Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Orange is the new Black: Yeah it is!

Words: Rosie Parry

So, a lot of people have been tweeting and posting about this new show Orange is the new Black and, as a TV show binger, I decided to watch the first 6 episodes last night. To give you a brief synopsis; Piper Chapman is seemingly a 'girl-next-door', sweetness and light type of character. However, ten years prior to the beginning of the show, Chapman went travelling after college, met an international drug exporter, became involved in a lesbian romance with her, smuggled a crap load of money through the airport and has now been named a decade later as being involved in the drug ring. We see Chapman's resolution to surrender herself to prison for 12 months and her preparation for it e.g. reading prison books, getting engaged to her boyfriend (Jim, from American Pie) and telling both his and her family about the offence with the excuse of being 'young and foolish' back then.


I set up my laptop, clicked play and leaned back into my armchair, ready to play critic. To be fair the titles were a great start, a medley of eyes, lips, smiles and frowns accompanied by the song 'You've got time' (recorded by Regina Spektor) which feels really fitting for the show, up-close and personal. So I sat silently following the plot for the first five minutes. My friend, who had been busy in another room came in and asked, 'so what's it like, then?' I contemplated for a moment, 'it's just begun and I've seen boobs three times.' We concurred that that was a pretty good omen. 

Little did I know that by episode 3, seeing a pair of boobs was as ordinary and commonplace as brushing your teeth in the morning. Although, it must be said that there's more to this show than just breasts, we experience Piper's transition into prison life and the racism, violence, romance, sisterhood and the laughs that become part of her 'goldfish bowl' existence. Piper makes schoolboy error number one by insulting the prison food in front of the prison cook "Red" who is a don in the women's correctional facility. Next morning, Piper (or Chapman as she is henceforth know under the prison roof) is served a used-tampon sandwich, would you like that rare or well done? Piper is soon denied meals altogether and is being 'starved out', she has to rely on herself to survive and we see her become less Cher from Clueless and more of a savvy inmate.

Chapman subsequently learns how 'tribal' the prison is with inmates sticking to their own race, well except for 'crazy eyes' who adores Piper and calls her 'dandelion' and wife. This is what is called 'swirling', chocolate and vanilla apparently! We also learn that a lot of the prison guards are either useless, vulgar, sexual predators, blackmailers, corrupt or just generally unpleasant with the exception of one or two. As well as laughing at a lot of scenes, a lot made me feel edgy and empathetic. What would I do in that situation ? (fingers crossed I won't be).

It's not just Piper Chapman's experience we get acquainted with, each episode seems to follow an individual character on their road to being incarcerated. Many of the crimes are almost understandable e.g. one inmate killed a man who assaulted one of her young employees... she could be called a hero. We see Sophia, the girl who used to be a male fire fighter, denied of hormone tablets and looking regretfully back over the relationship she has with her disappointed son. We get to see Piper's fiancé visit alongside her bossy mother and frankly annoying best friend. Also, Chapman's ex-girlfriend, who landed her in the mess she's in, shows up while Chapman is mid panic attack and her boyfriend isn't so happy when he discovers that his fiancé is locked up with her ex-lesbian lover. And so unfurls a fascinating, hilarious and tense prison drama.

Did I mention that the show is based on a true story? Piper Kerman, writer of Orange is the new Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, did in fact spend 13 months in prison beginning in 2004. The experiences, the emotions and many of the characters are derived straight from reality but often enhanced or further explored by Jenji Kohan who is the creator of the Netflix show. The characters certainly do have a very real quality about them, so obscure and diverse a population, yet somehow cohabiting this small space and surviving through alliances they make and supporting one another with good humour and sincerity.

Personally, I found the show very endearing and entertaining, I can see what the hype is all about but I am only halfway through the first season so we shall have to wait and see how the show progresses. If you haven't seen it, I would suggest that you gave the first episode a try. The show is certainly not a slow starter and you will get an immediate sense of what the show's all about during that first episode, and whether or not you would enjoy it. If you're a teenage boy, due to the hardcore lesbianism, I would go as far as to say that you'll love it.

P.s. Jodie Foster directed an episode, for that reason alone, it's got to be pretty awesome.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Top Reasons to Visit Paris on a Budget

Words: Lindsay Bradley

Paris is not just for lovers - it’s for everyone! It’s a city full of culture that’s ideal for those on a budget. If you’re looking for a weekend city break here are five reasons why Paris should be at the very top of your list of places to visit.

The Eiffel Tower
The most iconic monument is of course the Eiffel Tower. There are several floors to the tower with each floor providing information on the history of its construction along with restaurants and shops. With its popularity, it often means that at peak times it gets very busy so instead of wasting your afternoon queuing up for the lifts, why not take the stairs and be rewarded with some breath-taking views of the city.

The Metro
In big cities, there is always the issue of getting around. Luckily, Paris' metro system is ideal and cheap to use. You can get a day pass and see some of the best Paris has to offer, for example the Arc De Triomphe and the Notre Dame are both free to view, although you can pay a small fee to see extra. If architecture isn't of interest then perhaps a walk through one of Paris' gardens would be better. Jardin des Tuileries is a grand public park near The Louvre and is popular for its large fountain and majestic setting.

The Louvre
If art is your thing then you must look at one of the world’s largest and most famous museums - The Louvre. The Palace was once home to several French Kings before it became a museum.  It’s free to EU residents under the age of 25 and free to all visitors on the first Sunday of each month. You can spend an entire day at the museum and still struggle to see everything! There is something for everyone to enjoy from ancient Egyptian sculptures to the illustrious Mona Lisa.

Food and Drink
Breakfast is something that the French excel at so instead of settling for hotel fare why not discover some of the many patisseries and cafes? They provide an affordable and delicious breakfast, making you feel a part of Parisian life. Paris is not just about croissants and coffee either, why not try a tartine (lengthways sliced French bread with jam) with fruit juice? The city is also the place to go in the evening as most bars and restaurants come alive and the majority have a happy hour. Why not treat yourself to a steak au poivre alongside the odd cocktail or three?!

Live Music
Paris is an ideal location for lovers of live music. Many up-and-coming French bands play in cafes and bars. In addition, popular UK and US bands frequently play live shows in small venues such as Café De La Danse in Bastille for a fraction of the price. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

OKCupid: Love's Elephant Graveyard

It was just after the New Year I signed-up. It’s a common thing that 20-somethings start looking for something more after graduation. Something more meaningful in their lives. Yes, there comes a point when a young, yearning heart must find a release. And with a lack of a smartphone meaning I was unable to access better alternatives, I made do with the best resource available…

Image courtesy of James Longhorn


It’s easy to take the piss out of online dating sites, there’s nothing more cringeworthy than people earnestly ‘looking for love’- the sort of people who spend evenings listening to Back To Bedlam, weeping gently because they can’t ‘find the one.’ But the basic premise of OkCupid actually makes a lot of sense: everyone’s fucking lonely, so why not answer a load of questions and  get matched with people similar to yourself? At least it means you can avoid the sort of women who’d casually drop ‘the superiority of the white race,’ or ‘positive effects of eugenics’ into conversation.

But even for all the algorithm determined matching, it still comes across as a less subtle version of MySpace (and remember the subtlety of ‘pc4pc?’). With boobshots, dickshots, dogshots, catshots, hi-res, low-res, and all the other shit that results from internet anonymity. My profile pic choice was b&w selfie: opting to cast myself as a brooding byronic-hero amongst the rabble of social-recluses and wannabe pornstars. 

I got a start on my profile, hitting the brick wall of how to present my drug, alcohol and cigarette intake (does anyone in their 20’s not dabble?)- ultimately deciding that as I don’t drink bottles of Smirnoff in bed I was ‘social drinker’ and as I don’t smoke when I can’t afford to I was a ‘social smoker.’ It also asks you about religion, your love of animals, and a other questions designed to turn the best of us into the untruthful cretin beneath.

"I'm a poet, do you want me?"

Searching through the dating profiles (and writing my own) I got the sense that nobody has any idea what they’re doing. The process of consciously selling yourself to members of the opposite sex is so foreign to us that nobody could be good at it. Not that it’s that important. Online dating is essentially the process of trying to convince stranger you’re not a serial killer: I figured pretty much anything is fine as long as it isn’t creepy.  Still, there were a lot of 500-word ‘about me’ diatribes, I suppose it's hard to know how to sell yourself to other people faced with questions like 'what are you really good at?' and 'what's a secret you wouldn't tell anybody?'

The strangest part of distilling yourself into a paragraph is that it forces you to genre-ise yourself, so that everyone becomes a certain type. Based on matches my top types were (primarily determined by the fact I’m quite into politics and not against abortion): raging socialists and feminists; tea-gin-cats-cake feminists; and art students. It took about an hour until I realised the algorithm matching wasn’t that important anyway, and that for most people, everything was pretty much redundant besides whether or not they were fit. If they were called Coco and used bake sales to smash the capitalist-patriarchy I guess it would be an algorithm assisted bonus.

Having set up my profile I started trying to make contact. I think the messaging part is probably the part of online dating that takes the most getting used to. The fact that it’s all done via the internet meant I constantly had to remind myself that it was a real person on the other end of the messages. I imagine it’s probably this sense of not interacting with reality that begins some men's online sleezy descent, from donning a tank-top and flexing their abs; to posing topless and asking to see women tits; eventually culminating in their becoming one of the penises on chatroulette. 

It was during the messaging stage that I began to realise that all in all it’s a pretty dull experience. Its fundamental flaw is the lifelessness of digital communication. Even beyond the standard MSN “how r u/ wuu2/ how u doin?” convo, without the nuances of human face to face interaction, flirting ( ;) ) and discussing  shared interests are rendered lifeless.

In profile

Everything about the process feels forced. It feels as if nobody really knows what to say. For instance, people seems to really love discussing their hangovers. But I’ve never really understood why grown adults think alcohol is cool. Sure there’s some street cred to it when you’re 15 with a 2litre bottle of Strongbow and half a pack of JPS. But once it’s legal surely it’s just something that allows to interact with strangers and/or momentarily forgetting how shit life is. It’s pretty much a conversation killer online, beyond rating your headache out of ten, what is there to say? 

So having had multiple discussions about the Smiths and Amelie (which seems to be really big amongst the OkCupid community) I came to the realisation that it was all just too manufactured. Sure, if your sole intent is to find somebody because you feel it’s all that could make you happy, then maybe it’s worth it. Or if you’re too shy to find somebody in the real world. But everyone else? You should probably just get out there and talk to people- real people.  Surely there's more to finding love than the monotony of a keyboard convo. 

Besides, everyone knows you find love in the place you least expect it. Like power-hour in that club that serves cheap doubles, or Tinder, yeh, maybe Tinder...

Words: James Dawson

Monday, 27 January 2014

Music Review: City and Colour LIVE

Leeds O2 Academy - 25.01.14

Words: Lindsay Bradley

It was a miserable Saturday evening in Leeds, the wind and the rain made it a difficult walk up to the O2 Leeds Academy. As I walked inside at 8:30, City and Colour were just coming onto the stage. The early set time was due to some club night on after. Fair enough.

The band opened their set with the wistful ambience track ‘Of Space and Time’ taken off their new album The Hurry and the Harm. This album, in my opinion, is Dallas Green’s best work yet. The opening track reaffirmed this belief and from that moment onward, the audience had forgotten their worries and the weather outside.

When ‘Body in a Box’ from Bring Me Your Love began, the crowd cheered. When you read the lyrics it is not the cheeriest of songs (We celebrate the lives of the dead / It's like a man's best party, only happens when he dies.), but the Leeds crowd sang along at the top of their lungs. Everyone was so joyful and excited to be at the show. The atmosphere in the venue united the crowd, nothing could bring them down - it was just a shame a pint of Tuborg cost a painful £4.50.

Old favourites such as ‘Sleeping Sickness’ flawlessly fitted in with the likes of stripped down ‘The Grand Optimist’. The mixture of full band and solo acoustic fitted well, as he played the relatively upbeat ‘Fragile Bird’ with its reverberating guitar, taken from 2011’s Little Hell.

There was some banter during fan favourite ‘Comin’ Home’. As Dallas sang, ‘I’ve seen a palace in London / I’ve seen a castle in Wales’, the crowd jokingly booed and in typical Yorkshire style, and chants of ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire’ erupted. Dallas stopped mid-song and joked ‘This ain’t a fuckin’ soccer game, chill out!’ Everyone laughed and he continued the song with a new zest of enthusiasm, feeding off the crowd’s energy.

Indeed, City and Colour are not an upbeat cheery outfit but they have a similar effect of  Chris Carrabba’s Dashboard Confessional. Dallas Green’s ability to bring a crowd together to make them feel not so alone is no easy feat. He achieves this with ease and the audience becomes his to play, their energy drives him through the set.

However, the show could not last forever. They closed the set with the haunting ‘Death’s Song’, the echoing ‘woah’s’ are still firmly stuck in my head two days later. People were not ready to go home but the eighteen song set was soon over. As we all headed outside, we were hit with the cold bitter wind of reality.  

Oxford Road Rating: 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Music Review: Drive Shaft - Oil Change

It is coming up to ten years since the fateful Oceanic flight 815 crash, with Drive Shaft bassist Charlie Pace on board. Since then, Drive Shaft has released a greatest hits album and a tour to accompany it. Everyone seems to have fond memories of the band, yet very few were actually part of it.

The Manchester band shot to fame in 2000 with their radio friendly hit 'You All Everybody' taken from their moderately successful self-titled debut. Two years later, they released their second album Oil Change with very little fanfare. In fact, very little was mentioned of the album and it was not until I was looking through Poundland that I saw the album on sale. It was only a pound and I was bored. Since the plane crash a few writers like myself, decided to revisit the album. has actually compared the album to Weezer’s Pinkerton as a ‘lost classic’. No pressure then lads.

From hearing the first notes of the opening track ‘Vent’, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. Lead singer Liam attempts to croon sorrowfully with hardly the most imaginative lyrics, ‘Well I fell into a terrible lie / It seems my life was passing me by’. It was only the first song yet I already wanted to commit murder (half-kidding).

Through perseverance, it does get slightly better; ‘Ask me Again’ provides an indie-pop outlook to the Hollywood life. The catchy guitar hook teamed with the relentless percussion carried the lyrics well. ‘The door revolves, you’ve got to spin.’ This lyric signifies Drive Shaft’s short-lived career. It might have been a hit for the radio, but it was not meant to be.

The final track ‘Last Call’ should have been a poignant close to the album. Hearing Liam and Charlie sing ‘I wanna go home now’ is somewhat emotional, but I imagine hearing it back twelve years ago would have been painful for all the wrong reasons. There is nothing more displeasing than hearing grown men wail and attempt to imitate Chris Cornell and fail miserably.

The album could have been worse - Drive Shaft no longer sounds like a cheap copy of Oasis. It is clear that they had tried to come up with a new sound but by this point, it was too late. Drive Shaft will forever be remembered as one-hit wonders thanks to ‘You All Everybody’.

Digging through the past can sometimes unearth gems, but in the case of Oil Change, some things should just stay buried.

Oxford Road Rating: 
Why did Oasis never sue for this blatant rip off?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Love Letters to Science Fiction: Part Two

Words: Charles Hay

A few months ago I started a series of articles on the greatest and most inspirational science fiction I have encountered. I began with The City and the Stars by Arthur C Clarke and work which blew my mind in my early twenties with its enormous concepts, transcendent visions of humanity and extreme, world shattering time-scale. It is set a billion years from now. That's pretty long. It's so long that, looking at time in the other direction, a billion years in the past, there are absolutely no forms of multi-cellular life existent on Earth. That's how long a billion years is.
Compared to Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men and Star Maker (they pretty much come as a duology*), however, a billion years is paltry; a drop in the water. This is because something was wrong with Olaf Stapledon's sense of perspective, in that it seemed to smeared across reality and infinity. This may have made him quiet, antisocial and, by all accounts bloody weird, but damn it made him a fascinating writer.

In these two novels, or... whatever they are, future histories perhaps, he explores all of the future and all of the past in all possible universes. And he somehow manages to do this in a book of finite length.
Stapledon's time-frames here are inhuman, quite literally. Last and First Men covers humanity's evolution and eventual extinction over the next two billion (eat your heart out, Clarke) years, and Star Maker effectively covers an infinite length of time in both directions, but mostly focuses on the lifespan of our own universe. So still a few trillion years in there. 

His exploration of all the wonders of space and time is almost exclusively descriptive but deftly avoids becoming a boring info-dump by means of being an incredibly poetic, almost anti-individualist and reverential text. 
Last and First Men cover
Last and First Men
His descriptions of the advancing iterations of the future have the awed detachment of David Attenborough. The bizarre future of our intelligent form of life become increasingly alien, and with time, seemingly less substantially safe as a species than our perceptions of ourselves. It is a difficult feeling to describe, the precariousness felt about our future, and it is even more difficult to describe how this text reflects that feeling back on our own lives. 
A miserablist would probably take something altogether misanthropic away, or something nihilistic, but that was not the pervading feeling for me. I developed an odd sort mix of existential connectedness and detachment simultaneously. The fact that that statement is clearly paradoxical should make it clear how difficult it is to articulate.
Regardless of deficiencies of perspicacity, Stapledon's imaginative, surprisingly finely drawn extrapolations into our future are mesmerising. From our current technological ape, to bizarre, gigantic mobile brains, to bat-like creatures, Martian-hybrid telepaths and Neptunians, his visions of the future are in equal measure transcendent and horrifying from our perspective, just as would be the case from any member of humanity at any point in this evolutionary continuum. 

Star Maker goes even further, with Stapledon imagining current humanity not just as a link in a chain of some kind of meta-humanity, but as a tiny, infinitesimally tiny but arrestingly important cog in an infinite machine. The reader, given form within the text as a nameless narrator, is taken on a journey throughout increasingly alien worlds and increasingly alien frames of experience. 
Star Maker
Starting with a journey to an Earth-like planet with human-like intelligence, Star Maker contains descriptions of time and space which, whilst uncommon now, were almost unheard of outside of religion at the time of writing. Billions upon billions of years are experienced, and intelligences borne of planetary nebulae, stars and immense technological species telepathically linked across space are discovered.
Intelligence and consciousness is shown to be an emergent property of reality, manifesting through almost everything it can, and by the standards of the wider universe, our own sapience appears amazingly transient and almost inconsequential.
Towards the end, the eponymous Star Maker enters the stage and the scope of reality available becomes even more dizzyingly enormous. Universes are described which defy logic or our internal laws of physics. Reality seems but an eternal whimsy created in points of mad inspiration by a mind infinitely removed from our own. 

I found this enormity deeply affecting to the point of life-changing epiphany. I am aware that this sounds like hyperbole in the extreme, but it is not. On the surface of it, the over-arching "story" between these books is that we ourselves are part of a reality infinitely larger than ourselves, and that we are not existing in a time which defines humanity, or indeed life, more than any other time. With so many forms of our lineage to come, and so many other forms of life, and with us being so far from the full possible realisation of universal consciousness, what are we? What becomes of us, and what do we contribute?

I believe one of the main points of both Last and First Men and Star Maker is that to ask that is to ask the wrong question. "Me"; "I" is a cosmically unimportant concept. The universe does not assist the individual, and the individual cannot make a lasting change to the universe. Simply to be is important. Or more specifically, to be a part of the world, part of everything. We are all - humans, our descendents, nebula minds, thinking stars, dolphins, what have you - we are all parts of reality looking in at itself. We are the fragmented consciousness of eternity. We grant purpose to the universe from our very specific perspective, one only possible from our exact position. Along with the innumerable multitude of minds, we create for the universe a compound image of itself, and we give life to that image where there was none before.

To exist and to be, that is the purpose of the universe. To comprehend and to live and to imbue life and mind; that is our purpose.

This perspective has stayed with me the decade since reading these two novels. A feeling of that enormity and majesty in the face of minuscule individuality. It filled me with hope, and still does, that humanity will face up to the challenge of infinity not through egotistical conquest and self-propagation, but with the humility and the philosophy to accept their place amongst a reality beyond comprehension and, at its edges of its ability and the ends of its existence say merely, "it is very good to have been man."

* Apparently not a word, according to Blogger's built in spell-checker. Oh well.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Boredom. Anxiety. A Day in the Life.

Words: Charles Hay


I don't deal well with being alone, so these jobs which put me in unexplored territory, on my own... They're not so great.

It is an uncomfortable sort of trapped, to have so few of your things around you and to be so far from your loved ones. It lends a stifling blankness to existence that is extremely difficult to overcome. That is the primary reason for me writing this piece, in fact. This is an attempt to beat blandness by engendering it; forcing it into being something, and therefore destroying its ability to numb me.

It becomes almost like a hum, or something like a thrum. Like an unavoidable existential tinitus. It saps away vitality, and stretches seconds into hours whilst paradoxically making days seem like seconds. It becomes invasive; louder than thought. Decisions have too much inertia to tackle. They stumble before boredom.

I have spent a huge part of the last two years in rooms like this. Vaguely identikit bed and breakfasts. Sometimes there brilliant ones. Sometimes there are spectacularly awful ones. But by their context, they all become the same. They all become a room which is fundamentally not home. The telly goes on for fear of silence. The phone comes out for fear of loneliness.


Phonecalls are made and echo against flat, rigid silence when they end. The walls stare inwards. The door is locked. The world is locked. The world seems so far away.


Monday, 6 January 2014

Poem: Accidental Haiku

If there was a word
That could cup the emptiness
Soft as coffee froth

Louise Soothill 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Poem: Stapled


With the sharp slam of wood in the frame
your jeans clattered to the floor
like a small win on the slot machine
your arms, curved like a blade
tore at the vacuum- packed meat
that was stacked between your thighs

you stapled my hips to the mattress
forced your fingers into lace
I lay stiff as a dolly peg
and stubbornly let it slip
through wooden legs

you put my lips on mute
paused them
as you fast- forwarded
to the action
your body moving fast
with mine still on pause

your hands were ropes
with burning thumbs
a noose
around my blushing throat
toes stretching and dancing
for some stability

my body slid against your skin
like a deceived bird down a window
I dropped to cushioned grass with
wings spread.

Marie Staveley

Friday, 6 December 2013

Journo's Journal: The Value of Words

Words: Graeme Roberts

On 1st October 2013 I started my career as a journalist with Basketball Magazine, a monthly print publication reporting on basketball in Britain. These posts are supposed to capture my personal thoughts as I enter the world of journalism.

As a new magazine, our team is small and for my job I have to do more than merely provide content. The biggest challenge for me is not composing articles and features, but driving interest in the work I help to produce.

The task is not helped by what I consider to be a devaluation of the media, due in no small part to the plethora of websites allowing free access to it. Fear not, the irony of this article appearing on a free blog is not lost on me. 

Am I suggesting that websites should not provide intellectual material without a financial transaction having taken place? No. But I am saying that the existence of these websites has been a major contributor to the decline of print media and it means that fewer writers are able to make a decent living from their craft.

It could be blamed on market forces, with technology a helpless accomplice, whereby consumers choose to read free material because it is free. And why wouldn't they? Who on earth chooses to pay for something when they can get the same thing free elsewhere?

The problem is, it is often not the same thing. Material that appears on a free website is free for one of two reasons: the hosting website earns a reasonable amount of revenue from advertising or other avenues, or the material is not good enough for people to consider it worth buying.

It is hard to imagine that newspapers generate more revenue this way than they did when their publications were only available in print. How else do we explain the likes of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation fighting back and charging consumers to read their digital content?

The emergence of televised news has hurt newspapers much more than magazines as there is a greater overlap of content.  But newspapers still have their place as providers of in-depth news coverage and as vehicles for the expression of expert opinion, amongst other advantages. 

I will admit that before I started my job as a journalist I thought that newspapers charging for digital content was a bad thing, idealistically believing that the media should be free and that corporate greed was the driving factor behind this move.  But as a writer, I recognise that my work has value and should not be freely available unless I choose to make it so.

As a rookie journalist, I am providing some work to a small selection of freelance clients for little or no charge. For one client, a charitable organisation, I provide free material because I support their work and have done in other capacities for a number of years.  In the case of other clients, I am prepared to take a financial hit in order to help to establish myself as a reputable writer. 

I would rather have my work out there than not, but then again I would rather be paid than not. As it stands, I am fortunate enough to be getting paid to write for a living, but professions like mine will only continue if enough people acknowledge that high quality writing - like any good art, service or product - has value and ought to be paid for.

I am not saying my work is perfect or grossly superior to the next writer, but it is of a standard which reflects the completion of a first-class honours degree in English and Creative Writing and years spent honing the craft to a professional level.

My work has only recently started to be published in print for the magazine and digitally for one of Britain's biggest local newspapers, the Manchester Evening News.  I have already had to take steps to prevent others plagiarising the work which has been published digitally.  While this may not itself be the firmest indicator of quality, it does hammer home the dangers of material being free to access for anyone with an internet connection.

We have seen the same issue arise with music and films. There was the famous Napster case spearheaded by rock band Metallica, which lost them some fans but helped to preserve a lot of musicians' incomes. There is also the more recent enforcement of laws which protect intellectual property by shutting down and blocking access to torrent sites. 

Such measures are necessary if we as a society truly value the work of our artists.  And for me, we should value our artists, because if we don't, we risk losing many of our finest minds to other fields. 

If that happens, the world will be a much duller place, but I am confident that it will not happen. The internet is still fairly young and its creases are in the process of being ironed out. 

You could argue that the emergence of digital media gives more writers an unprecedented opportunity to present their work to the world, but the drawbacks are manifold.  Such writers are likely to earn little or no money from their work, especially if the website hosting it is free to access.

Thankfully, in our Wikipedia age, businesses and consumers alike are growing increasingly aware that free art - be it music, film, writing or any other art form - is less likely to be good art.        

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Poem: Healing


Gazing up from the gutter with grave eyes
Stoops a tangle of torn stockings and scarred skin
Startled, I stop and flop to my knees
And acknowledge her humanity with a touch.

“Please take me away from L.A.,” she says,
“Hollywood’s horrendous, unholy, Hell.”
I need not know the details of deeds done
To desire to save her sin-bitten soul.

Together we stagger past six or seven Starbucks
To land on rickety stools of an Outreach Mission
Where she slurps lamb broth without a spoon
While I share crusts of solace with the homeless.

She’s given a place to rest her leaden limbs
And as a tear graces her scratched cheek
She insists that she should show her thanks by
Washing my feet in cloudless water.

Author's Note: 'Healing' forms part of an acclaimed poetry collection which re-imagines the life of Jesus into present day America.  I am currently in the process adapting the collection to create a piece of poetic prose.  This will become the next instalment in my series of short fictions, Living Legends.  The provisional date for the release of 'Living Legends: Jesus Christ' on Amazon Kindle is 11th December 2013.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Poem: Camping in Autumn

The water flows further east
It always does, towards the forest
Where soil tastes of blood and
Fungi school and sit, big-bulbed
And brown, smiling across at us

Moss spools in cracks and
Hack shaped crevices
Your fine hairs rise as I stir at creamy skin
Socks balled by the ruffled duvet,
The glorious smell of oak

Louise Soothill

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Film Review: Gravity

Words: Charles Hay

To get straight to the point: this film ought to change Science Fiction in cinema and television. It left me breathless. It left me in awe, and in deep thought. It gave me a sense of physicality and reality regarding space and the operations there that no film has ever given me. It gave me a buzz about the possibilities of storytelling in the future.

The conceit is relatively simple. An astronaut has a truly, utterly dreadful few hours. The Russians blat one of their own satellites, causing a cloud of disastrously speedy shrapnel to career towards said astronaut's shuttle. This could have led to a regular disaster-flick, albeit a particularly interesting one, but for a few important points.

The visuals of this film are utterly breathtaking. Space has genuinely never been presented with such aplomb as this. The Earth is almost overwhelming in its enormity, solidity and beauty. The stars and the black veil of space are an endless vertiginous infinity, as anxiety inducing as the inexorable Earth. The space-stations, orbiters, capsules etc are real. There is no other way to describe them. They are there. In space. At no point do you question this. All this is lent even greater depth (deep deep deep oh god my stomach) with revelatory 3D treatment. No film has so far used 3D as effectively as this. Some of you are grimacing slightly. Don't. This is the proof of concept that will blow the endless gulch of CG blockbusters into obsolescence.

The soundscape of this film, too, is exceptional. The musical score keeps nerves jangling whilst the authenticity of the muffled sounds almost felt through space suits or the roaring of formless freefall fires gave me goosebumps. Interestingly, I definitely felt that the lack of sound in space added to, rather than detracted from the tension and adrenaline when the proverbial hit the extractor, and makes the gradual inclusion during one particlarly mind-melting sequence all the more effective.

This film could be summed up, accurately, if reductively, as 'humans battling physics'. This leads me to my next point. The action in this film is almost entirely based around the struggle to be human in a weightless, airless environment, and simply would not have worked so well if it wasn't for the utterly exhaustive attitude the film-makers have taken to detail. Many action films focus around the hero shrugging off reality and awesome-ing their way to justice. Gravity focuses on the hero entirely understanding reality and using guile and tenacity to survive it. I cannot quite fully express how refreshing this is. The environment is solid and unyielding, impervious to deus ex machina. Physics (odd to have to mention this, but given the track record of film, it seems necessary) is consistent throughout. Take note, uh, everyone.

Finally, I will say something very seldom said of films like Gravity. The characterisation here is wonderful. Sandra Bullock portrays humanity here with more subtlety, grace and panache than so many tumultuous dramas or navel gazing indie character sessions. There is earnestness and universality to this performance which should inform not just Science Fiction, not just Action or Thriller films, but all films. This is how you make people connect, right here. Not overwrought arguments or Shakespearean soliloquising. Not Ancient Greek vengeance fantasy or world changing righteousness. You do it through honest appraisal of humanity under pressure. You do it by acknowledging characters not as a chess piece moving through peril, but as an entire chess board, playing against itself, endlessly battling its own configurations.

Gravity deserves acclaim as a triumph of vision and creation. It is a tantalising glimpse of what could be produced through hi-tech storytelling once Hollywood finally calms down from its multibillion dollar onanising OTT CG mission.

Put simply: Gravity is a classic.

Oxford Road Rating:

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Poem: Gifted


On my twelfth birthday, at the Knicks game
I saw Patrick Ewing drop forty on the Bulls
Before Michael Jordan rolled his left ankle.

Dad said I should sit still and let the medics
Do their thing, but I wanted to walk on
Court and heal my hero of his hopping.

Raging red, Dad grabbed me by the ass
And glued me to my front-row seat until
Scottie Pippen hit the buzzer-beating jump shot.

Back home, after we’d had milk and cookies
Dad took me into the back yard and beat me
Repeatedly over the head with stone tablets.

I bled from my right temple like a plagued Nile
And shed a tear for every loss that night.

Author's Note: 'Gifted' forms part of an acclaimed poetry collection which re-imagines the life of Jesus into present day America.  I am currently in the process adapting the collection to create a piece of poetic prose.  This will become the next instalment in my series of short fictions, Living Legends.  The provisional date for the release of 'Living Legends: Jesus Christ' on Amazon Kindle is 11th December 2013.