The Shape Of Water... and Morality

Like many people I had been looking forward to seeing this much acclaimed movie at the cinema. I missed it because the 'Beast from the East' hit home and the entire cinema was closed down. So, with life returning to normal after the brief milk and bread shortage, I returned to the cinema and watched it last week.

It looked beautiful, as one would expect from a Guillermo del Toro film. It was well acted and capably directed (though not Oscar worthy in my opinion). It nevertheless scooped up four of the golden ones at the 90th Academy Awards ceremony. But I was left feeling empty at the end of it.

My problem is this. 

The villain in the film, who is depicted working for a military organisation, has a gun, which is to be expected. The amphibious being who is central to the film did not. But at a crucial moment in the film it had a choice. And it chose to kill. My point is that it might as well have been carrying a gun, given that it chooses vengeance over benevolence, and this is so typical of Hollywood right now. The gun is a very well used symbol over there. And it has been used imaginatively in many a Tarantino or Scorsese film, which is fine by me, because if you watch a film about gangsters you expect them to have guns. But here, the director could have created something quite beautiful, in keeping with the rest of his film, but I think he made the wrong choice. The gun is too often wielded in Hollywood filmmaking and I believe it has become a short cut to bad storytelling. It's misuse renders most narratives black and white, with no grey areas, and characters become caricature. A case of shoot first, talk later. And whilst it can work in certain films I think that del Toro had the opportunity to ensure that The Shape Of Water rose above such limitations, but he allowed that opportunity to sink without trace.

Now, I'm a crime writer. But I've never used a gun in my books. Perhaps that's because I live in Scotland, where, thankfully, we have a very sensible view on gun control. It's simply not part of our culture. But if I was to use a gun, then I believe such a decision would have to be earned. It has to count for something, otherwise you'd be as well simply clubbing your character over the head with a mallet, which is increasingly how gun depiction in films is beginning to feel. 

Maybe I'm just overtly sensitive to this at the moment, what with the recent shootings in Florida, but I'm sure I'm not the only one. The increasing volume of criticism against American gun laws would seem to validate my concerns. In America, the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the police are no longer required 'to protect and to serve' - in other words they no longer protect and serve the public. In Florida four police officers hid behind their cars whilst 17 teenagers were massacred by one lone gunman. 

At the Oscars a huge deal was made of the Hollywood industry trying to show it's acceptance of gender equality and diversity. But it still has a long way to go, and I feel this is reflected in the way Hollywood chooses to tell its stories involving guns. I'm not saying that guns should be banned from films or any of that nonsense, (though I did wonder at the 15 certificate for a film which depicts violence, gore, masturbation and explicit sex - maybe I'm just behind the times). If a gun must be used in a film it must be used constructively. It has to serve the story. The creature commits a not entirely necessary act of violence. But how much more interesting might it have been if it had chosen another route? 

Art is always a reflection of life and perhaps I should just accept that this is only a film at the end of the day. But with the continual dismissal of good common sense on gun control by the authorities, I do fear that in America they are becoming increasingly isolated by global opinion. Guns are no longer sexy. Even in films they are becoming dull - a tired and overused deus ex machina. As a result never has Hollywood appeared more like a dinosaur than it does now.

I think that Scotland, and the rest of the British Isles, are a much richer place for needing to earn the use of a gun and this is reflected in our storytelling. Good fiction can and should produce good heroes. On my side of the water we have a fictional hero called The Doctor. He too encounters villains (of all shapes and sizes) but the similarity ends there. He never uses a gun to kill anyone, or anything for that matter. He abstains from violence and instead he simply uses the oldest weapons of all - speech and diplomacy.  

The other side of the water needs a hero, and Mr del Toro's film could have been the answer to that. It's amphibious entity gave it it's best shot.

And missed.

Ian Skewis is the author of A Murder Of Crows and has contributed a short story called Inkling to the Speculative Book anthology. This is the link to his author page: https://nrnk.co/a/B06XHMZ2JY

He will appearing at the Aye Write! festival on Saturday 24th March in Glasgow, Scotland. For more info please click on this link: https://www.ayewrite.com/Pages/Whats-On.aspx#/event/ff3bf4d8-0c16-4fec-84ca-a85d00eb7b61

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Exciting New Developments...

It's been quite some time since my last blog, and because so much has happened in the intervening months I felt it best to return to it pronto! But where to begin?

Well, BOOK TWO is coming along nicely - slowly, but surely. I'm very excited (and a little bit nervous) about how my new book will be perceived (for reasons which will become apparent) but I'm excited nevertheless.

As for Book One (A Murder Of Crows), well, the success has continued well into 2018. Sales have been very healthy and it recently went to No.1 in the Amazon Scottish Crime charts for the second time, as well as hitting the top spot in other sub genre categories. Then, a shock - it entered the Top Ten in Canada! And I don't mean the sub genre charts, but the mainstream charts. I scored a palpable hit! I was so thrilled I contacted Canadian singer/songwriter Corey Hart (I'm a longtime fan) and he congratulated me and told me that my belief in him had spurred him on with his new songs. I guess even big pop stars like him still have their daily struggles just like the rest of us. 

Reviews for A Murder Of Crows have been very positive (88 reviews on Amazon UK at this point in time, all of them averaging 4.5 stars) but interestingly, some reviews have coined the phrase 'literary crime' when discussing my book. This is only a recent development - I previously didn't know the term or genre existed. But this, and the praise for the character of Alice, has been very illuminating and has helped me to decide which direction to take next as a writer. I'm now very glad I delayed the sequel to AMOC because it will be better for it now, of that I'm convinced. Many writers balk at reviews, but I think both good (and bad) reviews can be helpful if they are written well. 

Now for the bad news. The Halloween project I hinted at a few months ago has fallen through, I'm sorry to say, BUT I have put some contingency plans in place and, well, watch this space - it may well still happen in a different format to the original proposed version. 

And now for some good news. I will be appearing at not one but two writing festivals in the coming months. I am thrilled to say that I'll be sharing the stage with Alan Parks and Charles E McGarry at the Aye Write! festival later this month AND I'll be onstage with Clare MacLeary, Jackie McLean and Tana Collins at Newcastle Noir in May! This will be my first professional appearance south of the border so I'm very excited. For more information on these dates see the COMING SOON part of my website. 

And last but certainly not least, I have written a brand new story entitled Remembering Miss Clare. This is a novelette about an elderly woman who is interviewed by a hack who will stop at nothing to get to the truth, or her version of it. The elderly woman has a deep, dark secret and becomes embroiled in a game of cat and mouse. I'm very proud of this piece of work and I hope you enjoy it too. It is scheduled for release later this year (format to be confirmed) and I hope it bridges the gap somewhat whilst I endeavour to continue writing BOOK TWO.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions then please don't hesitate to contact me here or via my email: contact@ianskewis.com

 

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Halloween... 2018...

So, after all the business of promoting my first book and doing various public appearances I'm now finally getting to grips with BOOK TWO.

I was actually well into writing a sequel to A Murder Of Crows when I realised several things: Writing a sequel bogs you down in the predecessor's history. Now, whilst this is no great insight and no real negative, I began to realise that it was killing my writing. The text was staggered, it wasn't free-flowing, because I kept having to check it for accuracy so that it tied in with what I had written before.  I also felt that it was too soon to be able to be objective. Some projects have to rest before they can be returned to, and given that I want to do Jack Russell justice (in more ways than one, given how I left him at the end of his first adventure!) it seems sensible to let the Crows nest for a while before they take flight again. 

So, there will be a sequel to A Murder Of Crows - but not yet.

Instead, I've started research for a brand new psychological thriller that will become a possible series in the coming years - yes, I'm thinking that far. 

Suffice to say the research and the tentative ideas I have are coming along very nicely. The writing is easier and flowing much more freely, and I've assembled a great new cast of characters, who I hope you will love as much as I do. This new story is every bit as dark and atmospheric as its predecessor (and then some) and there are many great twists and turns along the way. I'm aiming that it has the Ian Skewis trademark (so I've been told) of high drama, grounded characters, and a twisted sense of location. I've prepared a rough draft of the prologue which I will be debuting at Noir at the Bar in Edinburgh on November 30th.

And since it's Halloween I can tentatively announce that this time next year I will be taking part in a very exciting project. But I can't say anything much about it just yet, except that it will be very spooky and a whole lot of fun.

Watch this space, and thanks you for your support.

 

Bloody Scotland and Beyond

When I was asked to appear on the New Crimes panel at Bloody Scotland with three other debut authors I literally jumped for joy.

Bloody Scotland, for those of you who don't know, is a crime writing festival, and the biggest of its kind in Scotland. It attracts writers of all levels from all over the world; Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Lynda LaPlante, to name but three. To be asked to take part in something of this scale was a great honour. And I had a ball.

I was very nervous on the first day and felt I had a permanent rictus grin on my face, but I was made to feel so welcome by everyone. We were all taken to Stirling castle for some VIP treatment - a piper piped us in, we then had champagne, and photos were taken. In the attached picture I'm standing to the left with a glass in my hand, right next to Christopher Brookmyre, Val McDermid and Denise Mina, amongst others. That was the first thing that struck me about this festival. There is no pecking order, or even so much of a whiff of corporate. Everyone is equal, no matter how advanced or famous they might be. I loved that. 

I then met the amazing Alex Gray and she took me to the front of the procession for the opening Gala March and we were all given wax torches to light and take with us on our journey. Imagine my surprise and delight when a tall, dark-haired man in a suit turned round to speak to Alex - and it was none other than Ian Rankin! Alex kindly introduced us and he then lit my torch with his. (later that evening I was raving on social media about how Ian Rankin had 'lit my candle!') And we were off, with everybody coming out of their homes to watch the spectacle. It was truly magical. We then arrived at the Assembly Hall and I watched Ian talk about his career, and of course, his most famous creation, Rebus. Later, Val McDermid and others performed a medley of crime-related songs to conclude the evening's entertainment. They were brilliant. It was an amazing first day. 

The next day it was my turn. I was nervous at first, but as the morning progressed and I mingled with everyone, I began to feel more focussed and ready for my event. Hosted by Alex Gray, the New Crimes panel went very well and it was nice to see a full house of about 120 or so people had come to see us. 

I spent the rest of the day, and the following day watching other writers perform and talk about their work; Christopher Brookmyre, Caro Ramsay, Lynda LaPlante and many others. I was sad when the festival ended and I reluctantly went home - but I have lovely memories and lots of new ideas.

And yes, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

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Out of darkness cometh light...

Crime novels often come from a dark place. Mine is no exception.

My debut novel, A Murder Of Crows, was inspired by a childhood experience: I found the dead body of a man hanging from a tree in the countryside. The year was 1979. I was nine years old.

Fast forward some 38 years later and now this book, once a dream, is now a reality. It feels strange to reflect on how it came to pass that a quiet and thoughtful little boy saw something that day which took him all that time to put into words, all 94,428 of them.

I used to pretend that I wasn't traumatised by that dark day in the country, but having written this book I now realise that perhaps it affected me more than I cared to admit. But at the same time I wonder - if that day had not come to pass, then what might I have done with my life? Would I still be filled with joy at seeing my book in print? Would I be writing this blog? Would this website even exist?

The truth is, I don't know.  

What I do know is that the events of that day inspired a story, and that story became a book, and that book is now inspiring others to write. And now there's a website too. Feel free to browse and enjoy...