Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Force Has Awakened: My Take On The Return Of Star Wars.

Regular readers of this blog, as well as those who know me well, know how much of a Star Wars fanboy I am. For me, Star Wars has been a fixture of my life - arguably a defining part of my life - since my father took me to see the very first Star Wars in 1977 as a four year old. 

Star Wars has been there for me during some of the best moments of my life and some of the worst. It's a friend to me.

This past Saturday, I felt privileged to continue a tradition started by my father when my son Xavier (9 years old) and I went along to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens here in Adelaide. The significance of the moment was not lost on me and Xavier agreed that this was a pretty special day for us both.

So, given that there has been a 32 year absence of the key characters and situations that captured my imagination as a kid, how did I feel being drawn back into that galaxy far, far away?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is nothing short of a master piece.

It successfully captures the spirit of the original films and unashamedly tosses in a number of call backs to those films which inspire nothing but affection. The Force Awakens has an energy and a sense of fun that graciously recalls the spirit of the original trilogy and it also - albeit it subtly - offers nods to the prequel trilogy, acknowledging its historical importance in shaping galactic events and characters in this third age. Guided by the stellar direction of J.J. Abrams, the story telling by Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt and J.J. Abrams and the visuals captured by Dan Mindel, the production of The Force Awakens dispenses with the sterility of the prequels both in terms of direction, story and visuals and returns us to a kind of Star Wars that is immediately engaging, robust in it's story arcs and tactile in its visuals.  

The film is primarily geared towards introducing a new cast of characters in order to drive the story forward anew but this new cast is satisfyingly enmeshed with the legacy of the original cast and it is one of the most successful examples of this kind of story telling I've seen in recent years.

While I had high hopes for the new cast, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson et. al, never in my wildest dreams did I expect them to offer what they did. 

(image credit:

Daisy Ridley, as the enigmatic Rey, carries the film. She is a actor who infuses her character with wit, intelligence, charm, guts, strength and gravitas. Make no mistake, the efforts to bring strong female characters to the Star Wars universe has been fantastic in recent years, but Ridley's Rey wipes the floor with her performance. I would go as far as saying that Rey outshines Leia. 

John Boyega, as a conflicted and defecting First Order Stormtrooper Finn, brings an infectious sense of fun to the film - as well as moments of poignancy, courage, loyalty and quick wit. As was hinted at in the trailer, Finn is a young man who realizes that the cause he has been raised for is not the cause he wants to be a part of and this is established early in the film in one of the first scenes that evoked an emotional response in me. It is a brief moment when one of his squad mates is shot dead during an intense fire fight. Ridley's and Boyega's scenes together give a clear indication of the strength of their off screen friendship and it translates clearly into the fictional space.

(image credit: Movieweb).

Oscar Issac Poe Dameron - a roguish Resistance X-Wing pilot- is the heart throb element of this new set of principal actors and the character who I compared the most with a certain classic "rogue". Issacs' scenes are smaller but essential to the story. He brings to them an old school sense of heroism and I couldn't help but be reminded of the old Kenneth More films like "Reach For The Sky" & "A Night To Remember" whenever I saw Poe on screen. 

(image credit: Wikipedia).

(image credit: Star

Adam Driver's Kylo Ren turned out to be one of the biggest surprises for me in the film and how his story ties in with the Star Wars legacy will be thee thing to observe as the new trilogy unfolds. Driver's Ren is satisfyingly psychopathic, chaotic and as dangerous as any antagonist I've ever witnessed in the Star Wars universe and I am so pleased that the build up we got to this character paid off so handsomely in the finished film. 

(image credit:

Domnhall Gleesons' General Hux, while a much smaller role than I expected, delivered one of the most underratedly powerful moments of the film where he delivers a Hitler-esque speech that took my breath away. I have long been a fan of Gleeson - going back to his performance in 2012's "Dredd" and he delivered a memorable piece of acting that cements my opinion of him.

And then there is the legacy cast of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels. 

(image credit: SDCC International.)

Well Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew as the classic double team of Han Solo and Chewbacca steal the show in what I think is their best performance together. They steal every scene that they are featured in and within those scenes it is actually Mayhew who runs perilously close to stealing Ford's thunder. Chewbacca is a character that relies so much on non verbal cues to convey emotion and Mayhew is able to do that from behind the mask so convincingly. His big eyes and the subtle movements he makes with the mask are just wonderful to behold. 

Harrison Ford brings 30 years of unknown story to Han Solo in a way that feels so right that it's ridiculous. In a few short moments after his reintroduction, we are brought up to speed with his story - not necessarily through the story itself, but in the physical appearance of Solo, the way he carries himself, the graveliness of his voice. And, as the wider story of The Force Awakens unfolds, we bear witness to a surprisingly robust tale of love and loss that orbits Han Solo which makes his trajectory in the film one of the most emotional I think I've ever seen in a Star Wars film. 

Carrie Fisher's return as Leia Organa-Solo - the General is a really satisfying one. I was one of those who was concerned with just how her performance might play out but I need not have been. Fisher brought back that same pluck, dedication and humor we all know of Leia. And yet, Organa-Solo is older and wiser and war weary too. Fisher doesn't shy away from portraying that. Her history in the aftermath of Return Of The Jedi, so entwined as it is with Han Solo as we'd all hoped it would be is one of the best qualities of the story. The moments she shares with her estranged husband and Daisy Ridley's Rey are beautiful and affirming. 

Mark Hamill's return as Luke Skywalker is one of the briefest returns ever seen for such an iconic character but, in the short time he appears on screen, Hamill delivers something undeniably powerful - and just in facial expressions! A whole gamut of emotions passes across his wearied visage in those moments that hint at a powerful backstory that will unfold in Episode's 8 and 9.

John William's score for the film is as much a character within the film and it is a victorious return for Williams whose previous entries into Star Wars lore during the prequel era suffered from a creative lethargy that typified those films. And that's not to say that there wasn't memorable moments in those scores. I still regard Duel Of The Fates from Episode 1 and Anakin vs. Obi Wan from Episode 3 as stand out moments from the prequels. The score here in The Force Awakens is dynamic, emotive, rousing and fun. It is clear that Williams had fun with the music and I am so glad that it is Williams who guided that most essential of ingredients for cinematic Star Wars. 

And yet, with all of this praise for the film, you're probably not going to believe this but, I did not think that The Force Awakens was a perfect film. I did actually have problems with it. 

Max Von Sydow's appearance in the film was one that was highly anticipated from the moment his casting was announced and the fan community discussion ran wild with speculation as to who he might play. At one point, it was even suggested that he might play the notorious bounty hunter Boba Fett. In the end, his role was ridiculously small and confined to just a few moments in the opening of the film. While I can appreciate the story motivation for the presence of his character - THIS WAS MAX VON FREAKING SYDOW!! I came away wishing that he was somehow more connected to Rey - maybe as a Ben Kenobi styled guardian - but the character of Lor San Tekka (Sydow) was essentially a throw away one and a huge disappointment for me. 

Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma, the silver armored First Order Stormtrooper, sent fans into the stratosphere when her casting was announced and her character was detailed both on paper and visually. However Phasma turned out to be one of the least compelling characters in the film. She just wasn't given that much to do and, while she wasn't consigned to an inglorious demise (a'la Boba Fett in the original trilogy), Phasma turned out to be not all that compelling. I do have hopes that her role will be expanded in the next film but, here in The Force Awakens, I wasn't impressed with Captain Phasma. 

When the first teaser trailer premiered earlier in the year at Star Wars Celebration, the moment when Han Solo and Chewbacca appeared on screen in the famous "We're Home" scene at the end of that trailer was, arguably, the greatest moment in Star Wars history. It packed an emotional punch that reduced me to joyful fanboy tears in among all of the thousands of fanboy and fangirl tears all around the world. Well, that scene - as it was presented in the final film - WAS NOT the same scene from the trailer. Sure, it was an approximation of the same scene but it was a different take altogether, one that lacked the gravitas of the one seen in the trailer. I'll go further and say that there were many scenes in that trailer as well as the subsequent trailers that were either different takes in the final film or they were missing altogether. So much of my anticipation for this film was built on those trailer scenes so to have them missing from the final product was a disappointment. 

(image credit: Amazon).

In processing the film since I saw it on Saturday, I purchased Alan Dean Foster's novelization (on Kindle) and started reading it that night. 

I have to say, the novel is an amazing companion to the film because it fleshes out a lot of things that were hinted at but not expressly put out there. One thing that has become abundantly clear to me - and I can't believe I'm saying this - is that the politics of the post Jedi Galaxy are actually fascinating. In the novel, we get an expansion - through Leia's eyes - on why the Resistance exists, where they stand with the Republic and, how Leia Organa-Solo is seen by the Republic. I can sort of understand why they couldn't include all of it in the film but man, I reckon another 15 minutes would probably have helped without bogging down the narrative

But that's it. 

Star Wars: Episode 7 - The Force Awakens is a stunning rebirth of a franchise that I admittedly thought could not be resurrected. Back in 2012, when the deal between George Lucas and Disney was announced, I was one of those people who actually said "What the Fuck???" I could not see how they would be able to pull it off. Leaving the theater on Saturday afternoon, I could not believe that I had ever thought that way. 

Abrams The Force Awakens is a brash and bold piece that seamlessly continues the legacy of Star Wars. It acknowledges the history of the originals and it's prequels and it catapults us all forward into a third age filled with promise, thrills and spills, tragedy and triumph. But most of all...



P.S. - Two podcasts that I highly recommend if you're wanting to understand the underlying themes of the film are Steele Wars' post screening show and Full Of Sith's round table discussion of the film. Click through to each via the images below. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Breaching the Shield Of Lies

As we wind down towards the summer holidays here in Australia, I'm looking around for some choice titles to take away with me on my upcoming break. Today, I wanted to spotlight an author who, I think is really talented and able to cross genres and styles effortlessly.

Alan R. Ryan is a Queensland based author and podcaster who has steadily built a profile through his weekly podcast "Jogcast Radio" exploring pop culture and science fiction in a really enthusiastic and entertaining series of conversations.

s a writer, Alan displays an equal volume of enthusiasm and crafts really engaging stories, the latest of which, a novella called "Shield of Lies: A Jack Taylor Adventure" promises to kick off a kinetic series of actioners that genre fans will love.

Jack Taylor has seen it all in the K and R business. He’s saved many lives and always works for the highest bidder. As the top consultant for McMillian he’s the first man on the scene when trouble begins.

When a doctor by the name of Paul Bluegrass is kidnapped while on work in the war torn areas of Baghdad, Jack and his team are called in to supervise and get Paul back to his safety.

What follows is an adventure through corporate channels, to the site of war and beyond as Jack has to face insurmountable odds, a sketchy unseen enemy and the reality of what really happened in the Iraq War.

Ryan's nods to the great political action thrillers that adorn airport book stores are resplendent throughout this quick fire novella. There is a good sense of pacing and a firm grasp on the geo-political nuances of our time which adds a sense of immediacy to the narrative and the character development is handled deftly - even with the shorter nature of the novella. I think the shorter form stories get a bad rap because of their brevity. But if they are handled well - as is the case with "Shield Of Lies" - they can prove themselves as being every bit as entertaining than their longer form counterparts.

Shield of Lies is available now in the Kindle Store.

Connect with Alan R. Ryan here.

Subscribe to Jogcast Radio here.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Being The Irrepressible You - Revisiting Georgina Penney.

Irrepressible YouIrrepressible You by Georgina Penney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You don't become a notorious British celebrity without rubbing a few people the wrong way, which is why writer and comedian Ben Martindale has decamped to Australia until the latest media frenzy dies down.

When he meets Amy Blaine, a perky blonde who dresses like a 1950s pin-up girl, he knows he's hit the satirical jackpot. He begins to fill his weekly London column with snarky observations about her life, clothes, and even their most intimate moments. It doesn't occur to him that Amy, who is letting her guard down for the first time in her adult life, might be upset - after all, it's hilarious, and his readers love her!

It isn't until Amy discovers the extent of his betrayal that Ben begins to realise just how badly he's cocked up the best thing that ever happened to him. But is it too late?

There is something addictive about Georgina Penney's story telling.

Actually - there's plenty that's addictive about Georgina Penney's story telling and it has certainly entrapped me since I entered her world through the doors of "Fly In Fly Out" which serves as the prequel to this title. I greedily gobbled Irrepressible You up over the past week, gleefully returning to the world of the Blaine sisters Jo and Amy. Where Jo took centre stage in the previous novel, the one thousand watt Amy gets her chance in the spotlight here and it was just a delight to see the world through her eyes. I have to admit to having something of a major crush on Amy and I found myself feeling the occasional pangs of jealousy as she traverses the tight rope of romance with English journo/comedian and sometimes *complete* horses arse in Ben Martindale.

Irrepressible You is packed full of Penney's signature wit, attractive characterisations and vivid imagery - particularly Western Australia's cosmopolitan capital Perth and the gorgeous Margaret River wine region. Penney has a skilfull sense of comic timing and she can quickly switch to moments of deep emotion, heartwarming sincerity and unbridled, crackling passion. All these combined make Irrepressible You such a satisfying romance and I was left, at the end, with my cup full but my heart aching to go back their and spend more time at Babyface/Gentlemen Pefer Blondes.

I quite fancy an old school cut throat shave.

Georgina Penney first discovered romance novels when she was eleven and has been a fan of the genre ever since. It took her another eighteen years to finally sit in front of a keyboard and get something down on the page but that's alright, she was busy doing other things until then.

Some of those things included living in a ridiculous number of towns and cities in Australia before relocating overseas to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam and presently, Bonny Scotland.

In between all these travels, Georgina managed to learn to paint, get herself a Communication and Cultural Studies degree, study Psychotherapy and learn all about Hypnotherapy. In the early days she even managed to get on the IT roller coaster during the early noughties boom, inexplicably ending the ride by becoming the registrar of a massage and naturopathy college. There was also a PhD in the mix there somewhere but moving to Saudi Arabia and rediscovering the bodice ripper fixed all that.

Today she lives with her wonderful husband, Tony in the Scottish wilds surrounded by hairy coos and far too many procreating rabbits.


View all my reviews

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dean & Lucy from Australia Read Bedtime Stories (Podcast).

So...we're fortunate in our household that both our children have taken to reading and story telling with the kind of enthusiasm that makes bedtime a welcome part of the day. My wife and I take it in turns (mostly) to read to the children, swapping between our 9 year old son and 6 year old daughter. 

A few nights ago, my daughter Lucy, asked me - quite out of the blue I might add - what a podcast was. Apparently she'd been talking to her school friends and they were discussing story telling podcasts. I've no idea which ones they were talking about but Lucy told me that she wanted to do a story telling podcast of her own and could she and I record one. 

Evidently, the ability to record audio nowadays is pretty easy, so we decided to have a crack. So in the interests of sharing, I'd like to present to you our *ahem* attempt at story telling with a short read through of "The Night Fright" from the popular Australian "Billie B. Brown" children's books by Sally Rippin - one of Lucy's favourite authors.

DOWNLOAD .MP3 as read by Dean and Lucy Mayes. (right click and 'Save As...').

Billie loves hanging out with Rebecca's older sisters. They make her feel so grown-up! But is Billie grown-up enough to handle the scary movies they like? 

Sally Rippin was born in Darwin and grew up in South-East Asia. As an adolescent she studied traditional Chinese painting for three years in Shanghai and Hangzhou. Returning to Australia, her time overseas inspired her first novel Chenxi and the Foreigner. Sally has also written and illustrated many books for children, including titles from the Go Girl and Aussie Bites series and the popular Fang Fang stories. She is also the illustrator for many others, including the recent Me, Oliver Bright (2009) by Megan de Kantzow and Mannie and the Long Brave Day (2009) by Martine Murray. Sally lives in Melbourne and writes and illustrates full time.

Run time is a little under 15 minutes and we had a lot of fun recording this at bedtime. 


Friday, October 2, 2015

The Water Seer by HMC - A Stylish, Supernatural Thriller.

The Water SeerThe Water Seer by H.M.C.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MOUSE is a seer. She’s had a vision of a little boy’s death, and it's someone she knows and loves. But how could a champion, junior nipper drown in a calm ocean when he swims better than most adults?

When a strange woman comes to town, her allure is undeniable, but something is off. Mouse’s visions are frequent and vivid, children she works with go missing, and the past, present, and future blur together. Her new enemy is a Bruja Del Agua – Water Witch, who not only drowns her victims, but tortures them for eternity.
With the help of her dead Aunt Catalina, her best friend, Trent, and a Wiccan called Anna, Mouse must use her power and wit to defeat the most powerful Bruja she’s ever seen.

The Water Seer is a vivid tale of witchcraft and the supernatural that blends effortlessly with a modern day, Australian narrative about a young woman who is juggling two very different roles in her life.

Author Hayley Clearihan's writing is visually stimulating and satisfyingly intense. Her grasp of the action and the supernatural were, at times, pulse pounding and I found myself quite anxious to see what was going to happen next. The most effective quality of her writing however was the earthy realism Clearihan brought to her narrative. It drew me in immediately and could see myself inhabiting the places and the situations that possessed a unmistakably Australian feel.

Her characters, led by the enigmatic "Seer" Mouse are dynamic and nuanced and Clearihan gives you time to get to know them well and the space to invest yourself in them without bogging the narrative down. Given that this book was quite compact, that was something that impressed me a lot. I found the mythical elements of the story particularly fascinating and I liked the way Hayley brought specific elements of witchcraft and mythology together to create something really original.

The Water Seer is an effective supernatural thriller and a stylish addition to Hayley Clearihan's body of work.

From her home on Queensland's Gold Coast, Hayley Clearihan (HMC) balances her career as an author with teaching while raising her two children with her "motorbike-loving Viking" partner. HMC recounts that she writes for the pure pleasure of being able to express herself and to think critically about issues that are passionate to her.

HMC says - "I blog about asylum seekers, gay rights, tattooed professionals, robot dancing, baby poo, and so on … you know, the juicy stuff. I’m sometimes serious, but mostly not."

Read my recent feature "Seeing Hayley" here.


View all my reviews

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Game Changer - The Recipient Set For International Distribution.

Okay, so I have some news from this end that I wanted to give you about The Recipient.

The news is bad and good.

The bad news is - A little while ago, I had a long and pretty comprehensive Skype chat with my publisher which ran for, I think, about 2 hours. 

The result of this call is that we've had to make the decision to hold off releasing The Recipient on our original October 25 date and push back the release date until early next year.

Now, the reason for this - which is the good news - is that my publisher has just signed a sales and distribution deal with Independent Publisher's Group (IPG) in Chicago.

IPG is a major sales and distribution corporation who handle titles exclusively for independent publishers the States, Canada, the UK and Australia. They have distribution channels with the major bricks and mortar book sellers internationally - as well as digital distributors - and they have a proven track record in sales and marketing. 

Along with several titles slated for release by Central Avenue Publishing, they are going to be marketing and selling The Recipient on our behalf.

In short - This. Is. Huge. 

Think of it like George Lucas signing with 20th Century Fox back in the 70's to sell and distribute Star Wars around the world - although, I don't expect to ever scale the heights of George Lucas. IPG have arrangements with all the major book chains, both bricks and mortar and digital, and they have contacts with all of the major review outlets. It means that we won't have to go it completely alone - as we have done to date - trying to attract reviewers or sales channels because IPG do it all and most of the time, before breakfast. 

Central Avenue and IPG haven't formally announced it yet so I've had to keep it on the down low until they release a joint statement. However, I am able to release this news to my email subscribers in advance.

I'm bummed that The Recipient won't see a release for a while yet and I am sorry. Things were progressing pretty quickly towards our original release date but, when this opportunity came up, both myself and my publisher agreed that we could not pass on it. It is, potentially, a huge step forward for me and Central Avenue Publishing. 

I'll be continuing to share news and updates via my exclusive subscribers portal "Journey To The Recipient". Please do sign up for these updates as I'll be announcing some exciting pre-release content and competitions as we move towards the new release date. 


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Unpacking The Aftermath - Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig.

Aftermath (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens)Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second Death Star is destroyed. The Emperor and his powerful enforcer, Darth Vader, are rumored to be dead. The Galactic Empire is in chaos.

Across the galaxy, some systems celebrate, while in others Imperial factions tighten their grip. Optimism and fear reign side by side.

And while the Rebel Alliance engages the fractured forces of the Empire, a lone Rebel scout uncovers a secret Imperial meeting… 

I approached Chuck Wendig's Aftermath, the first post Return Of The Jedi title in the new Star Wars canon, trying to suspend as much expectation as I could. I was never a huge Expanded Universe geek. I did read some of the titles therein. Some were good but a lot were terrible so, I was one of those who treated the news of the relegation of the former Expanded Universe to Legends status with relief.

There has been a lot riding on this novel as a result. I was aware of the early reviews coming out about it and I was a little trepidatious but I chose to ignore anything Aftermath related until I could actually sit down and read it for myself.

Nana Mayes bought me Aftermath for my birthday a couple weeks ago.

Having turned the final page over the weekend, I've gotta say, this is some of the best Star Wars fiction I have read in years. The story is unexpectedly original. It was suggested to me to go into the story with a keen eye on the machinations of the fractured Empire after their defeat at Endor and, that turned out to be one of the most fascinating threads in story. How the Imperial Remnant and their command structure try to regroup is explored with a keen eye on personality and those character traits that drive ambition and a lust for power in face of defeat and I really liked that. It was bold and Wendig pulls it off easily.

I was reminded of a 'what if' scenario I remember reading about a while back where the idea was posed -"what if the command structure of Adolf Hitler's Reich escaped Germany at the conclusion of WW2 and gathered in South America a'la Boys From Brazil to plan for a strike back?"

The absence of key Star Wars characters in Aftermath turns out to be not at all disappointing (although there are some exciting hints as to what the major players are upto via the Interludes that pepper the story). The focus for Aftermath is on a rebel pilot and freedom fighter Norra Wexley who returns to the planet Akiva in the hopes of reconciling with her estranged son Temmin.

This relationship and it's command over the narrative was one that I found powerful and involving. With the addition of a turncoat Imperial Officer and a dislocated Bounty Hunter, they become a ragtag team intent on repelling the Imperial Remnant from that planet. They are an attractive team, filled with nuance and contradiction and, for the first time in a long time, they are a cast worth investing in. I really came to like these protagonists.

Wendig's style is also something completely new for a Star Wars novel. It is told in the third person/present tense and what this does is it makes the story really immediate and easy to access visually. It achieves a cinematic quality, essential to Star Wars fiction, by dropping you right into the action in way that makes you feel you're embedded in it - like a documentary film maker. It works. It totally works and I look forward to seeing more of this style from Wendig in the two sequel novels that have been slated.

Possibly my most favorite aspect of Aftermath was the inclusion of a series of Interludes throughout the story. These Interludes break up the central story and provide a glimpse into events that are occurring all across the galaxy in the wake of the Alliance triumph at the Battle of Endor and they feature characters - both familiar and unfamiliar - who react to galactic events in interesting ways. Potentially, these could have been a distracting element but I found them informative and tantalizing. I saw these as clues, hinting at what is to come for the galaxy, The Alliance and The Imperial Remnant as we approach the cinematic release of The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: Aftermath is an important title in the Star Wars canon. It is also perhaps one of the most successful titles. Aside from its engaging story, its well rounded cast and satisfying settings, Aftermath is actually a thought provoking study in war and what happens at the conclusion of a major conflict. There are real world analogies throughout the book which one could readily look up and indeed, I spent a little time afterwards doing just that.

Chuck Wendig's Aftermath is a masterful piece of Star Wars fiction.


View all my reviews

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Talking Star Wars & Revenge Of The Sith With Jogcast Radio.

On Sunday afternoon Down Under, I guested on Australian Star Wars and pop culture podcast Jogcast Radio with Adam P. O'Brien in which we recorded an epic film commentary of Star Wars: Episode 3 - Revenge Of The Sith. 

As part of Jogcast Radio's "brutally honest" podcast series on the prequel trilogy, we dissected the final film in the trilogy with a critical surgeon's knife but, at the same time, we unavoidably affectionate. Adam marveled at how Ewan McGregor carried his character, we both agreed that Ian McDiarmid should have been nominated for an Academy Award and I defended Hayden Christensen way too much.

This commentary was just one part of a massive 4 and a half hours of ‪Star Wars audio goodness featuring a cast of Australian ‪‎fan boy Rogues including Ryan Stampfli and 'My Saga's' Adam Harris.

Oh & during the episode, I dropped a massive bit of news about my upcoming novel "The Recipient".

Download the episode here. (Right click and Save As...)

Check out Jogcast Radio on iTunes here.

Connect with Adam P. O'Brien here


Check out The Unfortunate Irishman by Alan R. Ryan - available now for Kindle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On The Journey To A Better Self - A Look At The SELF Journal.

As a writer, I freely admit that I'm terribly undisciplined. I am the quintessential panster; all of my writing projects have come about with little or no formal planning and, in some cases, have been completed on the fly. I develop as I go, create characters and situations as the need arises and tweak the story to accommodate changes - which usually results in my having to perform major surgery in the editing phase later on. 

What am I trying to say with this? 

Well - I'm not happy with my own personal level of productivity. I know I could do a lot better but I haven't been able to find a strategy that will enable me to organize myself, my working day and my writing goals in a way that compels me to do better, to improve my productivity and my output.  

Recently however, I received an email from an acquaintance on Facebook who I've followed for a couple of years - a woman named Cathryn Lavery.

(image credit: Cathryn Lavery).

Cathryn is a creative entrepreneur, a former architect who ditched her day job because she found that the more involved she became in the profession, the less creative she found it to be. In search of something that would inspire her creative side, while using her skills in design, Cathryn launched an enterprise called Calm The Ham and, through a couple of Kickstarter campaigns, turned that enterprise into a highly successful business that achieved a global reach.

(image credit: Calm The Ham).

Not content to sit on her laurels, Cathryn sought to challenge herself with an ever increasing portfolio of entrepreneurial projects, harnessing the power of the internet and collaboration with a variety of skilled individuals to explore new ventures. In all of these ventures, it became apparent to her that a key ingredient to success lay in the strategies people from all walks of life employ to boost their productivity, structure their work day and plan for their goals. In her quest to improve her own productivity, Cathryn began looking at these strategies, teasing out common themes and actions and this has lead her to developing a tool that brings together all those disparate ideas into one structured process. 

In her email to me, Cathryn introduced me to her new entrepreneurial enterprise which she has created in partnership with another creative talent in Allen Brouwer - who has a background in business and marketing. It's called Best Self Co - the central product being the SELF Journal.

In a series of 3 videos, which are accompanied by downloadable PDF supplements, Cathryn and Allen introduce us to a new way of thinking about structuring our daily lives, how we can apply straight forward planning and processes to achieving goals - be they life goals, work goals, creative goals, even health goals. In the pages of the PDFs, they've set out a structured plan for working towards goals, explain the psychology behind that structure and offer additional hints and tips - or productivity hacks - designed to enhance well being and motivation so that you'll *want* to achieve goals. These include things such as dietary tips, meditation, even morning rituals.

At the conclusion of the three video set, Cathryn & Allen introduce the product that draws all the concepts into a central tool - The SELF Journal.

(image credit: the SELF journal)

"Our goal with SELF journal has been simple; to create something that lends itself to making success inevitable - through planning, execution and measurement.

The Self Journal was crafted to support you on affecting your behavior today which is why we focus on hitting your goals 3 months (13 weeks at a time).

Why only 3 months you ask?

So many of us set new years resolutions but don't follow through. Setting yearly goals allows you the time to put things off, nevermind that life can change a lot in a year. Setting yourself a 3 month goal gives you time to accomplish something, but not so much that you'll procrastinate on it. The Self Journal uses proven systems that help you perform at your best every single day through more effective execution.

By applying this system to your life you'll have more focus and a sense of urgency on working on the things that really matter to you."

(image credit: the SELF journal)

The product itself is a custom designed journal that serves as an assistant, allowing you to tailor your goals within the plan set out inside. Unlike a diary, it is not dated so there's no use by date on the physical journal. Manufactured from high quality cloth, acid-free paper and sized to fit comfortably into your work bag or back pack, the SELF journal is designed to compliment your tool set, with a view to becoming central to everything that you do in service to the goal you set. The Kickstarter campaign offers a number of pledge options beginning at $25USD. You can order a single journal or multiple which is an ideal opportunity for organizations looking to adopt a strategy like this into their corporate ethos.

Already, I can see the benefit of the SELF journal for me. Having watched the videos a number of times already and applied a few of the strategies Cathryn and Allen introduce, I have begun planning for a new writing project and have set myself some goals to reach over the next 12 weeks. I have also begun to think differently about my daily routine and the importance of planning for the little things, such as taking time for a walk in the morning and even exploring meditation in bite sized chunks. Even at this early stage, I'm feeling different - just a little more energized and focused.

I'm shedding my panster skin.

Visit The Self Journal Kickstarter here.

Check out the Best Self video series here

Tweet with Cathryn & Allen here.



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Affecting Voices - Greta Bradman Takes Flight.

I can pin point the moment when my love affair with classical music began. In 1988, a friend of mine turned up at high school one day with a new release on cassette tape which he enthused was possibly the best thing he'd ever heard. We were both fans of the rock band Queen and flamboyant front man Freddie Mercury and this new release album was something kind of unexpected.

The album was 'Barcelona', Mercury's collaboration with Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, a classical cross over recording which which became a world wide hit and spawned an Olympic theme in the title track which was celebrated in the Spanish city a year after Mercury's death in 1991.

Barcelona was a collaboration that few people understood at the time, mainly because reviewers approaching the recording did so from the perspective of a rock album. This was something else entirely - the world renowned superstar rock vocalist sharing song with a classical soprano of equal stature - a pairing that fans of rock and classic didn't quite get. And yet, it became quickly apparent that there was something magical going on in the ten track recording. Very soon, it had become a major hit for both artists.

For me, I got it right away. I was utterly captivated by Montserrat Caballé's majestic soprano, a voice that was effortless yet strong, rising from the depths of Caballé's soul to wield an unmistakable power. With Mercury by her side, his own tenor voice mingling resplendently with hers, 'Barcelona' touched off a desire in me to discover more of Caballé's performances while also exploring classical music more generally.

Years later, having appreciated a diverse collection of classical voices, I thought I hadn't struck a soprano that had affected me in quite the same way as Caballé. Then I discovered Greta Bradman.

(image credit: Stephen Bacon). 

A recitalist and stage performer from Adelaide, Bradman has been steadily building a profile since commencing her professional career in 2010 as a concert classical singer. Her rise to prominence has accelerated since she won the 2013/14 Australian International Opera Award. This lead to further training under Dennis O'Neill at the Wales International Academy of Voice which, in turn, brought her to the attention of internationally acclaimed Australian conductor Richard Bonynge - husband of the late Dame Joan Sutherland - who has described Bradman's voice as a revelation that represents "the true old fashioned bel canto sound - the sort we only dream about today."

(image credit: Universal Music Australia).

Greta Bradman is set to release her début operatic recording 'My Hero' with Richard Bonynge conducting the English Chamber Orchestra. The album is described as a tribute to Greta's musical heroes - among them Richard Bonygne, as well as her maternal and paternal grandparents, each of whom have influenced her love of music and the direction her career has taken. The track listing features highlights from the operas of Handel, Mozart, Verdi and Bellini as well as modern classics from works such as Rodgers and Hammerstein and Walt Disney and has been described as the perfect showcase for Bradman's remarkable talent.

(Greta Bradman on Soundcloud.)

A recent profile on Greta Bradman for the ABC television series Australian Story, tracked her remarkable career and the legacy that has shaped her. It gives a compelling insight into the often difficult journey she has taken to arrive at this point. The account is an inspiring one and well worth viewing.

It would be wrong of me to compare Greta Bradman's voice with anyone. However, her performance in the recordings I have heard thus far affect me in the same way that I was affected the first time I heard Montserrat Caballé's. Bradman draws her voice from a deep wellspring within her and she propels it through a considerable vocal range arriving at her signature soprano with an undeniable power. She inhabits that realm effortlessly and one can't help but to be captivated by it. 

My Hero is available as of August 7th 2015.

Visit Greta Bradman here

Connect with Greta Bradman here.

Tweet Greta Bradman here


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Seeing Hayley - Previewing The Water Seer by HMC Writer.

Continuing on my path of profiling talented Australian artisans, musicians and writers, this week, I'd like to share with you a sublime scribe in Queensland based author Hayley Coates, who goes by the moniker HMC.

(image credit: HMC Writer & Cristal Bettany).

I first encountered Hayley back in 2012 when we collaborated on - and were featured in - an anthology of Australian writers called "Great Southern Land - Tales from Australia". Her contribution to that anthology was a earthy character piece titled 'Bobby, Be Good' which I regarded, at the time, as being perhaps the strongest entry in the book. 

Soon after that anthology, HMC published "White Walls" - a taut, psychological thriller set right here in Australia that, to my mind, cemented HMC as an author to watch. Her command of the genre in White Walls was gripping and it garnered universal praise for its involving story, vivid characterizations and mind bending concepts. 

(image credit: HMC Writer.)

In amongst an impressive body of subsequent short stories, anthology contributions and thought provoking essays, HMC has been working away diligently on a new project called 'The Water Seer'. And now that project is about to see an international release in digital format in September this year, with a print release to follow in October.

The Water Seer promises more of HMC's signature style that has so captivated readers to date but it also promises to showcase HMC's ability to cross genres and meander into themes and situations that are unique and fresh.

(image credit: HMC Writer.)

MOUSE is a seer. She’s had a vision of a little boy’s death, and it’s someone she knows and loves. But how could a champion, junior nipper drown in a calm ocean when he swims better than most adults?

When a strange woman comes to town, her allure is undeniable, but something is off. Mouse’s visions are frequent and vivid, children she works with go missing, and the past, present, and future blur together. Her new enemy is a Bruja Del Agua – Water Witch, who not only drowns her victims, but tortures them for eternity.

With the help of her dead Aunt Catalina, her best friend, Trent, and a Wiccan called Anna, Mouse must use her power and wit to defeat the most powerful Bruja she’s ever seen.

From her home on Queensland's Gold Coast, HMC balances her career as an author with teaching while raising her two children with her "motorbike-loving Viking" partner. HMC recounts that she writes for the pure pleasure of being able to express herself and to think critically about issues that are passionate to her. 

HMC says - "I blog about asylum seekers, gay rights, tattooed professionals, robot dancing, baby poo, and so on … you know, the juicy stuff. I’m sometimes serious, but mostly not."

There is bohemian quality to HMC that I find really attractive. Her stories challenge a literary orthodoxy, presenting people and situations that far removed from mere "paint by numbers" genre pieces. They are absorbing and thought provoking.

HMC is most definitely, an author you should know.

Visit HMC here.

Goodreads HMC here.

Connect with HMC here.

Tweet HMC here.