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One of my favourite directors.
Two of my favourite actors.
Amazing visuals that deserve to be seen on the big screen.
A fantastic score by my favourite movie composer.
One of the most inspiring true stories in military history.
And yet, despite the stakes involves, the soaring score by Hans Zimmer, Christopher “Batman” Nolan at the helm and Tom “Bane” Hardy and Mark “Wolf Hall” Rylance in the cast, Dunkirk left me cold.
Hey, I love war movies. God knows how many times I’ve seen 300. Or Inception and Nolan’s Batman trilogy in its entirety, for that manner. I’ve even written two military thrillers, one of which I published just one week ago.
So I like the subject material and the director.
I wanted to like Dunkirk more.
It took me a while to figure out why I didn’t, but I finally have the answer. (Not seen Dunkirk or don’t want any spoilers? Stop reading now.)
The answer: emotional content and context.
Because you never see the enemy.
Not in the face.
And because of the nature of the violence involved.
There is a direct dynamic between the distance between the person trying to kill you and the emotional impact involved. The closer the person, the more “personal” it feels. The closer they are, the more it feels like they’ve got it in for you. That they want to harm you … you specifically, not some anonymous figure in the trenches or on the beach.
(That’s kind of the reason why Freddie and Jason and all those close-quarter maniacs are so scary. They’ve got in it for you personally. More people die from heart disease or accidents but it’s the terrorist or lone gunman, seeking us out personally to inflict violence, that we fear.)
Close-range violence is the most personal. From all reports, that is the most traumatic distance – for both the person being targeted and the person trying to inflict the damage (because most humans have an instinctive aversion to harming and killing others).
By hand or knife is the most personal.
Followed by close-quarter gunshot or other weapon.
Then short-distance shooting.
Then the more impersonal mortar rounds or shelling.
Then say torpedoes, and, finally, long-distance aerial bombing.
Virtually all of the danger in Dunkirk comes from the Luftwaffe, from their fighters and their bombers.
The first attacks inspire a sense of dread, of the sense of being trapped in a hopeless situation where survival was a victory in itself.
And then, somehow, the violence becomes somewhat impersonal.
Because it is delivered from a distance.
And we never see a German face.
We see the terrified faces of the Tommies on the beach. We feel for them as bombs drop on ships full of troops. We hope they escape the treacherous, freezing water.
But we have no such emotional investment in the enemy. For emotional content, the enemy needs to be close. And it needs a human face.
I love Nolan and everything he’s done way back since Memento. And I realise that Nolan would have had to change history to give me what I want. I realise he wanted to keep things as historically accurate as possible: putting German faces in might just not have been feasible.
Dunkirk is a worthy addition for your DVD collection.
But my go-to war movie will probably remain Saving Private Ryan. It is a film full of emotional content. The first 20 minutes? Mindblowing.
We see the Germans’s faces: we see them battle in close quarters: we even see glimpses of courage and humanity from them. They are a fully realised enemy.
Plus it has Tom Hanks.

My new thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

We miss Don … the man, the myth, the enigma.
We miss meeting all of Don’s interesting women.
We miss living vicariously through him.
We miss the way Don could make any suit look amazing with that Cadillac body of his.
We miss Don’s long lunches, late breakfasts and the way he would leave the office whenever he wanted (and wish we could do it, too).
We miss his amazing ad pitches that could make even coffee copy seem like Homer.
We miss Don’s long-suffering secretaries, all the way from Peggy through to Miss Blankenship and beyond.
We miss the drinking in the office.
We miss the sex in the office.
We miss the sex outside the office.
We miss all those interesting books in the show – Exodus, Meditations In An Emergency, Atlas Shrugged, Rosemary’s Baby, Confessions Of An Advertising Man.
We miss the show’s searing indictment of the era’s racial and sexual politics.
We miss how Mad Men signposted so many important moments in American history: the Civil Rights freedom rides, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, the moon landing … Tab.
We miss Roger Sterling’s joie de vivre, his bon mots and his self-published book, Sterling’s Gold.
We miss that classic opening sequence.
We miss the cracking dialogue.
We miss the Old Fashioneds, Gimlets, Manhattans and Whiskey Sours.
We miss the painstakingly historically accurate sets.
We miss the clothes.
We miss the hair (but not Roger’s moustache).
We miss an era where everyone wasn’t constantly checking their iPhones.
We miss Peggy and watching her grow from shy young secretary to kick-ass copy chief.
We miss the inimitable Joan (and wonder why Don and Joan never hooked up … what a dream couple that would’ve made).
We miss the strange things out of the blue like Zou Bisou Bisou, Joan playing the accordion and ad men having their feet run over by indoor tractors.
We miss Chauncey more than we’ll miss Duck.
We miss Sally – but remain grateful we watched her blossom into an incredible young woman.
We miss Betty in so many ways.
We miss Burt Cooper and his epic dancing farewell.
We miss Pete … and always remember the time he tried to exchange that “chip and dip”.
We particularly miss the gallant Englishman Lane.
We miss Salvatore and wonder why the producers never brought him back.
We miss the way Don’s journey was a microcosm of a changing America – and how many (including Don) came to question the myths at the heart of the American capitalistic dream.
We miss trying to unravel the mystery of Don’s heart.
We miss Madison Avenue.
We just miss it all.

My new thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out as an ebook and paperback.

I came across an interesting quote from American TV host Bill Maher today.
Berating the addictive power of social media, he called social media tycoons “tobacco farmers in T-shirts”.
“Let’s face it,” Maher says. “Checking your likes is the new smoking.”
He raises an interesting point.
It also reminds me of the difference between the older journalists and the newer hacks of my generation and those behind me.
Many old-style legends of journalism had little more tertiary education than the School of Hard Knocks (or a Doctorate at the College of Life, with a minor in Wisdom from the Bottom of a Bottle). Joseph Pulitzer didn’t speak Bahasa Indonesian or Cantonese, or know how to use Photoshop.
Yet during my generation, the days of the high school dropout working his or her way up from copy boy to editor were long gone. To be even considered for selection at top institutions you needed at least one “good” degree … preferably in Mass Communications and not something like 19th-century French poetry (Groundhog Day reference!).  Some candidates spoke second languages or had two or more degrees (Arts/Law was common). And at least one I knew of received a perfect score in the HSC.
(Part of the reason there were so many budding brainiacs in the intake pool were the unnecessarily high marks required to get into journalism degrees. It was supply and demand: so many people wanted to do the courses the entry scores required were on a par with law.)
Still, the essential qualities required of journalists haven’t changed too much since Pulitzer’s era. They include perseverance; learning how to keep a conversation flowing; knowing how to make contacts; developing news “instincts”; keeping deadlines; and knowing when to listen. Maybe even having the gift of the gab.
And the other differences between scribes old and new? The young ones dressed different: less suit and ties and more smart casual, mobile phones in their top pockets instead of pens. Hats had mercifully gone by the wayside – with or without the “press” tag stuffed jauntily in the brim.
But back to my central argument and the key point of difference between the old and new generations. It was indeed one of addiction.
Pulitzer might have been a smoker along with most men of his generation, toasting his T-zones with that sweet, sweet nicotine, but you didn’t catch many of the younger folk out of the front of the building with the rest of the gaspers.
No, their addictive form of time wasting was the internet.
If you see a young journo today out the front of their building – or, in fact, just about any Gen X-Y worker – odds are they don’t have a Winnie Blue or rolled-up Champion Ruby in their hand: they’ve got an iPhone.
You won’t see a Surgeon General’s warning on those iPhones. Yet in a more surreptitious way, social media has become just as addictive as smoking.
Pass a bus stop and you’ll probably see half the people on their iPhones. At lunchtime – and many times in between – people at their computers check Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, checking those “likes” Bill Maher warned about.
Depending on your perspective, social media is either a vital, pleasurable way of keeping in touch with friends and the world … or a time waster.
And if people are now filling their hands and their spare time with iPhones instead of cigarettes – and aren’t exactly sure why they’re so compelled to do so every half an hour so their brain gets that little dopamine hit – perhaps it’s time for us to be honest about it.
Maybe the veritable “smoko” should become a “social media smoko”.
Let staff take the time that used to be reserved for smoking to access their social media feeds.
Thus sated, they can go about their regular work.
Until it’s time to check for those “likes” again.

Hey, I’m just throwing it out there. But do you think it’s a good idea? Comment below!

My new thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

“You said Moira had the baby but you didn’t use an exclamation point.”
“So?”
“I just found it curious.”
“What’s so curious about it?”
“Well, if one of your close friends had a baby I’d use an exclamation point.”
Seinfeld, The Sniffing Accountant

I’ve been thinking a lot about exclamation points (or marks) lately.
I was reading a thriller by a male writer when a single exclamation mark leapt out at me. It was to punctuate the fact that someone had just been fatally shot – surely, like the baby news of Elaine’s friend from Seinfeld, an event worthy of an exclamation mark.
Yet I sometimes wonder how – and why – the exclamation mark has crept into modern discourse … and whether it truly belongs there.
Certainly, Elmore Leonard would agree with me: in his book the 10 Rules of Writing, he once said, “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” He kept his word (or words), too: in 45 novels, he used 49 exclamations per 100,000 words. Contrast that with James Joyce, who plastered – festooned, even!!! – his three novels with thousands of exclamation marks.
Perhaps there is one rule for writers of gritty crime fiction such as Get Shorty: another for authors of indulgent stream-of-consciousness odes like Ulysses.
Writer Tom Ewing was onto something when he said the exclamation mark was a “kind of textual fluttering of eyelashes”: another arrow in the quiver of the writer to grab the attention of the reader.
And today’s social media-obsessed world is all about those eyeballs. We’re desperate for clicks and tweets and shares.
As Neil Postman posited in his seminal work Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business, we’ve become a visual rather than a literate society.
He discussed this idea decades before everyone started expressing their emotions with gifs and memes and emojis rather than words, but he was on the right track.
The old rules of grammar and punctuation are disappearing.
Words have lost their primacy: the visual is all.
And no punctuation mark is more visual than the exclamation mark.
Today, there is no escaping them. You use them every day. So do I.
How often do we tell someone to “have a great day!” on social media? Or type “OMG!!!”? Or describe a meal or a person or a TV show as “amazing!”?
Why, sometimes we just type “(!)”.
To not use exclamation marks on social media is to suggest we are as emotionally dead inside as Elaine’s soon-to-be-ex boyfriend Jake.
On social media, we are all James Joyce.
Personally, I feel the Joycean use of exclamation marks outside of social media to be intemperate: to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “like laughing at your own joke”.
For me, the exclamation mark is the literary equivalent of the apocryphal “Millennial Participation Award”, where everyone gets a prize regardless of achievement or merit.
Verily, it is the Seinfeldian “puffy shirt” of punctuation.
In print, exclamation marks should be banished to the realms of children’s books, comics and Hansard records. To see them in serious works is an inky dagger thrust into my soul.
Perhaps there is a reason why exclamation marks are known as “dog’s dicks” in journalism, an unwanted sight to be marked and removed by the sub-editor’s red pen.
One can forgive the occasional act of Joycean exuberance in papers – such as the Japan Times & Advertiser’s headline of December 8 that “War is On!” after Pearl Harbor or the San Francisco Chronicle emoting that “Japan Hit By Atom Bomb — Mightiest Weapon In History!”
Yetr more preferable is the sober restraint of The New York Times’s headline “Men Walk On Moon”.
If the fact that we slipped the surly bonds of Earth to explore our universe didn’t deserve exclamation marks, then maybe Moira’s baby announcement didn’t warrant one, either.

My new thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is available as an ebook and paperback!

  1. Sam discovers why they call it the Game Of Thrones
  2. Or is GoT secretly all about climate change?
  3. We now know where Ed Sheeran has been hiding since he quit Twitter
  4. Serial killer Arya wins the Game Of Memes
  5. Cersei continues to pioneer the bowl cut
  6. Sansa is becoming Cersei (without the binge drinking)
  7. The Hound is still calling everyone *****
  8. Are Tormund and Brienne (“Bormund?”) going to be a thing?
  9. Dany slays with a single line
  10. Secret Harry Potter reference

    My new book Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

  1. Avoiding all human contact between the hours of 9am and 5pm
  2. Leaving the terse note, “If you leak GoT spoilers today YOU’RE DEAD TO ME” on Facebook and Twitter
  3. Refusing to discuss anything online except how the new Doctor Who is a woman
  4. Compiling lists
  5. Refusing to come to the door for delivermen, policemen, firemen or holy men, even if they tell me that they have an advance proof of George R.R. Martin’s Winds Of Winter/an axe maniac is the area/my house is on fire/my immortal soul is at peril
  6. Holding my breath like a petulant child
  7. If I somehow come in contact with a human,  deploying an air horn when they say “The Game Of Thrones premiere was brutal, dude! Did you see what happened to …”
  8. If I come in contact with two humans and they tear the air horn away, put my hands on my ears and shout “la la la, I’m not listening”
  9. Put my mobile in the freezer
  10. Hiding out with the Amish like Harrison Ford in Witness 

    My new thriller is now available here and here.