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Fifty Shades: Good for Books?

26 Jun

It’s the book phenomenon of the year: seemingly from nowhere, a fanfiction writer called EL James is snapped up by a major book publisher and within a week all three of her novels have sold more than 100, 000 copies, the first writer to do so. Aside from that, in two months the records were broken again as the first novel sold more than 765, 000 copies, beating the previous paperback record holder – Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code – which took six whole months to reach that total. But what is going on with the Fifty Shades trilogy? And is it good or bad for books?

Basically, the books follow the story of recent university graduate Anastasia Steele and billionaire Christian Grey, who makes her sign a contract saying that he can have full control over her life as well as a non-disclosure agreement. As their relationship gets more involved, Anastasia begins to wonder about her own life and who she is. And obviously, there’s lots of erotica.

But I won’t focus on that: there’s plenty of reviews out there pointing out the sheer awfulness of the prose itself, whether its Anastasia’s only line of ‘Oh my’ or the tiresome clichés that seem to follow the characters around in their own little world. What seems more interesting is the way in which these books have become so popular and what it means for books themselves. The Fifty Shades trilogy was originally Twilight fanfiction. That doesn’t sound appealing at all, admittedly, but it apparently filled a void for those Twi-hards who thought that there wasn’t enough physical action between Bella and Edward (basically, those who didn’t realise that the series was basically a big symbol for why abstinence is good and moral, based on Stephanie Meyer’s Christian beliefs). James posted her fanfiction on websites and after the content of her stories was questioned, began publishing on her own website.

It became a hit on book blogs and after a while word of mouth spread about James’ works, leading to her having a massive fanbase for her three works. The internet, it seems, did for James what it did for music: spread the word about new authors, even if it was someone whose prose style and vocabulary was questionable at best – though, if we’re honest, there’s plenty of mediocre bands who have built up huge followings through the internet in the same way. Secondly, James’ case exposes just how powerful the nature of e-readers are nowadays. Perhaps a woman (and we are talking women here – the majority of James’ readers are reported to be married women over 30) wouldn’t be seen reading a paperback version of James’ books ten years ago in a public place, leading to her having much smaller sales thanks to the ’embarrassment factor.’ But if you’re reading a Kindle, or a Kobo, or any other sort of reader (even a smartphone with a books app) then who’s to say what you might be gandering at? It could be James, but it could just as easily be Dickens or another classic.

Technology, then, might not be heralding the death of the book in the way that the industry predicted. Yes, it’s nice to have something more tangible in your hands with that new book smell but it’s also lovely to know that you can carry around a device that’s portable and that people won’t be secretly judging you on, particularly if it’s in the types of genres that James places herself in. Aside from that, viral marketing and the internet could well help launch a new generation of writers – I participated in NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago and it’s amazing to see the amount of people who are actually interested in writing their own novels. Publishing on blogs and encouraging feedback on forums could help create better prose style and spread word of mouth for writers who wouldn’t be considered through the usual publishing routes. The relatively cheap cost of books on E-Readers compared to paperbacks and hardbacks could also encourage publishers to take more of a risk on a younger, less-established generation of novelists who wouldn’t have been given a chance a few years ago.

So while I wouldn’t be interested in reading James’ work myself, I can appreciate the ways in which new media has turned her into a phenomenon – her books are an example of how technology can revitalise the book industry and bring new talent in. As long as they don’t litter their works with the phrase ‘Oh my.’

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Preview // Dark Souls

13 Jul

Do you have a PlayStation 3? Are you are a fan of challenging adventure games? Then chances were that back in June of last year you might well have picked up Demon’s Souls, widely considered to be one of the hardest games ever created. It was hailed as a triumph of old-school action-adventure game-play combined with a fiendishly challenging difficulty level where even the most experienced of players would find it hard to stop dying. Essentially, it was a lesson in perseverance: get past the constant knockouts and eventually you would succeed and feel quite proud of yourself at the same time.

Just a year later a spiritual sequel is being lined up. Dark Souls might not be connected to its predecessor in terms of plot, but the people at Namco Bandai are set to outdo themselves once again. Worryingly, this sequel is said to be even harder to play, with online players being able to see each others’ deaths and enemies becoming more aware of tactics and inventive rather than just mindlessly attacking the player. The game will also feature an open-world environment where the player is free explore the world at their leisure – or their own peril, depending on how you see it.

Perhaps the most exciting addition though is simply a hardware one. Instead of being confined to the PlayStation 3, Dark Souls is set to unleash its demons on to the Xbox 360 as well, offering a whole new audience the opportunity to take on the challenge that this series offers.

The sequels to Dragon Age and Portal earlier this year were worthy additions to their franchises but despite their merits – Portal 2 in particular boasting an intelligent plot and genuinely witty script – they lacked a little something in the challenge department. Both could also be completed in less than 20 hours by a decent player, making Dark Souls a tantalising prospect for those looking for an adventure sequel they can really get their teeth into. All signs suggest that this installment will be devilish.

Dark Souls is released on October 7th on Namco Bandai

This article appears in Faux Magazine Online

2011: The Postaday Challenge

7 Jan

I’m taking WordPress on! I’m going to take their challenge and eat it for… some meal or other. Or, at least, that’s the plan as I – perhaps foolishly – embark on a the Postaday 2011 journey. Yes, that’s right. I really am going to try and post something every day for the next 358 days, right up until New Year’s Eve when we’ll ring in the new year. And possibly have to start this all over again. Yes, I’m very likely to look like this when I’m done:

Never mind. I’m sure it’ll all be worth it. They say blogging very regularly helps to get a steady stream of traffic flowing through your site, so hopefully my epic challenge will help me climb the ranks (despite WordPress already saying, in my end of 2010 report, that I’m doing great). Stick with me. It could be a bumpy ride ahead and I may even steer us well off the tracks, but I finished NaNoWriMo a few years ago, so at least I’ve got determination!

The TV Week That Was #2

4 Sep

Joy. Another week, another set of programmes that range from the sublime to the frankly ridiculous. I had the dubious fortune of watching The Great British Bake-Off (BBC 2) on Sunday. Admittedly, some of the history of baking was quite interesting but this is moulded in typical Beeb fashion. Not good.

Sue Perkins is the main host; I say that because she dominates the show in a very creepy way, leering over bakers and waving her arms around when talking VERY LOUDLY, pretty much overshadowing her co-host (so much so that I don’t remember her name. She’s blonde).

The show is essentially a competition in which eight bakers compete to be crowned Champion of the “Bake-Off”, and challenges range from biscuits to bread to choux pastries. It’s all very gentile with some cuddliness thrown in. No-one seems to care about if they get booted out of the competition and everyone is just pleased to be there “having a good time.” Some “dramatic” camera angles and a stately home location add to the horrible feeling that you’re trapped, trapped in Beeb-land. But then any programme that thinks using the Lucida Handwriting font creates “homeliness” is well off the mark.

And so we move on to Location Location Location (C4), one of those shows that I had originally avoided like the plague because I didn’t like the tag-team of Kirsty Allsopp and Phil Spencer. However, it’s become painfully clear that Kirsty and Phil are actually the most likeable element in the show, where couples clash, people fuss over the paint on the door and others are completely unrealistic.

 This week there was a likeable if slightly deluded young couple with a dream of living in Crystal Palace and a plastic woman with an increasingly exasperated husband – she cried and went into a strop at one lovely house with potential just because of the windows. Seriously. If I had that opportunity I’d be looking at ways I could turn it into my dream home, not sobbing like a petulant child because it’s that little bit away from the bullseye. Still, Location is great just to spy at houses and enjoy the curiously flirty relationship between Phil and Kirsty.

“Curiously flirty” isn’t a phrase you could use for the eponymous characters in Roger and Val Have Just Got In (BBC2) where a middle-aged married couple plod through mundane small talk. Well that’s all they did until this week, where Roger, played by Alfred Molina, drives Val, Dawn French, up the wall by being ludicrously vague about a revelatory email he’s accidentally sent to everyone he works with.

The humour of Roger and Val lies entirely in the hope that you will recognise the scenarios and conversations it throws up: so it’s more of a drama series for anyone under 35. The fact that it’s set almost entirely in a single room and other characters are only talked about and never seen gives this the feeling of a play in 6 parts rather than a TV show. But somehow that’s where its curious charm lies: it’ll keep you intrigued if only for the “what exactly is this?” factor.

The best of the week’s TV was undoubtedly Storyville: The Winnebago Man (BBC4), a quiet gem that shone some light on the life of Jack Rebney, the hero of the title. If you haven’t seen the clip of the Winnebago man, all you need to know is that it features Rebney failing miserably in an attempt to act in a promotional video. Cue a barrage of swearing and random abuse at the director.

Rebney in full "WTF?!" mode

In the hour-long film Rebney is tracked down (he lives in a small house in a Californian forest with a dog called Buddha) and then is persuaded to make a new series of short movies for his legions of adoring fans. Rebney loses his eyesight halfway through the movie, which makes his appearance at a San Francisco viral video festival more touching. It’s was all very lovingly done and while Rebney was determined to come across as an angry old man, it was still hard not to warm to him and his sense of humour.

Not a vintage week of telly then. But next week…. It’s only the return of the completely wonderful Mad Men, far and away the best show on TV at the minute! Wednesday can’t come soon enough!

Birmingham: The Booty

25 Aug

Those of you who follow my Twitter will know, or maybe have guessed, that I’ve been away for a few days meaning that I’ve had to just set away my posts on timer rather than actually giving my blog some proper TLC. One trip to Birmingham, UK, and £68 later, this is what I ended up bringing home:

  1. Peacock-embroidered purse from Urban Outfitters: I really badly needed a new purse to hold all of my stuff in so when I saw this in UB I was incredibly pleased. This was the single most expensive item I bought on the trip. But it was worth it
  2. “Head First” by Goldfrapp and Them Crooked Vultures: As a lifelong fan of Goldfrapp I jumped at the oportunity to get this at a marked-down price, and seeing Them Crooked Vultures on the same offer sealed the deal. Expect reviews soon!
  3. Miniature Japanese dolls: These are so kitsch, but I’ve loved these little dollies for a long time. The store was having a 20% off moving sale as well, so it must have been fate. I’ve called the larger, green one Shinto and the smaller, yellow one Kabuki. I know, I’m sad. But who cares? These are so much better than Russian dolls
  4. “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami: Well I first saw this book for cheaper than I paid for it a few weeks ago and was attracted by the mix of manga and photography on the cover. So I judged a book by it’s cover. Who cares? It’s a dark neo-noir tale of suspense, murder and claustrophobia in the seediest areas of Tokyo. And it’s great.
  5. Verbena hand-cream from L’Occitane: L’Occitane are soooo expensive but this was a relative bargain. I love anything lemon-zesty and it gave me an excuse to buy from one of the poshest beauty stores around. Joy!
  6. Ruffled polka-dot shirt and long cream jumper, both H&M: Actually the jumper wasn’t the one I really wanted, but that one was far too large. But I still love this warming jumper that’s got me set for the autumn. Oh and I loved the shirt. I’ve thrown all my other shirts out, so I guess this fills the void.

Well that’s it. I could have bought an awful lot more if I’d wanted to but… I’m just not that much of a spendaholic. Besides, it gives me more money to spend on CDs and DVDs back home. Yay!

Antoine Dodson: Internet Sensation

16 Aug

One story has been dividing the opinions of many Americans and members of the blogosphere recently, and it all revolves around an outburst from this man:

There probably aren’t a lot of people out there who don’t know the story but…. This is Antoine Dodson, a 24 year old man who lives in the projects of Huntsville, Alabama. His story began with a common violent incident in the Lincoln Park projects where Dodson lives with his family. A man broke in through his little sister’s window in the night and assaulted her.

This is where it starts to get interesting. The next day, the local news team (WAFF TV, who sound like something made up from a Mel Brooks movie, adding an odd hilarity and unrealism to the situation) decided they wanted to cover the story for one of their news reports. The reporter, Elizabeth Gentle, interviewed Dodson’s sister Kelly (the one who was assaulted) and was told by her that the attacker was “just some idiot from the projects”.

It was at this point that Antoine jumped in, verbally attacking the man who had assaulted his sister with a strange urban flair. The impassioned speech to the man had a certain lyrical quality to it. He ended his speech by sending a warning to the attacker: “You don’t have to come and confess that you did it, we looking for you,” Dodson said, waving a piece of paper at the lens. “We gon find you, I’m letting you know that. So you can run and tell that. Homeboy.”

Needless to say, there was a huge section of the blogosphere who weren’t at all impressed by Dodson. “If you want to know why we can’t take the news seriously anymore, here’s exhibit A.” Said one blogger. Another said “Lord Jesus, how can the reporter file this story with a straight face?” But to be honest this was unfair. I agree with the opinion of WAFF TV who said that to censor Dodson would have presented him in an even worse light. The fact that this could have seen as racial stereotyping was slightly unfair: Dodson was angry, wanted to get justice for his sister and used the media to help him do it.

Step in the Gregory Brothers. The New York band who run a YouTube channel called “AutoTune The News” (whereby they put music to the actual words of news events to create a witty spin on current events) decided they wanted to put the works on Dodson’s speech. The song “Bed Intruder” was born, creating a massive viral hit across the internet. Amazingly, the song went to number 3 in the rap/R’n’B/soul charts and broke into the iTunes Top 25 Songs list, and the video has been viewed 30m times. Merchandise with some of Dodson’s “catchphrases” have been created, there is a Twitter account for him, numerous Facebook pages in his honour and even a place where you can donate to the Dodson family via PayPal.

Of course, Antoine Dodson’s fame will be short lived and soon he will fade into obscurity. However, I featured this because it was a truly fascinating look into how easily it could be to become a sensation through the power of the internet and other influences.

Enjoy it while it lasts Antoine.

Come Tweet With Me!

13 Aug

Good news everybody!

You can now follow all my tweets on Twitter, which I took up ages ago but have decided to reconnect with after a bit of a shaky start: hopefully you’ll want to follow me, as I’ll be updating about everything from new bands, songs, films, TV, and, er, all the other random stuff you might have expected to find here only squashed down into 140 characters. Plus, by following me you’ll be able to know exactly when I’ve posted something new here thanks to my WordPress link.

Find me at @ScarletGarden or follow the link on my Twitter Widget!

Oh and using the “Tweet” button at the end of each post, you can share posts you like with the people who follow you on Twitter!

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