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Welcome - The International Writers Magazine - March 2009
writing from across the globe.

March 1st: New Editorial due next week as March takes on definition. New edition of Hacks just posted - so have a look around and a big thanks to all our contributors.
As the world heads ever downward in an economic spin I've been doing my duty and been to see a number of the Oscar nominees and winners. Disappointment seems to be the central feeling I have come away with. Sure Benjamin Button is technically amazing, but it is hard to build a story around a cipher and whereas Forest Gump was interesting, Button doesn't really have much to say - ever. In particular we find him having an affair in Moscow at the time of the Starlin purges. Do we see anything of Russia, death in the streets, the paranoia, the real meat and potatoes of (ok just potatoes as there wasn't much meat) of Soviet life? Not a trace. War World Two gets a good look in as the war 'comes to him' but it's like a demented moment from Das Boat and this whole movie feel is like that - all surface and tricks but no real heart. But definitely should win something - the soundtrack, hair and make-up perhaps. Cate Blanchette for best support perhaps. *Seems I got it right for the technicals and soundtrack and of course the cinematography.
Better to see Bolt but avoid the 3-D version if you want to save your eyes and your money. Guys at Disney spend money on STORY not 3-D. Please. Too late I guess judging from all the 3-D films coming down the spike. I might also say that the best part of Bolt was the first bit when he really thought he was a superdog with a super bark and wanted more. I probably enjoyed it more than my pal but the hamster made her laugh and the cat, Mittens- stolen from other Disney movies, was at least nice and cynical. I like this film best of all this year so far.

I went to see Woody's Vicki, Christina Barcelona on the promise that he was back in form. That's the funniest idea I heard in a long time. Please someone take away his toys now before he destroys all goodwill. It's singularly unfunny with a odd dry corporate voiceover that explains everything you are seeing and that's like a Filmmaking 101 no-no right. Sad, pathetic film with all the tourists shots of someone who couldn't be bothered to find the real Spain. It only comes alive when Ms Cruz arrives and all that did was make Scarlett look so ordinary and dull you can't beleive anyone could find her interesting, let alone an artist. I am kinda angry that anyone can compare this to the hilarious and well crafted Annie Hall or wonders of Broadway Danny Rose days. Retire Woody now whilst this film is making money. I am glad Penelope Cruz won an Oscar for best supporting actress for in reality there would be no film here without her.

I was dragged to 'He's Not that into you' as well. Smug, sad, strange, with some laughs, but so desperate, why oh why are people going to it? This is chick flick by numbers.

I also managed The Reader. It's depressing, Raph Feinnes is too old for the role given the number of years passed but Kate Winslet is technically brilliant. But you may want to snack on prozac during the film. Perhaps we could have a rest on Nazi films in 2010? Kate Winslet wins the Oscar and it was an astonishing performance.

At least Nick and Nora's infinite playlist actually delivered something. It was funny, affectionate, a treat and then disappeared in a week. I am beginning to suspect that no one actually knows a good movie anymore and just go to the crap because they are told to. Michael Cera is a curious heart throb but this film had heart and soul and funny support kids too.

At least there was Slumdog Millionaire. The world's firlst feel good torture movie. Beautifully shot, some rewarding performances, it is the stand-out movie of the Oscar choices and worth seeing. But ask anyone, it's sure as hell is no siren call for visiting India. Makes us feel good about all our 'honest' cops here though and I guess that makes it safe. I am glad it has swept the board and won eight Oscars. It is a truly vibrate film and audiences love it. A popular win,
There is only one film that really deserves an Oscar. That's Wall-E. The best film of this decade and the most savvy about our future. Visually stunning, often funny and very scary about our future. I am so happy it won.

Finally a film that won't win Oscars is Push - out right now starring Dakota Fanning. Have to say I enjoyed it despite the bland leading man. I guess I needed a Heroes boost before the start of the new series.
Happy Film going.

  Feb 4th: Well have reached February 2009 pretty much intact. Obama is in charge and hitting the ground running. It’s the Year of the Ox and he’s an Ox so expect a very steady hand, plain speaking and determination. He’s a perfect match for our times and boy do we need a sensible pair of hands. I'm impressed so far.

The streets are filling up with protesters right across Europe and by all means there is a lot to protest but I don't really think anyone has a solution out there - not one that will magic up prosperity and return the Depression Genie back into the flask. Certainly not Gordon Brown. In the UK in Lincolnshire men were protesting that Italians and Portugese are filling jobs they could do - indeed it makes little sense to ship men all the way from Italy to weld pipes in England but then, we can and do work anywhere in Europe if we want to and that's a great right to have. I'd hate for short term protectionism to scupper that. Protectionism was the fatal flaw of the Great Depression in the 1930s and it is tempting for politicians to go down that road. (Check US Steel for US projects which is going to be more expensive than Indian or UK steel for example). If we are going to turn our backs on global economics be prepared for everything getting a lot worse and political solutions you may not savour. Extreme Left or Right.

Meanwhile the bankers quaffed $1000 dollar wine in Davos and thanked their lucky stars they bought the Villas, Aston Martins, Football clubs, and paid the school fees before everything went tits up. Am I alone in not giving creedence to this idea that we need bankers and their billion dollar bonuses so the rest of us can enjoy trickle down prosperity. Can we burn an effigy of Milton Freedman now and have done with him forever? Do you feel trickle downed? I'm just asking. If it is so great that people can pay $20,000,000 for a house why can't they pay say a ten percent property tax on that so we can build fifty homes for rent to teachers or firemen or whomever - - just an idea. They can even cut the ribbon when they open.

Right now you are probably reeling as the daily toll of jobs lost and businesses going bust seems pretty much endless. It’s not going to stop either, not for a while until this thing burns through. Lives will be ruined and dreams broken, but I’m old enough to have lived through this before, the last time Labour was in power in the UK in fact. History tells me it’s going to take a lot longer to recover than last time, as the speed of the decline has been so rapid and the stakes so much higher.

It was obvious last year when the oil price went berserk, reaching $147 a barrel, that this would break the back of the boom – only few people were really saying that at the time. Some were predicting oil at $200. Crazy. No one seemed to reading history at all.

It happened in the seventies with the same effect, oil spiking at $80-90 bucks, Israel at war with its neighbours. As inflation soared wrecking career options, no one could get mortgages or loans they could afford to pay back- inflation was at 25%. For a while the future was cancelled and there was loose talk of military coups, even in the UK.

So here we are again and with the recession will come other stresses and strains too, social upheaval, transforming values. What can you do to beat it? That’s a little harder.

Someone quite close to me is going through that now. It’s not just unemployment; it’s a loss of a way of life and self-validation. With no job one can often lose confidence. Right now it’s possibly time to make a whole life change, but to what? How do you know if that is the right choice and that you won’t end up on the scrap heap ten years down the line all over again? Well you don’t. There are no certainties. I can guarantee that.

After film school I wrote. I was determined to make it as a writer. Finally after much heartache and criticism from the family who desperately wanted me to ‘get a real job’ I finally broke through with my first novel published in the UK, USA and Europe. Ten years later I’d had four novels published and a possible writing for TV career looming. I was still earning some money from writing radio plays but it was dying as a profession as series and drama slots got cancelled – (it still thrives in the UK but there’s a firewall there way too hard to break through without influence).

Suddenly it stopped- everything stopped. It took me a whole year to realise that I wasn’t going to be earning a living from writing anymore – at least not from books. It began to dawn on me that money from royalties wasn’t coming in. In fact I never even got statements – trusting people has been my major fault for years. It was very painful realisation for me to realise that publishers look after themselves and their penthouses first and I wasn’t going to get paid, or find out the truth. For one moment there was a glimmer of hope. I’d just sold a newly completed book. An historical novel I’d been researching and working on for over eighteen months. The US publisher offered an advance of $15,000 but two months later at the proof stage, when they finally paid up, the cheque bounced. The company had folded just like that. The New York and London agents were unbelievably unsympathetic and we parted company.

I had an accident in Vancouver that month and needed an urgent operation and wow, the speed of my personal meltdown was swift as I realised I had no money and everyone else was scaling back or going under too. It was scary. I had to sell everything to stay afloat and make some tough choices.

I went into teaching, been there ever since. What I’m saying it, I thought I had a career, struggled to get it, paid my dues, but it didn’t work out. I did try to keep going – the Ox trait of keeping on keeping on – but fortunately I met someone who basically made me face up to the need to earn a living and move on.
That was the hardest part. Moving on.

Sure I didn’t give up writing entirely, but once you’re out of the game it gets harder. Sold a few articles – got published in Elle and whatever – as I got my book rights back after many years republished a couple of titles with Lulu to keep them alive, adding two more new ones because, in the end, if your a writer, you write and you have to polish your skills or lose them.

Teaching is time-sucking however and then there’s marking and if you take it all seriously, as I do, you want to be a good teacher, not one of those you may have had who just didn’t seem to care. I vowed I’d always care because I remembered my own teachers and their stunning indifference; extreme pettiness and I never wanted to be one of those. (Those kind of teachers still exist sadly but you don’t have to speak to them and the students are much more savvy now and know to limit their exposure).

Teaching has other rewards. You gain friends, good friends. Even though it ages you real fast, you meet young people with talent and optimism and you can help, make a difference – sometimes, and be supportive. I love spotting some young writers potential and nurturing that development. Few go further with it, possibly sensing it is hard road filled with brutal rejection, but I always live in hope. There’s a great deal of pleasure in watching someone succeed I discovered. That’s pretty much all you have to be (aside from knowing what the hell you are talking about). At first, when I began, I resented giving up my chosen path, but quickly realised that in actual fact teaching is more rewarding, less isolating and hey, you get paid. Every month in fact. Unlike six months or annually or never as a writer.

Just to punish myself even further, I run Hackwriters. Ten bloody years no less now, getting a new edition out every month for nothing – zero financial return. Yes, truly dear reader I must be certifiable. Am certifiable in fact.

But we have had successes. Students have built a platform and gone on to careers in publishing or advertising or as writers, random individuals I have never met had gotten travel books deals or sold the odd story from it and it serves a purpose I guess. We even now publish an annual print version in Borderlines.

So – here’s the message. Yes there is a recession, things are bad, you may have lost your job, your way, your savings, but you can only live in denial for so long. Sooner, rather than later, you need to pick up the pieces, pack you and your shadow into a new bag and discover what it is you should be doing. The teaching course could be a good idea if you are good with people, or doing an MA (in something that arouses passion in you) you might travel to find yourself but remember it is still you coming back with baggage. It may be you decide to become a plumber, a carpenter, police-officer, painter, teach English in Vietnam – it doesn’t matter what, as long as you can find a way to believe in it, enjoy it and not resent it. Change is forced upon us sometimes, but often, if you learn to go with the flow you learn to be a totally new person and even get to like that version of you a whole lot better.

But heed this – it’s never too late to change – turn things around – we live a very long time now. If you are under 35 reading this and live in the West you could statistically live until you are 95 and the career you had at 35 will be a dim memory by then. We can live three maybe four lives and have several careers in that time. It is times like these that make us think of changes and ultimately makes you take charge of your future rather than leaving it to fate.
And in doing so – fate will take care of you.
A very Happy Chinese New Year to you all – may the Ox plough a steady course.

Feb 2009

If you want to help Hackwriters keep going, buy my new book Mean Tide. A young adult ghost story set in Greenwhich, London.
All profits go into the magazine.

Mean Tide by Sam North
'Extraordinary novel about a child's psychic awakening'

Lulu Press - ISBN: 978-1-4092-0354-4
Review: 'An engaging, unusual and completely engrossing read'
- Beverly Birch author of 'Rift'

Sent to live with his spooky Grandma by the river in Greenwich, Oliver (12) discovers a whole world of disturbed people who are probably even crazier than the ones he left behind. When he finds a dog with its throat cut on the beach, everything changes.
Age range 12-16 and adult

Meanwhile, are you worried about your health? Read my book 'Another Place to Die'' . If you have the slightest worry about how to survive the coming flu pandemic, you need this book and all the proceeds go to keep Hackwriters going. See the review from Calvin Hussey

The Curse of the Nibelung - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
by Sam North

ISBN 1-4116-3748-8
$19.98 Retail - 300 pages - Lulu Press USA

'Chocolate will never be the same again' - Sunday Express
Buy from your favourite on-line retailer

Amazon UK
Amazon USA
Barnes and Noble
& Waterstones

Diamonds - The Rush of '72
By Sam North
ISBN: 1-4116-1088-1

Buy now from
'a terrific piece of storytelling' Historical Novel Society Review

Also printed in the UK and available from
& Waterstones

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