Transitioning from the page to the big screen


This week, I went to see the much anticipated cinematic release of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Recognising its name as a quintessential science fiction read, and a highly awarded one at that, I have been looking forward to seeing it. So much so that I also read the book.

I hear you all thinking: Big mistake! It’s a well-tested fact that reading the book often leads to disappointment in the theatre. I suppose I had been lulled into a false sense of security with the big hit cinematic adaptions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.

What I tend to find with successful cinematic adaptions is that they bring a stunning visual element to the table, while retaining the essence of the original novel. They lead the audience to feel the protagonist’s pain rather than telling them about it. They take the places they’d only ever imagined and give them a visual spectacular.

For those that haven’t read Ender’s Game, it’s set on a future Earth that has been twice the victim of attacks from a massive alien fleet, and it was only the uniting of the different world factions that allowed humanity to beat the attackers, the buggers (or Formics).  The collaborative international and interstellar protection department, the International Fleet, start selecting gifted children for roles in command of the war, due to their quick reflexes and malleable minds.

When reading the book, it really struck me as a story of the isolation that brilliant young adults often feel. At home, they aren’t necessarily understood. At school, they are distanced from their intellectually inferior peers or they are positioned in direct competition with those peers that might understand them. In this world that Orson Scott Card created, they are allowed to reach their full potential and are listened to and respected by adults. Of course, there is manipulation too, but this is considered part of the training. Ender in the story is continually isolated as part of developing him to his fullest potential, but he learns to win his peers to his side with respect, skill and strategy. Keep in mind, he’s ten when he graduates to command school, where he’ll learn to There’s also a strong socio-political secondary story involving Ender’s also brilliant siblings, but that is not relevant to this discussion.

The producers of the movie had two facets that would make it a brilliant movie. One, dazzle everyone with the beauty of space and zero-gravity combat. Two, sell the story as the epic it is, by focusing the story on Ender, saviour of the earth. Sadly, I think that they failed on both these counts.

Zero-gravity battles in battle school were how Ender won his team. For what was a year of his life, this was glossed over. You lost the sense of his triumph, the camaraderie of the battle school when they got into the teams and his inspiration of the others. Not to mention that there was only two sessions in the battle dome. With the amazing ability for virtual effects production teams have at their disposal in this age, there is no excuse for not allocating a large proportion of screen time and budget to it.

What was also part of Ender’s brilliance was taken away by adult producers, forgetting that the story of the brilliant kid is what makes the whole book. Motivations and intelligent manoeuvres that are his, they put into the adult machinations, which messes with the brilliance of what spoke to a generation of pre-teens and people that felt they never fit.

They also turned an ending of maturity and compassion, of a soldier learning to change to fit peacetime, and made it trite. There was none of the feeling of understanding, family, the understanding of impending doom, or of forgiveness.

And while Sir Ben Kingsley is a great actor, and did a fine job portraying the Maori soldier Mazer Rackham, his accent wavered between New Zealander (though most of his New Zealander vowel sounds were good) , Australian and British. But there was one part where he described the traditional face tattooing, and I just didn’t feel the reverence and gravity in it. When one of several tried-and-tested Maori actors, like Cliff Curtis or Temuera Morrison to name a few, would have known that feeling and could have done justice to it, it just feels like a waste.

Other conversions of popular speculative fiction have been successful because they turned their stories to spectacle, but didn’t lose sight of the themes of the original story. Lord of the Rings mostly pleased fans known as some of the worst pedants and nitpickers of all the fandoms. Changes made were largely grudgingly allowed, particularly as they came from other original texts from the same world. Harry Potter largely stuck to the story and added lots of magic to scenes pre-teens to adults had been imagining for years. And Hunger Games keeps promising more blockbuster for your buck.

To transition a book successfully to an on-screen experience without destroying it for the fan base that will ultimately be a big part of your audience, it needs to be imagined in big, beautiful spectacle. It needs to remain true to the main characters and themes of the book. Ender’s Game was always going to be hard to get out of Ender’s head and onto the screen, but it disappointed the promise of a highly-regarded book transitioned at this stage in the evolution of cinema. Especially given the speculative fiction translations that had come before.

Spring Adventures in Canada: Part 7


The last stop on our whirlwind tour of Canada’s east was the capital of the fine state of Nova Scotia. We were lucky enough to stay in downtown Halifax for the two or so days we were there, with a lovely view of the channel.

Boats in Halifax harbour

Our first day there was a bit wet and grizzly but it suited the sombre feeling of the warship bobbing in the dock. We had to wander past it to get to the Maritime Museum. I have to confess, before we went in, I was feeling that I might be a bit over museums and that I couldn’t see that I would really enjoy it. I was really wrong.

Lighthouse lampWe started in the lighthouse section of the museum, walking past the early lighthouse globes. The one pictured is one from the early 20th Century, and each of the many facets is a piece of hand-crafted glass, designed to amplify the kerosene lantern behind. On into the wartime museum, the section that captured my interest was the story of the Canadian Wrens, or the female service officers. Their story is a testament to how far we’ve come, but also how far we have to go. Can you believe that they justified paying women a third of the wage as their male counterparts because they reasoned that they would need 3 women to replace each man? The worst part is, when the women completed the same quota, they did not receive equal pay, or even increased compensation. The Wrens fought for their country and were never recognised as equal to the men.


The museum has sloops inside it, and a hall full of hand-crafted and restored models of ocean liners, complete with histories and years of sailing. Did you know most ocean liners only sailed for about 20 years before they were scrapped, or quite often sank? So wasteful.


Nova Scotia is also famous for shipwrecks. In the museum there’s a map with a little light bulb for each known shipwreck and it is covered in them. The exhibit focuses on a few of the sad stories, including the most famous shipwreck of them all, the Titanic. The good people of Halifax were the ones to collect the bodies and survivors from the sea.

Halifax is also famous for the largest man-made explosion (prior to nuclear weapons) in 1917, where a ship loaded with explosives collided with another in a strait near the city, catching on fire only to drift into the harbour and levelled a large proportion of the city, though more human life was lost in the following fires. In the museum’s exhibit there are some moving stories, like that of the train dispatcher Vince Coleman, who sent out messages to stop any incoming trains and saved the lives of an entire passenger train while sacrificing his own.

On the wharfs outside the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, there’s lots of stores along the channel-side boardwalk. Here, we got to try Cows icecream, a product out of PEI with extreme tastiness and lots of variety. We may even have had it on our way to the museum…There was also several bars with live music in that downtown boardwalk area, so it’s good fun.

On our last day of our trip we went up into the citadel, which is quite a climb from the water! From the top you can see the whole city, including Georges Island. As it was Canada Day, some of the sections were closed, but several staff were in traditional uniforms and involved in a couple of demonstrations. The walls are crumbling and slowly being smothered by plant life.  It was a beautiful day and lovely to be on the top of the city.


It was hard to say goodbye to Duncan and Phoebe, but it had been an amazing trip and we were ready to get started in Vancouver.

If you’ve missed the rest of our trip, here’s the beginning of our amazing journey.

Are third-party sites helpful for writers?

Hoping to grow awareness of my work, I’ve been challenging myself with my writing by getting involved with weekly challenges at two places on the internet.

The first, and by far the most successful at generating traffic to the blog, has been at writer Chuck Wendig’s page, terrible minds. Chuck is a funny, self-effacing kind of guy and I do read more than just the weekly challenges when I am there. Given that most of people there are fans and many also aspiring writers themselves, it’s a great and supportive atmosphere. It works for Chuck too; I have bought a book to read (on my to-read list currently). You post the link, and people come directly to your blog, and it does seem to translate to viewing other posts.

I have experience with another weekly challenge site. If you head to Smoph Writes and click on the weekend writer tags, you’ll see a few stories. It generated a bit of traffic to my blog too, from people involved in the group.

The one drawback (and it’s terrible! *end sarcasm*) is that you end up reading many other people’s works. This can be good if you’ve got the time, and if you’re reading work more polished than your own, or with better structure. Or, you know, broadening your reading scope!

The other option I have been dabbling with is a third-party hosted site, Readwave. It’s pretty to look at, as you add images in for your stories, and has a large pool of writers and, crucially, readers. There are weekly challenges, and there are a small community of readers who are officials of Readwave that seem to read every post. People are friendly and generally constructive with their criticism. There’s an algorithm that calculates read time per 100 words or so, so if you’re reading a story, you know how much commitment there is. So far I have 5 pieces on the Readwave site.


There have been a few changes of late that I have thought of disappointing. First, the management are only displaying stories of 3 minutes reading time or less (this is, I guess, around 800 words maximum, since this is what challenges are now set at) on the front page under the Trending (popular) stories. This means it’s not really short stories, more flash fiction, which allows less skill growth. It also means if you have less followers, your story doesn’t get much traffic.

They’ve also taken challenges from the front page tabs. This means, for writers like me, trying to improve their readership and their skills, that there is again reduced traffic.

Translating the readers to my blog though, seems to be non-existent. I have my social media details and blog site on there, but it doesn’t directly link.I could be wrong as I seem to get hits from Google searches about once or twice a week (but cannot tell why I get them as they’ve changed the algorithm so WordPress cannot get search terms). This might be a stretch though, as there are bots and other internet places I frequent.

I have tried writing one piece on there and a follow up on my blog, but that hasn’t shown any traffic change either.

My other experience with this type of site is, from back when I wanted to write a bit from other people’s worlds. Don’t laugh too hard at my Harry Potter and as yet still unfinished Twilight story. There, my writing had more followers, probably because the themes are better organised.

In my personal experience so far, I would say that the third-party hosting does not seem to be doing me any favors. I tried Readwave out to see if it might connect me to readers, which it has in a limited way that does not allow me to grow myself. My hard work is their gain. I won’t give it up completely, but it will definitely go to a back burner.

My suggestion to those starting out is to find writing groups online. They are helpful and inclusive, if you give them a little time.

So, instead of Readwave, I’m going to focus on challenges in a book that my partner Greg bought me, 642 things to write about by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Keep an eye out!

Spring adventures in Canada: Part 6

Bay of Fundy and Annapolis Valley


It was a glorious day as we wound through the south-eastern coast of the Bay of Fundy. The area is replete with wineries but the one we stopped at for lunch, Luckett Vineyard, was perfect. It had a simple and delicious menu, we sat in toasty sunshine overlooking the vines and shared a bottle of white. We had a few tastings and walked out with quite a few bottles of wine, including one blueberry wine. Delicious. I wish the interstate laws didn’t still prohibit transport of alcohol across state line so I could get them here. The fun little quirk about this winery is that they have a red telephone box in between the vines, and you can call anywhere in Canada for free. One of the wines is even named after it.

We stopped at Burnt Coast Lighthouse, which was full of blooming flowers and bright red cliffs. The sand is swirled with reflective metallic particles of some sort. As the lighthouse itself was closed, we wandered down on the flats in the hope of exploring and maybe seeing the impressive Bay of Fundy tide, which is renown for changing visibly. The whole bay is extremely shallow, so the changing of the tides can be quite dramatic.

Our home for a few days was a renovated church in Annapolis Royal, which was the most beautiful place I have stayed to date, and quite potentially my dream home. It had a reading nook upstairs, big bedrooms and a lovely deep bath, with the shower tucked away in a little stone corner. The owners had done an amazing renovation and it was so peaceful. All the smallest touches were present; old glass bottles embossed with crosses, a matching dining and lounge theme, a bookshelf full of books.


Part of the attraction of Bay of Fundy was that it was supposed to be another great area for whale watching, particularly an area called Digby Neck, a finger of land jutting out toward the mouth of the bay. When we went, the ocean was grey and stormy, and the incessant rain put everyone off. My brother Duncan and his partner Phoebe went back later in their trip and tell me that it is quaint and lovely on sunny days.

We did find, in a little tucked away cove, the story of a sailor dumped in the 1900s I believe with his legs cut off. He was known never to speak and only once to ever be visited. The mysteries you discover!

Hitting up a little fishmonger in town, we had the best scallops of our stay. Nova Scotia does seem to have a corner on the seafood market. Nothing compares to the freshness you get locally.


Our journey took us to southern coast of Nova Scotia. The seascape is really interesting here. In some places, particularly a little place called Blue Rocks, there’s barely any distance between the ocean and the road, approximately 2 meters and very little elevation. Undoubtedly, the road must be cut off often by rough or high seas. Pier pilings are built into the rocks and I even saw an elegantly designed boat ramp of one large, continuous piece of what I would think was shale. The rocks either dark and angular, or round with a rusty colour, and dramatic beside the iron-grey stormy seas. I must say, I was sad not to see it in the summer sunshine but the area had austere and aloof beauty that was not diminished by the turbulent weather.

20130629-IMG_1386-1We stopped at the famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, which was crawling with tourists even before the high season. It’s a first world photographer problem when you can’t get a shot of what you want to without randoms walking in. There were signs everywhere reminding people that this was a lighthouse and water did wash up on to the large raft of rocks beneath the lighthouse. It may function very little, but it’s there because its close to rocks and treacherous seas! What stole our attention was the village below, brimming with dilapidated old boats, little shops with glass buoys and sweet little cottages on the rocks, all reflected in a dark glassy sea.

It was from here that we headed to the Nova Scotia state capital.

To read about our journey from the beginning, start here, or you can go on to Halifax.

Spring adventures in Canada: Part 5

Cape Breton

20130620-IMG_1225-1From PEI, we went on to Cape Breton.  We stayed first with some cattle farmers in Antigonish, which is just off the island the cape is on. Antigonish is largely farming communities with thick forests.  My partner Greg and I actually had a chill out day; we were a bit worn out by all the travelling. We went to a Scotch Whiskey distillery, a rather beautiful location with manicured lawns and whitewashed walls.

Cape Breton and the areas surrounding it acknowledge their heritage. The Scots history is heavily embraced, and many houses bear the Acadian star. For those not too familiar with Canadian/North American history, the Acadians were the early white settler,s mostly from France, many of who made a life with the Metis people as well. In the colonial wars between the UK and the French in that region of the world, these people found themselves in the middle. Many were shipped out, and are linked to the Cajun history of northern America.

Cape Breton

The Cape Breton National Park covers a huge area, and incredibly varied in environments. There was red sand cliffs, savannah, forest, beaches and mountains made of shale that seemed loosely piled in a mountain shape. We saw more than a few trees that had fallen over, seeming having only wrapped their roots around one large flat rock. The Cabot Trail, the main encircling roadway, rewards travellers with many breathtaking scenes. But hold on to your hats; those steep hillsides were created by fierce winds and water.

Cape Breton 2It was on this portion of the trip that we saw our first moose, nibbling amongst the evergreens. Easily tall as horses, these extremely quiet animals were quite happy munching away as we watched them. I guess they see a lot of people in that part of the world. Everywhere we went we carried sticks; the risk of coyote attacks low, but the risk not worth taking.


We walked in maple forests and amongst ruins from early Scots settlers; we climbed up on sheer and windy mountain tops and in swamps. We did not camp, but I am sure that if we had, there would have been some lovely places. Instead we stayed in a lovely homely cottage on the tip of the island at Bay St. Lawrence in a small fishing village, St Margaret Village. The lovely fresh salt air and glorious sunsets just took our breath away.  Hummingbirds flitted around a feeder and a friendly little dog came to play. We had wonderful hosts who gave us hints about what to do, where to go. We had our first fresh lobster, cooked at home. I have to admit, having done it, I wouldn’t again. I don’t know if I could deal emotionally with it again, and it was a lot of effort for a little reward.

Bay St. Lawrence

RopesAround Cape Breton, the water is deep, dark and blue. It’s dotted with the hundreds and thousands of lobster pots, pretty flotsam in the waves. Interesting discussions were had with our host about the state of lobster and crab fishing in the area, a large industry with strict regulation, yielded that the buying price of lobster was almost not worth the fishing effort because of  a glut in the industry. It was hard to listen openly to, particularly when the talk of trawling came up (very minimal in that area); I am in favour of regulation and protection of our oceans and its life. Especially when you compare the monster lobster carapaces on the wall in the cottage with the average size of catch (about a third of the size). Interesting fact: lobsters are extremely long lived and they are unsure of their exact longevity in the wild. In contrast, my aesthetic appreciation was brought out by the brightly coloured boats bobbing in the harbour and the elegantly coiled ropes and painted crab pots of a working dock.

Our hosts directed us to a céilidh in Chéticamp, an event with Gaelic folk music. Our performer was considered one of the pre-eminent people in the Gaelic music field. It was a great way to spend an afternoon.

Meat Cove

On our way out of Bay St. Lawrence, we stopped at a tiny little place called Meat Cove, where the rock looks like it is sliding into the sea and the beach is made of rock pebbles. This cove is locally famous for being a great spot to whale watch and see the pilot whales that are everywhere around the cape. We definitely saw a pod hanging out in the bay, and I have to confess, I was so excited to see their bulbous heads that I may have hogged the binoculars. In my defence, no one was as excited as me.

Pilot whale!

We left the lovely scenery of the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton and travelled northwest again, towards the Bay of Fundy.

To read about our journey, start from the beginning, or you can go on to the Bay of Fundy.

What I learnt from John Freeman


20131028-IMG_7419-1I ended up working at the event where John Freeman was in conversation with Hal Wake, director of the Vancouver Writers Festival. As you do at these events, you quickly learn about the author whose book you’re selling, and I also had the opportunity to also watch the event.

John Freeman is a journalist. He’s done some interviews with some pretty high profile authors like John Updike and Toni Morrison. He’s also been a writer and editor with the magazine Granta, a position he gave up this year. The book he released last year, How to Read a Novelist, is a look at the personal side to several high-profile authors.

What I can say is that John on a stage is warm and funny, with an ever-so-slight self-depreciating streak. He told us early in the event about a career low point, when he interviewed John Updike the day he lodged his divorce; “stylishly distressed” he said he was. He shared himself that day and learnt an important lesson about interviewing. When in conversation with an author (or any one else you interview), you want to give back in the discussion because they are giving you so much. But you can only give back the most neutral thing possible. Otherwise the over familiarity can cost you, and almost did for John, a job.

You also don’t want to put the person you’re interviewing on the back foot. They’re writers; they want to talk about the language and structure. You want them to be expansive and not reactive.

There’s also a knack for leaving the space open for people to tell their story, Hal rejoined. This lead John to tell a story about a Kenyan author he interviewed. This man and his wife had a horrific and barbaric story about what happened when they returned home to Kenya after a long absence, due to the threat of violence against them. John asked rhetorically, at what point do you feel as an interviewer, “My heart’s not big enough to tell this story”. Hal added that in times of trauma, sometimes the only thing you can control is the story.

John also had some great comments about writing. He had the whole audience laughing hysterically with his comment that some “writers are so good they may as well be dead”. He said what he loved about simile and metaphor in writing was that they were a bridge to the reader, so that you could float away down the river of conversation and build imaginary worlds together. That, my friends, is exactly what the best writers do; bring you into the world envisioned in their minds. The best novelists sense the contradiction of what makes us human, John said. He would know. John Freeman reads all the books of the authors he interviews. It leads to that pesky feeling so many of us have: “the feeling of having too many lives”.

I lucked into seeing this event and I am so glad that I did. John Freeman taught me that to be an interviewer that you can be interesting, but that your role is to give their story a chance to be told, in their own words. What I took away is that a good interviewer is also a storyteller: you shine a light on the life and work of the person you interview.