Children’s Literature: A Gripping Read

The Stumps of Flattop Hill

(The Curious Flower Girl of the Town Down Below)

By Kenneth Kit Lamug

A fairytale like no other, The Stumps of Flattop Hill is a lusciously penned cautionary tale, with mild horror elements, about a little girl Florence, who more strongly believed the children daring her by exploiting a perceived personal flaw, than believing them about any of the real dangers laying in wait in the House on Flattop Hill.

“They dared, declared
that Florence was scared
to enter the house on Flattop Hill.”

And yet young Florence didn’t heed the warning about the house being a place of pure evil, it called out to something deep inside — perhaps loneliness, a need to prove them all wrong, natural curiosity (written in such a way that you can draw your own meaning)…  we are invited along on a beautifully grisly, increasingly tense journey all the way to the absolute end. Although the artwork echoes the work of Edward Gorey and Tin Burton, in this work, Kenneth Kit Lamug has created very much his own style.

town

 

With so much to love about this fairytale and all the details highlighted with flecks of nuance and shadowed with splashes of dread, there’s scope for discussion. A strong warning arises when Florence passes by the departed spirits making their way home across the river Styx that adds to the ominous tones. Once explained that the River is the causeway between life and death, the foreboding only deepens.

spiralstaircase
The house of Flattop Hill does not disappoint

A fun read for seasoned readers; to be read out loud, an absolute must and with as much dramatic expression as you can muster… just be cautious with more sensitive children, if you’re not certain, avoid the first read at bedtime — besides you may need to leave some room for discussion of some very long words and concepts. Written in a rhythmic style, the visual elements scattered throughout draw the art and story neatly together.

In the world of Children’s literature, Kenneth Kit Lamug both illustrator and author, is more than good enough to hold his head high, and stand alongside the rest of the best. I will be on the lookout for more of his work in future. Links to his existing work are in the Author’s biography below. If you would like to support the Author more directly, the links to his work are on his website: The Stumps of Flattop Hill .

Said Kenneth Kit-Lamug;

“This book is meant to be read aloud; that’s when it comes alive.
It is my goal to inspire and spark imaginations.
Kids love campfire stories and this is one that will keep them talking.
My four-and seven-year olds love to repeat the rhymes over and over.”

About the Author

Kenneth Kit Lamug is a Filipino-American author/illustrator based in Las Vegas, Nevada. His debut picture book A Box Story has won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, Literary Classics, Pinnacle Awards and the National Indie Excellence Book Awards. He has contributed to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tiny Books of Tiny Stories, Underneath the Juniper Tree and various publications. He has also worked in movies, comics and his photography has been showcased internationally.

Watch the trailer for a sneak peak into the wonderful imaginings of Kenneth Kit Lamug’s The Stumps of Flattop Hill 

Monday Meh: Three Angry Men

Songs are poetry set to music. Some are the perfect marriage of sound and message while others are just wasted creative potential. Monday Meh is about presenting the best musical offerings and a little backstory to get you through to hump day.

The pen is mightier than the sword when it comes to songs about breaking up. It was quite a challenge having a listen to lots of music on this subject, so I included my hubby, the inimitable Captain Kirk in on the process to ensure he didn’t feel like it was all about us – it’s not, we’re good.

At the moment it seems people around me are going through the end of a significant relationship (or similar), and in the process of finding their ways through the storm. There is a lot of reflection going on as they encounter the reality of singularity in the present age. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

This week it was tough choosing. I found three great songs where I think that the music and lyrics work well together, told from the perspective of men and none of them are similar. It’s like Snow White turned three of her compadres into Happy, Shitty, and Guilty.

First up is Happy relating the best advice to extract the ultimate revenge – Living a Good Life with the happiest, danciest song I have ever heard relating to breaking up, it’s the Mavericks, founded by Raul Malo, with Dance The Night Away.

First released on their album Trampoline, the song went to number 4 in the UK and remained on the charts for eighteen weeks and I kinda wish it’d make a bigger revival on the easy listening wavelengths.

This one is good for light-hearted break-ups. You know, I wouldn’t ever recommend this kind of extremely happy music when you’re bawling your eyes out and your tears are the size of two pound coins. There’s something oddly surreal about wailing and blowing-nose to happy dance music that feels a bit too much like a Tarantino flick… or maybe that’s just me.

The Mavericks’s influences include Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and unsurprisingly, Los Lobos as they combine neo-traditional country music and latin into aural chicken soup. Here’s a live video of a gig at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the sound quality is excellent.

 

I just wanna dance the night away
With senoritas who can sway
Right now tomorrow’s lookin’ bright
Just like the sunny mornin’ light

And if you should see her
Please let her know that I’m well
As you can tell
And if she should tell you
That she wants me back
Tell her no
I gotta go

The Mavericks, 1998

Next up is Shitty, and this one has always conjured up the image of a dingy bar, a mountain of tequila shot glasses and a general fiery finger of fuck-you approach to dealing with heartbreak. This song kind of blew me away the first time I heard it at age 17… I had never really thought about it quite like this before! Rock and Roll! Use your Illusion had just come out and I’d gone through all the popular songs first on the cassette taped copy-of-a-copy, before just letting it run through a few hundred times until there was no magnet left. Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 were one of the first CD sets I ever bought when I finally earned cash by full-time employment.

The song was one of several written by the co-founding member of Guns N’ Roses, Izzy Stradlin, who along with Axl Rose enlisted Slash, Duff and Adler to create an awesome band that had its ups and downs. Axl Rose wanted to give it more kudos, to raise it up to the heights of Queen and co. But alas, t’was not meant to be, Axl believed he was possessed by John Bonham, and he accused Courtney Love of possessing him too –I’m still not quite sure what to make of that… and then Chinese Democracy, then poof. A whole other story.

You Ain’t the First is indeed the least Guns N’ Rosesy song being more bluesy, with an acoustic sound, Slash providing the atmospheric twang of the slide guitar-work – the man is brilliant. I always thought this song, along with the others written by Izzy Stadlin balanced out the album by creating a powerful aural contrast.

After Izzy left somewhere in the aforementioned mess, GNR included him as Easter eggs in post-Izzy work — like the sign that says “Where’s Izzy?” in Don’t Cry, and they used his picture on the milk carton in Live and Let Die. Make of that what you will.

Time can pass slowly,
things always change
You day’s been numbered
And I’ve read your last page
You was just a temporary lover
Honey you ain’t the first
Lots of others came before you woman
Said but you been the worst
Sa’ you been the worst

Izzy Stradlin, Founder of Guns ‘n Roses, 1991

As for Guilty, it’s the time-honoured classic that still sounds as good as it did in the eighties, Careless Whispers. George Michael is a legend and this well-covered song is so well known that it’s unlikely you’d meet anyone that hadn’t heard it at some point or another. Although most Wham! songs were written by George Michael, this one was also credited to Andrew Ridgeley.

George Michael said that he was taking the bus to his job as an usher at a cinema and BAM was inspired to write “the silver screen” in the first verse (I paraphrased). and it had nothing to do with anything he was going through at the time. He came up with “Guilty feet have got no rhythm,” demonstrating sophisticated song-writing skills. I still find it hard to believe that George wasn’t doing something he shouldn’t have been… (who George Michael? No!?! Okay.)

George Michael has previously stated that he’s had more compliments on his writing of the sax solo than anything else, and it’s likely because it is undeniably distinctive and an amazing piece of music.

George Michael once said, “I’m still a bit puzzled why it’s made such an impression on people… Is it because so many people have cheated on their partners? Is that why they connect with it? I have no idea, but it’s ironic that this song – which has come to define me in some way – should have been written right at the beginning of my career when I was still so young. I was only 17 and didn’t really know much about anything – and certainly nothing much about relationships.”

I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it’s easy to pretend
I know you’re not a fool
I should have known better than to cheat a friend
And waste a chance that I’ve been given
So I’m never gonna dance again
The way I danced with you

Wham!, 1984

If you’re looking for a lot more break up songs, do a google, bing or duck… there’s more out there for the sad and lonely than you realise. If you have any other information about these three songs, or similar recommendations, other videos of the same quality… y’know… pop them in the comments underneath. I’d also appreciate a heads up if you find any broken links. Follow me for future updates.

Mwah!

 

Wrap up of Doctor Who: Death in Heaven

Death in Heaven

Steven Moffat

SPOILERS SWEETIE … don’t read until you’ve watched…

The Phoenix must rise from the ashes.

Untitled 7

The finale was bittersweet, reaching a little too far over into bitter. Yes, it was beautifully done… there were powerful moments, whizz-bangs, bananas in airplanes, amazing speeches, rushed revelations, and deluxe action bombardments. Yes! Flying Cybermen are like bow-ties – cool! Okay maybe not as cool as Osgood’s actual bow-tie… Cyberman arms coming out of graves – Thriller! But much of the motivation was lost in exposition overshadowed by events.

As far as finales go, it had thrills, and needed another viewing just to get my head around it… but the problem is I found watching it a second time more depressing than the first. I’ve felt flat for days. We have answers, unmet expectations, barely satisfactory endings, and friendships destroyed by lies.

EyesWhat I loved about it was, it started on a high note and it was compelling all the way through… Jenna Coleman billed first in the credits, with her eyes in the name… there’s the eye symbolism again! Clara as the Doctor – wouldn’t that have been an excellent plot twist? Yes, I can understand why they didn’t – the fans would have hated it – but for a moment it was fun. For a moment it was plausible… and come to think of it, it wasn’t disproven – unless you consider Clara doesn’t recognise Missy – but then neither did the Doctor until Missy told him… for all Danny knew, Clara could very well have been a Time Lord under a spell of a technology induced amnesia from Missy, and not known it. But somehow I doubt it.

The eyes were symbolic of Missy watching them, and the theme repeated in the eyes of the Cybermen. Mirrors could represent the invisible portal between the real world and Missy’s virtual reality data cloud – which is still an interesting amazing concept. Reflection was wrapped up by the Doctor’s epiphany about being an idiot in a blue box when reflected against Missy’s madness. Lovely idea!

From a tarot point of view, the idiot is synonymous with the Fool – and when the Fool comes up in readings, the person (I’m reading for) is usually about to embark on a life journey, heading toward a new circumstance… It is the zero card in the deck and it’s fitting that this is the mantle of the current Doctor, considering he’s come full circle in his life cycle and like the aged phoenix, must succumb to its fate.

Clara Oswald never existedClara is an uncomfortably convincing Doctor Liar, loyal to the Doctor, champion of Cyber-Danny, and uses the sonic screw-driver (as the Doctor would have instead, if he’d agreed with what she was doing anyway…) to switch Danny’s inhibitor off.

What I found odd was she showed not an iota of recognition of Missy. There were no scenes of Clara and Missy interacting to give any sense of the back story. At the end Clara seems none the wiser that Missy was the one that brought and kept her and the Doctor together.

“Old friend is she? if you have ever let this creature live, everything that ever happened today is on you. All of it, on YOU.”

Some of the best parts were in the overarching messages like the conclusion drawn about soldiers, and their service and sacrifice, plus the power of love. There was poignancy that the finale occurred the day before Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day – and with all the lives lost in (just) WW1 represented at Tower Hill in the form of ceramic poppies – this is a particularly significant year of remembrance – 100 years since then (and we still haven’t stopped, which makes the message so current). The Brigadier saving Kate was a nice touch, a way to say goodbye to a key character throughout the classics.

hugDanny’s point about the General (Doctor, President of the World) not getting his hands dirty, was also on point as Clara pointed the sonic screwdriver at him, and he excellently tied up that repeating theme – casting more shade on the Doctor. Danny’s scene was easily the best part of this episode – his speech about the dead watching over the living is really heartfelt, and I was sad he didn’t make it.

Yes, I’m a firm believer in love making world go around, and it being the secret ingredient differentiating between madness and purpose – and loved the Doctor’s “I’m an idiot” speech.

The cinematography was spot-on – how gloomy was that high contrast, de-saturated light darkening the graveyard? The music worked well, the story had parallels with the first, and the hour passed quickly.

Paradise!
“Paradise!”

Missy secretly operating behind the scenes like Mistress Mephistopheles is a lot more terrifying than anything her global Cyberman Army plan actually delivers. I didn’t find the Cybermen particularly threatening despite their new abilities. It all seemed to wrap up too easily – without any fuss at all. There was no indication about any deal Missy might have struck with the Cybermen and I still think Borg are infinitely more terrifying than these metal men.

I am a little disappointed in the Doctor – for all his epiphanies I don’t really think he’s grown that much. He had no excuse to be ill-prepared. He’s been talking about the woman in the shop all season, he’s seen the hints and the signs for ages – I’d expected more readiness… Instead of doing maths on the blackboard all the time, why didn’t he ever go and investigate what was going on? It’s not as if he doesn’t have a bloody time machine and all the time in the world on his hands!

salute brigadierThere is something just mentally unhinged about Missy’s mind as it plots a ridiculous, nonsensical plan over centuries – selecting his ideal companion for him (how, when, where?) enacting the end game at the point of Danny’s death. Toying with the new arrivals, raising the dead, weaponising them… but giving them to the one person in the universe that hates armies the most… as a birthday present? Really? I think a madman is more likely to want to play live chess with two armies – one army consisting of all the fallen that died around the Doctor, and the rest for Missy – that would have given the emotional inhibitor a better function. (On for Missy’s soldiers, Off for the Doctors) … anyway bygones.

And as for the boy… it’s a logistical nightmare… What’s Clara supposed to do with him now – call Afghanistan? Send some Tweets? Put his picture on Facebook? Get herself on every watch-list for showing an unusual interest in the place? It would probably have been better for Danny to send a transmission, and for them to have one last meaningful conversation… make up something like he’s going to stay with the boy as the last of the consciousnesses dwindle in the afterlife.

It’s amazing how much a television show with fictional characters can garner so much emotional investment, and when it falls short (which up until now, it hasn’t) the disappointment is almost crushing. Perhaps it’s just that I just hate it when “friendships” turn out to be “endships” .. And, in that case, this was realistically done — until Christmas. Maybe.

They’re both dicks.

Above the clouds

Unfortunately some of these opportunities can not easily come again, but perhaps in the fullness of time, we’ll be able to watch it with the added light of future episodes, and it might not be as anticlimactic as it was at first showing. My biggest issue with “Death in Heaven” is ALL that beautiful build-up, was the best part of the season, wasn’t revealed as effectively as it could have been. It needed small touches of other details to remove some of the shade from the ending, which has left a depressing abyss between now and Christmas.

6.75/10

Doctor Who: Thought morass before the big reveal

eyeThis season has been the most enjoyable ever (for me anyway), and I think when Christmas is done and the special shown, I’ll have to go back to previous ones just to see if this is an accurate belief, or an immediate side-effect of watching this broadcast legend brought to life by the world watching and commentating.

Telepathic interfaceAll along, we’ve been swept away, tumbled about for a bit, floating along in the air – a bit like Clara’s leaf. Our Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Teacher (Jenna Coleman) masterfully play off, challenge, and support one another – they are a dynamic duo.

Having knocked about with the Doctor and Clara, we’ve seen intriguing role-swapping, reflecting, and tightrope walking along the invisible threads that link with our current cultural narrative, Season 8 has touched on very relevant themes like battle, soldiers, history, humanity, our world (let’s take a deep breath now) our attitudes, and fears about death, the truth (whatever that happens to be), the qualities of goodness, lies, lies and damned lies, puddingheads, jobsworths, and so on.

Robot of Sherwood” was edited (and I think it suffered as a result) because of its similarity with recent events and fears of causing offence, and “Dark Water” has truly offended the closely regarded sensibilities of many people who hold death in as sacred a regard, as life. My view for whatever it’s worth is I’m not afraid of death – having lost someone dear to me twenty years ago I’ve long made peace with it’s inevitability and grace – I don’t invite it, but I don’t fear it either. I’ll discover what it’s like the same way everybody else does. In death we are all equal, and fear is a super power. Nevertheless, it was upsetting for many people’s sensibilities, it says a lot about how invested in the show people are, and it’s arguably comparable to the reaction to the original broadcast of radio drama “War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells — but more intense in the spotlight.

MeditatingFor the Doctor, life got back to normal following his extended stay on Trenzalore, which seemed to create the necessary psychological distance between him and everybody – making way for the new (more alien) Doctor. And what a new Doctor Peter Capaldi is. He is perfect – and I don’t mean that in a superficial way. I mean his whole portrayal of the flaws and virtues of an indispensible and terrified Time Lord is flawless against the backdrop of great writing, editing, production, music that Season 8 has been.

Clara goofy DannyAs for Clara, her life was progressing nicely until it wasn’t – she had an exciting secret hobby that took her to places she’d never have seen otherwise, a quiet maths teacher with his feet firmly planted, teaching a nice bunch of kids in an inner city school. She’s been tested, challenged, stretched and has sprung back repeatedly, gaining character strength (Str +10 Int +5, Wis +5, Dex +10) over time.

Watching previous episodes – looking for hints that I might have missed or forgotten over these busy and exciting weeks, it’s incredible to watch his transformation occur in binge-watching mode. It’s like I said before, seeing an episode once the iron is off the fire and having a few more stories lining the memory banks is a very different experience to watching it for the first time in the white heat of the media forge.

I don’t really have any theories or expectations about tonight’s finale to an enlightening and epic run… hopefully closing some vital plot-holes…

All seems to be flowing into the pool that is “Dark Water”… and (hopefully) “Death in Heaven” will bring us some interesting conclusions, closure, and peace to the fearful. I’m holding onto the optimistic notes of “Kill the Moon” and “In the Forest of the Night” and trying not to assume the worst…

 

Keep going

A few notes on similarities I noticed between “Deep Breath” and “Dark Water” (If you can think of any more…)

Deep Breath: First words – Doctor says “Shush!”
Clara says, First words – Clara says “Shut-up!

Deep Breath: We begin story at Clara’s loss of the Doctor
Dark Water: We begin story at Clara’s loss of Danny Pink

Deep Breath: Clara keeps it all together in “Deep Breath
Dark Water: Clara falls apart in “Dark Water

Speculation
Will there be a parallel between the moment where the Doctor mourns for the death of the Dinosaur and something that happens in “Death in Heaven”, he says “She was scared and alone, I brought her here and look what they did.” It’s almost the kind of thing he might have an opportunity say about Clara in the Underworld.

Deep Breath: Coldness – the Doctor is cold in the biting London air
Dark Water: Coldness – Danny is cold in the Nethersphere

Deep Breath: The Ad in the newspaper
Dark Water: The Ad for 3W

Deep Breath: They’re surrounded by eating automaton
Dark Water: They’re surrounded by submerged cybermen

Deep Breath: They’re in a trap long before they notice
Dark Water: This feels like a trap…

Deep Breath: Harvesting organs
Dark Water: Harvesting the dead

Deep Breath: Robot turning itself into a man
Dark Water: Man being turned into a robot (Cyberman)

 

© Nicki Ki, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Initial (Interim) Verdict of Series 8: Episode 11: Doctor Who – Dark Water

Dark Water

Steven Moffat

SPOILERS SWEETIE – You know the drill…

Things have taken a dark, deep and devastating turn. Watching Clara’s (Jenna Coleman) relationship with Danny (Samuel Anderson) build over the season – the passage of time was well established if you were looking for the clues. We met young Rupert, then future Orson, and “In the Forest of the Night” where Clara chooses Danny over the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) we understand that Danny is the man Clara loves, the man she chooses to die with – if ever there was a need to make such a choice. If you missed the hints about the depth and duration their relationship, watch the season again – which is no hardship because it’s rich with detail, dense with clues, and is better every time.

All of this carried out when Clara tells Danny she loves him, and that he’s the last man that’ll ever hear those words from her again, and tragically these are the last words he’ll ever hear.

devastatedOh my!

Although we were all expecting something going wrong, the unexpected impact of this ton of rocks all happened before the credits was like the dream where I have a red carpet ripped out from under my feet by an Apache pursuing every cat in hell at once. This must be the most powerful intro all season, perhaps the hugest ever.

“Dark Water” is when the measure and integrity of this passionate, erratic, eclectic, brusque, eloquent Doctor is all out on the table – though if you told him he wouldn’t want to hear it, because he already knows all that. All season we’ve seen him and Clara in comparison, in parallel, and reflecting one another and although we could be mistaken into believing the two are similar, in her grief, Clara betrays him, and in return, he helps her with veiled humility – because he hasn’t time for all that other modesty pish-tosh.

"Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?"
“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

All season our Clara has been at the forefront of the action, but in her grief, she’s struck down, and desperate for a compensation of sorts. We’ve all been there at moments in our lives where the walls tumble down around us, and we’re left in a smoking pit of our own making, with no idea where to next. And because Clara is our weakened anchor, we the viewer are now at the mercy of our Doctor. A psychological sting sits in our subconscious as we feel Clara’s previous confidence drop away like a bowling ball in an abyss, as she’s faced with the terrible truth, and all it’s implications. She no longer has Danny to return to at the end of her dangerous adventure with the Doctor. What is that going to look like?

“That could change a man” – at this time these resounding words from Perkins ring with ‘universal truth’

All season the sets have been gorgeous… stylish, imaginative, detailed, with atmospheric lighting, painting a detailed tapestry that’s brought us to this point. The cinematography is just beautiful, and once again we’re delighted with a completely new place – one we’ve been anticipating since “Deep Breath” and although I had my own theories – I am not disappointed by the reality – or unreality so to speak.

I don’t know of many storylines that have so bravely explored the concepts of death, the afterlife, and the potential role our body plays in the underworld – Star Trek certainly did – but never so close to our world, culture, and reality. Ancient civilisations believed that what you accumulated in life would go with you in death (the Egyptians dedicated themselves to fully understanding the process of Death), but it’s more vivid when these notions are presented on screen within the hyper-real HD format, as opposed to dry history books that live only on library shelves into contentious perpetuity.

Dark water, and the technology, the afterlife, the premise – it was all completely unexpected and it seems almost flawlessly delivered… though I’m reserving comments until the analysis of both episodes is complete…

my heartI’m still trying to wrap my head around the Master is not John Simm. Missy is gorgeous, diabolical, whimsical, and madly terrifying. Michelle Gomez conveys her role with evil poise, grace and a wicked sense of humour. I loved the surreal moment in which Clara doesn’t know where to look, while Missy snogs him. If snogs are as big, wet and slobbery as the onomatopoeic connotations, this snog shamed all the rest.

I am heartbroken when Clara refuses to believe Danny is who he is. That his consciousness is still alive though his body isn’t. All his physical memories stored in his human brain, are separate from his conscious mind that now seems only to know terrible guilt, and deep love.

“All the graves on planet Earth are about to give birth.” Missy declares – freaking heck she’s a terrifying genius – she’s got all of John Simm’s nuances down pat with a whole lot more of her own added in. The only other comparable scary lady villain was Shirley Manson in Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Missy makes the villainous Shirley look like a puddy-laptat.

And we end on the cliff-hanger of the decade, as Cyberman Whoop-Ass is unleashed upon a blithely unsuspecting population, with the chilling observation bouncing around our skull cavities – mind-blown, system rebooting… “The dead outnumber the living…”

where did you get timelord techWill I admit that the thirteenth Doctor is the best one ever? Not yet… I’ll reserve judgement on that for now… but it’s one of those very rare times where I hope I’m not proven wrong.

I know it’ll all come right in the end, but how that looks is anyone’s guess. We still haven’t seen the scene where Clara utters the words, “Clara Oswald never existed” or where Danny elects to delete himself. It’s just clear that this “Promised Land” is a farcical representation of civility, fairness, and longevity masking the most evil of agendas – conveyed masterfully through its agent Seb (Chris Addison).

Dark Water” is the eleventh episode of the eighth series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who. The episode was written by showrunner and head writer Steven Moffat and is the first of a two-part story; the concluding episode is “Death in Heaven“, the finale of the eighth series. It was first broadcast on BBC One on 1 November 2014.

© Nicki Kirby , All Rights Reserved

Images copyright of the BBC ©