FFB: Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith

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I was sure I had written this up before but I searched for it and didn’t find it. This Sphere edition is so much nicer than the bland corporate packaging of the St Martin’s Griffin edition I did end up buying. When you’re on a Highsmith kick and buying everything, the covers are less important (though still proud to own the kickass edition of This Sweet Sickness).

There are two kinds of writers: those who are articulate about the process and those who are not (ditto most arts and artists). Highsmith is not one. If you want a handbook on the topic, this is not the one to teach you. Of course if your publisher offers to pay you to write one, most writers will accept the challenge. But this is not the Highsmith School of Suspense Fiction School, which she recognises. So she turns to the tortured history of her novel The Glass Cell (a good Film for a Friday) in hopes that it will clarify how she does what she does. The case study is so singular that it could hardly be useful in inspiring a budding writer.

Highsmith outlines the evolution of the novel, which ‘was not inspired by any specific story idea but evolved simply out of the desire to write such a book–which is perhaps no bad reason for writing a book’ (chapter 10). She traces the idea from a prisoner’s fan letter (‘I don’t think my books should be in prison libraries’), to reading a book about convicts, to developing intellectual rather than emotional’ threads ‘none of them spectacular’. After that she tries to add some motivation for the characters. A key turns into a dog. What ifs multiply. A wife becomes unfaithful. The first two versions were rejected by her publisher.

‘I thought my story was not bad, but perhaps it could be better. When one thinks this, even faintly, it is best to write it over.’

The interesting part of this book is of course her voice, the anecdotes and the little insights that she may not even realise she’s offering. Speaking of her admiration for Graham Greene Highsmith makes plain her pleasure in reading him. ‘There is no doubt that a study of the whole field of “the best” in suspense writing, whatever that is, can be of benefit professionally to a suspense writer, but I would just as soon not pursue this study.’

Highsmith, in all her ambivalence there — and it’s entertaining.

See all the overlooked gems at Patti Abbott’s blog.

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Film for a Friday: Key Lime Pie

Enjoy a slice of noir.

Film for a Friday: The Green Man

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Thank goodness for library book sales: or in this case, a DVD sale too. I happened across this film which I’ve never seen (in a double pack with School for Scoundrels, which one can never have too many copies of). It’s the kind of movie that could never get made now. Sim plays a bomber who assassinates folks he considers the world to be better off without — starting in childhood with a sneering headmaster. Clearly we’re meant to have sympathy for his career, which he suspends during the war years because of ‘too much competition’ :-D.

I figured I could at least link to some clips but the ‘tube is bereft of them. The BFI has a good write up and some clips, but you have to be logged in. Debut director Robert Day went on to Tony Hancock’s The Rebel amongst other things and the cast is chockfull of familiar faces from Terry-Thomas’ Lothario and George Cole’s hapless vacuum-cleaner-salesman William Blake (hahaha!), to Dora Bryan playing dim but unlucky and Jill Adams playing smart but hapless.  Producer/writers Launder and Gilliat are of course best known for the St. Trinian’s films. This movie is based on their play ‘Meet a Body’ (no mention of rye).

There are mix-ups, misunderstandings, a protracted chess game, hijinks with a piano and a good bit of farce. In short, it’s great fun. As I also got the box set of St. Trinian’s films, my weekend is all set for laughs.

Song for a Saturday: Bonnie & Clyde – Brigitte Bardot & Serge Gainsbourg

#inspiration

Film for a Friday: Dante’s Inferno

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Join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and agonise over your art. Ken Russell directs a fabulous cast, full of eye-searingly vivid images. Just what you need.

 

Song for a Saturday: Rock’n’Roll by Res Nullius

Hey, cool band I just found out about thanks to Renato Bratkovič and Alibi-Fest.com (which was an amazing experience, more about it later). Lead singer/novelist Zoran Benčič and producer Tomi Lignit presented their new crime film, Psi Brezčasja / Case:Osterberg on Saturday night, then chatted with us at the legendary Bar Grega. I got the latest CD too, Prekletih bazar. Good stuff; here’s a taste. And yeah, more about the film in a bit, too.

Check them out on Facebook. I translated the name in my rusty Latin, but I didn’t realise it was a legal term, ‘nobody’s property…[and] includes wild animals and abandoned property.’ Heh.

 

TOA/V: Death of a Scoundrel

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 09.02.00Czech refugee Clementi Sabourin (George Sanders), heartbroken and betrayed by his lover and his brother, sails to New York City, intent on changing his luck. Sabourin does manage to become wealthy and successful, but he does it by robbing, lying and cheating everyone he meets. Therefore, it’s no big surprise when Sabourin turns up murdered. But, since nearly everyone in his life wanted him dead, it’s going to be that much that trickier to find the real killer. [1956]

Written and directed by Charles Martin, this film is a bit clunky and at times given to melodrama, but there’s a lot to fascinate, too. Foremost of course is the cast which not only features the ever-delightful George Sanders for whom cads were a stock in trade, but also a galaxy of great women who really make the film memorable. Yvonne de Carlo is terrific as the petty thief who becomes his right hand; Zsa Zsa Gabor plays her usual rich doll but with a fresh snarkiness that gives much more than the script suggests.

Nancy Gates has a great turn as Stephanie North, the secretary who wants to be an actor who catches Sabourin’s eye. Though he’s romancing three or four women at the time to advance various schemes (in the photo giving Colleen Gray’s soon-to-be-divorced magnate’s wife handcuff bracelets), he genuinely falls for her and when Gabor’s socialite fires her in a fit of jealousy, he funds her Broadway debut. He’s so captivated by her that he doesn’t catch on that the scene she’s playing on stage is just like the seduction scene he has planned for her later, which amuses de Carlo’s Bridget Kelley to no end. He goes through with the attempted seduction anyway and is stunned when the rising star laughs at the strange duplication.

Not really a lost classic by any means, but much interesting here and more than a little hint of noir. Check out the round-up of neglected A/V over at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: The Ealing Comedies

Available on iPlayer* for a while and just over an hour long, The Ealing Comedies (1970) offers a vintage look at the singular success of the tiny studio that could. If you are not a fan of these films, I probably don’t have much to say to you, as they are some of the most delightful bits of celluloid in existence.

Creative folks wondering how to find their way in a culture that rewards the already famous and familiar might also find here a wealth of lessons on how to carve out success with very little — applicable to small presses as well as indie filmmakers and others. Lessons to be learned from this small studio:

Take the lack of capital as a challenge to creativity, i.e. what can you make from what you have?

Multi-skilled people thrive in this kind of environment. What are your skills?

Collegiality is a must. Do you play well with others? Also, as Diana Morgan demonstrates, breaking glass ceilings takes persistence and smarts and sometimes just being the best.

Wishes can be fodder for plans. Example: Henry Cornelius wished for a film that showed a bunch of boys taking over London for a day. Visualising that image, he had to figure out what made it happen: cue Hue & Cry, the first of the Ealing comedies that made use of the wreckage around St. Paul’s.

Don’t disdain a small role: Jack Warden’s first role as a copper ended 20 minutes into the film — but it led to a long string of parts.

Fit yourself to the part available: Ealing had no stars at first, roles were written and actors made them their own.

There are a lot of impossibles: find what is just possible.

Whisky.

The best quote perhaps from Charles Crichton: The comic should not neglect the poetic (alas, most comedies at present do).

See it for yourself and then go watch some of those wonderful films. And be sure to check out the other neglected works at Todd’s blog.

*Non-UK folk may want to get a location masking app like Tunnel Bear to watch things from iPlayer.

TOA/V: Burn, Witch, Burn!

BURN, WITCH, BURN (AKA Night of the Eagle) 1961
Directed by Sidney Hayers
Screenplay by Charles Beaumont/Richard Matheson/George Baxt
Based on Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
Starring Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon

This is a fairly good adaptation of Leiber’s Conjure Wife (a brilliant little novel if you’ve not read it), dramatically retitled for American release complete with exclamation point. Snooty psychology professor studies superstitious beliefs with condescending rationality — until he discovers that his wife Tansy has been working magic to build his career. Well, if there’s one thing a guy like him hates more than magic, it’s the idea that his wife might be responsible for his success.

So he makes her burn all her workings and talismans and what do you know? Things start going badly for them both. Seems there’s a rival whose wife also uses magic…

This is a fun film that didn’t get near enough attention on its release (or since really). I love the mixture of academia and magic — obviously one of the things in the cauldron of my mind that helped conjure Satan’s Sorority.

See all the overlooked gems at Todd’s blog.