Point of view shifts

I have heard it said many times that novelists should not shift point of views back and forth between characters within the same chapter.

Well, guess what? In my new novel Love vs Honour, I do exactly that.

To be fair, this advice is often good to adhere to, as jumping in between character points of view can be very confusing. But as long as it is done in an organic and above all coherent manner, there can be exceptions to this rule.

For example, Tolkien does this quite a bit in The Lord of the Rings. More recently, JK Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith) does this in her detective novel The Silkworm.

I made the decision to defy conventional wisdom because I wanted the two protagonists of the main narrative in Love vs Honour to have equal weight. It simply didn’t make sense for the reader to only be in one of their heads for the duration of any given chapter. Once the novel is released (see pre-order link below) readers can decide whether or not I was successful.

Here is the blurb from the back of Love vs Honour:

Two Religions. Two Deceptions. One Love.

When Johnny meets and falls in love with Sabina, their bond proves stronger than a teenage holiday fling.

Fearing the disapproval of their strict Christian and Islamic families, they undertake an elaborate deception to continue seeing one another. Johnny pretends to convert to Islam whilst Sabina pretends to covert to Christianity to appease their parents. 

But how long can this deception last before it unravels?

Love vs Honour is released on the 31st May on Kindle.

Print copies will be available from the 7th of June.

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

Film Review – Avengers: Age of Ultron

ultron_1

Cutting to the chase, based on one viewing I’d say Avengers: Age of Ultron is pretty much on a par with the first. Of course, it’s part of the bigger, increasingly diverse Marvel Universe, and therefore risks getting bogged down in endless references to previous stories and set-ups for subsequent films. Thankfully director Joss Whedon manages to make the movie a satisfying adventure in its own right, in the manner of previous Marvel pictures.

The eponymous Ultron (James Spader) is an artificially intelligent robotic being created by Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), built to defend the Earth from threats. Unfortunately when Ultron sees all humans as a threat, things get very messy very quickly. As well as facing a tremendous, nigh-on impossible to defeat enemy, the presence of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) complicates matters for our heroes. Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) Bruce Banner aka Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) all have their work cut out trying to dig their way out of Tony Stark’s mess.

The cast are all on fine form, and I was particularly pleased to see Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye get a much better crack of the whip this time round. There are a number of fun cameos featuring characters from the other Marvel films that I won’t spoil. There are also a couple of other new characters, especially the mysterious Vision (Paul Bettany), that open up fascinating possibilities in the upcoming two part Infinity War Avengers films (due in 2018 and 2019).

Whedon scripts and directs with wit and flair, generating good laughs amid the mayhem, whilst darkening things slightly, but not too much. Some have argued that it isn’t quite as much fun as the first outing, which I disagree with. For one thing Ultron is a fantastic villain, and for another the special effects really are quite something, even in an age when spectacular computer generated images are a dime a dozen.

The strong, and I would argue unique and specific, morality that underpins the entire Marvel Universe (including its more grown-up manifestations, such as Netflix’s recent violent but gripping Daredevil series) is present and correct once again. Clear but not preachy themes of responsibility, courage, sacrifice, and obviously in this case the difficulties and dynamics of working in a group, echo the essential decency and humanity that always distinguished Stan Lee’s comics. Speaking of the great man, as usual Stan Lee has an amusing cameo.

The film is not without flaws. For one thing, certain sections appear to have been pared down rather too ruthlessly, rendering them all but incomprehensible. A baffling sequence involving Thor in a cave suffers particularly in this respect, and one can only hope any missing footage will be restored in subsequent DVD/Blu-Ray releases. However, all things considered, fans should find Avengers: Age of Ultron an exciting and satisfying experience.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | Leave a comment

Download The Birds Began to Sing FREE – for five days only!

For five days only, you can download my novel The Birds Began to Sing absolutely FREE from Amazon.

The Birds Began to Sing is a mystery novel inspired by the likes of Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with a dash of Susan Hill, the Bronte Sisters and Michael Crichton but hopefully also original in its own right (you decide). It is dedicated to my wife, who loves a gripping, page-turning thriller.

Here is the blurb from the back of The Birds Began to Sing:

When aspiring novelist Alice Darnell enters a competition to write the ending for an unfinished manuscript by late, world famous author Sasha Hawkins, it appears she might have her big break at last.

However, upon arrival at Sasha’s former home – the sinister Blackwood House – Alice is unsettled by peculiar competition rules, mysterious dreams and inexplicable ghostly visions. She begins to question her sanity as she is drawn into a terrifying web of deceit, revenge and murder.

Two reviewers at Barnes and Noble had this to say:

“Mystery, drama, conspiracy theory, and some supernatural intrigue. A real page turner!”

“I really enjoyed this. Really thought it was unique.”

And here are another two reviews from Amazon:

“This was really a great read and I loved the twist. Did not expect it at all.”

“An intriguing story, full of exciting twists and turns.”

Print copies are available to order here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/simon-dillon/the-birds-began-to-sing/paperback/product-21878694.html

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Film Review – The Salvation

salvation-3

Deliberately inviting comparison with the films of Sergio Leone is a dangerous game for any director to play, given how revered the great man’s films are amongst the likes of yours truly. Yet Kristian Levring recklessly throws caution to the wind in The Salvation, a solid, atmospheric western starring the wonderful Mads Mikkelsen.

Mikkelsen is an actor I have a lot of time for, mainly due to his roles in Casino Royale and A Royal Affair. Here he proves an excellent western lead, playing Danish immigrant Jon, a man trying to settle in America following the disastrous Danish war against the Germans. When his wife is raped and child killed, he exacts instant and deadly revenge on those responsible, but in the process attracts the ire of local landowning bigwig Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who happened to be brother to one of the killers.

As I mentioned already, Levring references Leone at several moments, but he just about manages to get away with this because his film is compelling enough in its own right. This isn’t just a Once upon a time in the West meets High Noon knock-off, but a brutal and beautiful piece of work that stands on its own two feet. It isn’t destined to be a classic, but it doesn’t need to be. It is, above all, a cracking, violent and satisfying revenge western in the time honoured tradition of the genre.

As well as Mikkelsen, the cast includes a clutch of decent supporting performances from the likes of the afore-mentioned Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eric Cantona, Jonathan Pryce, Douglas Henshall, Mikael Persbrandt and Eva Green. The music score by Kasper Winding also deserves a special mention. The only thing I really didn’t care for were some of the unconvincing CGI fires towards the end, but that is little more than nit-picking.

In summary, if you fancy watching Mads do what a man’s gotta do, The Salvation pretty much hits the spot.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | Leave a comment

Christian propaganda, and how to avoid it

I have written on this blog in the past about how much I dislike stories designed purely as propaganda. People with a political or religious axe to grind are particularly guilty in this respect, so here is a little insight into how I approach the problem. Like anyone else, I hold political and religious views. For instance, given that I am a Christian, how do I try and avoid making my writing sound “preachy”?

Firstly, I always bear in mind that a story is not a sermon or a political speech. I am not trying to convince anyone of anything, I am simply trying to tell a good story. That shouldn’t just be the primary goal. Really it should be the only goal. If a writer can do that, whatever they believe politically or spiritually will be inherent in the text in any case.

Second – and this is a point specifically for certain fellow Christians – because a story is not a sermon, it does not need to be “theologically accurate”. I am astonished at how many times Christians take issue with, for instance, supernatural stories, because “ghosts are really demons”. Or when they criticise depictions of an afterlife that doesn’t adhere to exactly what is written in the Bible. When confronted with such people, I normally ask if they can honestly say, with a straight face, that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has no moral or spiritual worth.

This problem is compounded for some Christians when sex and violence are added into the mix. Again, for me such aesthetics are merely tools that can be used well or badly. Besides, it’s always worth referring said Christians back to the Bible in any case, which has more than its fair share of bloodbaths and sexual encounters/imagery (I can think of quite a few “too much information” passages).

The important thing for a story is that it should be honest. Propaganda tales like to tie things up in neat bundles. For instance, a Christian propaganda novel often involves a very neat, sinner-gets-converted narrative, which frequently glosses over any sex/violence elements. It feels phony not just for that reason, but also because the reader knows the author’s purpose is to try and make converts.

When I wrote my upcoming novel, Love vs Honour, I wrote it for one reason alone: I thought it was a good story. It does examine both the Christian and Islamic faiths at various points, but I believe the treatment is even handed, and not what might be termed “preachy”. Whether or not I have succeeded is ultimately for readers to judge.

Love vs Honour is now available for pre-order from Amazon:

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

Two Religions. Two Deceptions. One Love.

When Johnny meets and falls in love with Sabina, their bond proves stronger than a teenage holiday fling.

Fearing the disapproval of their strict Christian and Islamic families, they undertake an elaborate deception to continue seeing one another. Johnny pretends to convert to Islam whilst Sabina pretends to covert to Christianity to appease their parents. 

But how long can this deception last before it unravels?

Love vs Honour is released on the 30th May on Kindle.

Print copies will be available from the 6th of June.

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

Film Review – Good Kill

ethan-hawke-in-good-kill

I always view any new film Andrew Niccol directs with interest, since he was responsible for The Truman Show and Gattaca (as writer and writer/director respectively). Good Kill, his latest, is every bit as fascinating, absorbing and relevant as his best work.

Niccol regular Ethan Hawke is terrific in the lead as Tom Egan, a drone pilot for the US air force – or, as detractors of the drone programme refer to it, ”chair force”. Set in 2010, and supposedly based on real events, the film is a chilling depiction of the psychological toll drone warfare takes on those pulling the triggers.

The first act, when drone strikes are carried out under the control of the military, is alarming enough. But at least the officers giving the orders, including Egan’s conflicted superior (the excellent Bruce Greenwood), try their hardest to avoid civilian casualties and target known combatants only. However, once the CIA get involved in act two, things get considerably murkier, with moral lines crossed with disturbing regularity. With no assurance that targets are military, and with CIA analysts speaking coldly of acceptable collateral damage, Egan comes to think what he is involved with is no better than terrorism.

One thing this film does very well is depict military personnel as three dimensional characters who question the morality of their actions, in spite of the fact that they know they have to follow orders. As one character puts it, “We aren’t here to argue whether or not this is a just war. For us, it’s just war”. The viewer however, is invited to think long and hard about the decisions taken by the CIA, who, in a stroke of genius by Niccol, are depicted as the menacing red light on a phone as they speak down the line on a conference call. In addition, there is something intriguingly detached and decidedly surreal in the way Egan drives back to his suburban Las Vegas home where his wife and children wait, after his daily routine of dropping bombs in other countries thousands of miles away. As a former F-16 pilot, Egan finds himself longing to actually fly and be in genuine harm’s way again, complaining that he feels like a coward.

I should probably add the usual warnings for strong language, as well as sexual violence (in a couple of horrifying scenes where drone pilots have no choice but to observe a Taliban rapist without taking any action), but none of it is gratuitous or out of context. Indeed, the way Egan doesn’t swear, in contrast to his comrades and commanding officer, is a revealing element of his bottled up character that becomes important as the plot unfolds.

All things considered, Good Kill is a gripping, dramatic and thought provoking piece of work.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | Leave a comment

Film Review – John Wick

cdn.indiewire.com

There are two ways I could review John Wick. The first is to call it an utterly ridiculous, cliché-ridden, excessively violent, meat-headed action movie that does nothing in particular to further the art of cinema. The second way is pretty much identical, but to add that it is an immensely entertaining guilty pleasure.

This is a slick, bloodthirsty, no-holds-barred revenge flick starring Keanu Reeves, playing the eponymous antihero. Grieving for his dead wife, ex-Russian mob muscle John Wick receives a further blow when the son of his former employer, not realising Wick’s major bad-ass credentials, breaks into his house, beats him up, kills his (extremely cute) puppy and steals his beloved mustang. At which point, Wick snaps and decides to get seriously Old Testament on his attacker, and woe betide anyone who stands in his way.

Of course, inevitably Wick’s former boss and a ton of heavies do stand in his way. Cue a lot of agreeably disreputable, crunchy, ketchup-splattery violence that will no doubt offend some (there’s a good deal of swearing too). However, fans of the genre will lap up director Chad Stahelski’s slick execution of various niftily choreographed set pieces, including a number involving Willem Dafoe’s hired sniper that play particularly well.

Keanu Reeves has always been an actor of limited range, but he is actually very good as Wick, and the film serves as a reminder that he was also well cast in action movies such as Point Break, Speed and The Matrix. Elsewhere the rest of the cast (including Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Adrianne Palicki and Michael Nyqvist) do their best with essentially one-dimensional roles, and the afore-mentioned clichés that come thick and fast. For instance, yet again, when Wick is at the mercy of the villain, audiences everywhere will wonder why the guy just doesn’t put a bullet in his head instead of wittering on about sharing common ground.

Ultimately this is rubbish, but it is very well put together rubbish. If your idea of a good time is Keanu Reeves exacting righteous vengeance on spoilt, puppy killing psychopathic Russian mobsters, you could do a lot worse than John Wick.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | 1 Comment

Love vs Honour – the cover

This May I am releasing a new novel entitled Love vs Honour.

LvsHonour 1600 x 2400

For the cover, my regular designer Charles Bown had a serious challenge. How to convey the mood of events in the book without giving away too much?

I had a number of discussions with Charles, and various options were considered, but many of the stronger ideas could not be used, again for fear of spoilers.

Ultimately, Charles proposed a monochrome, defocussed image with silhouettes on a beach. I am very pleased with the finished image.

The brighter area at the centre of the image with the silhouettes obviously speaks of the central romance, but the brooding sky at the top and the darker imagery beneath suggest the challenge to their relationship posed by their respective religious backgrounds. The monochrome also hints at the direction the story will ultimately take.

Charles was also the one to suggest a tagline – something I have never done before – to help sell the story alongside the image. The “Two Religions Two Deceptions One Love” tagline on the cover hopefully hints at the more dramatic elements that gradually build over the course of the novel. Although the story is a romance, it is far from straightforward, as indicated by the synopsis below.

Love vs Honour is available to pre-order from Amazon (see link below).

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

Two Religions. Two Deceptions. One Love.

When Johnny meets and falls in love with Sabina, their bond proves stronger than a teenage holiday fling.

Fearing the disapproval of their strict Christian and Islamic families, they undertake an elaborate deception to continue seeing one another. Johnny pretends to convert to Islam whilst Sabina pretends to covert to Christianity to appease their parents. 

But how long can this deception last before it unravels?

Love vs Honour is released on the 31st May on Kindle.

Print copies will be available from the 7th of June.

For a fuller interview with Charles Bown from last year, check out this link:

https://simondillonbooks.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/charles-bown-interview/

You can follow Charles on Twitter here:

https://twitter.com/federalcreative

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

For five days only – Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge FREE download!

For five days only, you can download my novel Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge absolutely FREE from Amazon.

Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge is a gripping and scary tale involving spies, monsters, haunted houses, mad scientists and lots more besides, with action and thrills to spare. It was actually inspired by the nightmares of my youngest son, and the book is duly dedicated to him.

Here is the blurb from the back of Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge:

September 1987.

Curiosity lands Tim Rawling in a world of secrets, spies and a desperate race against time.

The haunted house, the monster and the mad scientist are only the beginning of a terrifying adventure.

If you prefer to actually spend money and order print copies, they can be ordered here:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/simon-dillon/dr-gribbles-and-the-beast-of-blackthorn-lodge/paperback/product-21564790.html

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

Film Review – Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)

far-from-the-madding-crowd-original

I have been in love with John Schlesinger’s 1967 film of Far from the Madding Crowd ever since I first saw it in a shorter, panned and scanned VHS version when I was sixteen years old. Since then I have seen it several times in several formats, including a “compromised widescreen” print on the BBC and the completely uncut version in proper widescreen (my current DVD copy). But I had never seen it at the cinema, until tonight.

All I can say is wow. My cinematic bucket list now has another tick, and I have an excuse to write a rave review of what has always been a criminally underrated film. A new version of Far from the Madding Crowd starring Carey Mulligan is due for release soon, hence this reissue, but boy will Thomas Vinterberg have his work cut out trying to top Schlesinger’s vision.

The story, for those unfamiliar with the Thomas Hardy novel, concerns Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie), who inherits a large farm in 19th Century Dorset, and her profound effect on three very different men – Sergeant Frank Troy (Terence Stamp), down-to-earth sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates), and prosperous landowner William Boldwood (Peter Finch). It is a swooning, richly atmospheric tale of passion, lust, obsession and love with the shocking turns one expects from a Hardy epic of largely doomed romance.

All four main performances are magnificent (there were raised eyebrows over the casting of Christie at the time), Frederic Raphael’s screenplay captures the essence of Hardy with equal magnificence – which is not, as some mistakenly believe, all brooding misery. The darker elements of the story are seasoned with gentle moments of humour and humanity, and Schlesinger directs both the comic and tragic with brilliant subtlety and astonishing flair. Hugely memorable sequences include the storm after the harvest home, and when nature itself seems to weep for poor Fanny Robin. Actually that bit is directly followed by a hilarious scene involving a drunken labourer and some rather psychedelic cows, hence my earlier point about tragedy tempered with humour.

But the scene Far from the Madding Crowd is notorious for remains Troy’s display of swordsmanship as he woos Bathsheba. The scene – set memorably against Wiltshire’s eerie pre-Christian burial mounds – is simultaneously impressive, ridiculous (it is somewhat laughable) and erotic to a point that one is astonished the film passed with a U certificate. Stop sniggering at the back…

Cinematographer Nic Roeg captures the Wessex countryside in all its beauty, menace and melancholy, perfectly complimenting the equally melancholy subject matter. Roeg went on to direct classics including Walkabout and Don’t Look Now, but for me his contribution to this film remains a considerable gem in the crown of his career. The dirt-under-the-nails physicality of the imagery is also complimented by Richard Rodney Bennett’s music score and the authentic folk songs used to punctuate key points in the narrative.

All told, Far from the Madding Crowd remains an earthy, evocative, haunting dream of a film that really gets under the skin. Do catch it on the big screen if you possibly can.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | Leave a comment