watch Garfield’s Nine Lives, which heavily influenced The Writing in Junior School, particularly the dark one about the cat that’s in a laboratory.  Meanwhile this book gave me a life philosophy: ‘I’m not materialistic, I just love owning things!’ and it was the first place I ever heard the phrase ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’ which totally blew The Mind.

As an adult, I moved on from Garfield a long time ago, though I still has a slight soft spot for him.

Word Box by Gyles Brandreth.

A book about words. 

Another 'hand-me-down' ie this belonged to The Brother and I liked it so much that I stole it for myself. Eventually it disintegrated because I read it so often. Through this book I became a fan of the English language.  I also used it to make up my own stories (like Words To Read) and to appear clever in front of other children (like The Mammals Of Britain & Europe).

As an adult, not sure whether I still have this or not, as I said, it fell into pieces. It's very much aimed at children so not really one to enjoy as an adult but not sure whether I could face putting it in the bin.

The Story Of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt.

Written from the perspective of Tracy, a ‘problem’ child living in care.

I originally got this from the library, renting it out repeatedly. Eventually I bought it second-hand from the library, although it was a different edition which was missing one illustration. I think at first I mostly just liked it due to the questionnaire section at the start, which I used to make up my own stories yet again. But when I did actually bother reading the novel, this book introduced me to the concept of an unreliable narrator, a mind-bending, story-redefining discovery. When my parents split up, and since Wilson writes a lot of stories about children from broken homes, I was encouraged to read many of her other books, but I never really liked any of the others.

As an adult, I probably appreciate this book more than I did as a kid.

Red Dwarf Novels by Grant Naylor.

The adventures of the last survivor of the human race three million years in deep space, trying to get back home.

The Mother was a fan of Red Dwarf from when it started in the 80s and introduced the rest of the family to the show. I was very young, so mostly only aware of it through the one video we had of three season 3 episodes, but I can clearly remember loving the show despite not understanding it way back in Junior School. The Brother later got the books. The first two novels came out around season 3 I think and are pretty much peak Red Dwarf. The seasons that followed recycled ideas from the novels. I was absolutely obsessed with the TV show for a while, particularly season 5. Grant Naylor split some time between 93 and 97, writing a third Red Dwarf book each, one of which was the most horrifying thing I ever read, and then when the show came back in 1997, it wasn't any good any more, so while I still claimed to be a huge fan, it was mostly retrospectively. I read the novels about the time I was starting to write a lot at Senior School, and unfortunately, these really, really influenced my own style (particularly the darker, creepy two third novels).  I basically spent a couple of years rewriting Red Dwarf.

As an adult, I think that the first two Red Dwarf novels are genuinely excellent SF novels. I wouldn't touch the other two books with a barge pole and I have mostly gone off the TV show over the years, apart from season 1.

Horrible Histories Series by Terry Deary.

Y’know, very basic history books for kids, full of cartoons, jokes and stories about all the gross or horrific stuff designed to make history fun.

Don't know when I started reading these, but I soon had a huge collection. Gave me my fascination with history and I would carry them around to help me say smart things. Was still reading them in college when I was way too old for them.

As an adult, I heard Terry Deary reading his books and realised that I had totally misconstrued the tone. I thought they were completely deadpan but they are actually supposed to be super wacky. As such, it completely killed my liking of them and I suddenly saw how little educational value there was under all the frosting.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

Jane Eyre is an orphan who becomes the governess at a creepy mansion.

This story fascinated me the first time I saw a TV film, and read the abridged children’s version that The Mother owned until it fell apart from overuse (I had no idea this was the abridged version at the time). Finally in college I actually read the proper version. That scene when Mr Rochester is in bed and it’s on fire and Jane saves him…   This was the first time I was interested in the romantic angle of a story and I’ve never escaped this idea of romance ever since, while the characters heavily influenced the ones I write about.

As an adult, this is my favourite novel.

The Original Illustrated Strand Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

All the stories and novellas about Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson solving cases.

At the end of Senior School, we put on a Sherlock Holmes play. I was cast as Colonel Sebastian Moran, so I decided to read some of the books as research (stealing from The Brothers once again), I immediately fell in love and ended up despising the play because it was such an inaccurate, populist adaptation. I think I bought this particular book at the Portsmouth Museum, which has a Conan Doyle exhibition because he wrote the first Sherlock Holmes story in Portsmouth. I read every single story bar the last one because I didn't want to live in a world where there would be no more Sherlock Holmes stories to look forward to! These were my first real interest in books that weren’t either aimed at children, factual or adaptations/originals of something I had seen on TV.  It helped define who I was in The Late Teens.

As an adult, I have never actually reread the Sherlock Holmes stories. I have read a lot of Doyle's writing and it isn't really my thing so much these days so I can never be bothered to read Sherlock Holmes again.

So that is how I grew up and why I write how I write.

(Apologies to the hundreds of books I have forgotten to mention.)

What books influenced you when you were growing up?

Whatever Happened To Neil Is The Best Dalek?

The Housemate has started writing Neil Is The Best Dalek again.  In case you missed it, it is a review blog and can be found here.  I may not always agree with The Housemate’s opinions, but I appreciate his style and I thoroughly recommend it to YOU.

The evolution of the blog is thus:

I wanted to write a blog with The Housemate that encapsulated our ‘double act’ humour.  Being the world’s greatest procrastinator, he never got around to agreeing, so in the end I started my own blog and you’re reading it right now.  However, I got freaked out by the vastness of the Internet and couldn’t see why anyone would want to read The Blog (as explained in The First Illustrated Post, here) so I stopped.  Then The Housemate finally agreed to start our joint blog.  That would focus mainly on reviews, while I'm The Decoy would focus on The Writing Career (or as it turns out, random things I can draw in Paint).  I was given a renewed vigour for I'm The Decoy.  However, The Joint Blog didn’t work out so well.

Why, I hear you ask?

Yes, this is the third time I've used this picture.

I shall tell you. 

The first problem is that it wasn’t supposed to be called Neil Is The Best Dalek.  The title we wanted had been taken and after 48 hours of staring at each other,

this was the best we could come up with.  I wasn’t comfortable with the title because a) it refers to an in-joke between The Housemate and The Stantz, which, although something I join in with, wasn’t started with me and therefore lacks both personal and joint appeal and b) it is a Doctor Who reference, suggesting the site had a Doctor Who bias, which it absolutely wasn’t supposed to.

The second problem was The Housemate used Neil as a base to review Doctor Who and share it with the Doctor Who fanbase.  I’m not a Doctor Who fan, so this created tension.

The third problem was a lot like the second problem.  The Housemate spends a lot of time writing his reviews with great care, so the last thing he wanted was for me to come along and add bits and change his bits.  I’d tell him my idea and he wouldn’t put it in.  So then I’d type it in myself, except he never left any space for my input, so it wouldn’t fit, so I’d change what he had said to make space, which would spoil the flow, so he’d change the point or cut what I had said altogether and we’d go back and forth each editing the other out over and over.  We’d rewrite what the other typed until neither of us was happy and the reviews were never finished. 

It turned out we wanted completely different things from a joint site.  I wanted to play on our differences and bickering.  Everyone always says we’re funny, so I wanted to be funny, with two distinct voices arguing about stuff and sabotaging each other.  On the page.  Not behind the scenes.  The Housemate wanted a space to express his fine-tuned, flowing opinions without my bluntness interrupting.

The fourth problem was apparently we are incapable of working together.

It took longer and longer to write a review with bitterer and bitterer arguments until, for the sake of harmony in the home, we just stopped.

The best way I can explain what a writing session between The Hill and The Housemate is like is to turn to the Frasier episode ‘Author, Author’ in which Niles and Frasier try to write a book together (the original title-idea for our joint blog was actually a reference to Niles and Frasier bickering).  The following extract is EXACTLY how it was every time we sat down to write together.

Frasier: All we need is a good opening sentence, something that will smack the reader right between the eyes and then take him on a virtual roller coaster ride of self-awareness and discovery.

Niles: Frasier, while you’re over there mixing metaphors like a Cuisinart, I’ve had a breakthrough.  Voilà!  Our opening sentence.

F: ‘From Romulus and Remus to the Lennon sisters, sibling relationships have sparked psychological debate throughout the world.’  Hmm…  Interesting.

N: You like it?

F: Well, I said it was interesting.  The task ahead of us now is to decide whether we’d like an interesting opening or a good one.

N: You’re just being negative because you didn’t think of it first.

F: No, in truth I’m not.  I never cared for Romulus, never cared for Remus and the reference to the Lennon sisters is from the freaking moon.

N: Well all right, if you can do better, please be my guest.

F: I will.

N: …My fingers are poised over the keys…  I’m waiting…

(Much Later…)

N: …I’m still waiting.

F: Oh all right, all right.  Put this down.  ‘The key to a good sibling relationship is the ability to be open and honest.’

N: That actually sounded good to me.

F: Well put that in there.

N: ‘The key to a good sibling relationship is the ability to be open and honest while still respecting each other’s boundaries.’

F: What are you doing?  What was that crap about boundaries?

N: I was just finishing the thought.

F: The thought was finished.  It didn’t need finishing for God’s sakes, now it’s a run-on sentence.

N: Well I think it’s much better this way.

F: I don’t.

N: Well I’m at the keyboard.

F: All right then let me type.

N: No, you know I can only write at a keyboard.

F: Niles, you haven’t written a thing all day except to ruin a perfectly good opening sentence.

N: I was merely finishing it.  It was an incomplete thought.

F: Oh, YOU’RE an incomplete thought.

Considering this scene ends with Frasier and Niles in a brawl probably suggests it is a good idea if The Housemate and I don’t work together.  That way, we can control the content of our work without upset and respect each other for the writers we are.

So I have I'm The Decoy, and poo-face has Neil Is The Best Dalek.