Be careful what you wish for…

Okay, it’s time for me to eat some humble pie. Or perhaps humble Codral would be more appropriate. Because – oh, what fun I had last week with my jokey little piece on swine flu, and my little list about what I’d read if I was confined to my home with an illness. Oh how pleased with myself I felt.

Well, guess what happened? That’s right, I’ve spent the past three days stuck in bed with a cold. It’s not actually swine flu, apparently, because I don’t have an elevated temperature. And I’m not sure how to feel about that – on the one hand, I’m obviously pleased that I’m probably not going to die. On the other, if I’d been one of the first fatalities, it would have really helped with promoting my book.

There’s another thing I didn’t consider. Oh sure, I thought – it’d be fun to be stuck at home, unable to go out because of possible flu contamination, if you were actually well. But if you have most of the symptoms, as I do, you don’t exactly get to partake of a full intellectual diet while stuck at home. For one thing, I’ve got a headache and watery eyes. Which has meant that I haven’t been able to read a thing since I’ve had this cold. I’m certainly not up to tackling Infinite Jest, which is hard enough to follow when my brain’s functioning normally.

My activities have been severely restricted Other than lying in bed and feeling sorry for myself, I only did three things over the weekend. The first was watching The West Wing, and fantasizing about a world in which the politicians’ speeches are actually eloquent because they were written by Aaron Sorkin. Secondly, I spent about four hours hours playing a game called Flight Control on my phone, the point of which is to make aeroplanes land on three different runways without crashing into one another. And let’s just say we can all be thankful that I’m not an air traffic controller. My  landing skills are roughly equivalent to Mohamed Atta’s.

The other thing I did was go and see Star Trek on Friday night. Sure, I probably infected most of the cinema while I was there, but it was worth it – at least for me, since I’d already caught had the cold. I’ve never been much of a Trekkie – while I like Patrick Stewart as Picard, most of the series is way too cheesy for my tastes. It’s hard to take Captain Kirk’s preaching about tolerance for other species seriously when he’s a) devoting most of his energy to trying to suck in his gut and b) the supposed other species is clearly just a dude in a lame rubber mask.

It looked good, and the cast is young and spunky – especially, I thought, Uhura, who featured in her underwear in a scene so gratuitous it could have come  from Underbelly. And, as those who’ve seen it can attest, she’s apparently got a thing for nerds! Woman of my dreams. Anyway, the main reason the new Trek is wowing everyone, with an extraordinary 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, is because it has a great story.

It’s sad that a tight, well-constructed plot is so rare in mainstream cinema, but Hollywood thinks nothing of putting tens of millions of dollars into special effects and approximately zero into developing a story. Or worse still, I imagine, they get promising scripts rewritten by a committee, until they’re leached of any spark of originality and you get movies like Quantum Of Solace, which have a few impressive action set-pieces linked by a dour plot and dialogue consisting largely of clichés. James Bond has beaten SPECTRE and Smersh dozens of times, but he seems powerless to resist the evil cabal of Hollywood script doctors.

This is very different from the novel-writing process. Sure, you get feedback. My novel was sent to an external editor who wrote a very thorough report detailing its flaws. There were quite a few, and I had to rewrite it extensively – which, since it was my first attempt writing a novel, was hardly surprising. But the rewrites were still completed using my own words. Even the copy edits were only ever suggestions which I got to approve. So the novel, for better or worse, is very much my own work.

And I think that’s where Hollywood so often goes wrong. Though other writers were apparently involved in the overall shape of the plot, every word of the first four  seasons of The West Wing was written by Aaron Sorkin, and that’s probably why they are so extraordinary. Sure, this process can backfire, as we saw with his subsequent series Studio 60. Very few writers always deliver gold. But good writers often do, whereas, compelling stories are almost never delivered by committee.

Similarly, this delightful blog post has been written entirely by me. Any bit you liked is due entirely to my own brilliance. Its deficiencies, though, I will blame entirely on my cold. I realise it’s been a bit random (although hey, that’s the name of the blog…) but that’s just how my brain works when it isn’t feeling terribly well.

Alright, it’s time I returned to today’s primary activity, air traffic control. Those computer-generated planes aren’t going to land themselves. And seriously, I’d consider wearing one of those face masks, no matter how dorky it looks. You don’t want to catch whatever I’ve got.

This post originally appeared on the Random House Australia blog.

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One Response to Be careful what you wish for…

  1. What Billable Hours 31 May 2009 at 11:47 am #

    As far as sick-bed entertainment goes, I’d recommend sourcing some graduate recruitment material from accounting and law firms. They’re apt to feature the fresh-faced on pogo-sticks and the like alongside bogus diaries detailing invigorating days at the coal face. The absurdity of it all lifts one’s spirits no end.

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