TV Show of the Year 2018: Final Space

I had a few contenders for my TV Show of the Year. Both Bojak Horseman and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had new seasons, and there are always amazing new shows coming out. And then, right at the end of the year, The Haunting of Hill House came out and blew me away. I mean, I was and still am angry that it did the lazy thing of buying the rights of the book just to use the title to draw people in (it is nothing to do with the novel) but the series itself was amazing.

But in the end I’m picking Final Space as my TV Show of the Year 2018.

Final Space

This is one of those shows that surprises you. Like Bojak Horseman you go in expecting little more than a fun, lighthearted animation, but by the end of the first season you realise you’ve been tricked into watching something deep, filled with intelligent plot and complex characters.

If you give this show a go, you need to push through the first couple of episodes until the style clicks. At first the protagonist comes across as not as funny as he’s trying to be. A little too zany, seemingly throwing around jokes that don’t quite hit. By after a while you realise they’re not meant to be jokes. It’s not him doing a “bit”, but just his personality.

I’m not saying that it’s the greatest show ever. There have been ones this year that have been more complex, worthy, epic, or emotional. But Final Space gives an experience that subverts your expectations, making what you think will be a simple cartoon sci-fi programme and giving you character depth and plot complexity that you just weren’t expecting.

Plus, if you don’t fall in love with Moonpie then you have neither and heart nor a soul. And that’s just sad.

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I have a Moonpie cushion, because my wife knows how to buy good birthday gifts!

Make the effort, branch out, discover more

So once again International Women’s Day has snuck up on me. I always mean to plan ahead for days like this so I have something profound, interesting or inspirational to put up here. Luckily for me, I just happen to be in the middle of reading something from an author who is all three of those things. One who just happens to be a woman, and someone I discovered by purposefully going outside my comfort zone.

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A while ago, I released most of the books on my shelves were from white, male writers and that keeping my reading so restricted was going to be limiting my own growth as a writer.

My first step to rectify this was a simple internet search for women writing in horror. From just a quick browse, the name Shirley Jackson kept popping up. And so I picked up her horror story The Haunting of Hill House.

And, as anyone else who has read this book will understand, I was instantly smitten.

I’d don’t know any writer who can so expertly craft stories that remain so intimately personal the more the action unfolds. Her protagonists – at least in what I’ve read so far – feel fleshed out and real beyond most writers. Usually, when we read we don’t think about how the characters are just that; characters. As good as they are, we know deep down they are not, and our willing suspension of disbelief allows us to ignore this as long as they fit the story world. But Jackson creates entire characters that you feel you know and understand intimately. The action of the plot may be happening all around them, but all of it is shown through such a focused point of view that it’s hard not to feel that we are not literally watching through the character’s eyes. Her grasp of the isolation felt only while in the midst of other people is pitch perfect. I don’t know any other authors can so deftly express so much about how our lives are constrained by the world and the people around us like Shirley Jackson. If you know of any, please recommend them to me.

I’ve re-read The Haunting on Hill House several times now. It’s a massive influence on my current project. Every time I’ve been stuck I’ve used as an opportunity to read it once again, and every time I leave it with fresh ideas and inspiration. It’s one of those books that instantly leapt into my all time favourites. I could easily read it over and over without it ever getting dull.

I’m now reading this collection of her short fiction, and with each story I love her work all the more. I’ve heard so many things about how good The Lottery is, only the quality of the stories before it is stopping me skipping forward and reading it first (it’s the last one in the collection). Each story is a snapshot into a world reflected through the eyes of her protagonist. The theme of each one is both simple and complex, a stream running deeper than it appears.

So if you want to mark International Women’s Day by reading a kick-ass female writer, and you haven’t discovered her already, I can’t recommend Shirley Jackson enough.

And so let this be a lesson in the benefits of branching out and trying something outside of your comfort zone. I discovered one of my favourite authors through by recognising that my reading wasn’t diverse enough and making the effort to do something about it. Let’s ignore the underlying problem of why it wasn’t diverse for now, shall we – That’s an issue for a different post – and imagine what I still have to discover by just making an effort to try something different?

A little inspiration

I’m facing a bit of a creative block with the first draft of my next book. Not Writer’s Block – I have no problem putting words down onto the page – but rather a gap in my mind for where the story needs to go next. I have the first third written and I know how I’m planning on the story ending, but there is currently a large gap where the bulk of the second and third acts go.

I’m not completely bereft of ideas. I have set pieces that I’ve had in my head since the beginning. I’m simply stuck on how to work them in. Every time I sit down and try to think about it, I simply find myself staring into the vast gaps where something is missing with no idea of how to fill it.

So it’s inspiration time, and where else to go to inspire a writer working on a haunted house story – did I mention that my next book will be a haunted house story? – than one of the best; Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

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Alone in the world, Eleanor is delighted to take up Dr. Montague’s invitation to spend a summer in the mysterious Hill House. Joining them are Theodora, an artistic sensitive, and Luke, heir to the house. But what begins as a light-hearted experiment us swiftly proven to be a trip into their darkest nightmares, and an investigation that one of their number may not survive.

I discovered Shirley Jackson in a blog post I read a while ago about essential female horror writers. Sorry, I wish I still had the link as it had some good suggestions for writer you should all read. But this was one of them, and I’m passing it on to you all.

It’s hard to come up with a new Haunted house stories. After a childhood of Scooby-Doo, the entire sub-genre seems so clichéd, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good haunted house stories out there, or waiting to be written. Like any genre trope, all you need is (a) a new perspective, and (b) engaging characters the reader will care about. Jackson’s story has both of these. She created a truly chilling story that’s far more about the mind of her protagonist than the house itself, and that’s what I’m looking to emulate.

And what you also need – and would be very helpful to me at this point – is more of an idea of what’s going to happen in the second half of my story. Oh well, back to staring at my notes and trying to come up with something.