Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Lauren Child | Charlie and Lola's creator on a new kind of detective | Ruby Redfort

Ruby is on the case

Lauren Child, the creator of those loveable, well-spoken siblings Charlie and Lola, is at her best when she tells stories that fold in on themselves.
In Beware of the Storybook Wolves, fairy tale creatures emerge from the pages of a book to cause havoc.
In Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Book?, little Herb actually falls into a collection of fairy stories, and has to run for his life from the Ugly Sisters, the evil stepmother and a very shouty Goldilocks.
For her new project, Ruby Redfort – Look Into My Eyes, Child delved into one of her own books for inspiration: Clarice Bean, That’s Me.
Clarice is a sassy, streetwise Londoner with a big, fun family, whose adventures have spanned both picture books and novels. Along the way her fans have become familiar with one of her own, fictional heroes.

Charlie and Lola 

“I invented Ruby Redfort for the first Clarice Bean book,” Child explains.
“Clarice would quote her: but it was always just absolute nonsense. Clich├ęd stuff like: ‘Gee Rube, you think there’s something in that?’ It was meant to be stupid and pulp fictiony.
“I did it partly because of the debate around children’s literature: that things have to be worth reading, have a message. I get asked that question all the time: what is the message in my books? But I think it is fine to be reading something simply because you enjoy reading.
“Then I started getting emails from Clarice Bean fans asking where they could get Ruby Redfort books, because ‘they sound really good!’”

As the clamour for Ruby grew, Lauren started to think of how she might give shape to what was really just a comic aside.
“I realised you couldn’t write them in a trashy way, because it would be too boring for everyone including me. So they have to be a bit more complicated,” she says.
“I’d never had to make anything I’d quoted from the Ruby books make any sense. But when you write it, it has to work like a real crime plot, however silly it is it. I realised how difficult it is to write plotted crime fiction like that. It is really hard.”

Child drew on Raymond Chandler, her childhood love for Agatha Christie, as well as modern crime giants Lee Child and Stieg Larsson for inspiration to create a world in which an 11-year-old girl with an active imagination could be a detective who fights crime.
With one character called Clancy Crew, I wondered if she was also thinking about another girl crime fighter from a different era: the clean cut American heroine, Nancy Drew.
“I didn’t even think about that, I really didn’t,” she laughs, sounding genuinely surprised by the similarity.
“I never actually read the Nancy Drew books but my sister was a big fan and I was very aware of them. I was certainly thinking about that whole thing of what was interesting about Nancy Drew for my sister. I imagine the name got embedded somewhere in my brain.”

* Ruby Redfort – Look Into My Eyes, is our now in hardback. Harper Collins £12.99  

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Killing | Forbrydelsen | Interview with Sofie Grabol who plays Sarah Lund

I have a feature in the Big Issue next week on The Killing, BBC4's brilliant Danish whodunit, which returns for a second series on Saturday (tomorrow).

As well as speaking to thriller writers Val McDermid and Denise Mina about the significance of the series as a crime drama, and in terms of Lund being a female detective, I also got to speak to Sofie Grabol, who plays the heroine.

I'll post more next week once the mag is out but as a taster here's an exceprt from the interview.

Was it strange, following a break, to return to the Lund character to film series two?
"It was actually very strange. When we finished the first series I had no idea they had thoughts of a second series. To me it was beautifully finished - I loved the open ending of the first one. So when we came back it was really strange. For me everything was so familiar. The character and the dark universe of The Killing. But no one else was. My boss was the only one who came on from the first to the second [series]. I remember feeling it was as if I was in a band and I was standing there with my bass guitar but all the other musicians were new so nothing sounded the same."

What about the jumper?
[laughs] Ah, the jumper: I tried to get rid of it but it was too strong it came back.

It turns out that it is in fact an expensive Faroese jumper, a designer item. How could a character like Lund, on a police salary afford it?
I was really sorry that came out because the reason we picked it, why I thought it was so perfect, was that  I thought it looked home knitted. It looked like something her mother had knitted, it didn’t look like a big designer item. But then the jumper has been huge in Demnark and Britain and people have discovered it is espensive. But for me it is something her mother knitted.

Do you see her as a feminist detectve?
No, I never did.

Why not?
Basically its not where I start. When I start working... if I label, if I sit down and calculate an agenda or a message which should be put through then I think I’m in debt creatively. The whole thing [that is] interesting for me as an actor is the investigation.

* The Killing is on BBC4 on Saturday at 10pm

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tintin The Movie was great | But I still love Herge

A certain kind of purist would have you believe that to like Stephen Spielberg's new Tintin movie is tantamount to taking a big bucket of blue blistering barnacles and throwing it down on Herge's memory.
It isn't.
Spielberg's films can be frenetic, over sentimental and strangely hollow, but he knows action better than anyone. Tintin, as I keep trying to tell people, is action personified. He has no 'story' except for what he does. He is a Robert McKie tutorial in 2D form. If Tintin isn't running somewhere, driving something, flying, climbing, swimming or escaping, then he isn't.
In that sense, it makes sense that Spielberg would have loved Tintin so much when he belatedly discovered the comic books (according to Time, this was around the time he was in Europe promoting the first Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, apparently).
The Secret of the Unicorn has a lot in common with Raiders. It's a rollercoaster ride which whips you from the Brussells docks to the Atlantic, to the Sahara, to Morocco and back to Europe. It isnt entirely faithful to the books but as a mash up of Unicorn and Crab with the Golden Claws -- the comic book in which Tintin meets Haddock for the first time -- it is a first rate effort. My only disappointment was getting to the end and realising they weren't going to have time to introduce Calculus and head off on a proper treasure hunt with a shark submarine.

The animation was always going to be the thing that offended Tintin fans so familiar with Herge's drawings. I have to say, it didn't take me long at all to forget about it and to immerse myself in its strange technicolor world. Not all the characters are entirely successful: Haddock is scottish, well ok, but he is also weirdly thin and slight. While Tintin looks a bit too bland. But I was very impressed with the voice actors and the way the script wove what is really a new story through Herge's old one.
It's a huge thumbs up. I hope they make the sequel.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Killing | Miss Marple to Sarah Lund

The Killing is coming  back. Excited? You should be.

There's an item in the Telegraph which caught my eye, you can read it here via this link.

The writer makes some decent points, but I was taken with her female detective genesis. First comes Cagney and Lacey (80s US cop show), then comes Miss Marple.

Huh? Marple was created by Agatha Christie in the 1930s -- earlier? Yes she was lovingly brought to life on television after Cagney and Lacey had made their bow, gee shucking their way round Manhattan, or was it Brooklyn, but even so. Can we see a line of evolution through Cagney, Lacey and Jane Marple, then on to Jane Tennison, as the writer suggests?

Her point is to  place Sofie Grabol's character, Sarah Lund, as the latest in a long line of female detectives. She is a sort of Feminist Homo Sapien to Miss Marple's smart but downtrodden Australopithecus. Lund is different because in her the female detective has evolved to the point that she is no longer a woman, merely a detective, able to function in her job as well as a man.

The fact that Lund's battle is not with sexism is refreshing for TV drama and one of the reasons why the series struck a chord. But let's not get too carried away. It is hardly a surprise either. The workplace has changed since Helen Mirren played Tennison and since the mere presence of Cagney and Lacey in the detective office worried the wives of their male colleagues.

Detectives reflect the world they live in. Some more accurately than others. That Lund, a product of sexually liberated, equatable Denmark, appeals to Brits in 2011, suggests that perhaps a large slab of the population is over the 4 inch heel, dress to impress, X Factor nonsense we've been spoon fed for so long. But then: The Killing is BBC4, not ITV on a Sunday or a Saturday night. When they start wearing that jumper on The Only Way Is Essex, we'll know that something big has happened.

Emma Donoghue | Interview | The Sealed Letter

Victorian society was scandalised in 1864 by the divorce of Vice-Admiral Henry Codrington from his wife, Helen. The case dominated the columns of The Times and The Telegraph, which gleefully reproduced the innuendo and evidence, gripping polite society.
Such cases of a wife cheating on her husband wouldn’t even make it in front of a judge these days. But when Emma Donoghue stumbled across a reference to it – in a footnote to a “dull poem” – she knew she had found the subject worthy of a novel.
What struck her while writing The Sealed Letter were the similarities between the trial and modern day court room dramas from OJ Simpson murder trial to President Clinton’s near impeachment (the Codrington case also features a stained dress). But it was the contrasting fortunes and personalities of the people involved which really drew her in.
“It was in a collection of poetry by women in the Langham set, the early feminists. They mentioned this court case into which Emily Faithfull got dragged,” Donoghue explains.
Faithfull, known to her friends and in the book as Fido, was a leading progressive who campaigned for women to have such novel things as the vote, a career and the chance to study at university.
“The Langham group were very tense about their public image, often snappy and critical of each other [in their letters]. They didn’t hesitate on purging Fido from their ranks as soon as she got drawn in. They weren’t hippies. Not a bit. In order to get taken seriously for their views on getting women the vote or accepted to professions they had to be starchy in other ways.
“Fido went on to have two long term pairings. You can never know whether these relationships were sexually consummated. It is odd, you can’t quite tell with heterosexual marriages either. But Fido did go on to share her life with one woman for a long stretch and then another woman for a long stretch.”
The fallen woman in Donoghue’s story, Helen Codrington, a mother of two girls, was quite different. Raised away from England you get the sense that this is a woman who saw nothing wrong with taking a lover or two. And she’s prepared to lie in order to protect her interests, which drew Fido into some very murky waters.
“Here was a very starchy social reformer getting dragged in to testify on this mucky divorce case about affairs among the military – I thought that was irresistible,” the author adds. “I loved the shape of the triangle: these three very different characters.”
She was surprised to find her sympathies ultimately lay with the one person you might think was the villain of the piece: the Admiral, who used the weight of the law to jettison his wife.
“We always assume that Victorian women were miserably locked up while the men had a wonderfully free time,” she says. “But you know, he couldn’t move an inch. Victorian upper class men, if you think of those pointy collars, they literally couldn’t bend their heads.
“They had to stick to a very limited range of behaviours and Admiral Codrington had suffered for so long before finally trying to divorce his wife. I don’t think he had any idea that it was going to become such a mortifying public scandal.”
Donoghue, who wrote The Sealed Letter - it was released in Canada and the US but not previously in the UK - before last year’s Booker shortlisted best seller Room, says the Codrington novel is more typical of her approach to writing.
“What’s funny is that in the case of Room, people kept asking me about the real life sources. But in fact Room, bears a very indirect relationship to any case,” she says.
“What I took from the Fritzl case was just a one line idea. I often write stuff that is very based on fact. I just love the puzzle of working with real facts and working out what really happened.”
Donoghue is adept at bringing to life an era we think of as being familiar. Yet her Victorian London has a freshness you don’t expect: it is a smart but stressful place, not unlike our own cities, and she scatters intriguing details throughout the narrative: from references to tea shops to the smell of the underground.
“They say that life changed more radically for the Victorians than it has for us. London was a very modern place, a stressed out place. They had a postal service far better than ours – we have email, they had the post,” she explains.
“I thought not getting a telegram was a very Victorian way of finding someone out – like now a husband might check his wife’s cellphone.
“At the same time, I really tried not to slow the story down with descriptions of London. There are no passages there just to give you flavour of what life was like. But the details I have included, they have to be good.
“You do the research 100 per cent, but you throw 99 per cent away. The one per cent you are left with though, it is far better, more vivid detail.”
·         The Sealed Letter, published by Picador, £16.99, is out now. This interview appears in the November 7 edition of The Big Issue

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Harry Potter murders | Ten characters JK should have killed off

So, now we know that JK Rowling was considering giving Ron the chop.

It made me wonder which of her characters I would have liked to have seen her kill off during the series. The Harry Potter books were increasingly awash with the blood of wizards (and elves) we had grown to love. And yet some characters survived I personally would have liked to have seen killed off, either because they deserved it, because they were annoying, or because it would have served the story better.


Here then, and in no particular order, is a top ten of Potter characters JK should have killed...

1) Dudders. Harry's cousin is a thug with few redeeming qualities. Harry grows up noble in the Dursley household, Dudders grows up horrible. JK gives him some humanity at the end -- he is concerned about what Harry is facing - but it is not enough. JK should have let the Dementors take him in Book Five.

2) Filch. Every hero needs an enemy, every school needs a caretaker. But I wish Filch had retired to a cosy cottage somewhere after Book 3 and JK had come up with a new janitor. A limited, foolish, cowardly man his presence at the end of the sequence is puzzling. Is he Slytherin sympathetic? Is he for the dark side? A defender of Dumbledore's memory? Or is he just a pain?

3) Malfoy snr, the haughty, arrogant Death Eater turned into a snivelling, hapless nonentity by the end of the series, while his wife and son took a more active role in the plot. JK should have put him out of his misery after the fiasco at the Ministry for Magic.

4) Grawp, because I'm with Ron on him. What a monster...

5) Madam Hooch, the Quidditch teacher. I thought the writing was on the wall when Warners dropped Zoe Wannamaker from the films (she only appeared in #1). However, she is a constant in the books while never having a proper story at all. Is she even there at the end? Was she in the sky marshalling an airborne cavalry? I really don't remember.... JK should have had her killed off by Voldemort instead of the 'muggles studies' teacher. No one knew who the muggles studies teacher was, so it was hard to care...

6) Lavender Brown, because she's Lavender Brown...

7) Pansy Parkinson, similar to above, but because she was Pansy Parkinson.

8) Great Aunt Madge. JK's muggles are always far more cartoonish than her wizards. Madge might have been plucked from the pages of a Tom Brown's Schooldays book, or created by Steve Bell. Aunt Petunia only gets saved because there was a story point to her survival...

9) Viktor Krum, not because he is a bad guy, but because, what's the point with him? Step up to the plate, big fella, defend liberty, or die a hero's death. One of the many characters in the books you expect more from, but they fail to deliver...

10) The Whomping willow.... aaach, stupid tree.