Posted: January 17, 2020 Filed under: Jeff's Movie Reviews, Movie Review | Tags: 1917, Drama, Jeff's Movie Reviews, Movie Review, War Story, World War One, Writing to be Read, WWI
Soldier of a Million Faces
by Jeff Bowles
When the first world war broke out in 1914, few could’ve imagined the devastation it would bring. In the span of only four years, an estimated nine million military personnel and seven million civilians were killed, not to mention the resulting genocides and influenza outbreaks that claimed another fifty to one hundred million lives. It was called the war to end all wars, but sitting here in the year 2020, we know better. War never ends, it seems. It only gets deadlier.
Director Sam Mendes has crafted a masterwork in his new film 1917. No single motion picture in the history of cinema has so completely captured the awe-inspiring brutality, horror, and futility of World War I. To be perfectly frank, filmmakers of the 21st century tend to leave it alone, opting instead to tell stories set in that other great conflict of the 20th century, or perhaps Vietnam or the more recent wars in the Middle East. Which is a shame, really, because it’s entirely possible here and now we can learn more from this point in history than from anything else that’s occurred in the last hundred years.
One hundred years. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not so very long a time. People haven’t changed, and clearly, neither has our lack of vision. From the soldier’s perspective, the whims and machinations of those in charge couldn’t be further from the front lines, from no man’s land, from that thin, inky terminator between life and death.
Day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment, the soldier has mental space for only three things: duty, survival, and the lives of fellow comrades. And this is the absolute genius of 1917. In one hour and fifty-nine minutes, Mendes leads us on an odyssey, through a crucible, in which two young English lance corporals, Blake and Schofield, are entrusted with a message that could potentially save the lives of 1,700 men, including Blake’s brother. The German army have withdrawn from the front in what is clearly a strategic feint, a trap waiting to be sprung. Which—no surprise here—isn’t itself enough to stop the English advance. By no means does the enemy cede ground for nothing. This is the first world war, after all. Millions of men fought and died for inches of turf, just a little advance here, a retreat there, bloody as all hell, unforgivable in essence, yet historically, far too readily forgotten.
George MacKay as Lance Cpl. Shofield in 1917
A true cinematic wonder, 1917 is shot with a single steady cam, broken up only a handful of times by strategic cuts that make it seem as though the film occurs in perfect realtime. The camera follows Blake and Schofield from one awe-inspiring set piece to another. From the back of the line, to the men at the front, just a few minutes’ walk through muddy, overcrowded trenches, but a world of difference, an emotional gamut of attitude, drudgery, and despair. And we’re there with them the whole time. No man’s land, eerily silent and still after the German withdrawal. A ruined French city, a beautiful few minutes of stillness and peace with a young woman and an orphan baby. The choreography of the moment-to-moment action is so perfectly laid out one can’t help but wonder how it was achieved. Nothing is left on the table. Basic character beats are no less profound than exploding shells and ricocheting bullets.
The story couldn’t be simpler either, which is of benefit. Our two heroes have crystal clear intentions. Mendes and co-screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns refuse to bat an eye, which means dialogue is for the most part brief, the writing duo instead opting for visualness over verbosity. I mean, all things considered, the enemy soldiers sometimes can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn, and Schofield in particular escapes certain death at reasonable rifle range a few too many times, but isn’t that kind of an inadvertent signifier of war? The randomness? How can we explain the loss of one soldier over another when they’re standing in the same spot?
Such questions are inherent to 1917, with a multiplicity of personalities that range from burnt-out grunts to naïve young men who’ve yet to see the brutality the war has in store for them. A star-studded secondary cast—all officers, mind you—anchor the film as the big-budget epic it is, but newcomers Dean-Charles Chapman (Blake) and George MacKay (Shofield) are exceptional and provide a beating heart many war movies neglect to include. Sam Mendes, it seems, has personal stakes. He dedicates the film to his grandfather, who served in the war. Mendes is known as a masterful if not legendary filmmaker, most notably helming American Beauty and the better entries of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. And yet, something tells me this epic will cement his reputation as a filmmaker of finer stuff, much like his contemporary, writer/director Christopher Nolan.
Nolan made Dunkirk, which has much in common with 1917. The films take place in other times, other wars, but they are both wonderfully cinematic and personal. 1917 may in fact be superior to Dunkirk, simply because its linear, single-camera, single-shot narrative grants no opportunity for detachment or the lessening of tension. Quieter moments are still rife with fear. The danger is perhaps rarely as immanent as the filmmakers propose, owing in large part to that broad-side-of-a-barn effect, but viewers should still be on the edge of their seats for the entire running length. Truly, there’s no escape for these two men. It’s either reach their destination or die. In war, as in all things, the experience of an individual is no less significant than the experience of an entire nation. Joseph Stalin once famously declared one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic. Sam Mendes and 1917 beg to differ.
Writing to be Read gives the new World War I action epic 1917 a 9 out of 10.
Modern people of the world, pay heed. This was their world then. Our world now is no less fragile.
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Posted: January 15, 2020 Filed under: Uncategorized
by Jeff Bowles
We’re starting a new monthly writing challenge series here on Writing to Be Read. Have you ever read a book or a short story and thought to yourself, I can do way better than this? Well, here’s your chance. Write Me Better will highlight a new prose passage by a different author each month, ranging from masterful to, well, just plain amateurish. Anyone and everyone will be open for a little revision, Shakespeare, Steven King, Ernest Hemingway, even the folks who write for this blog, and maybe someday down the line if you’re up for it, even you. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to rewrite what’s already been written. Give it a new style, a new focus. Make it a comedy routine or just plain tear it to shreds. It’s up to you! The following month, I’ll show off my version, and then we’ll look at some of yours. Sound Fun?
Our first piece comes from a little known master named Jeff Bowles. Before you go getting excited, this is one of the first short stories I ever wrote, and yes, I was being cheeky with the whole “master” thing. See for yourself. Let me forewarn all you armchair authors, this passage is not for the faint of heart. It’s bad. I mean real bad. So bad I had to write dozens of other stories just to wash the taste from my mouth. Okay, here we go. This is a little thing I like to call Tsar Alexei. Now Write me Better!
They hunt me even now. Aristocrat boyars, holy men, those who profess loyalty and who have received my kindness. All of them, cursing me in their thoughts even as they toast to my divine rule. A tsar must anticipate dissent. Even on the day of his wedding, he must be on guard and govern with an iron will. These things are expected of me, of Ivan’s son, Alexei. Russia needs Alexei. Even the malcontents gathered here need Alexei.
Regrettably, I am not Alexei. I’m not even human. But these are small matters; always, confidence is key.
I have allowed only two others to sit with me at the main banquet table, a fact which surely displeases the boyars and Metropolitan Boris, the head of the church. Boris rubs his bald head as his eyes trace the empty length of my table. I simply tip my glass to him and smile.
My bride, my lovely Tsarina Sofia sits beside me. Her dark hair flows along her neck, shimmering with highlights of brown and deep red in the candlelight. Her royal wedding necklace glints and sparkles. Her supple lips upturn in a smile as she examines a knife that belonged to Vasily III. She is happy. Her thoughts are of her troubled beginnings, of famine, of my grace and judgment in choosing her, above all others in Muskovy, to be mine.
“Are you well, my love?” I say.
Sofia smiles. “Yes. I could not have dreamed of all this, Alexei.”
“I always hoped to marry, but…”
“Now you are tsarina. You were granted fortune when you least expected it. I understand completely.”
I touch Sofia’s hand. Her cheeks darken; her eyes widen. She smiles again.
Fëdor, my loyal servant, nudges me. I chose him first as honorific thousandman for the ceremony. Were he any other man, I would kill him for the distraction.
“Alexei,” he says, “please, we must speak in private.”
I try my best to swallow my anger. “I know, Fëdor. I knew when the celebration began, and I knew in the procession. I’ve known these past three days. It’s difficult to forget when your lapdog constantly nibbles at your heel.”
“I’m sorry, Alexei.” Fëdor averts his eyes. His large brow tightens and his thick lips purse. “But you must hear the message from our…from the Lord.”
“Speak openly. None here would dream of harming me.”
“Fëdor, I am tsar, yes? Wasn’t it I, through sheer power and intelligence, that supplanted that feeble-minded Vladimir?”
“It was,” says Fëdor.
“Then respect me. Respect my bride and my guests, and only distract me from the festivities as long as you must. Speak openly.”
Okay, everybody, that does it for this month. Don’t forget to rewrite the above passage and share it in the comment section. Adios!
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Posted: January 10, 2020 Filed under: Book Review, Books, Crime, Nonfiction | Tags: Austin Stone, Book Review, Ed Stone, Nonfiction, True Crime, Writing to be Read
Missing: Murder Suspected is a true crime trilogy written by Austin Stone, compiled and edited by his son, Edmund J.A. Stone after his father’s death. In his investigative style of writing, similar to that of Truman Capote, Austin Stone has managed to bring the characters of each story to life in the reader’s mind in grisly detail.
A chicken farmer who buries a love struck woman beneath one of his chicken coops. A surgeon prone to fits of rage kills his wife and nanny, dismembering their bodies and concocting elaborate stories to account for their absence from his home. A firefighter kills his abusive wife in the heat of a moment, disposing of her body in a shroud of burlap sacks. These are murders which took place in the early 1900’s, and Stone offers a glimpse into the lives and motivations of the people involved through his telling.
If you like cold case type of stories, you will find these stories intriguing. There was too much telling and not enough showing for my own tastes, but giving the journalistic style, I don’t see how this could have been avoided. I give Missing: Murder Suspected three quills.
Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Missing-Murder-Suspected-Austin-Stone-ebook/dp/B075H2F1XM/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=Missing%3A+Murder+Suspected&qid=1578591806&sr=8-2
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
Posted: January 7, 2020 Filed under: Growing Bookworms, Reading | Tags: educational games, Growing Bookworms, Reading, Robbie Cheadle, teaching reading, Writing to be Read, young readers
In the Southern hemisphere, January is the time of year when our children start a new school year. This year, my youngest son is starting secondary (high) school which means, new environment, new friends, new teachers – just about new everything. He is anxious about it and I keep reminding him that the groundwork for this transition to high school has been laid over many years of nursery, pre-prep and prep school and he is well equipped to deal with the changes.
Sitting with him over the past few weeks of his holiday (and mine) and ensuring he reads [and understands] his first high school English set work book and his first Afrikaans (second language) reader, I was reminded of when I taught both my boys to read when they were six years old. In South Africa, children only start reading when they are seven, but my boys were keen to read and I saw no reason why I, with two degrees and the equivalent of a masters, couldn’t teach them something so common place. Ha! It proved to be significantly harder than I expected and I take my hat off to pre-prep teachers who teach children to read so effortlessly. For me it was a slog. Of course, it didn’t help that I forgot to start by teaching Gregory the alphabet. I am not sure how I thought he would read words before he could recognise his letters, but somehow, it slipped with me. Despite my only teaching Greg the alphabet after I taught him his first two hundred sight words, he still learned to read quickly and is now an accomplished reader. I can no longer say he is a prolific reader as, at seventeen years old, he is not that keen on reading at the moment. Hopefully it will change down the line when the allure of being the same as everyone else wears off.
Anyhow, these memories led me to thinking how important knowing the alphabet and learning the sounds is for children as they travel the path towards literacy.
My boys and I had a lot of fun learning the alphabet. Michael, aged three, got to sit in on Greg’s (aged six) lessons, and Greg (aged nine) got to help Michael (aged six), when he started his reading journey. One of our favourite past times, when Greg was learning, was singing the alphabet song:
Greg, Michael and I also used our time in the car to learn the alphabet. We played a game called “I spy” and we would each chose an item that started with a certain letter and the others would have to guess what it was. This game was a lot of fun and we played it for a number of years. The boys used to ask for it when we traveled. Now they ask for audio books and we listened to an awful lot of Eva Ibbotson books when we toured Scotland in August 2019.
The third fun activity we played to learn the alphabet was to bake an item that started with a certain letter. It had to be an exact sound match so, we couldn’t for example, make gingerbread for the letter “g”. This game and tasting session was very popular and sometimes we invited friends over to join in the fun. I specifically remember making jelly cakes [have you ever heard of those – if not you will find the recipe in Sir Chocolate and the Condensed Milk River story and cookbook.
Multicoloured jelly cupcakes
The nice thing about baking with children is that it is also a wonderful opportunity to teach them maths concepts like grams and kilograms and millilitres and litres. They also learn to weigh and measure and realise the importance of being exact. I even taught mine about ounces and pints as some of my cook books use English measures.
Do you know any fun games to teach children the alphabet? Let me know in the comments.
About Robbie Cheadle
Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.
I have participated in a number of anthologies:
- Two short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Dark Visions, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre;
- Three short stories in Death Among Us, an anthology of murder mystery stories, edited by Stephen Bentley;
- Three short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Nightmareland, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre; and
- Two short stories in Whispers of the Past, an anthology of paranormal stories, edited by Kaye Lynne Booth.
I also have a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Find Robbie Cheadle
Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads
Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram
Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books
Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Growing Bookworms” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.
Posted: January 6, 2020 Filed under: Blog Content, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Writing, Writing to be Read | Tags: Creative Nonfiction, essays, How To, Memoir, Self-Help, True Story, Writing to be Read
Nonfiction is the stuff texts books are made of, the straight-out boring stuff that puts you to sleep, right? Not necessarily. Texts books don’t have to be boring. Nonfiction that is written creatively can capture the reader’s interest or immerse them into true life stories. From memoir, to self-help and how-to books, and yes, even text books can be highly entertaining.
True life circumstances and facts determine the story in nonfiction, yet nonfiction authors are faced with the same challenges as fiction authors to bring the characters and setting to life in the readers mind, or portray the information they wish to relate in a manner which readers can relate to. Both fiction and nonfiction authors strive to grab readers attention, now, in this digital age more so than ever before. But there are differences, as well.
To start off 2020, we’re going to delve into creative nonfiction in January. We have a pretty good sampling on the different forms that creative nonfiction might take. My author guest on “Chatting with the Pros” is bestselling author and memoirist, Diana Raab, who believes in the healing powers of writing. I will also be interviewing an author team, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, who wrote Wild West Ghosts, one of the most informative and entertaining how-to books I’ve read. I will also be reviewing a true crime book, Missing: Murder Suspected, by Austin Stone, edited by his son Ed after his father’s passing, and a book on writing, On Being a Dictator, by Kevin J. Anderson and Martin Shoemaker. I do hope you will join us and help get Writing to be Read off to a good start for the year ahead.
For additional samplings of creative nonfiction see the following interviews and reviews:
“Chatting with the Pros: Interview with Nonfiction Author Mark Shaw”
“Interview with author Mark Shaw”
“Interview with author B.Lynn Goodwin”
Review: How I Sold 80,000 Books: Book Marketing for Authors by Alinka Rowkowski
“Interview with multi-genre author Brenda Mohammed”
“Interview with nature author Susan J. Tweit”
Review: How to Become a Published Author, by Mark Shaw
Review: The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman
Review: Stress: How Stress Affects Your Life and How to Manage It, by Dr. Christine Rose
Review: Hack Your Reader’s Brain, by Jeff Gerke
Review: Horror 101: The Way Forward (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Review: Hollywood Game Plan, by Caro;e Kirschner
Review: Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy
Review: The Road Has Eyes, by Art Rosch
Review: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, by Mark Shaw
Review: Denial of Justice, by Mark Shaw
Review: Courage in the Face of Evil, by Mark Shaw
Review: Letters of May, edited by Julie Alcin
Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribe to e-mail or following on WordPress. If you found this content helpful or entertaining, please share.
Posted: January 1, 2020 Filed under: Commentary, Opinion, Uncategorized, Words to Live By, Writing | Tags: Commentary, Creativity, Editorial, Jeff Bowles, Opinion, Words to Live By, Writing to be Read
The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.
The Creator in the Creative
Creativity is a hard thing to nail down. I should know. I’ve tried many times. It’s universal, yet it can also be inconsistent. It’s one of the most primal urges we have, but many people stifle the creative impulse within themselves, which must suit them, but which is really a damn shame, if you ask me.
Sometimes, our creativity is like a good friend. At other times, it abandons us completely. In the face of tragedy, trauma, or just a really nasty string of bad luck, who the hell feels like writing anything? It’s hard to make cool stuff when you’re feeling low. But our creativity is never really gone for good.
In some spiritual traditions, the creative drive is an extension of the same lifeforce with which we make babies and raise families. I kind of like that sentiment, because in many ways, the projects we take on, the stories we tell, the art we make, it’s not unlike our very own precious yet finicky offspring. If there is a central intelligence in the universe, a oneness to all things, then certainly creativity is the most primary law residing therein. After all, most people’s concept of God is God, The Creator, not God, That Lazy Dude.
I’ve been creating things my whole life. I like to write songs, like to tell stories, I paint sometimes, and the fact of the matter is I never feel more at peace and connected than when I’m knee-deep in my work. It’s a buzz, really. It keeps me feeling good all day long. It’s also kind of frustrating sometimes, as I’m sure you’ll agree. To write a novel, for instance, requires intense focus and a terrible long-term memory, because if I actually thought about how often I’ve failed, I probably wouldn’t want to write at all.
If not for the unsettled nature of these things, I could live my life inside my art and never leave. Never even peek my head out to see what’s happening in the world. I also don’t have any children, which simplifies things, I suppose. My wife and I had no luck conceiving. As much as 15% of couples have fertility issues, and it makes you wonder about the connection between that essential lifeforce inside us and our ability to propagate on any level. I know that during the worst of our disappointment, I wrote more than I ever had before. Story after story after story. Mostly sad, sometimes nightmarish. It’s funny how your mental and emotional states can seep into your writing.
I had to learn to get good at creation, because for a very long time, it felt like there was nothing else for me. One can almost imagine the cosmos having one or two sloppy first drafts. There were many days I opted to spend time alone, probably because it was painful for me to see my wife in such misery. We were both hurting. We both needed to feel our pain, and then hopefully one day, to heal from it. She really wanted to be a mom, and as it slowly became clear she wouldn’t get that chance, I pursued her in ways I hoped would get through to her, despite her depression and angst. I wrote a lot about fertility. I wrote about miscarriages and frustration and having a life you’re not sure you want anymore. And I have to wonder if I had become a father, would I have worked even half as hard? I needed that energy out of me, needed to express it in some constructive way.
And I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? One little act of creation has the power to shape the world. Some people even believe we have the ability to create our own realities through sheer willpower. In New Age spirituality, they call it the Law of Attraction or the Law of Resonance. The spiritual self-help book The Secret cracked that whole thing open for mass consumption, though the basic metaphysical presumptions behind it are reportedly eons old. What is consciousness? Can you feel it? Manipulate it? Is consciousness conscious in the sense that it walks and talks and blinks and cracks a joke now and then? Or is it patient and observant within us, sleeping yet not asleep, wistful and dreaming while we strut around, the emperors of our little empires?
Many people perceive malleable seams in the fabric of reality. In practical application, sitting down to write a story is not unlike constructing a whole universe from thin air. Making gold from lead, that’s sort of the joy of being alive. At least it is for me. The fires that forge whatever I want, they burn brightly. It’s not such a stretch to imagine an unconscious connection between what I dream and how I live. And some forms of creativity are born in even hotter fires still.
Love, I’m certain, has spurred more creative endeavors than any other human experience. Unrequited love, for sure. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the sting for someone unavailable or uninterested, but honestly, it makes for fantastic art. Hallelujah, at least it’s good for something, right? There is a kind of sacred triumvirate between the heart, the head, and the drive to create. I love my wife dearly. I love that I am afforded the joy of loving her. I write for her as much as for anything else. It’s a privilege and a wonder.
We can drive ourselves crazy stewing in our own unexpressed romantic juices. And it’s not like artists aren’t known for craziness, right? Take a van Gogh, lop off the tip of one ear for a woman, and they’ll never let you hear the end of it (pun not intended). It’s a matter of pride for some, carrying that torch. I prefer to carry nothing at all, or at least a slice of pizza or something, but that’s just me.
It begs the question, do we have to be in pain to make good art? Or perhaps in some kind of rapture? Religious art is made in the latter, pop songs and pop books the former. Peak experience is universal, though not in any form universally understood. The creative mind is often also the jealous and overly dramatic mind. Love makes you feel that way. I suppose pain does, too. All the tragedies of the world couldn’t fit into a million books, but don’t think people haven’t tried.
Essentially, creativity is a salve. It’s soothing. It boosts your brain chemistry, all those wonderful joy hormones, and it produces an effect like falling in love. Surely, if there is something of a higher nature in us, our creativity is its first mile marker. If you’re a particularly creative individual—and if you’re reading this article, I figure you must be—then wear it proudly, and don’t forget it’s one of the things that makes you who you are. I wouldn’t even know myself as Jeff Bowles if I couldn’t put the right words down on the page or strike just the right notes on a guitar.
High-mindedness is all well and good, but the truth is you’re human, you’re mortal, and at some point you will not exist in the form you enjoy now. Which makes it even more crucial for you to follow your star and use your talents and your natural spark and intelligence to turn lead into gold. Never underestimate the power of a good mystery. Perhaps it doesn’t matter where our creativity comes from, how it manifests. Maybe it’s enough that we perform the work of our kind, which is to say, the work of the universe itself.
Have you created something great recently? Something you’re really proud of? Share it in the comments section below. And meet me back here same time next month. We’ll have another chat. 😊
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