Important: New web address for STP Editing

Moving to

Moving to “STPediting.wordpress.com”

Hello everybody!

I will now be posting on a new website that, in most respects, is identical to this one. All that’s changed is the web address (URL).

https://mrbrookesabroad.wordpress.com has now moved to http://STPediting.wordpress.com.

You’ll find all the old posts and information there on the new website. The reason for the change is to focus more on the professional/writing side of  things instead of the personal, which was what Mr Brookes Abroad was intended to be.

Please do visit the new site and be sure to click the Follow button to make sure you’re subscribed. All new posts will be on the new site, STP Editing, from now on.

All contact details remain the same and this won’t affect any ongoing projects.

I look forward to seeing you all on the new site!

—David Brookes

Advertisements

Remembering ‘Lost’: A writer’s perspective

2066389bo

I was late to remember that today is “Lost Day”, a very special date in the calendar of all hardcore fans of ABC’s hit drama Lost.  This article from USA Today sums up the relevance of today’s date (4/8/15), so give it a read if you never watched the long-running mystery-fest and don’t know why “the numbers” make today so cool.

I recently had the pleasure of re-watching the six seasons of Lost (for the third or fourth time).  Being already familiar with its myriad twists and turns, and having the luxury of watching out for early clues to important events in the final season, I could really have fun and marvel at the sheer brilliance of its writing team.

Lost was infamous for taking about three years to set up achingly potent mysteries and holding off for another three years before answering them (I stopped just short of making notes to make sure there were no loose ends), and even though some fans insist that there are unanswered questions, the ones that remain are so minor that I have difficulty believing that the writers ever set them up deliberately – they clearly didn’t have any major importance to the canon of the show.  Debate in the comments section, people.

Lost has been complete for several years now and it’s still one of the best examples of a long-running narrative to date.  It was short enough to not lose too much of its focus (I’m looking at you, Season 3) and long enough to provide not only an intimidatingly strong ensemble cast of characters, but an all-encompassing mythos that covered everything from everyday coincidences to the quintessential battle of good versus evil on a cosmological scale.

I could write a whole book on Lost‘s glorious successes and irritating flaws, but I’ll restrict myself to these few paragraphs.  I’d like to present some of the things that Lost did so well through the eyes of a writer, to further glorify an awesome show that you should all go and watch again right now.

1. Taking an idea and running with it – all the way
Lost did this so, so well.  We know that the writing team had a full overview of the concept from day one (despite clearly padding out the middle of the show with a few extras). Forearmed with a few years’ worth of key plot points those guys clearly had the room and talent to get the most mileage out of every drop of potential.

Every character on that show was fully realized and strongly defined.  Even the ‘bland’ characters (i.e. those who weren’t fugitives, murderers or psychics) were memorable.  Everybody remembers the high school science teacher with a Napoleon complex, and the single father who would do anything for his boy.

Every storyline was explored to its full potential.  In retrospect, the whole idea of black versus white, good versus evil etc. seems to have been embedded in the show from the very first episode (and indeed it was – see pic) but it was very late in the day that all these threads are pulled together into the complex tapestry of the show’s final three seasons.  The past, present and future are laid bare, as are the two sides of an aeons-long conflict viewers knew nothing about until late in the game.

Locke Lost

Take for example the concept of “the numbers”, to which several whole episodes are devoted, and which expands from one character’s delusion that his winning lottery ticket numbers were cursed, to all of the following:

  • A mysterious signal that has been sent out from the island via radio for 17 years (branching further into sub-plots about historical visitors to the island, warped personal family dramas and crushing insight into one of the show’s main “villains”)
  • A buried, hermetically-sealed “hatch” which functions as a valve for the island’s unique explosive electromagnetic properties (branching further into narratives relating to fate, some deep psychology, and time travel, which itself becomes a lynchpin of the show’s later seasons)
  • A form of insanity that spreads like a disease from the island’s inhabitants 30+ years ago, to unlucky passing aircraft, and to sanitariums that housed at least two of the show’s pivotal characters.
  • A major theme of fate and individual purpose, in the form of numbered “candidates” to replace the timeless protector/s of the island

Way to explore every possibility, guys.

The time travel aspect of Season 4 onwards is much bemoaned by some fans, and that season became a threshold for those who would persevere and those who decided they had better things to do with their time (ironically). But love it or hate it, it’s a perfect example of a basic concept introduced in the first or second season and expounded upon until it becomes a narrative device for linking several storylines and characters in one of the neatest twists ever.

Lost-Timeline-Infographic-lost-16650617-2560-1656

2. At last: balanced dialogue
One of the reasons I can’t stand being in the room when there’s a soap opera on is the dialogue.  Dialogue in soaps is just fucking awful, and it’s one of the reasons that I can’t take any soap fan seriously.  Exposition is so clumsily handled that  literally roll my eyes during every scene I have the misfortune to watch.  The rest is casual in the extreme, designed to amuse simpletons with paper-thin, clown-like characters who say funny things in unrealistic ways before side-stepping for the next block of tedious exposition.  When it comes to actually being serious, the writers are incapable of making their characters speak like human beings.

A specific example is Two and Half Men, which thankfully concluded a couple of months ago with the biggest train-wreck of a finale the likes of which I have never seen, nor probably (read hopefully) will ever see again.  Formulaic and laced with predictable non-jokes from beginning to end, the writers never managed bother themselves with actual characterisation, believing that it’s enough to simply bluntly state the same character trait over and over again for tired (canned) laughs.  Comedies such as the late Friends and Frasier trod a fine balance between the farcical and the dramatic without a word ever sounding out of place (although some credit must go to the talent of the actors).  Other shows, like the phenomenal Breaking Bad, elevated dialogue to the point that it was almost Shakespearean, again without the audience ever sitting back and going “No-one would ever say it like that”, even though they would have been correct.

Lost deserves a similar accolade.  Just watch any of the episodes (perhaps bar the Pilot, which was always going to be a hard sell) with your “dialogue ears” on and you’ll be amazed at how everything from exposition to quips, banter to confrontation or romantic exchanges are perfectly tuned.  There were a few exceptions – Dominic Monaghan often couldn’t wrap his mouth around Charlie’s acerbic dialogue, and Fionnula Flanagan (in one of TV’s most grated performances) either had shockingly written lines or simply wasn’t a match for their high-faluting nature) – but I don’t believe I’ll often see the likes of Lost‘s dialogue in terms of practical brevity, dramatic charge and sheer entertainment value.

3. Giving the finger
The Lost writers had no qualms about stretching their concept to the maximum.  They clearly knew that there was enough talent on board (and enough of a fan base) to go as far in any direction as they wished.  Fancy a bit of time travel?  Why not.  How about gods and monsters?  Let’s do it!  Despite teasing fans with the possibility of a thoroughly modern scientific explanation for everything that takes place on that island, when the writers wanted to go mystical, or even full-blown Saturday morning cartoon, they didn’t hesitate, despite what Hollywood snobs were no doubt thinking.  If we are afraid of putting off some of our audience, we will only ever play it tame – and nobody gets excited about tame.

LOST-Geography-Map-7

4. True equality
I shouldn’t have to point out how righteous ABC was in deliberately choosing a true international cast for its multitudinous characters.  The good news is that the show pulled it off without making much of a fuss about it, even though years later I came across some amazed-sounding early reviews, primarily from the States, where they should be embarrassed and ashamed for even noticing.

Over the course of its six year run, Lost featured characters/actors from America (including African Americans), Australia, England, Scotland, France, Russia, Iraq (a character was Iraqi, the actor of Indian descent), Africa, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Italy, Korea, Canada, New Zealand, and China – and that’s just off the top of my head.  Actually it was amazing that this didn’t reek of a set up, but the concept allowed it to work naturally and it was beautiful.

This wasn’t all surface, either.  One of the show’s gimmicks (and I’m not besotted enough to be blind to Lost‘s many gimmicks) was flashbacks to flesh out the character’s (often secret) lives pre-castaway, and it was clear that the writers and producers worked hard to understand how these cultures sculpted (not defined) their characters.

Why is this worthy of mention?  Because too many films, books and TV series are crammed with white American or British characters, many conspicuously so, and real life just isn’t like that – at least, not where I come from.  But then, Sheffield, England is a very cosmopolitan city.  And no, tossing in an fundamentally white character disguised as a token black or Chinese guy doesn’t count.

There’s a lot that writers can take away from Lost, and just because it’s over doesn’t mean it should be forgotten.  Rewatch, if only for Sawyer’s nicknames.

—db

Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year 2010, Manchester, England

Chinese New Year 2010, Manchester, England

As countries across Asia kick off celebrations for the new lunar year, I want to extend my heartfelt best wishes to all the people I’ve met across Asia the last three years.

Since I visited China in late 2012, then Hong Kong and Vietnam, where I celebrated Christmas and New Year, I met a lot of great people who are too numerous to name here.  The same goes for those I encountered when revisiting China last year.

I’d like to wish a very happy New Year to everyone out there, and hope the next twelve months are prosperous and happy ones!

Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Kung Hay Fai Choy!

It’s very strange to think that, had things been only a little bit different, I could now be spending my fourth month in Xi’an as an ex-patriot. I’d like to thank everybody I met during my time in Xi’an and wish you all the best!  You were a great support and source of much happiness at that stressful time.

Sheffield, where I was born and raised, also has a large Chinese community of its own, especially students who came from across China and Hong Kong to study in one of our two universities.  Hopefully the city will be celebrating too, and I’m looking forward to heading out and taking part.  If you see my chomping dumplings off Fargate, say hi!

As part of my own celebrations, I recently released a rather popular collection of short stories set in China, “Love is an Eye That Doesn’t See“, which also includes a narrative article “Chasing the Dragon” in honour of the holiday.  Check it out!

Happy New Year!

Now where’s my red envelope??

—db

Celebrating Chinese New Year 2015

I have a bit of an uneven personal history with China.

I grew up with a love for Asian culture, which matured into solid appreciation for Chinese and Hong Kong cinema in particular, as well as literary fiction from the likes of Ha Jin (“Waiting”) and Jung Chang (“Wild Swans”).

In 2012 is visited China and Hong Kong as part of a tour of South East Asia, and spent several weeks traveling East from Chengdu to Shanghai, seeing such popular highlights as the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall.  It was amazing, and cemented my love for certain aspects of Chinese culture, history and art.

The attraction was so strong that I moved to China last year to work as a TEFL teacher in the ancient city of Xi’an.  As readers of this blog will know, that didn’t pan out.  Recent sudden success with my editing and ghostwriting business, but mainly aspects of my British personal life that I can’t bear to be without, has put the TEFL life on the back-burner for the time being.  I’m sure that I will visit China again in the future, however.

It’s with great joy that I wish all my past and present friends in China a grand Happy New Year, with much prosperity and joy in the year to come!

To celebrate, I’m releasing a special collection of China-related short stories for ebook readers, which will be available within the next few hours from Amazon (here) and Smashwords (here).


Love is an Eye coverIn celebration of Chinese New Year 2015, these short stories by David Brookes are released as a collection for the first time. Set in China, three fables of a romantic and philosophical nature show us the inner worlds of three troubled individuals struggling with love, loss and memory.

Also includes a narrative article, “Chasing the Dragon”, in celebration of Chinese New Year.


Please take the chance with 99p (or 99c) for this special little collection and let me know what you think.

Thanks again for your continued love and support!

—db

A Happy Hobbity Holiday

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Lord Sauron sent to me:

Twelve wargs a-warring

Eleven spiders spinning

Ten trolls a-turning

Nine Nazgul flying

Eight goblins gambolling

Seven dwarf-lords lording

Six wizards wand’ring

FIIIIIVE AAAAARMIIIIES…!

Four brave hobbits

Three elven kings

Two trilogies

And One Ring of power to ruuule over thee-ee!


 

tumblr_mfidpvNnhp1ra39l0o1_r1_500


 

Happy hobbity-holidays, everyone!

—db

Not dead yet

Unfortunately I forgot to post this about 2 weeks ago.  Here it is, nice and late.  Enjoy —db

———————————————————————————————————————

It’s been three weeks since I last posted. In that time I had a birthday, was best man at my best friend’s wedding, appeared as a guest on a podcast – and completed the first half of my CELTA teacher training course.

They weren’t kidding when they said that the CELTA course was brutal. “Don’t expect to have time to work or have a social life,” I was warned. I’ve disappointed so many friends by cancelling plans or forgetting to reply to texts. Did I mention the disclaimer the school had me sign, acknowledging how tough it was going to be?

Tough indeed. By the end of the first day of classes I was exhausted. From 9:30 to 6 my class of 16 listened, observed, scribbled frantic notes and tried to wrap our heads around the finer points of grammar.

By day three, two people had dropped out of the course, and another was on the verge.

Day four, I’d been granted permission to miss the day and attend the wedding. After a relatively leisurely morning of drinking tea and eating pastries, putting ribbons on the car and feeling rather dapper in our wedding finery, the groom and I took off for his big day. I’ve never been prouder of the man. As for the best man, he had a speech to deliver. Standing in front of a group of people and saying actual words in a coherent sequence has always made me nervous. You might wonder why I’ve thought about teaching all these years. As it happened, it was good practice for teaching class and reminded me that it’s not something to feel too nervous about.

But there was no time for frivolity. Marriage is a serious business. Vows and speeches went without a hitch (so to speak), but after the delicious “breakfast” I had to retire to a quiet room to work. I must have looked pretty peculiar in the little “restaurant lounge” wearing a cream waistcoat and pink rouche, bashing out lesson plans into my laptop and trying not to sweat.

Day five back in class, I’d done just enough work to scrape by my first two sessions of actual teaching. Everyone else had taught their first class whilst I was stuffing my face with wedding cake and wondering how many of the complimentary marshmallows I could stuff into my waistcoat without being noticed. Now I had to catch up with Thursday’s teaching class on top of Friday’s.

The Cambridge CELTA course (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) is one of the most highly regarded TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses available, mainly because it provides 120 hours of learning, with several hours of actual teaching practice in front of a real group of English language learners. And so, last Friday, I stood in front of a dozen or so men and women, young and old, from countries such as Iran, China, Poland, Italy and Brazil, and tried to teach them something.

Amazingly, this exhausted young man managed to provide two half-hour classes without going dumb, falling over, or leaping out the window. Success!

The weekend wasn’t much easier. There were lesson plans to write for the following week, and the first of four 1,000 word assignments to prepare, not to mention reading and revision. It’s amazing how little native speakers think about the grammar of their language (the foreigners on my course already had a great understanding of grammar terminology, as they’d been taught much as my students will be taught – a much more structured and detailed process than simply acquiring English as a toddler).

This second week … happened, with even more classes to teach (one of which was a more standard 60 minutes long), one or two mammoth 11 hour days of class/teaching time, and two more assignments to write.

The class is smaller now, but there is an increased level of enthusiasm and even a buzz, as we all find ourselves creeping towards becoming half decent at teaching. We are into a bit of a routine, are more familiar with terminology and technique, and are beginning to think about where we might want to fly out to after the course ends. I’ll give more info on my own job hunt in another post, but for now just wanted to let people know that I’m still alive. Huzzah! The best the average CELTA student can claim to be after two weeks:

Not dead yet!

—db