Little known piece of trivia: today is National Trivia Day. That is, if you’re in the United States. If you’re not, well… here you go anyway.
These bits of investigoogle twaddle crannied up from the nearest wiki bazooka wormhole range from verifiable facts to the more head-scratching ‘How could anyone know or prove that?’
Frankly, some of these trivia claims are on a par of believability with that ol’ chestnut about ALL OF US having a one in 200 chance of being related to blood-spilling 11th century warrior Ghenkis Khan. Considering he was Chinese and I’m most definitely not, I’d venture whoever came up with those ridonkuously generalized odds wasn’t necessarily thinking of me at the time.
Anyway, make of the following what you will. Hopefully there’s a few morsels of geunine power-glove info-tainment thrown in along the way.
And now, can I guess your reaction to any and all of that?
Entertaining word whack delivered freetwice a month.
2021 saw SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK publish some of its most personal posts ever. It was that kind of year. Here’s a broad strokes look-back…
National Trivia Day (January)
Pro Chess Gender Gap (January)
Reasons I’ll Never Write A Novel (February)
First Love – Endless Love (February)
Top Ten Favorite Films of the 1960’s (March)
The Last Lighthouse Keeper (March)
Fruitless Frappe (April)
Brisbane KISS Concert Here I Come! (May)
CHARLES MANSON: CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER (June)
FLAT EARTHERS ‘R US (June)
I LOVE HISTORY (July)
RELEASE THE BEES! (July)
BEST MUSIC VIDEOS EVER (August)
DUMB & DUMBER BESTSELLERS (August)
Favorite Films of the 70’s (September)
National Book Awards (October)
Book Jacket Blurbs (October)
Outwitted. Outplayed & Outdone Your Honor (November)
Reader’s Bookcase Photos (November)
Bank Vault Lock-ins (December)
Best Book Covers of 2021 (December)
THE LITTLE THINGS
NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) (Recorded from Television)
RICHARD JEWELL(2019) Seen on ‘Movies on Demand’ in a Cairns Hotel Room
Mottos used bySCENIC WRITER’S SHACK during 2021 –
** “I Do this for the Money, Prestige and Power” Said No Writer Ever.
** It takes an Awful Lot of Time NOT to Write a Book.
** Good Things Are Coming
** Three Scoops of Word Whack
** Antidote to the Novel
** Arts Talk That Will Not Be Tamed
Broadcaster Larry King (January)
Actor Hal Holbrook (January)
Captain Sir Tom Moore – aged 100 (February)
Actor Christopher Plummer (February)
Australian Music Promotor Michael Gudinski (March)
Former Australian Rugby League Captain Tommy Raudonikis (April)
Australian TV Host Bert Newton (October)
For eighteen days back in October/early November, the country held it’s breath as we waited for news of the disappearance/abduction of four-year-old Cleo Smith who vanished from a family campsite near Carnarvon in Western Australia. Incredibly, this story had a happy ending that sent headlines around the world and resulted in this triumphant and all-round heart-fluttering picture…
Merriam Webster Dictionary Word of the Year – ‘Vaccine’
Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year – ‘Strollout’
Dictionary.Com Word of the Year – ‘Allyship’
Oxford Languages Word of the Year – ‘Vax’
Collins Word of the Year – ‘NFT’ (Non Fungible Token)
Collins Word of the Year Runner Up – ‘Pingdemic’
Scenic Writer’s Shack Word of the Year – ‘Metox’ (to take a break from self-absoption)
Best book read by SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK in 2021 – MY FRIEND FOX (published September 2021) by Heidi Everett. Read a personal recommendation HERE.
Marched through 37 of ’em this year. Best time? You’re looking at it in blue. Best location? That’s an easy one. Cairns Esplanade. Hands down.
Around this time of year, every man and their neapolitan mastiff is telling you what their favorite reads have been, over the previous twelve months. These guys included –
That’s it. There are no more words for 2021. SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK will return in 2022 – bigger, better and bolder, with some truly nut-cracking surprises in store. Until then…
I did say “No more words” didn’t I? I meant after this. ‘Cause there’s one more thing I need to tell you. And it happened at my place just this morning. I put up a world map on a wall in our kitchen, handed my wife a dart and said “Throw this and wherever it lands—that’s where I’m taking you when this pandemic ends.” Turns out, we’re spending two weeks behind the fridge.
And now it’s time to go edgy, free-spirited and giga-awesome all over again.
In what can sometimes resemble a sea of tin-plate dinghies, these book covers are all daringly different cruise ships.
Cue the eye candy…
(A) Approaching headlights through a rainbow-tinged fog? Throw in the title and the reader’s got a genuine mystery on their hands.
(B) The torn paper / speech bubbles effect looks raw – kind of like how ‘To be honest’ feels.
(A) Bad-paint-job dripping clouds over a standard suburbia scene? Something’s up in this neighborhood.
(B) It’s a package wrapped in brown paper for a novel titled THE DELIVERY. Get it?
(A) Given the title, I guess the publishers would have been well in their rights to feature some breed of grass-chewing goat on the cover. A crucifix-stealing black crow on the other hand is way more intriguing.
(B) A book whose pages reach out to grab the reader – or at least point at them – while not holding but balancing a gun. Clever weird that.
(A) Icons. Icons. Icons. Bonus points for sneaking in a pair of breasts.
(B) Scores big in the insanity department this one.
(A) Love everything about this ‘big reveal’ concept – including the small title.
(B) The story of the Three Little Pigs? No, naturally enough it’s the story of family, feminism and treason – and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard those three words mentioned in the same sentence before (though they probably have somewhere).
(A) A few simple, hand-drawn lines can indeed be so evocative.
(B) Green tears get me every time.
(A) Look up ‘visually popping book cover’ in the dictionary and there’s a good chance you’ll come across this image. I bags the top floor penthouse.
(B) Look at those teeth! So white. So straight. So… letterish. As covers go it’s a weirdy but a goody.
(A) Redder than red. With 1950’s housewife hands thrown in for extra whack.
(B) Reminds me of the old joke about a zebra crossing. The U.S flag stands atop of a yellow cone hat. I wish I knew what the other flag was.
(A) And a cheeky touch it is.
(B) Positively dripping with creativity. Sorry.
(A) Take a happy pill they said. While you’re at it take a few. In fact, down a whole face full. Then put it on a book cover. Top it off by humorously titleling it ALL’S WELL. That’s what they did.
(B) A rip-snorter of a cover with cutting-edge originality to burn? Tick.
(A) A book cover in the form of a scratch-off card? Novel indeed.
(B) It looks like a screen protector for an iPhone. But the real question? Is that an exhausted stick figure or a dead stick figurelying on the table?
(A) Facebook with hyper-realistic water droplets! What a mood.
(B) Take one simple image — a pattern of poppies on black— and make it disquieting by slicing it into sections and misaligning the edges.
(A) When do letters become old-skool string marionettes? When they look like this. The real genius though, is the inclusion of the shadow created by the words “a novel” (and no other shadows).
(B) When something that looks like its from granddaddy’s old back shed makes it onto the cover of a newly-published novel, well… I think in some parts they call that ‘rustic charm’.
(A)The tri-color text against black? Tacky. The cocktail girl? Tacky. The ’70s food ad font? Tacky. The whole thing? Iconoclastically brilliant.
(B) That falling eye gets me every time I look at it.
(A) Nice profile. But which is her better side?
(B) The genie is out of the bottle. And so are the fireflies. Whoever left the cap off has got some splainin’ to do. Or did the super ‘bright’ insects somehow jimmy it themselves?
Lockdowns, as pandemic-stricken cities across the world in recent times know all too well, are few people’s idea of a good time.
Equally, lock-ins have got to be up there on the universal ‘least enjoyable experiences’ list.
That’s ‘lock-ins‘ as in the sealed-bank-vault-possibly-die-from-suffocation meaning of the word.
Yet these people have lived to tell the tale.
Here are their stories…
On the afternoon of August 26, 1947, Bruce Heydon and Andrew Thompson, employees of the Repatriation Department located in Perry House in Brisbane’s CBD, had been placing records in the strongroom when the door accidentally closed behind them.
Unfortunately there was only one key, and that sole key was in the possesion of the trapped men.
The fire brigade, police and ambulance were summoned to the scene to effect the rescue. It was decided to use a oxyacetylene torch to cut a hole through the door so the key could be passed through to the rescuers.
As a precaution the building’s sprinkler system was first turned off to avoid damage to the building and its records.
“Through the first small hole, he said he could see the Town Hall clock, and when the torch finally cut a hole large enough to allow the key to be passed out, the two trapped men chorused ‘You Beaut’“, reported the local newspaper, The Courier Mail, at the time. The men’s ordeal lasted an hour and a half.
The experience of trapped bank clerk Charles Di Giacomo in Peterson, New Jersey, Us. on March 8th, 1923 was far more traumatic.
Just prior to closing time, Di Giacomo had been filing documents in the strongroom when his colleague jokingly called out to him to hurry up or “I’ll lock you in”.
As a prank the colleague pretended to close the vault door, only for it to actually close and automatically lock. The airtight strongroom was set on a time lock and would not reopen until the next morning. The pressure was on to rescue Di Giacomo before he suffocated due to lack of oxygen.
Teams of rescuers labored for five hours, attempting to drill their way in through the roof. When they finally broke through, Di Giacomo was found unconscious. He later recovered in hospital.
A time-honored tv trope is having two or more characters locked in a bank vault (or walk-in freezer, meat locker or some other small, contained space) where they’re subjected to extreme cold, lack of oxygen, or both. Death is usually imminent. The characters talk a lot, often coming to a greater understanding of each other. Rescue comes in the nick of time.
HAPPY DAYS did it in a 1977 episode when Richie and the gang get locked in the hardware store’s basement vault. GILLIGAN’S ISLAND had the castaways trapped in a cave. LOST AND SPACE saw bitter enemies Don and Dr Smith briefly entombed together in a final season episode featuring an underground cavern.
For true creativity in the ‘bank vault genre’ however, one need not look any further than the one-of-a-kind 2017 movie THE VAULT.
Starring Clint Eastwood‘s daughter Francesca (most recently seen in the M. Night Shyamalansupernatural beach movie OLD), THE VAULTis a horror movie but not as you know it; a bank robbery flick but unlike any that have come before it.
Two sisters plan a bank heist with OCEAN’S ELEVEN detail. Things turn sinister when they reach the basement vault, however, only to encounter truly evil supernatural forces.
For proof Mel Brooks has done it all in the world of entertainment, one need look no further than his membership of the rarer-than-rare, known-by-its-letters club EGOT. Translated, that means Brooks has been awarded an EMMY (Television) – a GRAMMY(Music) – an OSCAR (Film) and a TONY (Theatre). Now, at the age of 95 comes his long awaited autobiography.
Reading not your thang? Bit late now, you say. Oh well. Eavesdroppers can listen in HERE
Sharing your shelf is sharing a little bit of your self.
SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK asked its readers recently to send in a photo of their home book case – aka a ‘shelfie’.
SWS kicked things off by posting the pic below – taken from inside company HQ. Here, books such as Bram Stoker’sDRACULA – written 124 years ago – are made to share shelf space with cast-signed framed photos from the 1960’s television series LOST IN SPACE.Classic hybrid shelf, in other words.
You guys responded brilliantly to the photo call, generously sharing what was inside your homes, and, in another sense, what’s inside your heads. Here’s a selection of those received –
Scoping out reader’s bookshelves makes for interesting literary eye-candy, to be sure. But what would you expect from the esteemed book altar of a pro author?
Professional writer Bridget Whelan – https://bridgetwhelan.com/ – based in East Sussex, England and boasting in excess of 7000 internet followers, was kind enough to share home snaps of her not one but four warehouse behemoths.
This is book love on a truly panoramic scale.
The human eye can detect shelf sag as slight as 0.7 of a millimeter – that’s less than the thickness of a plastic credit card.
Wanna see more? You do? Then go ahead and click HERE.
Last month, SWS reported HERE on the books shortlisted in the fiction category of the AMERICAN BOOK AWARDS. Congratulations to American author Jason Mott whose fourth novel HELL OF A BOOK has taken out the top prize.
For some of us, the idea of reading an entire novel is about as engrossing as being stuck in traffic … at peak hour.
Or spending 10 days in quarantine.
Or worse still, watching the box set of ‘FRIENDS’.
Ok, apologize to fans of that utterly wretched television series but maybe point made. Wading through someone else’s verbose and so often, slow moving fantasy, one that focuses on trifling details your brain simply finds dull no mater how hard you try to give yourself to it, is going to be a deal-breaker for all but the most dedicated, if you’ll pardon the garnished term, literarian.
No matter ’cause help is at hand.
SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK has discovered something better than the novel. Something more focused and to the point than the short story. Something with more bang for your buck than even Antman-sized flash fiction.
That something is the always inviting, often intriguing and frequently misleading plot synopsis; otherwise known as the book jacket blurb. Why spend weeks of your life laboring like a hospital patient hooked up to a ventilator through the word equivalent of an oversized bowl of cold lumpy porridge?
Gin bullocks to that, right?
In a similar vein to the movie trailer’s ability to elevate what might impolitely be labelled fourth-rate witless sludgeinto, at least to the untrained eye, what looks for all the world to pass for dinky-di five star entertainment, so too the novel’s back jacket blurb, in the hands of a wordsmith handed the job of pulling off a transformative act of deceit on a par with passing a dud check – back when folk used to do that – can raise to the level of an artform unto-itself the ability to convince the would-be reader that going ahead and committing to fully reading the book they are weighing in their hands may in any way approach the experience of devouring the thrill-a-second ride of the plot synopsis that has just succeeded so cleverly in whetting their lit appetite.
So… you ready for a couple of these BETTER THAN THE NOVEL ITSELF summaries?
You better be… after a build up such as it has been! These flexy little gems are all from novels published this year…
“The Adler’s seem like the perfect family – successful, affluent, attractive. It’s easy to dismiss the eggs thrown at their house as a childish prank, not so much the smoke bomb on the front lawn or slashed tyres of Thomas’s BMW. As the assaults escalate, Thomas and wife Viv, son Eli and daughter Tarryn grapple with rising fears their shameful secrets could be the reason the family is being targeted.“
“Rebecca Buckfast is the new principal of St Oswald’s school, the first headmistress in its history. She is intent on tearing apart the elite world that tried to hold her back. She has just started to reap the harvest of her ambition when a body is found.“
“Victoria Ford died in the World Trade Centre on 9/11. She had been accused of murder and in a call from the North Tower, she begged her sister Emma to prove her innocence. Twenty years later, Emma is convinced that a tv host can clear her sister’s name. The host digs deep but uncovers a darker mystery.“
And to round things out, here’s one I actually made a start on recently – baited, as it were – by the intriguing plot synopsis. I lasted all of two chapters (and a gleaming two chapters they were!) before skim-reading commenced and put it down for good about 40 pages in. Reviews I consulted HERE. after the fact seemed to largely confirm my feeling.
But the plot synopsis?
An absolute pitch-perfect little ripper.
“Private investigator Trike Augustine may be a brainiac with deductive skills to rival Sherlock Holmes, but they’re not doing him any good at solving the case of a missing gazzilionaire because the clues are so stupefyingly—well, stupid. His sidekicks—Max the former FBI agent and Lola the artist—don’t quite rise to the level of Dr. Watson, either. For example, when a large, dead pig turns up on Trike’s floor in the middle of the night, none of them can figure out what it means. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as the astronomical reward being offered diminishes drastically every day.“
This LOST IN SPACE themed ‘shelfie‘ shows a section of my humble study-room bookcase. I’m particularly proud of the fact this ramshackle mini-display boasts a book written 124 years ago… namely DRACULA.
For the record, (’cause I just couldn’t resist a bit of unashamed namedropping) the autographed pics are Angela Cartwright (1952 – ) who played Penny on LIS and Francine York (1936 – 2017) who guest starred in one episode of LIS.
So how about you?
What’s your literary altar look like?
I would love, love, love to receive pics of YOUR home bookcase.
I’d like to feature an assortment of photos from readers on this blog in a future post. I’m asking folk to send their bookcase (or dvd collection ‘stacker’ if you’ve got one of those as well) happy snaps to my email address – firstname.lastname@example.org If you can add in a couple of lines of commentary to go with it that would make it extra special.
Four names stand tallest in the world of prestigious accolades for writers: The Nobel Prize for Literature– The Man Booker Prize – The Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awards.
The National Book Awards have been a thing since as far back as 1936. It’s open to U.S authors only and features prizes in five categories –
Finalists – of which there are five in each category – receive $1,000, a medal, and a citation written by the judging panel; winners gets $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.
The judging panel this year comprises six people, including a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, the reader-services coordinator for theNew York Public Library and an author who won last years National Book Award for Fiction.
Congratulations to the following titles and their authors who all made the longlist for Fiction. They include three debut novels.
(1) A story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril. Dedicated to “The librarians then, now, and in the years to come.”
(2) Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey.
(1) Evicted from their trailer on New Year’s Eve, Henry and his son, Junior, have been reduced to living out of a pickup truck.
(2) Spanning an entire lifetime, this is an intimate portrait of the dreams that propel one tenacious woman onward and the losses that she cannot outrun.
(1) A young girl named Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, cruelty and resilience.
(2) Tensions build on a plantation between slaves and slave masters.
(1) An interpreter goes to work for a former President accused of war crimes. Apparently one of former U.S President Barack Obama’s favourite ‘summer reads’.
(2) Short story collection from award -winning author Elizabeth McCracken.
(1) An author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel.
(2) Astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife.
That’s fine. That’s dandy. That’s even, as the British might say ‘cracking’. But what does ScenicWriter’sShack REALLY think?
Well… considering some of those stodgy and all-round snore-rendous plot synopses as well as the fact these awards have been criticized in the past for being irrelevant to average readers – favoring qualities like fragmented story telling that, though they be fancy shmanzy, in some cases actually put off many readers – and are of more interest to professional writers – I’d say SWS‘s thoughts may best be captured by the following cartoon –
The Winner of the NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS will be announced on November 17th.
When the swarm of literally tens of thousands of films nesting inside a dedicated movie buff’s head reaches critical mass and the buzz becomes too busy to ignore, there’s but one thing to do – compile a top 100 list.
This ‘hive’ will be organised according to time period – nominating ten loved films from each of the decades from the 1940’s through to the 2010’s. That will total eighty films. Twenty selections will be included each for the 1970’s and 80’s – ‘my‘ decades – rounding out the list to 100 titles.
In the 21st century, historians have increasingly portrayed the 1970s as a “pivot of change” in world history. Novelist Tom Wolfe(1930 -2018) coined the term the ‘The Me Decade” referring to the 1970’s. The term describes a societal attitude towards individualism and away from the communitarianism that characterized the previous decade.
The 70’s were noted for both the oil crisis (1973) and the energy crisis (1979). Politically, Idi Amin led a political coup in Uganda in 1971 and Britain elected it’s first ever female Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher – in 1979. Greenland was granted self government from Denmark, a fifteen year Lebanese civil war commenced in 1975 and Angola and Mozambique gained independence from Portugal the same year.
Technology-wise the 1970’s witnessed an explosion in the understanding of solid-state physics, driven by the development of the integrated circuit and the lazer. This was also the decade Stephen Hawking developed his theories about black holes.
Academy Award winners for Best Picture during this decade were –
And here are my twenty favorite films from this period –
There were regrets for the movies that didn’t make the cut but would have if the list had been a little longer – APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) – THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEST (1975) – THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) and THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977).
Every frame of every one of these movies a feast!
Ps. Wanna see someone else’s ‘Favorite Films of the 70’s’ list? Click HERE
There’s a well-known story about children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904 – 1991). You might know him from his more famous pen name, Dr Seuss.
After the success of his first book AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET, Seuss’s editor at publishing company Houghton Mifflin (today known as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and employing in excess of 4000 people) challenged him to go after an even younger audience.
He sent the American author a list of 350 words with the instructions to make a book out of them. The result was THE CAT IN THE HAT (1957). It clocked in at 236 words and was the second biggest selling book of Seuss’s career.
The book ahead of it? GREEN EGGS AND HAM (1960) which uses just 50 words – all but one of them, one syllable. (The long one: anywhere).
Dr Suess’s word selection came from lists created by ‘readability experts’ such as Austrian-born naturalized American author, Rudolf Flesch (1911 -1986). Flesch, writer of such books as THE ART OF PLAIN TALK (1946) and THE ART OF READABLE WRITING (1949) helped create a mathematical formula known as the FLESH-KINCAID GRADE LEVEL TEST.
The formula is fairly simple : the total number of words divided by the total number of sentences + total number of syllables divided by the total number of words.
The resulting score is the school-age grade level required to understand the text. If a book scores a 3 for example, that means you’d need at least a third-grade education to understand it.
A few years back American ‘data journalist’ Ben Blatt – one could be forgiven for mistaking his name for an off-the-wall Dr Seuss character – collected digitized versions of every fiction book that had made the number one position on the New York Times Bestseller List from 1960 to 2014.
He then fed all these words into a computer.
Not just any computer; but a computer capable of engaging in the kind of next-level ‘literary experiment’ Blatt envisaged. A computer ready to perform the number-crunching act of it’s life. And one that was eventually able to apply the Flesch–Kincaid Readability Test to every single digitized page of every one those 563 novels.
Most books meant for a general audience will fall within the 4th – 11th grade range, as did all of these bestsellers. Looking at the scores over the decades, an undeniable trend became clear to Blatt. The Bestseller List is full of so much simpler fiction nowadays then it was 40 or 50 years ago. In the 1960’s for example, the median book had a grade level of an 8. By the 2010’s that had reduced to a 6.
The trend to stripped back, ‘economical’ prose has been obvious now for some time. In 2021, what I call ‘homogenized word-soup’, vanilla dross so devoid of creative description, beautiful words, figurative language and good ‘ol personality – for me all the good great stuff – converts stories into adult versions of Run Spot Run, is tragically more now often the rule than the exception. Well, it can seem that way.
It’s but one reason I’ve concluded it may just be something in the water nowadays. Sadly that ‘something’ is something which no longer quenches my literary thirst; a thirst for the wham-bam creative word sparkle – set amongst a page-turning story – that literally leaves you breathless – and in my case saying, “I wish I could write like that!”
THE PLOT is the seventh novel from American writer Jean Hanff Korelitz.Her 2009 book ADMISSION was made into a 2013 film of the same title starring Tina Fey and Lilly Tomlin.
THE PLOT is a plagiarism tale from what might be referred to as the “Excuse Me While I Steal Your Book Idea & Get Famous” literary sub-genre . It centers on a writing teacher who helps himself to one of his student’s stories after the student expectantly passes away. The thieving pedagogue becomes very famous with his appropriated novel but someone out there knows the truth.
From literally hundreds of on-line accounts all attesting to the sheer wizardry of this novel – including horror writer Stephen King‘s glowing endorsement of “insanely readable” – to my own experience of digesting the crafty-sentences-packed excerpt, this book looks like it has every chance of being the exception rather than the fifty-shades-of-dull-slow-and-vanilla-not-to-mention-a-60-page-irrelevant-prelude-to-wade-through rule.