Saturday, June 25, 2011

Every picture tells a story

On his breakthrough 1971 solo album, Every Picture Tells A Story, Rod Stewart sang, 'Every picture tells a story, don't it?' I remember way back then, whenever I heard the song, I wanted to sing back, 'Yes, Rod, it does.' And I still get that same urge even now when I hear it on those golden oldie classic rock radio playlists.

I'm no singer, rapper or TV voice-over guy, so I tend not to sing, rap or speak it. I just think it (Yes, Rod, it does), which spares me those strange looks I've mentioned before.

Every picture tells a story, or more to the point a fragment of one, as there can be a whole fleshed-out story, themes, characters and sub-plots behind that picture just waiting to be told. Which means every picture can also be an inspiration for writers.

I was reminded of that this past fortnight when, in the midst of riots in Vancouver, a photo was snapped of a young couple lying in the middle of the road, kissing, while conflict and fires raged in the background.

That photo went viral on the internet, and made the print and broadcast news all over the world.

Yes, that photo was worth a thousand words, and yes, it told us a story of love and tenderness in the midst of chaos. It was also a whole lot more than that. The whole world was intrigued enough to want to know the full story behind that "moment" captured by camera.

The police had moved in after angry mobs went wild, burning and looting after their team lost an ice hockey final. (That's got to be a whole other story, doesn't it?)

When Alexandra Thomas was accidentally caught up in the melee, and reportedly beaten with a shield and knocked to the ground, her boyfriend, Scott Jones, held her in his arms and soothed her shock and hysteria with a kiss, a moment snapped by freelance photographer Richard Lam.

The story "told' by a picture can be depicted differently by the differing perceptions of all who see it. To an imaginative storyteller, a picture - any picture - can suggest a variety of different scenarios, complete with a beginning, middle and end.

Perhaps it was a real-life portrait that partly inspired Oscar Wilde to write 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray'?

There were many famous photos throughout the last century that inspired debate, intrigue and various possibilities of the "story" behind them, one of the best known being another kiss - this one of a young French couple on the streets of Paris in 1950. Who were they? What became of them? Their identities remained a mystery until 1993 when the photographer Robert Doisneau revealed that the kiss had been staged, using two models. Doisneau was forced to reveal the secret in defence of a court action by a woman claiming to have been the girl in the picture. There's a whole other true-life story there, very different to the one in the photo.

The 1989 photo of a lone student, standing in front of communist tanks in Tiananmen Square in China, tells a story of oppression and the resolve of the human spirit. It's a picture that tells a powerful story, a picture that can ignite plot lines, both real and fictional, of the thousands caught up in that struggle, and of the tragedy of the massacre that followed.

Every picture tells a story. And every picture can suggest a mix of characters, plots, locations and emotions to authors, screenwriters, composers and songwriters.

Yes, Rod, it does.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A storyteller's best friend

This week I have a Guest Author spot on book blogger site 'CMash Loves To Read.'

An invite as guest to one of the blogs or websites that reviews books/interviews authors/hosts guest posts - is, for me, like an invite to a really cool party, but without the booze, the amateur dancing or the hassle of getting home in the middle of the night. And without waking up the next morning with a mouth like the bottom of a bird cage or a head doing an excellent impersonation of a jackhammer on a building site.

There are 2 free copies of the paperback edition of 'The Delta Chain' being offered in CMash's Giveaway Competition. There's also some general background info, and my guest post-
"A storyteller's best friend."

A storyteller's best friend might not be an idea or a character or a whopping advance or a shiny new laptop.

It might just be a question... (you can read the rest of the guest post and check out the site at CMash Loves To Read.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Even action heroes can teach us something new

The action hero/thriller genre has grown in leaps and bounds (no pun intended but I guess it's there anyway), propelled by popular authors such as Lee Child, Matt Hilton, Matthew Reilly, Clive Cussler and others.

I'm reading Jeff Abbott's "Adrenaline" and it's one of the best - the first in a series featuring Sam Capra, CIA agent who loses everything dear to him in one horrifying moment; finds himself framed for a terrorist act and on the run; then working for a mysterious international organisation against an equally-as-mysterious and powerful enemy.

In the electrifying opening scene, told in the first-person, lead character Capra gives a blow-by-blow description as he runs through a deserted carpark and building site, up and down gangways, across rooftops, every spin and bounce and landing like a jolt to the senses of the reader.

Capra gives the term "Parkour" to this breathtaking exercise regime. I have to admit I had never heard of it. Well, I have now.

The action in this opening scene sounded to me like something I had heard of - freerunning. Most of us have heard about- and seen - freerunning. Who could forget that opening in the movie "Casino Royale"? Daniel Craig (as James Bond) pursuing a freerunner across an urban landscape.

But what was "Parkour"?

I googled Parkour and learned instantly that it is the original term applied to a free-form, non-competitive discipline, French in origin, in which participants run along a route, navigating obstacles by jumping, climbing, vaulting, rolling, swinging and wall-scaling, mostly practiced at high speed in dense urban areas.

Sebastien Foucan, one of the co-founders of Parkour - (and he's the guy doing that running in the Casino Royale movie) - disagreed with the other originators of Parkour. He wanted to evolve it to include visual "tricks" such as spins and aerial rotations, and for it to become a competitive sport. It was this "breakaway" movement that become known as "freerunning."

Fiction is elevated to a whole new level when it introduces us to something we didn't know, and encourages us to find out more.

There are many and varied examples of this, and just one is Howard Gordon's newly published action novel, 'Gideon's War,' in which the "24" producer-turned-novelist shows us aspects of the construction, layout and operations of a state-of-the-art oil rig, deftly woven into the fast-moving plot. Another example: John J Nance's avaiation thrillers, which take us into the cockpit and behind the controls of major aircraft, and just two of which are 'Pandora's Clock," and 'Medusa's Child."

Back to Jeff Abbott's "Adrenaline." I found myself seeking out articles on Parkour, tracing its origins back to World War 1 naval officer Georges Hebert who, inspired by the flexible movements of tribesmen in Africa, was prompted to develop sports and training regimens that encouraged individual physical skills and dexterity.

Fast forward 80-90 years and you have the development of Parkour and freerunning. There are film doco's like 'Jump," featuring Sebastien Foucan in full flight, and there are articles telling the stories of contemporary runners, such as Johnny Budden. He has trained the Royal Marines in freerunning skills, and advised film producers who have featured the sport.

As for me, I won't be going out any time soon performing aerial spins, jumps and vaults, but like most people I could watch it for hours. Tracking down videos of freerunners on YouTube delivers some fascinating viewing. And the history of this skill, and the stories of the young- and not-so-young - who perform it, is so engrossing it is like a whole collection of fictional tales that have morphed into real life.

Jeff Abbott's electrifying prose brings the sport of Parkour to life on the page. He makes it just as exciting to read about, and intriguing enough to want to learn more.

Even action heroes can teach us something new, and thriller fiction has a whole new dimension added to it when it gives us a glimpse of a fascinating new subject.