Showing posts with label Gillian Philip. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gillian Philip. Show all posts

Saturday, 19 April 2014

It's Our Turn Now! Celebrating Project #UKYA - Lucy Coats

If you haven't already heard about it, I'd like to introduce you to Project UKYA, set up in September 2013 by Lucy Powrie, a teenage Force for Good, and a manic bibliophile. Essentially, Lucy has come up with the brilliant idea of blowing the trumpet loudly and publicly for UK Young Adult authors and their books, with a different 'project' happening each month. Right now there's a marvellously wide-ranging series of chats going on on Twitter under the hashtag #ukyachat. People are sharing books they love, and talking about different aspects of UKYA. Next month a new longterm project launches - a monthly (to begin with) 'livechat' on YouTube, talking about the latest UKYA releases, discussing UKYA books and much more, including special guests and author Q and As.

Why does this matter? It matters because YA from the US has held the balance of power in the public perception of YA for far too long. While the likes of Twilight, The Hunger Games and The Mortal Instruments have all sold millions of copies and had films made in a relatively short time after publication, UK YA authors have been lagging behind in terms both of sales and of international recognition. We need to try and change that, because the pool of UK writing talent is immense, and yes, I'm going to say it, just as good if not better than anything coming out of America. All of us who care about books and reading need to work together to get the word out there to YA readers about just how good British books are at the moment.

This is absolutely not to denigrate US writers - I'm very excited currently about Laini Taylor and Sarah J Maas's forthcoming titles, among others. It's just that I'm equally excited - or more so - about Clare Furniss's Year of the Rat, Keren David's Salvage, Teri Terry's Shattered, Claire McFall's Bombmaker, Ruth Warburton's Witchfinder, Gillian Philip's Icefall, Ellen Renner's Tribute, James Dawson's Cruel Summer, Candy Gourlay's Shine and the new film of Anthony McGowan's The Knife that Killed Me. And that's just touching the surface of what's out there right now. I could spend the rest of this post just making a list of great UKYA books and writers (don't worry, I won't).

So, really what I'm asking you to do here is to support Project UKYA. Follow it on Twitter and take part in the chat, join its Facebook page, read and comment on the blog - but above all, spread the word about its existence to everyone you know who loves good books. UKYA books and authors deserve to be known and celebrated all over the world - let's be the pebbles which start the avalanche.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

It's August, it's Edinburgh, It's the bookfest!

Despite the almost continuous rain earlier in the summer last Saturday when the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2012 opened its doors  the sun shone and it was glorious.  People were sitting all around the lovely square in Charlotte Gardens chatting reading books,eating ice cream, enjoying the atmosphere and people watching - trying to spot their favourite author.

On the walkways there was a buzz as people rushed to join the queue for an event or strolled by to browse in the bookshops or cafes.

It is my favourite time of the year.  A chance to catch up with lots of friends, writers from all parts of the country, to meet new people and to go to listen, laugh and be fascinated by the skill and imagination of the speakers.

In the famous authors' yurt, (green room) the great and the good,  famous, not so famous and the first time authors gather before or after events. As the festival lasts for over two weeks and has something like 800 authors from all over the world, there are always new people to meet.  This year sees the festival holding the 2012-2013 Edinburgh World Writers Conference, with special events looking at the role of literature around the world today.

On Saturday I caught up with other authors many of them SASsies - Nicola Morgan, Cathy MacPhail, Eleanor Updale, Elizabeth Laird, Julia Donaldson and Moira Munro, Keith Charters and crime writer Alex Gray.  it is a place for families and  I also met the Bookwitch and her daughter, and Mary and Gerry (the Mole) from Ourbookreviews and their lovely daughter.

I went into listen to the brothers Scarrow, Simon and Alex, both highly successful authors who decided that they might share some characters!  So Alex was able to bring two of his brother's well loved Roman characters into his own book set in Rome.
The event was great fun with teams of three chosen from the young audience brought up to compete in a history quiz.  Lots of fun and cheering ensued.

Monday the sun was still shining and I met up with Barry Hutchison and I went into the event on his new book the 13th Horseman, which made me realise just how much fun you can have with your characters!

 Barry, along with Sally Gardner and Steven Butler were understandably nervous about an event called Story Consequences.  Vivian French was the excellent chair person (and had control of the bell!) in an event where the three other writers were invited to start a story (character, place and emotion suggested by the audience) and keep it going for 30 seconds until the bell rang signalling that they had to pass it on to the next person, and so on.
Despite their reservations it was a riotous success and by the end of the event three very different, if slightly strange, stories had come to life.  The audience got behind the authors cheering them on, and everyone had a great time.
It occurred to me that this might be an interesting challenge to try in the future, for writers, aspiring writers and in creative writing sessions with young people, too.

Story Consequences event

This week also saw the Society of Authors in Scotland (SOAiS) AGM and lunch when we welcomed some new committee members Cathy MacPhail, Gillian Philip and Michael Malone and our new Scottish (SOAiS) chair  Lin Anderson.  It was also a pleasure get the chance to chat to the new Chair of the Society of Authors who had travelled up from London - Lindsey Davis.

I had a lovely surprise when dropping in to the yurt to find Keren David there, who introduced me to Amy Plum, a YA author who is American  living in Paris and will be speaking at the book festival  next week.

I will be appearing in the book festival this Sunday when I will be reading as part of the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series on Freedom of Speech when  I read  Nasrin Sotoudeh.'s poignant letter to her daughter. 

On Friday 24th I am looking forward to delivering my workshop 'So you want to write for Children?'.

On the following Tuesday, after the main bookfest closes there is the School Gala Day when Charlotte Square is closed to the general public and bus loads of school children fill the square to attend events with their favourite authors.

Sally J Collins
 I will be there with Sally J. Collins the illustrator of the Hamish McHaggis books and we will be joined by Hamish himself as we tell the story of the Great Glasgow Treasure Hunt

I love the opportunity to go and listen to all sorts of writers talking with passion about the books they have written and living close enough to Edinburgh I enjoy dipping in and out of the festival to see a wide range of events.

A couple I am particularly looking forward to are events with Jasper Fforde and Eoin Colfer.

So if you get the chance to come to Edinburgh in August come along to the book festival - go to some events and soak up the atmosphere.  And keep your eyes open, you never know who you might bump into. 


Linda Strachan is an award winning author of over 60 books for children of all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a  writing handbook  Writing for Children

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

1 - Gillian Philip on the filming of children's books

My Photo
Thanks to a great big ladleful of serendipidity, number one in our list of most-viewed posts includes a connection with both ABBA birthdays and lists!

To celebrate our second birthday, we decided to have a theme for the month, and contributors who wanted to were invited to present their top five of... well, anything to do with children's books. Gillian went for her top five films based on children's books, and accompanied her list with a concise but captivating musing on what makes a good adaptation:

Five Barnstorming Books-to-Movies: Gillian Philip

You'll find more suggestions of great adaptations in the comments, but please feel free to add your own favourites - or any other thoughts - in the comments below this post.

And there we come to the end of our list of most-viewed entries on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure - but not quite to the end of our birthday celebrations. Join us at 7.00pm for one last stop along Memory Lane!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Celluloid of Terror: Gillian Philip

I took my ten-year-olds to see Harry Potter the other day. There were three of us in that front row, trying to make sense of the slightly distorted soundtrack, and only one of us had read the book.

To the ten-year-olds, it didn't matter that for a good deal of the running time, they couldn't quite follow what was going on. It was, as Girl Child announced within five seconds of the credits rolling, the best movie they had ever seen. And with mother giving whispered side-of-the-mouth explanations of the tricky bits, the plot was perfectly comprehensible.

The cinema - an old-fashioned, sticky-floored, numb-bum relic of the golden age, and one of my favourite places in the world - was teeming with three- to ten-year olds who hadn't read the books, along with a lot of teenagers and young adults who had clearly grown up with them. I had high hopes that my two would ask to read all seven books afterwards, and when they didn't volunteer, I offered.

No takers. It's the films they've grown up with, and the Xbox games. Boy Child has spent the summer-holiday days since then watching and rewatching the earlier movies, and begging for the Xbox game. Girl Child has preferred more and more and different movies (and books) involving death, sacrifice, love, hate, good and evil.

I'm not sure they'll ever read the books, now. And I have wildly mixed feelings about that.

My strongest reaction is that these are my kids, dammit. MY KIDS, for whom the purchase of books by readers is the wellspring of the finance that buys them DVDs and Xbox games. What are they THINKING?

A subsidiary, guilty feeling, is that I'm probably even more of a movie addict than I am a book addict, and that's saying something. I'm not sure I'll read The Lord of the Rings again, however many times I've read it in the past, because the movies distilled the best of the books, while holding onto respect for them, and the pictures I made in my head weren't ever quite as good as the pictures made since 2001 by Peter Jackson.

At school talks, I torment myself and the audience with the question 'Books or Movies?' And while we all tear at our scalps shouting 'BOTH', I always advocate BOOKS with the argument that however many girls in the room love Edward Cullen, only around half think he truly looks like Robert Pattinson. For the others, he'll always be the perfect sparkly beauty they formed in their own heads, and R-Pattz will be no more than - well, not an impostor: just someone who once played the part.

I feel quite sad that my kids are unlikely to read Harry Potter as he was originally wrote - or not for a few years, anyway. They won't grow up, as so many young adults did, with a boy who grew up, slowly, on the page, along with them.

But the movies have created another part of the myth, and one of their own. My kids have grown up with Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, and when I really think about it, that's fine. There are so many other books now - in great part thanks to the Potter phenomenon - that they can film for themselves, inside their heads, just like I do with my own characters while I'm writing. For them, Harry can be a movie.

Films make their own mythology. The story of the Lions of Tsavo is a true one, while the film version - The Ghost & The Darkness - follows to a great extent the template of Jaws. I honestly don't think that destroys its validity as a story. I remember being terribly upset and angry when I first saw James Cameron's Titanic, because why would anyone want to add fiction to a truth that had its own perfect tragic narrative and human pathos? Since then I've watched it often, and always cry - because I never believe in Jack and Rose, but they symbolise the real people dying in fractions of screen moments in the background.

Maybe it's distance that lends both enchantment and forgiveness - recent lies and distortions are less forgiveable; but is Troy, if it ever existed, diminished by being relegated to myth and a bloody good story? A seriously bad movie certainly didn't hurt that immortal myth.

We're humans, and we love a narrative arc. The best of them will survive in any form, and many. They start, and end, in our heads.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

WIN a Faery Like This One - Gillian Philip

He’s stroppy, bad-tempered, loud-mouthed, occasionally rebellious but very loyal and is willing to do his share of the dishes. Every home should have one, and now you can – just by answering one question and a tie-breaker.

The Rebel Angels series (contains no wings, despite the title and the presence of faeries) follows the adventures of Seth & Conal MacGregor, sons of a Sithe clann chief assassinated by the Faery Queen. The story began in 16th century Scotland with Firebrand; it comes right up to date with Bloodstone, the brothers having somehow managed to survive into the 21st century. And now things start to get difficult...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Mad, Bad and I Wish I'd Known This Earlier: Gillian Philip

This is my old school. Posh, eh? (Oh all right, it was a comprehensive by the time I went, but it looks very smart.)

And out front, that's its most famous alumnus, Lord Byron. I passed him every morning and afternoon for six years (except during holidays and illness) and sadly, never appreciated him. All I knew of the man was that extraordinary sheet that makes him look not unlike Sally Bercow, and the fact that he was responsible for one of the songs on my mother's Alexander Brothers LPs. (Dark Lochnagar. If you know anything of the Alexander Brothers, you'll know that's no way to get to know a poem.) Oh, and the fact that I didn't get to be in Byron House (bunch of jessies).

Why didn't they tell us? Why didn't they tell us he was a rake, a rogue, a soldier of fortune, probably bisexual and incestuous, and that he actually looked like THIS?

Nom. Anyway, if I'd known he was as interesting as THAT, I wouldn't have walked past him every day with a roll of my eyes and my nose in a Marvel comic.

Maybe nowadays the students get, to paraphrase Horrible Histories, literature with the babe-a-licious bits left in. I hope so. Anyway, I remembered the old stone bloke the other day when reading Leslie Wilson's terrific post about language and sex in young adult books. If he'd been around today, I'm sure the young scoundrel would have been a proud presence on many a banned books list.

Anyway, I wish I'd discovered Byron a lot earlier. I think I would have, if they'd left in the language and sex.

What's not to like?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

I do bite my thumb, sir: Gillian Philip

I don't watch EastEnders. It's on at a bad time for me, and I don't want to get caught up and addicted to the plot. I'd barely heard of Ronnie and Kat before last week, and leaping to their defence isn't something I'd ever planned to do.

On the other hand, I love the internet. I do. Some of my best friends are internet friends, whether on Facebook, Twitter or email.

The net has its drawbacks, though: like its potential for the manipulative and the mob. I daresay 6,000 members of Mumsnet were truly, authentically upset by the famously 'offensive' EastEnders storyline in which a mother devastated by a cot death swaps her dead baby for someone else's live one.

Harrowing, yes. Off limits? Oh, yes, for the Mumsnetters who cannot distinguish between issue-led fiction and... well... issues. Or indeed fiction.

Sorry, but I don't have shades of grey on this one. If I want to write about an individual - an individual - who has been turned completely barking by a terrible tragedy, then I hope I'll always be able to do so. I was going to add 'without being accused of offensiveness and insensitivity by those affected by the same kind of tragedy', but that's always going to happen, isn't it? What I hope is that I won't get the media tarring-and-feathering for it, and I hope I won't ever be bludgeoned into a humiliating climbdown for the crime of writing fiction (as the BBC was this week).

I'm not saying issues shouldn't be approached with understanding and sensitivity. But there has to be room to treat fictional individuals as just that - individuals, with the same quirks, traits and madnesses they'd have in real life.

So maybe it stings a little when miscarriage is portrayed in a TV soap - and happening to a horrible character who had it coming. I remember watching Secrets and Lies, and the ghastly recognition that the infertile wife was a bitch of the first order, and mostly because of her infertility. It touches awful chords when a fictional couple is faced with a possible abnormality showing up on an antenatal scan. Tonight I've just finished watching Silent Witness where, as so often, the killer was a disturbed gay guy. But as Sophie Hannah put it so well in this Sunday's Herald, Psycho is deeply offensive to hotel owners who don't go around stabbing their guests in the shower.

But I have no right not to be offended. You have no right not to be offended. You start ring-fencing fiction with the fear of offence, and it's dead. So is a lot else.

Of course we should write with sensitivity and awareness of the effect of what we write on whoever may read it. But to self-censor for the fear of upsetting anyone? I hope I never do. And kick me if you see me doing it. My editor already has, once or twice.

Forgive me if I start with a still from a frothy soap, and finish with a shot of a man who has been garlanded and showered with rose petals for shooting another man. The victim wasn't actively offensive, but he had defended the rights of people who might be accused of being offensive.

Maybe the comparison is a little offensive, but maybe it's the time of the month for me.

And if my husband said that, I'd be furiously offended...

Friday, 3 December 2010

Libraries: nostalgia may soon not be what it used to be: Gillian Philip

Better and more dedicated bloggers have blogged about the crisis facing our libraries, including Lucy Coats, Keren David and Candy Gourlay. Please read their posts from yesterday, because I can't put it better than they can.

I can, though, tell you what my local library meant to me as a child, because I'll never forget standing at my bedroom window one night, with my parents and my brother, watching the glow light up the sky as it burned to the ground. I remember being heartbroken, because it was the place I loved to be: the place that brought me Paddington Bear and the Famous Five and so many other worlds of wild excitement.

All I could think of that night, and the next day as we went to look at the ruins, was all those worlds, all those words, all those books going up in smoke. At eight I could think of no greater tragedy. I fantasised that the local press would interview me, as the library's most fanatical client. I even practised what I'd say.

I'd discovered Snoggle in that library, an odd little egg-shaped alien created by JB Priestley. He was as alone and far from home as ET, and even more heart-tugging. Obsessed, I'd taken the book with me into the garden, then left it lying there to be rained on. I had only recently returned it, terrified and guilty, to the librarian (who was very kind and forgiving, and who didn't have me arrested as I assumed she would). That night I remember wishing I'd kept it. More than thirty years later I had to track down a copy for my own kids, but I'm still afraid to read it, afraid to shatter the memory of one of the best-loved books of my childhood.

They rebuilt Wishaw Library: that's it in the photo above. It will have changed with the times, adapted, modernised. It must offer so much more now than it used to. I'd love to visit some time (hint hint). My nostalgic memories of the old library won't be any stronger than the memories the new one is creating right now for its thousands of visitors.

But looking for images of the beautiful old library, or even of the fire that destroyed it, I can't find any. Not one. It's as if that library never existed. Maybe I dreamed it.

Horrible, horrible thought. Let's not let it happen to all the others.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Shock, Stories and Statistics: Gillian Philip

All the fretting I do about what is 'appropriate' in a teenage novel was put into some perspective on Saturday as I listened to Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent. There was a report from Uganda by Anna Cavell about children's literature in Uganda:

The book How Kwezi Got Into Trouble has a picture on the cover of a girl sobbing into a tissue at a school desk.
So when I saw it, I thought Kwezi might have got into trouble for handing her homework in late, or perhaps she had been copying somebody else's exam paper.
Then I looked at the text on the back cover and got quite a shock. It read: "At her mother's funeral, Kwezi is raped by her late father's best friend.
"Kwezi has no-one to tell but her mother lying in the grave. Though she gets Aids, Kwezi is determined to let other pupils know how dangerous Aids is."
It is a surprising storyline for a book aimed at eight-to-10-year-olds.

Uganda once had the highest HIV infection rate in Africa, and that's saying something. There have been some strange and frightening responses to the epidemic, from the assertion that condoms are a western plot to spread AIDS, to Thabo Mbeki's bizarre herbal prescriptions, right up to the rumour that sex with a virgin will cure HIV.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni's response has been very different. 'When a lion enters your village,' he declared, 'you must raise the alarm loudly.'
Anna Cavell, surprised by the subject matter available in a children's bookshop, spoke to a mother of two, who was more than happy to use the stories to stimulate discussion with her 11-year-old daughter. She also spoke to older ladies who disapproved of such reading matter, and longed for the days when people 'behaved decently'.
The whole story, here, mentions some of the other books on offer - subject matter which would be challenging for adult books in the UK, never mind teenage lit. In Uganda, the books are for younger children.
A few years ago the HIV infection rate in Uganda was over 20%. Today it's down to 6.7%.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Chicken of Time: Gillian Philip

It all started with Charlie Brooker. As someone who was frittering away much of his time on Facebook and Twitter (there are many of us - mea maxima culpa) he needed something to focus his attention on the paying job in hand. If you haven't read it already, his article on the Pomodoro Technique (the solution he discovered) is almost painfully sharp and funny. As he put it, "I was trying to write a script in a small room with nothing but a laptop for company. Perfect conditions for quiet contemplation - but thanks to the accompanying net connection, I may as well have been sharing the space with a 200-piece marching band."
Ouch. The article, Google Instant is Trying to Kill Me, was all over the writery part of Facebook in the time it takes to get up for another cup of coffee and idly check Twitter.
I already know people who are trying it out, and swearing by it. Kathryn Evans, fellow children's writer, has not vanished from the online world - not at all - in fact, she's posting just as often. But she's only visiting the gossipy virtual water cooler every twenty-five minutes, when her chicken timer tells her she may. For five minutes. And then it clucks again.
She's getting a lot of work done.
I don't think Twitter and Facebook are a waste of time. They're sanity-saving, they're mines of research and news and ideas, they're wonderful places to meet and talk about work, and they're places where I've met some of my very best friends.
None of which stops them being vampires of work-time. I'm going out today. I may be some time, but I'll have more of it when I get back. I'm going to hunt for my very own chicken.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Call Me Irresponsible: Gillian Philip

I'm going to apologise in advance because this will be short, and much of it is based on this post from Pete Hautman, which is an incredibly interesting account of another author being 'uninvited' from a teen literary festival, and how Pete Hautman himself withdrew in solidarity. It isn't just the post that's interesting but the comment thread (I love it when a comment thread is smart and fascinating instead of just abusive).

The reason this is rushed and half-stolen (bear with me while I explain my tortuous train of thought) is because I've just arrived at the Edinburgh Book Festival, which is just as fabulous as always. Anyway, my new book FIREBRAND was published just in time to be on the shelves, and will be launched here at an event on the 27th, so I took the chance to vandalise some copies with a signature or ten. As I was doing this, along came a curious 9-year-old, who wanted to know if she could read the book. And since I won't let my own 9-year-olds read it, I said I didn't think that was a good idea. (Which wasn't that virtuous, actually. I sold one to her older brother and said she could read his copy in a few years.) But the point is that my (many would say underdeveloped) sense of responsibility did actually overcome my commercial instincts. I think all YA/teen authors would say the same. Wouldn't we?

This brings me back to Pete Hautman's post. I was uninvited once. I'd been asked to speak to primary pupils - just about the business of writing, and what was involved in doing it for a living, and how I went about it. I'd already explained that my work wasn't suitable for younger children, and they'd understood that, and agreed I'd simply talk about being a writer, and the invitation stood. But then they panicked. What would the parents say if they googled me? So the invitation was withdrawn at the last minute.

I'm still not sure how I feel about that, and I'd love to know what anyone else's perspective would be. I sympathise with the nervousness about a pack of angry parents; but I can't help feeling they were confusing me and the writing profession with my characters and storylines. Are we simply not trusted if we address certain issues in our work? Should organisers capitulate to a vocal minority (or even the prospect of them?)

Answers on a postcard, or possibly the comment box. And now I had better get this posted...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Five Barnstorming Books-to-Movies: Gillian Philip

I know I’m going to get myself in hot water with this one. Books are so personal, and movies are so personal (but in a different way). There are films of children’s books that I should have seen but haven’t – The Secret of Moonacre (The Little White Horse) for instance, or How To Train Your Dragon (which I am desperate to see, but I’m having to wait for the DVD).

I think it’s harder with children’s books than it is with adults’ to find a movie that’s better than the book. Is that an indication of the higher quality of children’s books? I like to think so. At any rate, I can think straightaway of many adult movies that are better than the book – The Godfather, Jaws – but that very rarely applies to children’s books-to-movies.

I can, though, think of lots that are just as good but different. I actually think the different is important. I'm not crazy about films that are true to the book, which is why you won’t find any Harry Potter movies on my list – for me they are too faithful to the books and (with the exception of the third) don’t really have their own identity as films.

I don’t mind one bit when films take reasonable liberties with a book, because they need to be good in their own right, not just exact translations of page to screen. I want to be transported by movies and books in entirely different ways. I’m swept away far more by Inkheart the novel than Inkheart the movie. But (if I’m allowed to count abridged versions as children’s favourites) I’m far more enchanted by Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Tarzan (1999) as movies than as books.

I seem to have gone for five very recent movies (sorry, Bambi, I did want you). And I wanted more than five. I wanted Stuart Little, too, and Shrek, and Stormbreaker, and The Black Stallion, and I desperately wanted The (supremely quotable) Princess Bride, and... oh, that’s cheating. Get on with it.

Each of the five had to pass a simple test: do my children – one girl one boy – ask to watch it over and over again?

Peter Pan (2003)

A Peter who is ‘the personification of cockiness’ and whose American accent only makes him more otherworldly. Lost Boys you don’t want to throttle. Terrifying mermaids and thoroughly sinister pirates. A scheming, naughty, funny Tink. Jason Isaacs as a deliciously wicked and handsome Captain Hook - but ‘not wholly evil’. A soaring soundtrack. Scenes that make my spine tingle no matter how many times I watch them – Mr and Mrs Darling running home in slow motion, only just too late! Bankers and strict aunts and sleeping children chanting that they DO believe in fairies, they DO, they DO! Ah, I love this movie.

Stardust (2007)

I know, I know, it’s allegedly the nadir of Robert De Niro’s career. But I like his turn as an effete, cross-dressing pirate captain. I like the seven fratricidal brothers, too, both alive and dead. Jokes, danger, thrills, romance, unicorns, views of Skye. If I was gay I’d want to marry Claire Danes, and if I was younger I’d want to marry Charlie Cox, especially after his ‘reverse haircut’. What’s more, I’m a soft touch for a cheesy Take That song. I adore this movie so much, I can even forgive a Ricky Gervais cameo.

Coraline (2009)

Another Neil Gaiman adaptation, this time a captivatingly beautiful animation. Coraline is a clever, likeable heroine whose terror and danger seem very real, and whose bravery is therefore all the more impressive. The houseful of eccentrics are beautifully balanced by their vicious alternates, and I am a huge fan of that scrawny, smart cat who moves so comfortably between the worlds. As for Coraline’s button-eyed Other Mother: she’s evil enough to send even a parent diving behind the sofa. And (shhh) she makes me feel better about my own maternal inadequacies and laptop time.

Nanny McPhee (2005)

‘Once upon a time there was a huge family of children; and they were terribly, terribly naughty.’ And then Nurse Matilda went Hollywood and became Nanny McPhee, and disciplined a whole new generation. I came late to this one, and I watched it reluctantly, not expecting to like it. I laughed out loud as much as my children did, and I (surreptitiously) cried at the end. I’m a little afraid to see Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, because I don’t trust sequels. But I might have to try.

The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Oh, I had to sneak this one in. Not strictly a children’s book, but like many, many others, I first read the trilogy as a young teenager. The Two Towers and The Return of the King are grander, more threatening, more epic in scale, and you do get Gollum; but there’s something so watchable and entrancing about the first instalment. Aragorn’s rough and enigmatic and sexy, Boromir is still around (I always liked Boromir), the Black Riders are far more dreadful on horseback than on their flying mounts, and Arwen shows a bit of gumption, some blade and a nice way with a horse. And they dropped that ghastly old singing hippy Tom Bombadil. I could watch this one over and over, and I do.

Go on, I know your five will be different. Do tell...

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Oops, What Have I Said Now? Gillian Philip

I dunno. As a writer, should I keep my sensitivities honed, always bear in mind the offence I might cause, and avoid it like the plague (or like a cliche)? Or should I accept that every reader will bring their own sensitivities to a book, their own issues, and make allowances for myself and my characters and my story, and, just possibly, my own hyper-sensitivities?

It's a live issue for me right now. Recently I read a blog about rape in novels. It was thoughtful, insightful, sensitive, and followed by comments from women who (I surmise from what they said) had had their own traumatic experiences of rape or near-rape. Some of the posts pulled me up short. Some readers threw a book aside immediately when a writer 'used' rape as a plot device. The simplistic or offensive treatment of such a subject made their blood boil, said others.

Too right. I've binned a book myself - just the once, when I got the clear sense that the author was getting a real kick out of what he - via his serial killer - was doing to a group of nameless girls.

I don't know myself where I drew that line. I have a fairly strong stomach and I like gritty crime fiction (up to a point). There are men who kill women, and get a kick out of it. Some writers should - must - write about those characters. So I'll never know what edged this particular writer beyond the pale for me. It was instinct, that's all.

But I'm sure I, too, cross lines in reader's minds. Should this character light a cigarette? Should that one thrill to cruelty? Should the other have conscience-free, unprotected sex, and love it?

The rape blog made me fret because one of my characters is raped, and her reactions might well be offensive. It's not the defining moment of the plot. It's not (in her perception) the worst thing that happens to her. She worries it was her own fault. She laments her lost virginity. (Heck, she's a sixteenth century peasant girl.) I can't overlay her reactions with my 21st century sensibilities, but I know she'll offend. That's not my intention, but I know it will happen.

I've had the same dilemma with violence. I'm not a pacifist; I believe in the concepts of just war and national self-defence. But my depictions of violence have offended and upset people. I wouldn't go out of my way to offend, but should I go out of my characters' way not to offend?

A friend of mine once came under huge pressure to change a moment in her novel when her pregnant heroine drank alcohol. This character was ambivalent about the baby, and the drinking reflected that, but editors worried that readers would be offended, indeed horrified; that they'd instantly lose all sympathy for the heroine. My writer friend stood firm. The heroine drank. And the characterisation works really, really well. I'm sure it offended a few people who have strong opinions on, or experience of, the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome. But for the novel, for the heroine, it was honest and true and it worked.

Sometimes I tone things down when my conscience is pricked. But truly, I'm not sure I should. I certainly wouldn't change the fundamental heart of the story.

It's like I said at the start: I dunno. But I'd love to hear how other writers handle their own conscience when it might conflict with someone else's - and no, I don't just mean the Daily Mail's.

As for politics in books? From all sides? Oh, don't get me started.

(The image is the cover of a book by war correspondent Anthony Loyd, just because I admire (and envy) his uncompromising honesty.)

Friday, 7 May 2010

Chancers: Gillian Philip

I haven’t actually flipped a coin since I finished reading Nicola Morgan’s haunting new book WASTED. I haven’t had one on me at a particular moment, or I’ve been driving, say. But (and especially when I’m driving, as it happens) I have spent a lot of time thinking about the workings of chance and luck and fate. It’s WASTED that’s done it to me. It’s that sort of book.

Everybody has stories of what might-have-been, and there are some downright chilling ones at Nicola’s blog for the book, (Have a look at the post for 4th May, Claire Marriot’s story of the lock that jammed on 7th July 2005, and say you don’t have shivers in your spine).

(On a less sinister note, I was remembering - because of election day - that had I not decided at the last minute to go to a party in 1987, where I met and fancied an SDP supporter, I wouldn't have gone to work for them at election time and I wouldn't have met my husband. And so the examples go on.)

WASTED examines concepts as diverse (or maybe as close; don’t ask me, it makes my head spin) as quantum physics and the myth of Oedipus. It’s the story of Jack and Jess, and Jack’s Game – the coin he flips to sacrifice to luck before he makes any decision. Jack has had two mothers, both of whom have died, and he can’t believe he hasn’t used up all his ill luck – so he trusts to the coin to make his decisions now, accepting its verdict whether it looks good for him or not. There’s a scary passage when Jack plays his game with street corners in the middle of the night, and ends up in a very dodgy neck of the woods, and so loses his ‘lucky’ coin. Contrarily, Jack doesn’t treat this as a message from fate, but finds a new coin... and so the complex game of luck and chance continues, with drastic results for both himself and Jess.

It took me longer than I expected to read WASTED, because I kept having to double back and re-examine an incident, a decision, a concept. It’s that kind of book – it makes you think, and it makes you shiver. Sometimes fate diverges into two chapters; the eerily omniscient voice of the narrator gives us the variables, and a tiny butterfly-flutter of chance is shown to lead to wildly different hurricane-sized outcomes.

It’s haunting because it makes you wonder, even as you make tiny decisions of speed or direction on the school run, just what parallel universes are splitting away from you at each second, and what’s happening there. I’m really quite glad I never seem to have a coin to hand, because Jack’s Game might be a little too tempting, and then what does one do? Defy the coin?

But if you read WASTED – and you really, really should – you have to play Jack’s Game at least once, because it’s how each reader must choose the story’s outcome, and it isn’t quite as simple as life and death. Honestly, WASTED is a corker. Try it.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

So there's a spider, a labrador and Uncle Quentin...: by Gillian Philip

Tonight I was trying to work out what I saw when I first saw Kirrin Island. For the life of me I can't remember. I think it was a shadowy sort of rock, about the size of four large urban roundabouts, with Sanquhar Castle plonked on top. (How did that fit?) It was not very far offshore. I wasn't a very good swimmer so I wouldn't have put it too far away.

I was wondering this because it came up at bedtime. No idea why. I think it was a distraction from the Death of Marley (the labrador, not the singer).

'Just you snuggle down and listen to The Hobbit,' says I. (Yes, I know, I should be reading it myself, not leaving it to Martin Shaw and the CD player.) 'It's OK to be sad about Marley but try and think about giant carnivorous spiders instead.'

'OK,' says the Boy Kray. 'But he doesn't get the spiders' voices right.'

Now, to my certain knowledge, my very own reluctant reader has never sat and read The Hobbit in print. The lovely Martin Shaw has patiently read it to him every night for about three months, and only from this has the BK deduced that he doesn't get the spiders right. (Bilbo is fine, Martin. Gollum is fine. It's the spiders.) So I was wondering what the process is that transforms an audiobook into words or pictures in a boy's head, then gives the images and characters, as seen by boy, voices that aren't the ones the reader is giving them. Are you with me?

My misshapen, twenty-feet-from-shore Kirrin Island can't possibly be the one Enid Blyton intended, but it must have suited me fine, because I loved those books. Maybe Kirrin Island got a bit bigger as I did? Not sure.

'Nah. Kirrin Island,' says the Boy Kray, 'is like Colonsay.'

'Blimey. That's big,' says I.

'Yeah, but Uncle Quentin's study looks like our dining room.'

At which point the Girl Kray storms in, demands to be included in the insomnia party, and adds: 'And Kirrin Cottage is like the Tardis, only the other way round, because it's bigger on the outside and tiny on the inside, and Uncle Quentin's study is NOT in our house, it's the staff room at school. LOSER.'

'So, films,' I say, rubbing my sore head, 'they must be better than books? Or audiobooks? Because you know what everything looks like and you know what everything sounds like.'

At which point I get that withering Mother-you-idiot look (from two directions), and the Boy Kray says, 'Of course not. That's why books are BETTER. It is MORE FUN making it up in your head.'

Which is reassuring. And I think one of the loveliest things about sending a book into the world (waving goodbye with a wistful smile) is knowing that nobody, but nobody, will see that story the way you (or anyone else) saw it, and you ain't never going to know how they picture it.

Be sure that I will be remembering the 'books are BETTER' conversation next time I'm dragging Reluctant Reader away from the Xbox and throwing Alex Rider at him.

In the meantime, needless to say, both Krays are long asleep, and I'm sitting here past midnight with a brain like porridge in a liquidiser. I'll still be trying to work out that spider-voice-conversion process at two o'clock in the morning.

(Above right: And Bilbo DEFINITELY doesn't look like that)

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Monsters, under the bed and in your head: Gillian Philip

Uh-oh, I thought as I picked up the next competition entry. Inanimate object develops emotions and thinks like a human being. I am SO not going to like this one.

So there I was, five minutes later, using the hem of my jumper to dry my sodden face and pretending to the cat I had something in my eye, and thinking ‘That’ll teach you to rush to judgment, you cynical old bat.’

I’ve just got home from Erskine and the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers, where I’d been asked to adjudicate the competition for Unpublished Authors. It was tough ranking the runners-up, but the tale of a Little Christmas Tree who has her roots cut off was my unchallenged winner from the start. (To check I wasn’t just hormonal, I gave it to my big ruffty-tuffty husband, who cleared his throat as he passed it back and pretended he had something in his eye. And when the winner read out her story at the adjudication ceremony, a surprising number of hardened writers had eye problems, so it wasn’t just me.)

Anyway, my winner (M.T. Kielty is her name) approached me afterwards to question something I’d said in my written adjudication, which was that it would possibly (but not necessarily) make a Christmas story for children. Wasn’t it a bit too harrowing for children, she wondered?

Well, I sort of knew it wasn’t too harrowing for children, but I had to ask myself why. A child would certainly have found the story affecting and understood what it was saying about Christmas, about love and family, about how grown-ups behave and misbehave; but I don’t think a child would have got unbearably upset. Possibly a child wouldn’t even have cried the way adults did.

When my kids were little and I was reading them picture book stories, I occasionally used to get quite choked up (Debi Gliori’s No Matter What, anyone?). One in particular came to mind: it was by Chris Wormell, it was called The Big Ugly Monster and the Little Stone Rabbit, and I’m going to have to get another copy, because I’ve either lost it or it’s fallen apart. It’s an incredibly sad and beautiful story about a monster who is so ugly even the weather rejects him; his only friend is the little stone rabbit he carves. The story ends as the monster dies, still all alone, and flowers begin to grow where they wouldn’t before. My children found the book sad, and it raised a lot of questions, but they weren’t ‘upset’ by it. They took it, and its subtle and delicate ‘message’, in their stride.

Not every adult does. The book gets eight 5-star reviews on Amazon, and a single one-star review from an adult who missed the point in absolutely spectacular fashion and had the book removed from their child’s school library. (Forgive my shocked italics. He or she had actually convinced the children this was the right thing to do, had talked them into misunderstanding the book.)

It’s not that a child can fully comprehend the occasional awfulness of life and the inevitability of death; that’s our job. But isn’t it also our job to introduce them to concepts of unhappiness, and despair, and the consolation of friends, and superficial judgements, and fear, and mortality?

I wish I’d sneakily kept a copy of that winning story. I’d like my children to read about a little dying Christmas tree, just as I’d want them to read the sad tale of a lonely monster: it’s how a child starts to understand. It’s what the best books have always been for.

It’s not the whole story of life – who ever wants the whole story written on the first page? – but it’s an introduction: it’s the springboard for questions and the beginning of wonder. We don’t have the right to deny it to them.

Monday, 8 February 2010

You Know That Saying 'I Couldn't Get Arrested'?: Gillian Philip

I can’t think what to write about this month (‘can’t think what to write about’ being a near-pathological condition I really should be able to dissect in detail). So I’m just going to pass on a couple of cautionary tales about research.

I'll be honest, I don’t like research. It’s the one displacement activity – apart from cleaning the loos – that I don’t enjoy. I resent it for keeping me away from the story (whereas Facebook and Twitter: I don’t resent them for the same thing. It’s an innate laziness).

I tend to do detailed research after the fact, and not just because of idleness. The one time I did get into historical background in a big way, it was for a book with a background of the 16th century Scottish witch hunts (obligatory plug: FIREBRAND, published in August 2010 by Strident). I got so into my subject, I was so pleased with the depth of my research, that every syllable of it got shoehorned into the story, thereby bringing said story to a screeching halt. So, out it all came again. Just because I knew it, I didn’t have to inflict it on the reader. To paraphrase Russell T Davies, it doesn’t really matter why meteorites would miraculously burn in a vacuum; for the purposes of the story they JUST DO.

Sometimes, though, I have to know before I start writing that the whole plot or setting is actually going to work. Which is why I caught myself on the phone to the British Embassy in Paris one day, asking how far back it was set from the road and was it possible to drive a car up to the front door? The official was very polite in the circumstances, told me to forget it (in the nicest possible way), sent me a smart brochure about the Ambassador’s house and suggested I use that instead.

Impetuous is a Bad Thing to be, because after this experience, I should have known better. No, a few months later a plot occurred to me in all its perfect glory (as they do, hem hem). But no! What if my heroine had bodyguards? That would ruin everything.

So I got onto the net, found the phone number for the Cabinet Office, dialled without a second thought and asked a nice lady about security arrangements for the families of cabinet ministers. After about ten seconds I realised what a bad idea this was, but I didn't want to just, you know, hang up...

Well, at least I must have sounded reassuringly incompetent.

So there you go: a few ways not to handle your research. And what is my point? Well, I don’t really have one. But it’s an excuse for a picture of Richard Armitage.

(Above: Ros and Lucas marvel at the idiocy of authors, then go for a drink)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Best Served So Incredibly Cold, Ice Crystals Form On Your Verbs: Gillian Philip

Oh go on, you've killed someone, haven't you? Maimed them? Slight dents on the left shinbone? Sent them out in public with spinach between their teeth? ANYTHING? Please don't tell me it's just me...

You can't make characters out of real people. I keep saying that in workshops. You know, you can take a little bit of him and a little bit of her and a pinch of, oh God, HIM?! and add it to the mix.

But try and squeeze someone you know into a fictional character - or more accurately, squeeze a fictional character into the straitjacket of a real person - and they just won't fit. The character has to have a mind of her own. Or she has to have reactions and instincts that don't belong to a real person, because she'll be facing situations that never happened in 'real life'. At least we hope they didn't, or you're going to get sued, OK?
(That's why Things Not To Say To A Writer no.34 is 'I'd better watch out, you'll be putting me in your book next!' No. Shan't.)

Revenge characters are subject to the same rules. I once read a manuscript for someone in which the protagonist's ex-husband was simply the vilest, most repugnant excuse for a human being I had ever encountered on the printed page (and so was his mother). And, you know, I've read quite a lot of serial killer fiction and stuff. I had to suggest, gently, that the writer should maybe make somebody up, rather than just (presumably) using her own ex. (Come to think of it, she never did speak to me again.)

I know this crime writer, though, who has a good strategy, not too in-your-face on the revenge front. If Mr McGinty and Mrs Craddock have offended him, the next (fictional) murder will take place at the Craddock McGinty Sewage Processing Corporation. In the immortal words of Pumbaa the Warthog, that's slimy yet satisfying.

That boy who once humiliated me in school, in front of the entire drama club? (Can you tell it rankled for a while?) I inflicted a terrible fate on him (in a book). He was even quite recognisable. But just to be on the safe side, I turned him into a girl first. After all (a) I didn't want to be sued and (b) for all I know, he's now a delightful, well-balanced, compassionate human being. People change. Snarl.

Fictional revenge. It's do-able. Of course one shouldn't. But one does. At least, this one does.

Oh go on, please tell me it's not just me.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Fates Worse Than Death : Gillian Philip

I knew it. I knew he couldn't leave her like that. I mean, look at her! She's fab!

I'm still recovering from the Doctor's character development of Sunday night (I'm sorry, it's breathless-fangirl time. If you don't know what I'm talking about it's probably best to move along... but I should add, I'm not giving away any spoilers about Sunday night's episode). My heart was thumping, my kids were going, 'Mum, what just happened?' while I snapped unmotherly things at them about keeping QUIET.

It was a stunner of an episode. It wasn't a weepie, though. It wasn't like the Doctor being separated from Rose forever (BAWL!) in the tradition of Will and Lyra. It wasn't like... Donna Noble.

I would say *Spoiler Alert* at this point, but I think if you want to see Series 4, you'll already have seen it...

The 'death' of Donna Noble at the end of Series 4 was up there with the saddest things I've seen on TV. Oh, heck, it was one of the saddest things I've seen on film or in books or anywhere. 'Worse than death,' says Russell T Davies in The Writer's Tale. He cried when he was writing her fate. I've done that. But that was only when I killed them.

How do you cope with doing what he did to Donna? Killing your darlings, that's one thing. That's nice and final. You can have a good session with the Kleenex and a second bottle of red, go on Facebook and blub (virtually) to your mates.

But taking from your darling everything you've put them through, every experience, every bit of character development, and restoring them to how they were? Like restoring your laptop to factory settings? I don't know how he did it. I mean, I admire him, because what a story! What a tragedy! (I howled, I did.) But I don't know how he could bring himself to do that to her. Oh, it must have hurt.

And then I saw the trailer for the Christmas denouement, right after Sunday's episode. And she's back (or seems to be). Oh joy! I knew he couldn't leave her like that, I just knew it. (Though I probably won't be so delighted when I see what he has in store.) (And if it's just a tease, I'll never forgive the trailer director.)

The funny thing is, Donna's story wasn't meant to happen. The Writer's Tale begins with the chaos of what RTD calls the Maybe in his head - the place where he's planning a life, a history and a future for a new character called Penny. (He describes the Maybe so beautifully - all those ideas roiling away in a stew in the writer's head.) But when Catherine Tate's Runaway Bride makes an unplanned return as the Doctor's companion, it's Penny who dies.

She never really existed, of course - she never got that far -but you can sense RTD mourning her anyway. It was Penny who was supposed to have the stroppy attitude and the stargazing grandad, but she never got the chance. There's a sad little sketch in the book, done by RTD, that shows Penny walking past the Tardis, on into a Doctorless future, never knowing what she's missed.

RTD wonders if Penny does still exist, out there in the Maybe, living a life that isn't the one he planned. I've had characters like that; I'm sure we all have. Now, I often wonder how the characters who lived are doing. (I don't just mean the ones who didn't die, I mean the ones who came into existence on the page.) I wonder if they're still together; if they're happy or tormented or still alive, even. But how often do I think about the ones who were strangled at birth?

OK, there were the characters who just didn't work. Somewhere they're preserved in jars of mental formaldehyde, freaks and mutants and ugly failed experiments, poked and prodded occasionally by brain gremlins who shake their heads and move on, knowing there's nothing to be done with them.

But what about the minor characters who could have lived and breathed, but just didn't have a plot to do it in? What about Will, rudely elbowed out by Nick who I liked better? I told myself it was a name change; it wasn't. Will was a different boy (probably a nicer boy). And how about the lovers from those failed romance novels, the ones that (fortunately) never saw publication? Did they not get their happy-ever-after, then?

I'm never going to know, because they don't belong to me any more. They walked past in the rain, and went off to live out their lives in the Maybe.

But don't mind me, I'm just melancholy from having to wait till CHRISTMAS! to find out what happens to Donna, and the Master (gasp!), and most of all, the alarmingly altered Doctor...

Friday, 23 October 2009

Once Upon a Dream: Gillian Philip

I was going to write about Nick Griffin but I like my villains to have some charisma and some cool and some smarts, so I’m going to stick with my original idea and talk about CGI animation.

One of my favourite spots on earth is the Drive-In movies in Barbados (and I know that sounds swanky, but I lived there for 12 years, so it’s just Aberdeen with more sun and no seasons, OK?) At the Drive-In the sun has set by the time you find a parking space; no matter how hot the day was, it’s a cool dusk, and kids are running around under the giant screen, and grown-ups are trying to coax them into silence with hot dogs, and the lights of jumbo jets are blinking toward the airport. And that moment when the first trailer flickers up, and the sky suddenly seems that little bit darker, is a real heart-thumper. The movie doesn’t always live up to that take-a-breath moment, but when it does...

Well, back in July I was there to see the latest Pixar movie ‘Up’. And it lived up to its Drive-In moment. For me, anyway. Not for the teenagers to my left, who didn’t get the point of the first immensely touching twenty minutes (or pretended they didn’t), and not for my husband, who didn’t see why it had to deviate thereafter into talking dogs and a large amusing bird. For me, though, it was a perfect balance. I loved it. Loved its story, its characters, its thrills, its philosophical ending. And I loved the sheer, spectacular visual beauty of it. CGI is an astonishing invention.

For some, animation has an undeserved image of frivolity and shallowness and juvenility – much like children’s fiction, then. You wouldn’t read it – oops, sorry, watch it – in public, or not if you don’t have a child in tow as an excuse. Proper Grown Ups Don’t Do Animation (just as they Don’t Do science fiction, fantasy, or graphic novels). So it was a lovely indulgence to watch the recent South Bank Show dedicated to Pixar animation.

It took five years to make ‘Up’, I discovered. I also discovered why it worked, why it lived up to its breath-drawing sunset Drive-In moment: three and a half of those years went on ‘the story’. ‘Story’ was what everyone emphasised in this documentary. Does a story resonate, asked one creative director? Because if not, there’s no point wasting devastatingly beautiful, state-of-the-art animation on it.

Pixar claimed they always wanted to do something new, something surprising, yet sheer novelty didn’t come across as the be-all-and-end-all. I suspect it used to be. A few years ago Disney (with whom Pixar were in partnership) announced they had given up traditional drawn animation for good. That funny one with the cows was going to be the last. The future lay in CGI, and nobody would want to watch old-style animated movies any more. Nobody (said Disney) would settle for the likes of, er... Beauty and the Beast, or Bambi...

Pixar, at least, must have had a change of heart, because their current work-in-progress is a traditional animation of a traditional fairy story, The Princess and The Frog. A story, you note: not a series of pratfalls with contemporary jokes to make a movie tolerable for the parents.

‘It’s about the audience,’ said John Lasseter. ‘The look on their faces.’

On the South Bank Show Pixar were keen (certainly in retrospect) to emphasise that computers were originally an aid to hand-drawn animation, nothing more – another toy in the storytelling toybox. I don’t think they’d deny, though, that for some studios CGI special effects stopped being a toy in the toybox, and became the whole point. For every Toy Story movie, for every Nemo or Monsters Inc., there came a Chicken Little, or an Over The Hedge, or, God help us, an Ice Age 2. It’s still going on, but as the novelty fades, Story is increasingly back on the storyboard.

As a writer (yes, I got there) I plan to keep Pixar’s experience in mind. There’s a temptation to get hung up on finding something new, something spectacular, some clever new toy in the toybox. (Or, conversely, to do the same as last year, if that worked.)

Note to self: it’s the story that matters. And it’s the audience. The look on their faces.

I can’t resist returning, briefly, to last night’s Question Time. Interesting that one of the later questions was about Jan Moir’s odious little Daily Mail column on the death of Stephen Gately. The consensus was that its publication was a Good Thing – not just because of the principle of free speech, but because we got to see those opinions laid out in the cold hard light, and because the (unorchestrated) reactions were so overwhelmingly against her. Of course, the same could be said of last night’s Question Time and its controversial guest.

I think the BBC were right to invite him, for the same reasons. Anyway, tolerant liberal democracy is nothing to be complacent about. It will always, always have to justify itself and argue its case. It ought to do it more often.