Monthly Archives: November 2012

Even still Flowing…

A lifetime ambition – one of them – was realised last Sunday when I was reviewed in the Sunday Times book pages. As in, Even Flow. Kristoffer Mullin was generally positive about the novel, though he had a few criticisms too. The article is behind the Times paywall, but I will see about getting permission to post it up here. In the meantime, a few choice quotes (only good ones, naturally):

“McManus’ novel has plenty of charm and humour, and raises rousing points about society… Disdain for misogynist yuppies steams off the page; the prose hisses and spits about the horror and injustices of the sex trade… In the end, like (Danny) Everard, you may not like everything here, but you’ve got to admire its guts.”

I also had a Q&A in last Saturday’s Irish Independent to promote Even Flow – not available online, so I’m reproducing here:

 

Favourite Writer, and why?

Don DeLillo. His novels explore the mysteries and meaning of existence better than anything I’ve ever read. He somehow can capture those vague, intangible thoughts we all have and make them real in language.

Best advice on writing you’ve ever heard?
Don’t fall in love with your own words. Which I probably have a tendency to do! Editing kills me.
Last book you read and loved. What did you think of it?

The Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver – one of his Lincoln Rhyme thrillers. The guy’s ridiculously skilled at plotting: the twists start coming about halfway through, and keep coming, and each one makes sense.

Favourite book and why?

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. A riveting story in a brilliantly realised future, a profound moral fable, and then the language he invented to tell it – an explosion of pure literary talent.

The book you could never make it through (and why?)

Tried and failed to read Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities more than once. I just didn’t get it. Is this supposed to be funny?

Best stage production you’ve ever seen. Why?
Acrobat, a physical theatre troupe I saw at the Black Box during the 2003 Galway Arts Festival. The things they were doing were so amazing, I was almost rubbing my eyes in delighted disbelief.
Favourite film and why?
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A perfect dream of a movie, with thrilling action scenes, understated and powerful performances, and a script like something from Buddhist literature.
Last film you saw and loved? Why?
Mission Impossible 4! Honestly, it’s very enjoyable – like a concentrated distillation of everything that makes the movies entertaining.
Last film you saw and hated? Why?
Snow White and the Huntsman. Dull, confused, too long, too slow; the story was simultaneously stupid but incomprehensible; every shot felt second-hand; and worst of all, it didn’t properly use the lovely Kristen Stewart.
Favourite painter (if you have one). Why?
Andy Warhol. He basically invented much of what we now know as modern society and culture.
Favourite TV show (and why?)
The Mentalist. I love Robin Tunney, love all the characters, love how Patrick is more than a little crazy, and love the Red John storyline, which is properly scary.
Favourite radio show or presenter. Why?
I’ll plead the Fifth, so as to maintain professional integrity as Irish Independent radio reviewer!
Favourite website and why:
Used to be Wikipedia, before I found out it’s all made up. Maybe Twitter now – massively useful for writers and journalists. And good fun, too.
Favourite city/country and why:
Ireland, probably, because it’s where I’m from and what I know…and it ain’t a bad old place, when you balance it all up. Plus the weather is mild – always a bonus.
Favourite food/restaurant:
Mushrooms. Any kind, in any form, anywhere, anytime. If I could live on mushrooms, I would.
Wine or beer?:
Beer! Tastes better with a cigarette.
Cultural blindspot (eg modern art, classical music etc)

Reggae music. Tuneless and repetitive style, violent homophobia, those awful drum/bin-lid things they use…maybe I’m missing something!

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I’m a grown man…and a Twilight fan

I’m a grown man, and I really like the Twilight movies.

It feels almost embarrassing to admit this, even weird. I suppose it is weird: I’m not an adolescent girl, Emo boy or mildly deranged middle-aged woman with R-Patz tattoos. I don’t like romances and I’m sick of bloody vampires. I’ve no interest in reading the books or watching similar teenie movies.

I didn’t even know there were two previous sequels, New Moon and Eclipse, until recently. I’d never bothered with the series on its initial run; I figured Twilight for sappy melodrama, and only watched because the Pacific Northwest scenery looked amazing on a TV trailer.

I wasn’t hostile. I just thought: they’re not really for me. I was wrong.

On one level, I thoroughly enjoyed them as simple escapism: well-made, engaging, fun and exciting, with a trés cool soundtrack. I didn’t get the criticisms about an anti-sex, pro-Mormon subtext; for me that was people projecting their own biases onto what was fundamentally an entertainment. And it was nice to see a blockbuster/franchise primarily aimed at girls and women, instead of all that superhero junk made for teenage boys or morons who think like teenage boys.

That was on one level. Now here’s the properly weird part.

The Twilight movies really affected me, emotionally and psychically. With that sustained tone of melancholy and reverie, they opened up a door to my youth. Somewhere within this fantastical tale of vampires and werewolves, I found a core truth about what it means to be human – and a reminder of what I used to be like.

This was more than memory or nostalgia: it was like I really was back there, in that omnipotential time of life, somewhere between 16 and 22, when most of us are gawky and unformed and daily life is a trial – but anything seems possible in your future. An age of concentrated aimlessness, with all the freedom of adulthood and few of the responsibilities.

It felt almost like time was one instant, and I was both myself at 38 and myself as a kid simultaneously; and the person who’s here now was reliving yesterday. It was disorientating and sort of upsetting.

So much so that I partly regretted watching them, because I got so fucking wistful about the past. I suppose nostalgia is inherently depressing, anyway: as if the soul knows that forward motion is natural and necessary.

The second one in particular felt almost painfully true. The character of Bella was very real, I thought; she reminded me so strongly of different girls I knew in school and college. (She even dressed like we used to dress!)

And the way they played the relationships out, all hesitancy and half-courage and awkwardness, that sweet sort of anxiety you only feel at that age: it was so real I could almost feel it in my viscera. Indeed, anyone not moved by Bella’s heartbreak in the second film must have never been young and in love, and hurt by it.

Very few movies have affected me in this precise way: Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset and Waking Life, My Own Private Idaho, the French film Je Vais Bien ne t’en Fais Pas, the flashback scene at the end of Godfather II, a Swedish drama about two girls living in a small town whose name escapes me…maybe Twin Peaks on television. Moments where the characters and setting are someway removed from your own, but the heart of it, through some mysterious alchemy of cinema, is beating to the same rhythm as yours.

I don’t know why or how all this happened. Maybe I was caught by surprise because I knew so little about Twilight beforehand – I hadn’t read the reviews, assuming I’d never watch them. Maybe it helped that I’m currently immersed in writing a supernatural-themed Young Adult novel of my own (don’t worry, no vampires); I was mentally primed, so to speak.

But possibly – probably – there’s no reason at all. Just some unknowable chemical reaction between the movie and me.

So there it is. I’m a grown man, and I really like Twilight. I got something from those movies that I didn’t expect – and I’m not even sure I wanted.

 

  • This piece was originally published in the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section: click here for all my Guardian stuff.

Origins of the species

The very generous Declan Burke, brains behind the Crime Always Pays crime fiction blog, allowed me to write a piece on Even Flow, detailing the origins of the story. As I got further into it, I realised that the roots of the book were deeper and more tangled than I knew. It starts like this:

“The genesis of my thriller EVEN FLOW lies a fair way in the past. All the way back to 2002, in fact, when I returned from honeymoon with half an idea in my head for a story, or at least its opening scene: a group of yuppie assholes, abusing two call-girls at a stag party. Then three vigilantes blow the door off the hinges and stride into this beautiful apartment, clad in tuxedos and balaclavas, and announce that they’re here to punish the men responsible…”

For the rest, be nice and click on Dec’s website here.


Star Bores

This is a piece I wrote a few years back, about a Star Wars academy opening in Romania. I reprint it here, in honour of the Disney buy-out of Lucas Films, and more-so in honour of the hilarious keening and caterwauling of Star Wars fans.

It’s a few years old, but the abuse of these woeful movies is as fresh as ever… 🙂

 

You’d think they’d have better things to be worrying about in Romania – like sorting out a struggling post-communist economy, chopping off those horrible mullets they still have, and press-ganging a thousand prepubescent girls into gymnastics boot-camp to ensure a higher medals tally in future Olympics – but apparently they do not.

I say this because news has reached me that a Star Wars academy has opened in this proud home of Dracula, Nicolae Ceausescu and that guy who plays as striker for Chelsea. This fantastically useless institution will teach devotees/nutters about the religion of Jedi and how to use the light sabre.

This is insanely stupid on a number of levels; primarily, the fact that “Jedi” is not a religion, but a rip-off of various other fictional philosophies and cultures, particularly the Rangers in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In fact, the very notion that someone could consider this simple-minded hotchpotch of extant myths and fairy stories to be in the same ballpark as Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism or whatever, beggars belief (pun most definitely intended), and I’m not even religious myself.

Heads up, nerds: “religion” generally denotes a millennia-old system of theology, philosophy, thought and debate. “Jedi”, on the other hand, can basically be summarised thus: “There is good and bad in the universe”. Ooh, deep.

Moving swiftly on, one feels obliged to point out that light sabres do not, in the accepted sense, actually exist. They’re just clever special effects put together by a small army of computer geeks toiling under the whip of George “Dark Lord” Lucas in his underground complex somewhere in the great American west. You cannot, self-evidently, learn to “use” something which isn’t real.

I mean, you might as well try to drive Marty McFly’s time-travelling DeLorean, chuck some Krypton to hobble that prissy git Superman, or take a thrilling but ultimately doomed ride aboard one of Wile E Coyote’s roadrunner-chasing rockets. Just can’t be done. Unfortunately, in the case of that Wile E Coyote rocket.

The Jedi Academy also aims to teach students how to speak in Wookiee. Now, I haven’t a goddamn clue what the hell a Wookiee is, but a quick trawl of that new-fangled information superweb tells me that they are “shaggy giants” from the planet “Kashyyyk” who, “during the time of the Galactic Republic”, were represented in the Galactic Senate by…

Yes. I think we can leave it there, safe in the knowledge that speaking the language of a bunch of ridiculous, overgrown Fraggles is about as useful as…well, as trying to fight with a non-existent neon sword.

According to King Nerd Adrian Pavel, who runs Romania’s Star Wars Club, one earns entry into the academy by completing a 100-question quiz that covers (and I’m quoting here) “even the darkest aspects of the Star Wars phenomenon”. What, dark aspects like the fact that all the films are so rubbish, you mean?

The quiz must be finished within 24 hours, which I think is putting on undue pressure. I mean, when you have to remember which Flesh-Eating Monstron from the quadrant Zovirax VII was responsible for the destruction of Emperor Blofeld’s Laseroid of Doom, sometimes you need a little time to think about these things. *

Ah, no, I’m being unfair. Star Bores – sorry, Wars – was a fine kiddies’ entertainment, with some memorable characters like Dart Invader, Princess What-do-you-call-her, and Indiana Jones. It was also a groundbreaking series in cinema history, paving the way for others to follow in such important areas as special effects, cutesy creatures, voracious merchandising tie-ins, and simplifying everything to the nth degree for your moronic audience.

And if nothing else, at least the popularity of Star Wars encouraged studios to invest in other science-fiction projects, thus making it possibility for the world to enjoy top-drawer fare like Battlestar Galactica, Space Precinct and the classic I Was a Cross-Dressing Teenage Werewolf Killer From Outer Space 2.

So it probably doesn’t deserve the abuse hurled on it by, uh, hurlers on the ditch like me. But it’s still fun to laugh at the sort of deluded saddos who publicly admit to the fact that they “dress like Jedis” (hold on to that light sabre, pal, you might need it to defend yourself from the inevitable beatings).

Or the hilarious coup de grace that the academy also offers “special modules for true devotees” in – wait for it – preparing some of the dishes seen in the Star Wars films. Forget about wanting to emulate brave, heroic stars of the screen like cowboys, secret agents, Terminators or Danny de Vito: apparently, cookin’ up a storm in the kitchen is where it’s all at now.

May the Force be with you; and if not, you can always order some take-away.

* The answer is none, ‘cause I just made that up.