(No posts for almost a month! Swine flu will do that to you, I guess. Yep, that’s right, swine Jaysus flu. I tried to deal with it by myself for two weeks and then admitted defeat and went to the doctor whereupon I was scolded, told I was a lot more sick than I thought, and put on various forms of medication. I very rarely get ill but when I do, it appears to be along the lines of ‘go big or go home’. Nearly better now though. And back to the matter at hand…)

I have never been a tech-fetishist. For me phones and computers are just devices that make life easier, like washing machines or hoovers. I don’t much care what they look like as long as they can do the basic job effectively. I have never owned an iPhone because the battery life sucks and the cameras on Androids are way better, and paying hundreds of extra euro for an Apple symbol just seems silly.

So for someone like me, the massive outpouring of grief that happened when Steve Jobs died was bizarre. I found it hard to understand why people felt such a personal connection to a product and I didn’t understand why people thought he was a genius. Other people like Steve Wozniak seemed to do the technical innovation. Jobs didn’t code, he didn’t design and he wasn’t an engineer. To me Jobs was just a savvy marketeer.

I watched two films to try and get more of a handle on why he was perceived as one of the greatest minds of his generation: Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender and directed by Danny Boyle, and Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a documentary directed by Alex Gibney.

The film takes a three-act structure, with each act taking place before a huge product launch. It’s a great construct which enables us to see the kind of pressure Jobs put himself and everyone else under. At one point Steve Wozniak (played by Seth Rogen) questions what Jobs has really contributed to computing history and Jobs replies that he is the conductor of the orchestra and people like Wozniak are the musicians. It’s an interesting answer to my original question. Fassbender was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance and he is brilliant in the film, and the script by Aaron Sorkin is excellent.

The documentary is another feather in Alex Gibney’s cap, and provides a more rounded look at Jobs, containing interviews with most of the key figures in his life. He comes across as a fairly horrible individual. An early anecdote shows him ripping off a friend, claiming they got paid a tiny amount of money for a project when in fact Jobs just took the lion’s share for no reason other than greed. His rejection of his daughter Lisa is well documented, allowing her and her mother to live on welfare while he earned millions. He often publicly humiliated his employees and rarely gave praise. Excuses are made during the documentary, such as the fact that he never got over being adopted, or he was such a genius that his failings should be tolerated. I don’t buy this for a second and I certainly didn’t come away from the documentary filled with warm fuzzy feelings about Jobs.

Both films are well worth a watch, but they haven’t really changed my mind. Jobs was probably one of the best marketeers the world has ever known, but Wozniak emerges as the true genius. I suppose it’s emblematic of our culture that the promoter is deified rather than the revolutionary.

 

 

The last time I was in New York I paid a visit to MOMA to see parts of the permanent collection and the Matisse cutouts on exhibition at the time. The cutouts were lovely but the work that transfixed me and left me thinking about it for weeks afterwards was The Starry Night. Having seen so many reproductions of it – on postcards and prints and fridge magnets and even mouse mats – I thought I was anaesthetised to it, so I was completely unprepared for the effect it had on me. It genuinely moved me in a way that few pieces of art ever have, and I’m not sure I can explain why or how. Next time I’m in New York I’ll be going back just to gaze at it again.

I only mention this because last week I re-watched Vincent and Theo, a biopic of van Gogh directed by Robert Altman and starring one of my favourite actors, Tim Roth. The film opens with an unforgettable scene; documentary footage of The Sunflowers being sold at auction in Christie’s for the record breaking sum of over £22 million, juxtaposed with van Gogh, played by Roth, declaring his ambition to become a full-time painter at the age of thirty. The audio from the auction plays under a fight between Vincent and his brother Theo, who was an art dealer and who didn’t have much faith in Vincent’s ability.

The brothers had a fractious relationship, with Theo unable to understand his brother’s work and unable to find a market for it. Although Vincent famously sold few paintings and was not recognised for his talent in his lifetime, he continued painting, creating great art whilst living in poverty and squalor. His work was his obsession and in little over a decade he produced over two thousand works despite frequent psychotic episodes and hospital stays.

Van Gogh is now regarded as the epitome of the romantic genius starving in a garret, but the film shows the unvarnished reality. For most of his short life van Gogh was penniless, hungry, unappreciated and frustrated. He struggled with mental illness and alcoholism, and as a result his life was chaotic and often without love, leading him commit suicide at the age of thirty-seven.

This was one of the first films of Roth’s that I saw and I loved his performance. He demystifies the artist, making him less of a god-like genius and more of a human being, albeit a human being to be greatly admired given the heroic struggle that was his life and the influence his work has had for generations.

 

One of the great things about not having a TV is that you don’t get sucked into brain-drain channel surfing and so the only reality show I have ever been a rabid fan of is RuPaul’s Drag Race. I first discovered it in 2013, reviewed it here, then recommended it to everyone I thought would appreciate it, creating a few new fans in the process.

Drag is an art form, a unique expression of a personal creative vision, and the show has given me a look into a world I knew nothing about before. I am often blown away by the queens’ charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent (for an explanation of this phrase and a general resource for newbies, this is a comprehensive guide).

The Lipsynch For Your Life is the great leveller of Drag Race, the last chance to prove the queen deserves to stay in the competition. Stellar performances have come out of left-field to save the day, and seasoned queens have unexpectedly been sent home.

Having watched all eight seasons of Drag Race more than once, my favourite lipsynch is from season four: Dida Ritz doing ‘This Will Be’ by Natalie Cole. Cole is on the panel and her reaction sums up what the viewer is feeling. Dida lives the joy and energy of the song, and she’s so on point it’s jaw-dropping. As legendary queen Latrice Royale says, ‘that is what a lipsynch for your life is…that is high-drag at its finest.’

 

Last Friday the first season of Happy Valley debuted on Netflix. It was first shown on BBC in 2014, so many Multiverse readers may already be familiar with it but not having a TV sometimes I’m a wee bit behind!

Happy Valley is set in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire (the title is taken from the local ironic description of the drug-ridden area). Sarah Lancashire plays Catherine Cawood, a respected police sergeant with a tragic past. Cawood’s daughter Becky committed suicide eight years ago, her marriage broke down as a result, and she now lives with her sister Clare (Siobhan Finnegan), a recovering heroin addict and alcoholic. Clare helps Catherine to bring up Becky’s son, Ryan, who lives with them.

The citizens of Happy Valley contend with unemployment, drug addiction and poverty and the opening scene of the first episode shows Cawood talking down a young man who is drunk and high and threatening to set himself on fire. This immediately sets the tone which is often graphically violent, emotionally brutal and unsettling.

When Catherine hears that the man who raped her daughter, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), is out of prison she cannot help keeping tabs on him. He becomes involved in a local kidnapping and the series tracks Catherine’s suspicions and Royce’s escalating viciousness towards his victim.

Cawood is stubborn, taciturn and stoic, sensitive and caring, consummately professional with an empathetic core. It’s refreshing to see a female character given the same depth as a male character. She’s not just a bitch or a victim, a temptress or an ingenue, or a significant other; she’s a fully realised authentic character, flawed and complex. Plaudits are due to Sally Wainwright’s script and Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood. Happy Valley is categorised as crime-drama but Lancashire’s interpretation turns it into a compelling character study.

The series consists of six one-hour episodes which I binge-watched last weekend. The second series was broadcast this spring on BBC so I hope it won’t take too long for Netflix to get the rights to stream it. Highly recommended.

 

 

After a sixteen year break, Australian band The Avalanches are back with Wildflower. You’ll remember them from their first album Since I Left You, which saturated the airwaves in 2000 and was notable for consisting of almost 3,500 vinyl samples.

‘Frankie Sinatra’ is the first single from Wildflower which will be released in early July. It’s a pleasingly shambolic affair, with boom-parp circus horns in the chorus and guest vocals from Danny Brown and MF Doom. The album has received early rave reviews and although I’m not totally crackers about this single I’ll be interested to hear the rest of it.

I’m always fascinated by other writers’ creative processes, whether they are early birds or night owls, whether they write every day (some don’t) and the kind of word count they expect at the end of a day’s work. I suppose because writing is such a solitary occupation it’s interesting to see how other people approach it.

I have the four volumes of The Paris Review Interviews and regularly dip into them for inspiration, but I’m always on the lookout for similar resources. Over the last couple of months The Guardian has been publishing a series in the Saturday Review entitled ‘My Writing Day’, and Rose Tremain, William Boyd, Ian Rankin, Hilary Mantel and Anne Enright are some of the writers featured thus far.

Anne Enright’s day starts at 9am, finishes at 11pm and is filled with the kind of faffing that every writer is familiar with. ‘I never manage to write fiction in the morning. This is why I think mornings are wasted, and panic every afternoon.’

Hilary Mantel describes a long day filled with intense concentration, focussed work and a huge output. On a good day she can produce ‘thousands of words across half a dozen projects – and perhaps new projects.’

Ian Rankin was working on a new book when he was interviewed, and he had written the first draft in twenty-seven days. My heart sank when I read this (my first draft took me a year!) but thankfully he says, ‘It’s rough – really just me checking the plot works. The second draft sees me polish the prose, fix faults in chronology and geography, and add meat to the bones of my characters.’

It’s an interesting series for anyone interested in how the writing process works. I have also done some writer interviews on The Multiverse and you can take a look at how Peter Murphy, Kevin Barry and Declan Burke approach their writing day.

Ever fancied your heavy metal with a side of Hello Kitty? Thought that Metallica should really consider dance routines in their live shows? Secretly believed that Slayer could be improved if they just coordinated their outfits and smiled a bit more? Well, your demented bizarre dreams have been answered in the form of BABYMETAL, a Japanese kawaii-metal girl group.

To be more exact, BABYMETAL are an idol group. ‘Idol’ music is a Japanese phenomenon: a manufactured artist or band adored for being cute or ‘kawaii‘, and held up as good role models for young people. The idol component of BABYMETAL are the three teenage female singers –  Suimetal, Yuimetal, Moametal – and the metal component is provided by the Kami Band. It makes for a strange mix of saccharine catchy pop vocals over speed metal riffs, with the occasional arena-pleasing power ballad thrown in.

BABYMETAL started in 2010, when the band members were aged between 11 and 13 and by their own admission had never even heard heavy metal, and by 2014 were making waves internationally. In 2015 they played at Wembley Arena, a gig for which the Guardian awarded them five out of five stars. In Hannah Ewans review she said, ‘This isn’t another metal gimmick: it’s a legitimate phenomenon.’

BABYMETAL are clearly not the kind of band that I’ll buy an entire album from, but they do have their moments. Two of my favourites below:

 

 

 

Back in 2014 David Mitchell used Twitter to tell a short story, and in 280 tweets over the course of a week he showed the right way for an author to engage with social media. The story that emerged from this process was called The Right Sort and it’s the first chapter of Mitchell’s seventh novel, Slade House, published last year.

Slade House is Mitchell’s take on the classic haunted house story. Every nine years a tiny door appears on Slade Alley, behind which is a huge house surrounded by a beautiful garden. The house is only accessible for a day, and when it vanishes it takes someone with it, leading to unexplained disappearances. The novel is told in five chapters by five different narrators, from 1979 to 2015, and through their eyes we come to understand that Slade House is an illusion, set up as bait to lure in victims for the house’s owners.

In true Mitchell style, characters and references from his other novels appear throughout, and the book is widely seen to be a companion piece to 2014’s The Bone Clocks, featuring the Anchorites and Horologists from that fantasy world.

A very dear friend of mine bought me the most gorgeous hardback US first edition and I raced through the 238 pages in a couple of hours. It’s a creepy little book which reminded me at times of The Turn of the Screw and Les Enfants Terribles, but with a lot more humour.

 

Michael Shannon has unfairly gotten a reputation as the go-to guy for intense unstable and often violent characters, but he has far greater range than that as his filmography and theatre credits demonstrate. In Midnight Special he plays Roy, a loving and protective father who is on the run with his young son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), having escaped from a cult where Alton was seen as a prophet due to his supernatural powers.

Roy and his childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are racing to get Alton to an unspecified location, where Alton believes that he will perhaps find out why he possesses his powers. On the way they collect Roy’s wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) who was excommunicated and hasn’t seen her son for years. NSA agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) has interviewed members of the cult who attest to Alton’s abilities and believing Alton to be a potential threat to national security, the FBI pursue Roy with the aim of separating him from his son and imprisoning Alton.

Midnight Special is both a sci-fi thriller and a meditation on what it means to be a parent. When Alton tells Roy that he needn’t worry about him, Roy’s response is ‘I like worrying about you’, a simple answer that sums up parenthood beautifully. Shannon’s performance has already been much praised, but the rest of the cast deserve accolades too. Nichols’ script is restrained and intelligent, trusting the viewer to fill in the blanks which makes a welcome change from the usual Hollywood spoon-feeding.

Shannon has appeared in all of writer-director Nichols’ films: Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud, and now Midnight Special. They are great collaborators and all four films are worth seeing, so head to Midnight Special in the cinema now and then if you haven’t seen Take Shelter rent it. Shannon won armloads of awards for his performance as a man haunted by visions of the apocalypse, and again he was a loving husband and father. See? He doesn’t just play cold-hearted crazy villains!

 

My version of reading the Sunday papers is browsing through the latest posts on both Longreads and Longform, sites which feature long-form journalism or creative writing from around the web. I’ve often discovered writers that I now follow and publications I’ve never heard of before.

Over the weekend I discovered Narratively. In their own words: ‘Created in September 2012, Narratively is a digital publication and storytelling studio that prides itself on looking beyond the news headlines and clickbait, focusing instead on ordinary people with extraordinary stories.’ The site features video, photography, comics, and writing, and has received numerous awards and accolades.

I spent an hour browsing and found some gems:

‘Keeping New York Weird’ by Grace Bello – A profile of New York ‘comedic punks’, performance artists Tobly and Bob McSmith, which also explores the gentrification of Manhattan and what it means for artists.

‘My Acerbic Aerobics Class with O.J. Simpson’ by Robert Kerbeck – An account of being an extra in O.J. Simpson’s workout video which was filmed one week before the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

‘Secret Life of a Fashion Week Peon’ by Lacy Warner – A look inside a buyer’s showroom, where the real business of New York fashion week is done.

‘A Super Strange True Love Story: My Disappearing Fiancé’ by AnnaLisa Merelli – A first-person account of love gone wrong.

and

‘A Second Super Strange Love Story: I was the other woman’ by Riol Dankó – The follow-up to the above, where love goes horribly terribly wrong.

The best place to start on Narratively are the collections which group together different stories with similar themes, but be warned, once you start browsing you may lose an hour or so!

The Multiverse

is a blog from an Irish writer and DJ which takes in a wide range of subject matter as follows: Monday’s blogs are related to literature and writing; Tuesday is fashion, style and beauty; Wednesday is music; Thursday is TV and cinema; and Friday is a miscellany.

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A belated birthday present from a very good friend. *insert obvious joke* #foofighters #davegrohl #cushion #pillow Cartoons demand serious attention. Have managed to drag out this birthday for three weeks! Delicious brunch in @farmrestaurants. My niece trying on my jewellery. All the craic at @zilbyrne's birthday tonight. It was 80s themed and Liz made amazing posters for the venue. (Read the footnote!) #LizFest #80s #girlsjustwannahavefun #feminism Whoever said diamonds are a girl's best friend didn't know women like these two. #bestmates #Dublin #birthday

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