Flying towards my Star Wars obsession…

When I was a little girl, watching movies about something called the Force, and a black-clad man who breathed as if through a ventilator, and watched a little green thing mix up his sentence construction, little did I know my passion obsession for it would leave me on a plane on a journey 7-8 hours away just to attend a weekend dedicated to the world of Star Wars.

When this post publishes, I’ll probably be near London, or already landed.
This is another birthday present to myself: a long trip to the UK. But I never would’ve taken the initiative to organize this trip for myself had a little newsletter not popped up in my inbox. I don’t often subscribe to them; I find many of them annoying. Indeed, when I signed up for the Guardian Masterclass newsletter, I had no idea where it would take me. I sometimes don’t even read the newsletters that come winging my way; the ‘delete’ button is my friend. But I did click on a particular one that arrived on November 29, 2011 and was titled: “Enrol now for Star Wars weekend in Scotland”.
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Since then I was hooked. I kept thinking about whether I could make it happen. Could I afford it? Was it worth it? But I missed UK far too much… I left the country on January 27, 2011 (that date is embedded in my mind), with a heavy heart. I fell in love with the UK and after not having seen my friends or been there for months, I knew this was a reason to go back on holiday. Plane tickets booked, friends informed, and visa in hand … I was ready.
But why would I go for a Star Wars weekend? Simply because I love the Star Wars ‘verse. Here’s a quick glimpse of the things I have or the places I’ve been or the events I’ve gone for that fill the geeky me with glee:
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  • My second Star Wars poster, which I got for a cool 99p at the most awesome store ever, Forbidden Planet
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  • My third Star Wars poster…can’t even remember when I got this!
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  • A magic Star Wars cube, which I picked up while rummaging through the dusty labyrinths of Camden (no picture, sorry!)
  • My McDs Happy Meal toy: double-sided lightsaber

 

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  • I even have the book of the movies!
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  • My re-mastered Star Wars DVD set
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  • My old Star Wars re-mastered VHS tapes, and…
  • My even older Star Wars VHS tapes…and…
  • Revenge of the Sith on DVD
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  • My Star Wars t-shirt from Camden
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  • My other Star Wars t-shirt from a travelling sci-fi fair in Sheffield
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  • Yoda
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  • Star Wars Monopoly set
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  • Star Wars bumper sticker: “My other ride is an X-Wing”
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  • Star Wars iPad decal…ON MY iPad!
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  • My customised Empire Darth Vader notebook (btw if anyone can get me a copy of that iconic breathing cover, PLEASE let me know…would really appreciate it!)
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I probably have some more things about somewhere, but this is all that comes to mind right now. Here’s to an awesome weekend, and learning a lot more about the movies that have such an ingrained part of my life.
May the Force be with us all

– Darth Devina (as Ayub called me when he saw the engraving on my iPad)

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A quick lesson in science fiction by Alastair Reynolds at Emirates LitFest

(Long post ahead, but I guarantee sci-fi fans will enjoy the read)

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This year, I seemed to be taking all sorts of chances with the Emirates Festival of Literature…picking authors I hadn’t heard of. Whatever will I do next?

So why did I want to go for Alastair Reynold‘s session? Simply because the topic said: “Beyond Rocket Science: Exploring the fine line between science and fiction”. That’s all it took for me to go click and buy the session.

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A few days before the LitFest, I mentioned to my colleague I was attending a session of an author called Alastair Reynolds, and had he heard of him? Within five minutes, I had a copy of Terminal World in my hands. By the time I attended LitFest, I’d finished roughly around 100-odd pages, but loved what I was reading so much I bought my own copy. The next day I had finished the book and in awe, looking forward even more to the session I bought on a sci-fi whim.
Here’s an account of the insanely fun hour-long session where I learned so much more about the sci-fi genre of books and more:

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The first thing that got me excited is the knowledge that Reynolds is writing the new Doctor Who novel, ‘Harvest of Time’. Absolutely cannot wait for that one now!

Reynolds used to be a scientist for a space agency, and had a lot more understanding of the realism of science in novels, which helped differentiate between what’s science fiction and what’s not.

For example, he said: “Is Star Wars since fiction or science fantasy? I think it’s not science fiction; it’s more like wizards in space.” He called it science fantasy, and said realistic science can be found in TV series/movies like Star Trek.

He helps chart out the movement of science fiction novels from earth to space. “One of the ways it helps to understand science fiction is the way knowledge of the earth developed in the 20th century,” Reynolds said.

With people discovering almost all there was to know about the earth, it was hard for writers to create fiction on home ground; space was the final frontier, literally.

The death knell of sorts pealed for sci-fi writers. In 1905, Einstein said nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. “Speed of sound is an engineering problem. Speed of light is more like a physical restriction on the universe, like 2+2 = 4 not 5,” explained Reynolds.

“This was terrible news for science fiction writers. How are we going to tell our stories if you can’t travel at the speed of light? The science fiction writers just said ‘We can’t hear you’ and people just decided to break the speed of light through science fiction, using wormholes and hyperdrive.”

Reynolds recounted a hilarious (well, hilarious in retrospect) situation where he’d given an interview saying nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, right after which CERN discovered neutrinos which seemingly travelled faster than light. As kids these days say: “*facepalm*”

However it’s been reported that these results could have been caused by a system error, so let’s not discredit Einstein (or Reynolds) just yet!

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Another cool thread of thought he talked about was how science influences science fiction and vice versa. We return to Star Trek; as fans might know the “warp drive” was Rodenberry’s way of allowing the starships to travel faster than light. According to Reynolds, a physicist at the University of Swansea decided to think more along these lines, and created the Alcubierre Metric, which would create a warp bubble. However, a massive downside is that to use it, one would need to use more energy that’s contained in the entire universe.

Bummer.

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Kip Thorne (can be seen in the slide in the background) is a theoretical physicist has researched into the concept of wormholes and time travelling (hands up those who thought of Farscape!).

Another idea from science fiction is the idea of ‘terraforming’. This term refers to the hypothetical process of transforming the ecology, atmosphere and everything else required to make it suitable for human beings to inhabit in Earth-like conditions.

Planets haven’t escaped this influence of science fiction either! “One of the problems is that we’re running out of names for planets, so experts responsbile for naming systems, in sheer desperation, turn to science fiction.” Earlier on in the talk, Reynolds mentioned “Dune”, the universe created in the sci-fi novels of Frank Herbert. In that, there’s a planet called Chusuk. And now, if one were to travel to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, one may cross one of its plains, Chusuk Planitia, named after Herbert’s fictional planet. Cool, innit?

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Reynolds seemed impressed with James Cameron’s Avatar – he mentioned it more than once during his talk. He said: “[There is a] clever thinking of mechanics of space flight and mechanics of the alien planet in Avatar. Cameron took the latest speculation and built it into the film. Avatar has clever thinking of alien ecology and physiology of the planet.”

Oh, and then the question/answer session. This bit is always fun, but was made so much better by the most adorable boy (he could’ve been seven? Eight? Ten?) who asked extremely intelligent questions about matter and anti-matter and the process of using these opposing forces to power a starship. With intelligent follow-up questions to boot! 

The signing session followed, and I can vouch for what a friendly person Reynolds is. I was feeling bad for the people behind me, wondering if they were cursing me for taking my time up front, but he’s so friendly! We talked for a bit and I walked off thinking I’d found a new author whose books I’d love to build a collection of.

To infinity and beyond!

[Note: There was so much more he covered during the session, with a slideshow of images, but I’ve only covered some major points that were my favourite bits]
My tweets from that day:

Writing tips & wholesome scares from Darren Shan at Emirates LitFest

I stumbled on Darren Shan quite by mistake. I was hunting around my library for books to borrow (I took home seven, yes that’s right) and I saw a little card next to a row of books that read: “Emirates LitFest author”. That piqued my interest along with the books in question being in the Young Adult (YA) section.

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So I picked up an omnibus of the first three books in a series: Cirque du Freak, The Vampire’s Assistant, and Tunnels of Blood.

I was impressed. While I may not be the conventional YA target market, I do enjoy YA books a lot. These were branded as “horror”, though I didn’t get very scared. Perhaps Shan had it down pat when he said at his session that his books are a mixture of things; indeed, the Darren Shan series is more action/adventure…with characters that happen to be paranormal.

Anyway, I decided to go to his session and I’m glad I did. Shan knows how to put on a great show for his audience; with three readings, tips as well as good-naturedly answering all the questions put to him, the session was a blast.

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Shan said he has published 30 books including three for adults, but has “written lots more that have never been published.”

He also read three excerpts from his books, including one from his new zombie series that will be published this year. And as he said, they’re suitably gruesome. A friend of mine told me later her 10/11-year-old son was very excited to hear the reading and said he absolutely had to read that book when it did release.

Boys.

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But what I really took away from that session was his writing tips, which are really quite helpful to those young, budding writers out there (including myself!). I even highlighted at the end the tip I found most insightful: 

  • “Don’t be discouraged if you write a story you don’t like.”
  • “If you are writing for yourself and not for school, write the sort of stories you would like to read.”
  • “If you are a writer, read different types of books and watch different types of movies.”
  • “I don’t think writer’s block exists except in very few cases. I think a lot of young writers use “writer’s block” as an excuse.”
  • “Writing is hard work.”
  • “To write good stories, you have to write bad stories first.”

Thanks for coming down to Emirates LitFest, Darren Shan. I bet you’ve inspired many young kids out there to get reading and dabbling in writing.

And judging by the insanely long line of kids wanting your signature in their books…you’re doing a fine job. A fine job indeed.

Book-to-movie adaptations; what do authors think about it? An @EmiratesLitFest panel.

An author, whom I must admit I hadn’t heard of before this year’s LitFest*, said something I whole-heartedly agreed with:

“It’s almost blasphemous to say this in a panel of writers, but a bad adaptation is when the movie is literal.” – Tom Rob Smith

*I shall add, Tom Rob Smith, that I’ve since purchased your book Child 44 and hope to dive into it soon.

He was speaking amidst the film panel at the Emirates Litfest 2012, on Friday, March 9. This was also my first session this year, and I’m happy to say I felt the weekend would go well with such a cracking start.

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The panel consisted of Smith, Mark Billingham, Nicholas Sparks (whose solo session I already blogged about) and Chan Koonchung, and was chaired by Paul Blezard.

Movies and TV shows are such an integral part of my life; I’ve got rows and rows of (original) DVDs lining the shelves in my living room, and I’ve been known to maniacally click on Amazon.co.uk’s Black Friday deals two years in a row now – the first year I came away with the entire boxed collection of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and the second time got Star Trek: The Original Series.

Poirot is perhaps a good starting point. Based on the books by whodunnit writer extraordinaire Agatha Christie, the TV-movies are mostly excellent adaptations of her stories. But not all movies get it right.

My friends know I quite love the Harry Potter series. But I’ve no qualms in admitting the first two movies in the franchise were, to me, absolutely awful. Why? One massive reason stood out amongst others: it was too literal. Which is what Smith said.

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He went on to add that, in his opinion, the novel was the product, whereas the screenplay of the movie was the template. Sparks agreed with Smith and said as an author, one should be willing to see the movie “can be different from the novel”.

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And while movies that strike a chord with people leads them to seek the inspiration behind the story, for example the book it was based on, Blezard posed a question on whether the reverse was true…whether bad movies reflected badly on the authors of the book.

Sparks said not. “No one associates the movie with the book if the movie is bad, but if the film is good you get a bump. They are like commercials for your book-writing career if they are done well.” Sparks has three of his books in various stages of movie production at present.
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The problem with getting a movie to be an excellent adaptation is the essence of time. Blezard put it well; he conducted an experiment of sorts with a friend and here’s what he got out of it: “The average novel is about 120,000 words and it contains 700-800 events. The average movie is 120 minutes long and has 70-80 events and that’s why you lose so much of the essence of the book.”

Billingham had a similar point of view, I imagine, when he said short stories make better movies than novels, “because often great movies are the best of the heart of the novel than anything else.”

The authors agreed that getting to the essence of the book was important for getting a good movie; Sparks even commented on how the movie version of The Notebook was different from the book in treatment, that is, the life of the lead characters when they were young was given more air time than it was present in the book. Yet, he liked the movie because the essence of the book was captured.

I’m really glad the authors had to say this, because I’ve often had to deal with loyalists of books like Harry Potter, for example, who rant and rail about how the movie took liberty with the story, but from the third movie onwards, I’m so glad they did because clearly making it literal was just plain bad (an exception to this is in the last movie when I was actually really upset about how Voldemort was killed, but a minor quiffle after eight movies is not too bad, innit?).

When asked to pick their favourite book-to-movie adaptations, here’s what we got:
  • Smith – Jurassic Park
  • Billingham – Jaws and the Godfather series
  • Koonchung: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Sparks: Forrest Gump
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There was a bit of a hilarious discussion on how important an author on a movie set really is. Billingham said the writer probably comes below the caterer in the grand scheme of things. He added that most movie production teams ask if the writer wants to get involved and secretly hope they won’t get involved at all.

Even another session with YA horror author Darren Shan, later in the day, brought up the topic of movies. I haven’t seen the film myself, but Shan seemed surprised he was happy with it. He said: “I didn’t think I would like it (the movie), but I did. It wasn’t perfect but it was a nice freaky film. But I really liked the manga adaptation.”

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Going back to the film panel, I really enjoyed the discussion that morning – along with discussing what the authors think of their books being brought to life, there was a lot of insight on how the film industry works and the lack of 100% control these authors have over the screenplay.

A lively session, which I’m glad, as a movie-buff and bookworm, I attended.

A Day to Remember, with Nicholas Sparks

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Ridiculously enough, I can’t remember when I first saw the movie, A Walk to Remember. But I can recall how much I bawled when I saw it.

And when I saw it was based on a book…well I had to read it, didn’t I?

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I’d never heard of Nicholas Sparks before this. A Walk to Remember is the first book I read, which, oddly enough, made me cry some more, even though I already knew the story.

And every book of his since has left me clutching at the tissue box like it was my best friend. He’s one of those authors who manages to make you feel like you’ve been hurt, in love, happy, sad, and every gamut of emotion there is … he makes you go through exactly what the characters go through.

So when I heard he was carrying out not one, but two sessions at the Emirates Festival of Literature 2012, I squealed and booked my tickets.

The first session was a film panel, which I plan to cover on this blog soon. The second was a solo interaction with him, in conversation with Paul Blezard.

The line to get into the hall that was hosting his event snaked back all through to the other end. And unpredictably enough, it wasn’t just women that were queueing up, but a whole host of men as well. Who knew…romance still lives!

It was packed inside, with attendees scrambling after seats upfront like they were gold dust, and when the session was about to begin, the enthusiasm in the air was thick.

We learned a lot about Sparks’ life, and certainly, he delivered hilarious, painful, emotional and happy anecdotes.

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Little, random nuggets I noted from the Q&A session:

  • Before hitting the publishing jackpot, he had a job selling pharmaceuticals.
  • The Notebook is the story inspired by his wife’s maternal grandparents.
  • He used a self-help book on how to find an agent for his first book.
  • After sending his manuscript of The Notebook to 25 agents, only one said yes.
  • Though born in different years, he shared a birthday with his younger sister, who unfortunately passed away due to cancer in 2000.

But now I’ll go back to A Walk to Remember. Here’s something he revealed during the audience Q&A that shocked the socks off everyone:

A Walk to Remember was written in eight days, where he wrote for 16 hours every day.

Wow.

After learning most of his books were inspired from real life (friends and family), I was curious to know where this book came from. Someone beat me to asking this question.

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Here’s what he said (yes, word-for-word as I was taking notes in shorthand):

“A Walk to Remember was inspired by my family. Jamie Sullivan, the character in the book, is my little sister. Just like Jamie, my sister wore the ugly brown cardigan [to school] every day and bought the Bible with her to school every day. Like her, my sister didn’t care about that [people taunting her]. And she had a really simple dream … her dream in life was to get married. And I was like, “That’s it?” Anyway, my little sister got cancer, and like what happened with Jamie Sullivan, there was a boy and like Landon Carter, this boy knew he could never, ever fall in love with a girl like her, but like Landon Carter he did. And like Landon Carter, he too knew what her dream was and so even when my little sister got sicker and sicker and we all knew that she wasn’t going to make it, he got down on his knees and asked her to marry him. I remember thinking that’s just the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for anybody. And I remember after I wrote A Walk to Remember, I sent it to my little sister. A few months later I was talking to her, and asked, “did you read it yet?”, and she said, “no.” I asked why not, and she said, “Because I don’t want to know how it ends.””

And as Sparks often said through the one hour: “That’s a good story.”

I must say though, the line after that one-hour event to get books signed by Sparks was immensely long:

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Which is why I was glad I got his signature on my dog-eared copy of A Walk to Remember earlier in the day after the film panel.

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He was really great at the signing; he took the time to speak to everyone queued up, even said my name was a beautiful one (I nearly squee’d out loud), and then got up (yes, really) to take photos with everyone who asked…including me.

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…that’s a good story, isn’t it?

Please stop saying the word retard

I posted about this last year too.

I’m ashamed to say I’d nearly given up since then. I know people, on more than just an acquaintance level, who say “retard” all the time. I tried with a few, but they just don’t change. They promise they won’t say it, but then they do. I feel embarrassed that I’ve given up because every time they say the word, I cringe. I cringe and I don’t understand why they use it. I cringe and hate myself because I feel like I’m letting Karan down by keeping quiet.

I said a lot last year about how it hurts. But this video from Love That Max says a lot more. I did shed a few tears when I saw this, because instead of Max, I kept seeing my brother, Karan.

Here’s to me not keeping quiet any longer.

Reading challenge 2012

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Devina has read 17 books toward her goal of 100 books.
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I was a nine-month-old when I started talking. I was two-and-a-half years old when I started reading. I’ve never stopped either, thank you very much.

I decided to set myself a target for number of books I’d read this year, after reading this post on my friend’s blog.

As you can see, I’ve decided to read 100 books this year. If you think this is too much (roughly works out to two books a week), then let me say when I was unemployed (read: before April 3, 2011), I’d read about 3-4 books a week. I’m voracious in this matter, left completely unsatiated when I finish a book…I need more. And more. And some more.

This may explain why I believe I own over a 1,000 books – I last counted them at 800-ish and that was five years back.

I’ve also discovered a like-minded bookworm at my place of work, who has just lent me a steampunk-influenced novel. This means I’ve more options to explore by way of finding books to devour.

I’m currently on track with my reading challenge…17 books down, 83 to go. I also read more than one book at a time – one on my desk where my laptop is, one on the dining table/living room area, one in the bathroom (ohhh yeaaaah) and one for bed (normally this is a free read on my phone’s Kindle to help me fall off to sleep).

Release the reading Kraken, I say.*

*only attendees of that fateful TwitBookClub session will get this