Talking about my work

Although very little of it has received the full SEO treatment, I have a very large body of work that exists on the internet. But only those who know me best are fully aware of this extensive portfolio, simply because I hide it from them. To most people in my professional life, I am simply the person who sits reassuringly behind a university reception desk.

Which, the more I think about it, is a mystery. Surely, having had over 3,500 articles published online for an established website, and being a regular contributor to a popular bi-monthly Canadian magazine is something to shout about?

What makes me so unwilling to discuss my writing is the subject matter. It is all about football, about which I have an encyclopedic knowledge, according to some. My problem is that I am just too self-conscious, and extremely fearful of the reactions I might get if I told friends who simply don’t like the sport.

When I tell somebody that I do lots of writing, I am often met with the inevitable question: ‘What do you write about?’. It is with a great amount of reluctance that I say football. This blog doesn’t get much coverage around friends either, again due to my self-conscious tendencies.

What I haven’t told anyone is that I am currently writing a book about football, too. For now it is a private project, but I’m over 40,000 words in and very pleased with what I’ve written. Whereas I used to have no self-confidence, I am now fully aware that I am an accomplished writer with great experience under my belt. Will others still view me the same if I told them it was about football?

Well, I guess there’s only one way of finding out. It is about time that I begin to trust others and appreciate how much I am valued. Anyway, it is only football.

Poetry – Nothing’s Changed

The release of Nelson Mandela from prison in February 1990 was unquestionably one of the world’s defining moments of the last half a century. It helped unite a nation, helped to regain its global status after years of inequality, and most importantly it served as the ultimate confirmation that the Apartheid regime was finally on its way to coming an end.

The isolation, segregation and indeed persecution of the non-white South Africans and anybody who felt opposed to the regime is among the saddest examples of the cruelty of humanity in recent times, since the Holocaust. But in freeing Mandela came a degree of redemption, a chance to put the horrors of the past behind them and build a culture of universal respect.

Of course, some who were hardened by the Apartheid found the whole thing difficult to accept and struggled to make the transition from discriminatory society to an equal one. That was the country’s biggest task at the outset of the new era, and Mandela made his aim to unite the entire nation after he became President in 1994.

‘Madiba’, as he was affectionately known by those who felt close to him, was a revolutionary of the positive variety, and in some cases a miracle worker. South Africa certainly became a better country upon his freedom and subsequent leadership, but he was never going to make everything perfect.

At the time of his death in December 2013, the outpouring of tributes to Mandela was quite overwhelming and rightly so. Only very few people have changed their country so massively, and for the better.

There is still plenty of work to be done, such as lowering the level of crime that still exists in the far from luxurious inner-city regions of cities such as Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, but Mandela will forever be a legendary figure and we all hope that it will be in his name that South Africa continues to make progress on the human rights front.

The end of Apartheid was far-reaching, but its legacy still lasted in some areas including the infamous District Six, which saw over 60,000 non-white residents forcibly removed by the governing regime during the 1970s. Soon after becoming President, Mandela allowed many of those people to return.

Somebody who was vociferously opposed to Apartheid and felt that its aftermath had failed to produce the desired reform was the poet Tatamkhulu Afrika, who refused the right to be classified as a white South African as a matter of principle. Soon before his death in 2002, he released a work called ‘Nothing’s Changed’, where he ruefully claims that the end of Apartheid had done little to alter the inequality within District Six.

He does this by comparing the facilities on offer to the white South Africans, which are full of upper-class and lavish features, while the ethnic groups have to make do with a poor quality of a life and significantly fewer provisions. Afrika states his desire to bring down this establishment by any means possible, but ultimately seems powerless.

Here is the poem in full:

Small round hard stones click
under my heels,
seeding grasses thrust bearded seeds
into trouser cuffs, cans,
trodden on, crunch
in tall, purple-flowering,
amiable weeds.

District Six.
No board says it is:
but my feet know,
and my hands,
and the skin about my bones,
and the soft labouring of my lungs,
and the hot, white, inwards turning
anger of my eyes.

Brash with glass,
name flaring like a flag,
it squats
in the grass and weeds,
incipient Port Jackson trees:
new, up-market, haute cuisine,
guard at the gatepost,
whites only inn.

No sign says it is:
but we know where we belong.

I press my nose
to the clear panes, know,
before I see them, there will be
crushed ice white glass,
linen falls,
the single rose.

Down the road,
working man’s cafe sells
bunny chows.
Take it with you, eat
it at a plastic table top,
wipe your fingers on your jeans,
spit a little on the floor:
it’s in the bone.

I back from the glass,
boy again,
leaving small, mean O
of small, mean mouth.
Hands burn
for a stone, a bomb,
to shiver down the glass.
Nothing’s changed.

This was the first poem I studied as part of my GCSE Anthology, and it introduced me to a style and a realism that I had never come across before. It was hard-hitting, and really put you in Afrika’s shoes, imagining the setting in front of him, picturing the said ‘whites-only inn’ and its juxtaposition with the adjacent working man’s cafe.

It is this juxtaposition – and the repetition within the second stanza – that makes this poem technically brilliant. Afrika paints the picture superbly, emphasising the disparity between the two communities. He avoids sweeping statements, just sticks to simple nouns to describe the scene he witnesses every day, and how he wants to destroy it.

It is worth reiterating that this poem was reflective of the feelings of one – though reasonably influential – South African. Others may have felt differently about the situation at the time, but the work also proves that there was still a long way to go for the rainbow nation to achieve total equality in terms of human rights, and as said before they are still on the road to doing that now, 22 years after the end of Apartheid.

The Woman In Black – Book vs Movie Part Two

Despite a somewhat underdeveloped plot, the movie adaptation of The Woman in Black was perceived to be such a success by its producers that they wanted to make a sequel. However, there hadn’t been a second novel. Determined not for this potentially lucrative opportunity to be wasted, they enlisted original author Susan Hill to come up with a brand new storyline.

This was over three decades after the book was published, and on the whole it was a very interesting concept – that of creating a second movie to act as a sequel to an original movie that was based as a standalone novel. Hope this all makes sense.

For those who haven’t seen the film – subtitled Angel of Death, it is set around 40 years after the events of the original, so right in the middle of the Second World War. A group of evacuees including a silent orphan called Edward are sent to Eel Marsh House in the village of Crythin Gifford, along with their carers, one of whom is an inwardly troubled lady called Miss Parkins.

On the train to Crythin Gifford – just as Arthur Kipps meets Samuel Daily in the first film, Miss Parkins has her first encounter with a young pilot called Harry, and they take an instant shine to each other. Soon after arriving at Eel Marsh House and being shown around by a former doctor of medicine, Edward – who is being bullied by one of his peers – soon clasps his eyes on the Woman in Black and is subsequently possessed.

This goes on to result in the deaths of two of his fellow evacuees and Miss Parkins becomes increasingly distressed, making the Woman in Black her obsession. Along with Harry, she goes on to find some gramophone recordings in the basement which emit the voice of former homeowner Alice Drablow, revealing her torment at being haunted by the ghost of Jennet Humfrye.

After being forced to escape to Harry’s fake airfield, Edward is lured back to Eel Marsh House and is in the act of drowning when Miss Parkins hurries back and discovers him. They are being pulled down into the water by the Woman in Black until Harry appears as if by magic and saves them (I say this because Miss Parkins stole his jeep).

Just like the end of the first movie, the characters think that the Woman In Black is gone forever, but in the closing shot a photograph of the sacrificed Harry is mysteriously smashed…A good end to what is a reasonably good movie, if badly thought through on the odd occasion.

The characters are completely original having not appeared in a published work, so although there is not a great time for development the personalities of Miss Parkins and Harry are well established by the end, while the use of Edward as almost a host for the Woman in Black makes for quite a creepy spectacle.

The most impressive yet questionable additional feature is the recordings of Alice Drablow. These help to place more emphasis and shed more light on how the Woman in Black came into being, and will have been looked upon with fondness by fans of the original book who may have felt that the first film was a little lacking in backstory. On the other hand – how did Arthur Kipps not discover such a key piece of evidence while he was trawling through Eel Marsh House???

All in all it was a very brave step from the filmmakers when they pitched the idea of a movie sequel. They had to be innovative and find a way of manipulating the original story into creating a new one with very little to go on – even with Susan Hill’s help. While not an unqualified success, they could have done a much worse job and so deserve credit for making the most of the opportunity they created for themselves. The Woman in Black is a fascinating creation and the producers were right in thinking that we wanted to see more of her.

The Woman In Black – Book vs Movie Part One

Back in January I went to the library to borrow a new book. I had a couple in mind, but then I noticed The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. I could not resist the temptation. Having already seen the film, and seeing that at less than 200 pages it was a relatively short book, I felt it would be a very enlightening read.

The book’s narrator is a retired solicitor called Arthur Kipps, who at the beginning refuses to join his wife Esme and extended family in telling ghost stories to his grandchildren. It reminds him of the tragic events that took place earlier in his life, of which the book is essentially a recount.

You can imagine the old man hurting as he attacks his typewriter, describing the time when he was sent by his law firm to the eerie village of Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of Ms Alice Drablow, who lived in the dilapidated wreck that was Eel Marsh House.

He sees a ghostly woman dressed all in black at the funeral, of whom all the villagers are wary to speak (makes her sound like Lord Voldemort doesn’t it?). The woman goes on to haunt Arthur throughout his stay at Eel Marsh house as he hears terrifying apparitions as well as the sound of a boy on a pony and trap having a fatal accident on the nearby marshes.

With the help of landowner Samuel Daily and his dog Spider, Arthur inwardly summons the mental toughness and resilience to stay at Eel Marsh House and complete his business of sifting through all of Ms Drablow’s documents, but he is soon forced to save Spider from death on the marshes, and once he gains access to the nursery the tension increases further.

Arthur later uncovers that the boy who died on the marshes was Nathaniel Drablow, who was under the care of Alice, but was really the illegitimate son of Jennet Humfrye, who looked on from the nursery window when the pony and trap sank. Jennet never forgave Alice, and continued to haunt her in Eel Marsh House right until she died.

After all of this Arthur is rather overcome by his experiences, so has his fiancée Stella arrive to accompany him back to London. Some time later Arthur is married to Stella and has a son, and watches on as the two of them are admitted on to a fairground ride. He then sees the Woman in Black, who gains her revenge, fulfilling the prophecy that whenever she is seen, it results in the death of a child.

Arthur then wraps up the story, explaining that this is the reason why he didn’t want to entertain his grandchildren. The book actually comes to quite an abrupt end, as Arthur solemnly summarises the day he lost everything and then closes the book in such a way that he seems to want to be put out of his misery.

The movie version – starring Daniel Radcliffe – came out amid some publicity in 2012, but after reading the novella on which it’s based, the difference between the two is startling. The old Arthur Kipps is not included. The story begins with Arthur leaving his young son with his nanny as he heads to Crythin Gifford, with his wife having already died during childbirth.

Samuel Dailly has much more of a role, and his wife suffers from panic attacks which are linked to the Woman in Black, who causes the deaths of two children in the village in equally shocking circumstances. As Arthur is present at both of their deaths and is known to be searching Eel Marsh House, many of the people blame him and ask him to leave.

When he uncovers the truth about Nathaniel, Arthur enlists the help of Daily to find the boy’s dead body from the depths of the marshes, feeling that reuniting the Woman in Black with her child would make her go away. However, when back at Crythin Gifford railway station as his son, the nanny as Samuel Daily look on, his son sees the Woman in Black on is lured on to the track.

Arthur notices too late as he dashes on to the track and the two of them are hit by an oncoming train. In death, they are then spiritually reunited with Stella.

When I first saw the movie I felt that this was a bad ending, but having read the book and seen its context I can understand where it comes from. It is the most gothic book I have read to date, and is much more focused on narrative than the kind of drama which you see in a movie.

I am the kind of person who believes that films should be faithful to the books on which they are based – this one certainly isn’t, but it still occasionally makes very good use of the source material. In the film there is more of an emphasis on the effects of the Woman in Black across the whole town of Crythin Gifford, and the apparent closure surrounding Nathaniel’s death, and the role of Daily are impressive additions.

All in all, this is a book that must have been difficult to adapt, so the filmmakers did require some creative license to really illustrate the consequences of seeing the Woman in Black. There could have been more scares, and there should be a greater amount of the book’s narrative included on the whole, but generally speaking it is a movie that takes enough from the book to be just about credible.

My Poetry – Always There

For some time I have wanted to write a poem that echoes the lyrics of a musical ballad, perhaps with the intention of portraying an excessive degree of sentiment.

So I came up with ‘Always There’, a work which became a little more personal than it was meant to be. In one long verse, I give the impression that I am upset about the relationship I have with a female friend.

Some of the feelings expressed are my true feelings as I can feel rather subordinate when a friend of mine is chatting to somebody else in plain sight, but it is merely an exaggeration; a hypothetical situation which I hope will never reflect reality. Here it is in full:

It’s a cruel feeling
Sickening to the core
It’s eating away at me
And makes me want to live no more
There’s meant to be a power in letting go
But we’ve done too much to finish now
You still need my help
And I still need your ability to wow
A lot has happened
Over this short space of time
You have grown so very quickly
But I hope you’re not leaving it all behind
The battles we’ve fought
Either side of the desk
Maybe they have simply expired
But I don’t want it all laid to rest
You still treat me with adoration
Yet when others arrive
It all feels so hollow

And I’m desperate for our relationship to survive
With others you look so natural
Makes ours just seem like a game
I feel so selfish I hate myself
All because you don’t feel the same
It is impossible to admit how I truly feel
As too much depends on it
But what really frightens the most
Is how it may harm our friendship
I want us to feel close again
But others are standing in my way
You are friendly with them all
And when I see you together
I just waste away
I pretend I’m not around

But the emotions are too powerful
I just can’t control them
It keeps me awake all night, it’s that awful
You reined me in and now I can’t escape
And although the flutters have gone
I still think of you lots
And worry that things are so wrong
I may never get what I desire
But I would like you to know
That I will always be on your side
Always there for you while others come and go

I think that this is one of my more powerful poems as it probably reflects the emotions of a lot of people. It deliberately goes to extremes such as the suicidal thoughts that are expressed early on, while it tells the story of someone who just cannot let go of how he feels, regardless of how much he would like to.

I chose to write it in a single stanza format in order to achieve a better poetic flow. At no point is there an obvious discourse marker to begin a new verse, and this post ends on my piece of literary advice: I may be known for my quatrains, but they should only be used where best applied.

The Perils of Print

I had barely six months of experience as an online writer when I was first asked about the possibility of writing for the Soccer 360 magazine back in November 2013. It was a time when I was severely lacking in self-confidence and so I questioned whether I was capable of making the step-up to print journalism at such a young age.

When I saw the email that pitched this opportunity to me, I was positively quaking with fear, as committing to this would also mean that my already considerable workload was to be increased by a near 2000-word piece that carried a strict deadline. There was to be no let-up, but eventually I decided that it was something I couldn’t refuse, so replied saying that I would be happy to give it a go.

While I was already well versed in terms of adhering to style guides and writing in an unbiased, well-reasoned manner, plenty of this was new to me. I had to follow a limited brief to create a feature article of 1,750 words, as well as two detailed sidebars. The tone of the article – though not really informal – was not what I was altogether used to, while the most difficult aspect was to keep it ‘timeless’ and therefore in context for the magazine’s publication date, so it was pretty daunting all-round.

The piece I eventually created was not the finest by any means, but it was acceptable enough and with a few tweaks it was published in January 2014. It didn’t do loads for my confidence as I shunned the chance to write for the following edition, but thankfully I saw the light and returned, and I have only missed one issue since the summer of 2014.

Over the course of that period the quality of my writing has increased immeasureably, and I have been able to come up with some very good declarative lines in my magazine articles, not to mention some impressive pun-adorned headlines which have seemingly been met with enthusiasm by the magazine’s editors.

I view my writing for Soccer 360 represents a little escapism from the online match previews that I tirelessly put together every week. Although I am required to stick within the limitations of a brief, I am able to communicate my ideas a lot better and commit fully to a footballing issue. While with my previews I have a lot of creative license, the context of the articles are almost invariably the same.

The biggest stumbling block when writing for Soccer 360 as I have previously hinted, is its date of publication. When contributors are allocated a piece and are given a brief, they sometimes cannot legislate for developments that take place in between the commission period, and when it goes to print.

It happened to one of my fellow writers back in December, when he was given a piece to do on Chelsea FC and how they struggled throughout the first half of the current English Premier League season. Just after the date of his deadline and with the piece already having been sent to editors, the club’s manager Jose Mourinho was sacked, meaning that the article had to be hastily revised.

And as luck would have it, the same happened to me for the following issue, which has just been released. My assigned piece was on the so-called ‘Price of Pep’ and what appointing Pep Guardiola (widely regarded as the world’s best football coach) would be worth to a Premier League club.

Now, on the date of the deadline and with my piece already safely with the editors, it was confirmed that Guardiola was to take charge of Manchester City FC in the summer of 2016. My reaction when I saw the news was priceless, as I knew exactly what it would mean – that I would have to re-write a sizeable chunk of my feature.

An email from the commissioner confirmed as much, and I got all the revisions done in one evening thanks to burst of determination. There was pressure on as I had a feeling my original wasn’t good enough anyway, but fortunately everything was done to a high standard and I was not asked to make any further changes. Nonetheless, it was a stressful couple of days.

I always feel some pressure when writing for Soccer 360, mainly because I don’t want to let the editors down for continually showing their faith in me to produce quality work.

But I’m also acutely aware that it gains a large audience – after all it’s not a cheap, smalltown magazine. It is the biggest selling magazine of its subject in North America, containing tremendous production values and styles. It is a privelage to be able to contribute towards it every two months, but I’d prefer it to be stress-free, unlike my most recent assignment.

A Defeat for Dialogue

When I began this blog I insisted that I would never go more than five days without writing new material. Unfortunately it has not taken long for me to break that promise, which in fairness is due to an extremely busy week where a mounting pile of other writing commitments and social events has tied me up to the extent that I feel almost brain dead.

In the time since my last post, the Academy Awards have been handed out in Hollywood in a ceremony full of the usual glitz and glamour, but with the spectre of controversy hanging over it due to the appalling lack of diversity among this year’s nominees. The presence of Chris Rock as host was ironic in the circumstances, but he did a fine job of handling the furore, and making light of it in his own comedic manner.

Away from this murky subject, the other main topic of conversation was on whether Leonardo DiCaprio would finally win the award for Best Actor, having been overlooked on countless occasions in years gone by. Hotly tipped to succeed, he wasn’t disappointed as his role as the spirited, vengeful survivor Hugh Glass in The Revenant brought him the ultimate reward.

Set in the 19th century and partly based on a book by Michael Punke, The Revenant tells the story of the frontiersman Glass, who is mauled almost to death by a bear and is left fighting to survive, forced to feed on scattered pieces of animal flesh as he looks to avenge the death of his son, who is mercilessly killed by disagreeable colleague Fitzgerald.

When his comrades eventually discover that he is still alive – contrary to what they were told by Fitzgerald – they bring Glass back to base, before he eventually goes out to hunt Fitzgerald down, winning their subsequently gory fight to the death.

It was a movie that received widespread attention, as well as the most nominations at the awards ceremony. Of the three that it won, two of them were massively deserved. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski delivered the most beautiful picture that I have ever had the pleasure of watching, while director Alejandro G. Inarritu performed a minor miracle by succeeding in bringing us what was a hugely ambitious project while delivering some excellent shots.

But did DiCaprio deserve his award? I have mixed feelings on this. He is a very good actor and certainly does nothing wrong in the film, but does he do enough to have earned the Academy Award for best actor? Not if you make your decision based on dialogue and how much gravitas it provides.

This is because Hugh Glass does not have many lines in the film whatsoever. His role is primarily a physical one, carrying it along, the person who the audience latches on to and follows his determined journey to survival. DiCaprio conveys the anguish of Glass at the loss of his son and the injuries he suffers at the claws of the bear, going through his own battle with the natural world as he went along. After all, filming this epic was an ordeal for every member of the cast and crew.

I am really pleased for DiCaprio and have enormous respect for him, but for me dialogue is essential to any film role and more emphasis should have been placed on it when voting for a winner. He made Hugh Glass an iconic character just by being him, maybe that’s what won it for him.

And as a closing remark, this award very much reflects the words uttered by the late, great Alan Rickman, whose passing earlier this year is still a real source of personal sadness. He once said the following: ‘Parts win prizes, not actors’.