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How did author James Patterson create his character Alex Cross?

12 Mar

I adore Morgan Freeman. He is an astonishing and talented actor and I never get tired of watching him in everything from The Shawshank Redemption to a new favourite, the action thriller Red. That said, I wanted to throttle him in the movies Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls.

Now, I know casting for these films was not in his hands, but anyone who has read even part of the James Patterson-penned series would know he is all wrong for the part of Alex Cross. In the books the detective/psychologist/police consultant is middle aged, fit and in his prime. And that’s how he should have been played, not as someone whose most active days are behind them.

Thankfully this casting wrong will soon be righted with this year’s release of Alex Cross, featuring Tyler Perry in the lead role. But as I read a bit more about the movie tonight, my thoughts turned to the author and his inspiration.

You see, even though he’s written what seems like a gazillion books and series, I still think the Cross novels are Patterson’s best works. And that could be because of how I discovered them.

I was travelling overseas with a friend who spent all day, every day trying to make me mad or offended, and the best way to fend him off was to turn my Walkman (yes I am that old) on loud and bury myself in a book.

Of course this was easier said than done, so when I stumbled across Kiss The Girls in a bookstore in Oxford and found it more than capable of shutting out unwanted attention, I was hooked.

Today, of course, Patterson novels of all varieties help make my bookshelves groan. So I decided I would like to learn a little bit more about what inspired the creation of my favourite character. And I found the answers in an interview Patricia Cornwell (yes the Patricia Cornwell) did with him on Amazon. The results were a little surprising, so here’s what they had to say.

Cornwell: What inspired you to create Alex Cross?
Patterson: Hardly anyone knows it but when I started the first Alex Cross novel, Alex was a woman named Alexis. After 100 pages or so, I changed the character to Alex. When I was a kid growing up, my grandparents had a small restaurant and the cook was an African-American woman who eventually moved into our house. All through my growing up period I spent a lot of time with this woman’s family. They were funny, wise, the food was great, so was the music, and the family is at least part of the inspiration for the Crosses. 

Cornwell: What do you and Alex Cross have in common? How are you different?
Patterson: We’re both family-oriented guys. I think it’s a real treat to be able to get along with your wife every day, which I do; my wife and I really have trouble being apart for very long. And I think readers will agree Alex is generally doing better in the romance department. One difference between us would be that I’m much more content to sit around and write. I think Alex would get a little bored on a “ride-along” with me.

Cornwell also went on to ask about his inspiration and motivation for writing. And he answered with this . . . 

“I truly love writing. I sometimes think about my grandfather when I reflect on this. When I was a boy, I lived in a town on the Hudson River. During the summers, my grandfather would take me once a week on his frozen food and ice cream delivery route. We’d be up at four in the morning packing up the truck, and by five we’d be on our way. Driving a delivery truck isn’t the most glamorous job in the world, but every morning, my grandfather would drive over the Storm King Mountain toward West Point, and he’d be singing at the top of his voice. And he told me this: “Jim,” he said, “when you grow up, I don’t care if you’re a truck driver or a famous surgeon—just remember that when you go over the mountain to work in the morning, you’ve got to be singing.” Writing stories keeps me singing. Writing to me isn’t work, and I like that a ton.”

Now read some excerpts from his books here.

Is Shirley Manson from Garbage a natural redhead?

9 Mar

Friday. The end of a very long and stressful week. Then suddenly, salvation comes in the form of a press release. Garbage has a new album coming out and I a massive fan. Suddenly I am happy and the countdown to release begins…

In background, I discovered this band many, many years ago while living with a friend who made it his mission to properly introduce me to groups ranging from the Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins to REM and, of course, Garbage.

While some REM of them failed to make a lasting impact, I loved Shirley Manson right from the start – her sass and strut, her rebellious attitude and her ability to just make damn good music. So naturally, when the news of a new album came through, I decided to make her today’s knowledge quest. And the first question I wanted to answer? Is she a natural redhead?

Now, this might seem like a pretty shallow query given her pedigree and talent, but as someone with a good deal of red up top myself, I’ve always felt an affinity with other women whose hair apparently offers fair warning of their temper. Plus, I’ve seen her try a wide variety of shades, most notably that eye-catching blonde do in the video for Cherry Lips.

After a good deal of research, I happened upon this slightly NSFW story, which confirmed without doubt she is indeed a natural redhead. So with a bit of time up my sleeves, I decided to find out a handful of other interesting things about the performer. Here they are. She . . .

* Is a cast member of video game Guitar Hero 5.
* Once modelled for Calvin Klein.
* Dropped out of school at 16.
* Suffers from body dysmorphia.
* Featured in TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
* Wrote a song called Sleep Together for the Love and Other Drugs soundtrack.
* Was named after an aunt who was herself named after Charlotte Bronte’s novel Shirley.
* Was invited to join Garbage after producer and muso Steve Marker saw her in the Angelfish video for Suffocate Me.

So there you have it. And in case you’re wondering what my favourite Garbage song is, I can’t narrow it down. Instead, let’s just say there are six that hold court – Only Happy When It Rains, Androgyny, Vow, Why Do You Love Me, Paranoid and Cherry Lips. The latter particularly holds a special place in my heart as I used it to start teaching my nephews about good music from when they were very little and could only manage to sing the “Go baby go” bit of the lyrics. And no, for the record, I did not let them watch the film clip. But you can…

So finally, back to the new album. It’s called Not Your Kind Of People and is due out in May. The first single, Blood For Poppies, will be released on March 20. And this is what Shirley has to say about it: ““The song is meant to feel sort of like an abstract dream. The inspiration came from a story I had read in The Los Angeles Times about the opium trade and also from watching the documentary Restrepo. It’s not literal in any sense whatsoever but it’s a song about disorientation and delusion and the human struggle to stay sane in the face of insanity.” Hear the band reveal the track listing below.

Which pirate first flew the Jolly Roger?

8 Mar

Hollywood has managed to romanticise pirates during the last few years, mainly thanks to the efforts of Johnny Depp, who makes one of cinema’s finest ever entrances in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

He makes the whole game seem like such fun, but frankly, I have my doubts. I mean imagine the splinters from a wooden leg or the constant risk of being forced to walk the plank. Makes my job seem slightly less stressful.

Anyway, one pirate accessory I do love is the Jolly Roger, so I set out to see if I could learn its origins. And it turns out I had a lot to learn about pirate flags – including the fact they weren’t all the same.

According to historians, the first well known pirate to hoist the skull and crossbones was Emanuel Wynne, who began his career off the coast of Carolina before moving across to the Caribbean, where he attacked English and Spanish ships alike. As well as the skull and crossbones, his design included an hourglass that was designed, as you might suspect, to let his victims know their time was fast running out.

Yet Emanuel wasn’t the first or only pirate to boast a flag. Early (and later) contemporaries used everything from national symbols to solid blocks of colour, sometimes black (which meant standard battle) and sometimes red (which meant death to all).

In fact some people believe the term Jolly Roger is drawn from the French phrase ‘joli rouge’, which roughly translated means beautiful red. Another theory says it was a play on the Devil’s nickname of Old Roger.

Now here’s three other pirate fast flag facts I discovered…

* Jolly Roger is the general name given to pirate flags. It includes a black background, white skull and two crossed bones.
* Blackbeard’s flag featured a skeleton holding an hourglass in one hand, a spear in the other hand and standing beside a bleeding heart.
* Pirates would sometimes hoist a white flag while chasing a ship. But in their case it meant ‘you must surrender’ rather than ‘we surrender’.


What inspired Suzanne Collins to write The Hunger Games?

3 Mar

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As mentioned yesterday, I finally got around this week to buying The Hunger Games trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins.

It’s something I’ve meant to do for a while but I’m glad I waited until I had a relatively free weekend. Because I haven’t been able to put book one down.

It is, in a word, phenomenal. Brutal yet caring, heartfelt yet sympathetic, incredibly detailed but also a broad enough canvas on which to showcase issues such as poverty, the corrupting nature of power and the ability of reality shows – and TV in general – to de-sensitise viewers.

Then there’s a kick-ass heroine called Katniss, who I CANNOT wait to see on the big screen portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence.

Anyway, as I so often do, I went looking for more information on Suzanne Collins as it’s never enough just to enjoy a book. I always want to learn more about an author – who they are, what their writing ritual is like and, most of all, where they get their inspiration from.

And I found her answers in an interview on the official Scholastic website.

Here’s an excerpt from the story..

You weave action, adventure, mythology, sci-fi, romance and philosophy throughout The Hunger Games. What influenced the creation of The Hunger Games?
A significant influence would have to be the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The myth tells how in punishment for past deeds, Athens periodically had to send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete, where they were thrown in the labyrinth and devoured by the monstrous Minotaur.
Even as a kid, I could appreciate how ruthless this was. Crete was sending a very clear message: “Mess with us and we’ll do something worse than kill you. We’ll kill your children.” And the thing is, it was allowed; the parents sat by powerless to stop it. Theseus, who was the son of the king, volunteered to go. I guess in her own way, Katniss is a futuristic Theseus.
In keeping with the classical roots, I send my tributes into an updated version of the Roman gladiator games, which entails a ruthless government forcing people to fight to the death as popular entertainment. The world of Panem, particularly the Capitol, is loaded with Roman references. Panem itself comes from the expression “Panem et Circenses” which translates into “Bread and Circuses.”
The audiences for both the Roman games and reality TV are almost characters in themselves. They can respond with great enthusiasm or play a role in your elimination.
I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me. One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.

Suzanne also tells of the delicate balance in transferring her story from page to screen and of the research she did into hunting and gathering techniques. But the other Q&A that really drew me in was this…

The Hunger Games tackles issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war among others. What drew you to such serious subject matter?
That was probably my dad’s influence. He was career air force, a military specialist, a historian, and a doctor of political science. When I was a kid, he was gone for a year in Vietnam. It was very important to him we understood certain aspects of life. So, it wasn’t enough to visit a battlefield, we needed to know why the battle occurred, how it played out, and the consequences. Fortunately, he had a gift for presenting history as a fascinating story. He also seemed to have a good sense of exactly how much a child could handle, which is quite a bit.

I don’t know about you, but I find that fascinating. What an interesting life and perspective she has. I love it when an author feeds part of their own life experience and soul into what they write.

I will certainly be looking into her other books, but for now you can check out The Hunger Games trailer and more here.

Do crocodiles really shed tears?

2 Mar

I finally got around to doing something today that has been on my checklist forever. And that’s buy the book version of the Hunger Games.

I don’t know why I waited so long as I know for a fact I’m going to love it. But at least now the plot will be fresh in my mind when the movie opens in a few weeks.

Anyway, I never go to a bookstore for just one book – I always emerge with a bag full. And while browsing the specials rack today, my eye fell on a title I immediately knew I had to have – Know It All from DK Books, which offers facts, stats, lists, records and more.

Now, I’m interested in random information at the best of times, and this year-long knowledge quest I’m on has only heightened my curiosity. So I decided that for today, I would open up a random page and find an interesting fact. And luckily I have good aim.

It was only on the news today that police fear a woman in the Northern Territory has been taken by a croc. So how appropriate the spread I turned to had information on whether crocodile tears are real. Here’s what the book said …

“If you shed ‘crocodile tears’ people think you are faking it. That’s because crocodiles ‘cry’ while they are eating their victims. But it’s not because they are feeling remorse; as they swallow down great lumps of meat, their jaw muscles expand and contract. The pressure created by the moving muscles squeezes tears out of the crocodile’s tear glands.’

In short – real tears, no sorrow. No wonder they say you should never smile at a crocodile. And now a few pieces of FYI . . .

* A crocodile can hold its breath underwater for an average 10-15 minutes 
* It can swim up to 30km/h
* It has roughly 68 teeth, which are constantly falling out and being replaced

Now let’s finish with a chorus of Crocodile Rock. The cool version from the Gnomeo & Juliette soundtrack.

How many people know the Oscar winners before the ceremony?

27 Feb

I love watching the Oscars. But I love watching the pre-ceremony arrivals even more. There’s just something so breathtaking about some of the beautiful gowns that waft down the red carpet. Like the gorgeous sparkly creations worn by Octavia Spencer (pictured) and Milla Jovovich today.

Then you get to the frock shockers, and I must confess this is actually my favourite bit. I mean these women have millions of dollars and access to the best stylists and designers and they STILL manage to get it so wrong. They’re almost begging for a public backhanding.

But while I unleashed my claws on Facebook earlier, I feel obliged to hold my tongue here, since I’m a big believer in karma. But let’s just say my least favourite gowns were all well acquainted with the category of Best Actress.

Anyway, on to the awards themselves, and I’ve always wondered if the winners’ names are really kept secret before those envelopes are opened. And the answer is, yes. Very much so! In fact only two people know their identities in advance.

They are non-household names Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns, who are accountants with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the firm which has long been entrusted with counting the thousands of ballots lodged in 24 categories.

Among the measures they take to ensure absolute confidentiality are to count each ballot by hand, and in utter secrecy. As Oltmanns further reveals on the PWC website: “All of the counting is done in a secure, private, undisclosed location. No computers in the room and phones aren’t used. We are sequestered, just counting the results.”

Once they’re in, the names are kept locked up in a vault. Then, on the big day, the two men attend the show separately, travelling by secret routes and accompanied by police officers. They each carry a briefcase containing an identical set of winners envelopes and stand backstage during the entire ceremony, handing each envelope to the presenters as they walk onstage.

Here’s some other crunched numbers about PWC’s 78 years of Oscar balloting.

* 450,000-plus – the rough number of ballots counted.
* 2600-plus – the number of winners’ envelopes stuffed since the envelope system was introduced in 1941.
* 1700 – the approximate number of “person-hours” it takes each year to count and verify the ballots.
• 7 – the number of days it takes to count the ballots for nominations.
* 3 – the number of days it takes to count the final ballots.

And OK, you partly got me, I’ll come clean on my trio of worst ever Oscar frocks (Cher is ineligible as she gets a category of her own.) 3. Uma Thurman’s milkmaid. 2. Celine Dion’s back to front shiny white pantsuit. 1. Gywneth Paltrow for that black goth ensemble a few years back. But since she looked hotter than hot tonight, I think we can agree she’s more than made up for it.

Check out the red-carpet action here.

How do you get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

25 Feb

Every so often when I’m flicking through a tabloid magazine I come across photos of a ceremony to induct a celebrity into the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The most recent, just this month, was a ‘humbled’ and ‘grateful’ Jennifer Aniston, whose career only seems to be going from strength to strength. But some of the rolecall she joins are just puzzling. I mean, no disrespect, but who are Rod La Rocque and Klaus Landsberg?

Anyway, with about 24 induction ceremonies held annually, I wondered how stars got a guernsey. And the process is this.

Nominations are judged once a year in the categories of Motion Pictures, Television, Radio, Recording and Live Performance/Theatre. Once a star is chosen a fee of $30,000 is payable for the creation and installation of the star, as well as walk maintenance.

They then have five years to schedule their ceremony. Here’s some other facts I discovered…

• Anyone, including a fan, can nominate a celebrity for the walk, as long as their management agrees.
• Dead stars can’t be nominated for the posthumous award until five years after their passing.
• The stars themselves are made of terrazzo and brass.
* The idea for the walk came from EM Stuart, who was volunteer president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 1953.

Find out more here.

How do you make macarons (and what does this have to do with John Cleese)?

23 Feb

I live about an hour from my nearest capital city, so whenever the big name acts come to town – invariably on a weeknight – I find myself doing a mad dash after work to see them. And so it was this week when John Cleese’s tour arrived..

Now, he wasn’t on until 8pm, but I was blessed with the gene that spawns pathological lateness, so didn’t even arrive at the venue until 10 to. Which left me no time to get dinner, or even a snack.

Needless to say I was ready to eat my own arm – or that of the coughing machine sitting beside me – when the interval arrived. So I headed to the cafeteria with a determined look in my eyes.

Keen to ensure I ordered my essential daily intake of chocolate healthy and nutritious food, I carefully studied the display cabinet row by row, until suddenly, my eyes struck gold.

Macarons. Those tasty treats so popularised on MasterChef and so often eaten by me before I even get back to my car after grocery shopping.

Very unpredictably, good intentions won out, and I had something else. But I decided they would be a good thing to learn to bake so I could casually whip them out next time if ever I host a dinner party. But where to go for a recipe?

Well the MasterChef website naturally (ps, this is not a paid plug). Where I found a delicious looking pistachio and chocolate variety. In fairness, I should point out it is a Western Star recipe rather than an official one from the show.

But seriously, who cares? As long as they taste good. So here goes …

Pistachio and chocolate macarons
Makes 12 macarons

* 125g Western Star unsalted butter, chopped
* 100g dark cooking chocolate, chopped
* 125g pistachio nuts
* 1 1/4 cups icing sugar
* 1/3 cup egg whites
* Pinch salt
* 1/4 cup caster sugar

To make chocolate ganache, combine butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and melt on high for 1-2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until firm. Process nuts and icing sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in caster sugar, beating well between each addition, until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in pistachio mixture in two batches with a metal spoon until incorporated. Pipe 24 x 5cm diameter rounds of mixture on to paper-lined baking trays. Stand for 1 hour before baking, so macarons can form a ‘skin’. Bake at 170C for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely before using a spatula to carefully remove from trays. To assemble macarons, sandwich two cool biscuits together with chocolate ganache.

So there you have it. Now wish me luck as I have a go. I personally suspect the whole thing will end in tears. But at least I can cheer myself up with this Monty Python clip featuring the Black Night. Remember, it’s just a flesh wound!

Who created Superman?

17 Feb

Stan Lee is a legend in the pantheon of comic book creators. And deservedly so, given the man created such luminaries as Spider-Man and the X-Men.

But there’s a whole host of superheroes he can’t lay claim to. And one of them is Superman, who was last played by Brandon Routh and will arrive in cinemas next year rebooted with British actor Henry Cavill in the blue tights.

He’ll be joined by Amy Adams, who I think will make a far more convincing Lois Lane than certain predecessors. But while we wait for opening day, I wanted to know who created the hero. And it turns out to be a double duo.

Their names were writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, who invented the character in the 1930s.

But it surprised me to learn he wasn’t always out to protect truth, justice and the American way. In fact their first short story, The Reign of the Super-Man, portrayed him as a bald-headed villain seeking world domination.

Fortunately, the story didn’t sell, so they decided to switch him over to the right side of the law. And thus a legend was born.

You can read more about the Man of Steel here. But in the meantime, enjoy this first look at the new Superman in costume. Awesome . . .

Who is the rude band in Old School and Starsky & Hutch?

12 Feb

Hollywood has produced some wonderful wedding singers.

Just look at Steve Buscemi’s heartfelt warbling of True in the Adam Sandler movie that celebrates the profession.

But for my money, the best among them is Dan Finnerty. And don’t worry if you haven’t heard of him before, because I just discovered him too. And felt obliged to (ahem) sing his praises.

To backtrack, today’s knowledge quest was born from a simple desire – to find out more about the band that cameos in Old School and Starsky & Hutch.

Anyone who has seen the films will understand my interest since they both feature milestone celebrations headlined by an incredibly coarse (but hilarious) band that peppers power ballads with enough bad language to make a grandmother or religious devotee blush.

Think Bonnie Tyler’s Total F****** Eclipse of the Heart and you’re on track.

Anyway, I knew the group couldn’t be just a movie ensemble as they are too practised and polished. And I was right. They are actually a comedy band called The Dan Band, led by the aforementioned Dan Finnerty, an actor and comedian.

Based in LA, their specialty is covers of female pop songs such as Toni Basil’s Mickey, with added obscenities and swearing. And their unique blend has proved very popular in Hollywood, featuring in other films such as The Hangover.

They even released a Christmas LP of originals called Ho: A Dan Band Xmas, which had tracks such as I Wanna Rock U Hard This Christmas, for which the video featured the Brady Bunch’s Florence Henderson hitting on Santa in a retirement home. Check it out below.


And to finish, a random fact: Dan is married to actress Kathy Najimy.