Friday, December 31, 2010

F451: the Playboy Connection

Fahrenheit 451 was originally serialised in the earliest issues of Playboy magazine in the 1950s. Ray Bradbury's short stories also found a home in the magazine from the 1950s onwards. Given Bradbury's somewhat wholesome image - this is the man whose stories are taught in schools all across the US, after all - it may be surprising that he should be associated with the Hefner empire. However, Bradbury and Hefner have been good friends for decades.

Earlier this year, Bradbury and Hefner appeared together and talked about the F451-Playboy connection for the Writer's Guild of America, West. Here is the video of their discussion.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There Will Come Soft Rains, Bradbury Speaks

In 1976 there was a modest BBC Radio adaptation of Bradbury's Martian Chronicles story "There Will Come Soft Rains". It combined simple reading and performance with some remarkable creative audio effects, and remains one of the most effective Bradbury media adaptations.

Until recently, all I knew about the production barely filled a couple of paragraphs, as you can see from my page about the programme. Even the BBC Written Archives - one of my favourite places for doing research - was unable to help me find more information, for the simple reason that they only make pre-1970 files available to researchers.

Now, to the rescue comes Dave Tompkins. His new book How to Wreck a Nice Beach tells the story of the Vocoder, a legendary piece of studio equipment that allowed the human voice to modulate a non-human sound, producing a variety of otherworldly effects. Without the Vocoder, BBC science fiction productions of the 1970s and onwards would have been much more mundane.

Dave has a blog to accompany the book. He has also given permission to publish a lengthy extract from the book, which details the making of "There Will Come Soft Rains". He was in contact with the show's producer Malcolm Clarke before Malcolm's untimely death, and had access to some of Clarke's out-takes and experiments for the production.

On YouTube, CBC has posted a film of Bradbury speaking about his ideas in 1969. It's from the time of the making of the film The Illustrated Man - and it is probably excerpted from the "making of" featurette for the film, which is available on some DVD versions (I say "probably" because (a) I recognise it from somewhere but (b) haven't had time to compare it to the DVD featurette!). Here's the clip:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Seasons Greetings - and recalling Bradbury's 90th

Merry Christmas!

It may be snowing and cold outside, but I like to think back to warmer days.

So here - at last! - are my photos from my 2010 trip to California to attend Ray Bradbury's 90th birthday.

Click on the picture to start the slide show

Unfortunately I wasn't able to stay in LA for the other events of Ray Bradbury Week, so I was quite pleased that the official proclamation of Ray Bradbury Week by the City Council was captured on video:

Part one --- Part two

In the interests of democracy, the LA City Council have the record of voting on the proclamation online, as well as the official resolution.

And finally... although Bradbury is more associated with Halloween than he is with Christmas, Sue Granquist on Black Gate: Adventures in Fantasy Literature reminds us of Bradbury's great Christmas short story "The Wish".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Falling Upward - Stage Matters - Radio

Falling Upward is Ray Bradbury's play based on his experiences of Ireland in the 1950s. It was last staged in 2009, and the website for that production is still around. There is more archived web coverage of a 2007 run, including press reviews of the play, here.

Also still around - although it took me a lot of creative Googling to track it down - is a 2009 podcast from the series This Way Out: the International Lesbian & Gay Magazine which features Bradbury talking about the play and its inspiration.

The episode is too old to still be offered directly by the This Way Out online archive, but I tracked down a copy on The A-Infos Radio Project: details of the programme and download links are here. (The Bradbury feature begins 46 minutes into the episode.)

Theatre is obviously very important to Bradbury. He has written plays from the 1940s onwards. He voices his enthusiasm for the stage in the opening few minutes of a new short video called Stage Matters, a production of the Theatre Communications Group.

Speaking of radio, I see that Colonial Radio Theatre - producers of award-winning adaptations of Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes - have been busy with recording sessions for their new production: Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Connections, Foreword, Echoes

One of the blogs I look at regularly is Lee Goldberg's A Writer's Life. Goldberg is the successful writer and TV producer, perhaps best known for his Monk series, but with credits as long as both your arms.

His mother, who died earlier this year, was Jan Curran. Curran was also a writer, a journalist who worked as a society editor for The Desert Sun and Palm Springs Life.

In a recent post, Goldberg presented some scans of his mom's photos, showing her with various celebrities she had encountered. Which brings us to the Bradbury connection.

I just spotted a new(ish) book with a new foreword by Ray Bradbury. Bound to Last from DaCapo press sees 25 (or 30, depending on whether you believe the blurb or the photo of the book's cover...) writers discussing the books that mean the most to them. Details are here.

Sam Weller, Bradbury's official biographer and author of Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews has revitalised his blog of late as a kind of festive treat. Recent posts have included appreciations of key Bradbury short stories and - most interesting of all - a number of interesting items from the archives. If you haven't visited lately, it's well worth the trip: click here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

You know, the science fiction writer...

How many times must it be said? Yes, Ray Bradbury has written some science fiction, but he has also written some horror, some fantasy, some crime fiction, some realist fiction, some essays, some plays, some poems and some film scripts.

So why do people persist in calling him a science fiction writer? Or worse still, a sci-fi writer?

The answer, I suppose, is that his first book from a mainstream publisher was The Martian Chronicles in 1950. Said publisher slapped a "science fiction" label on the book. Bradbury protested, but was evidently unable to shake off the description, and has continued to fail to shake it off ever since.

Bradbury rightly points out that Chronicles isn't even science fiction: it's out and out fantasy. The difference - in Bradbury's view, and in my own view - is that fantasy is impossible, whereas science fiction is at least vaguely possible. Bradbury claims his only true science fiction book is Fahrenheit 451, and he is probably right.

There are other ways of looking at it, though. The label attached to writer will often be influenced by the circles s/he moves in. It is true that Bradbury closely associated himself with the science fiction field at certain times in his career, and for a number of years much of his short story output was focused on the science fiction pulps. However, this was way back in the 1940s, and you might think that he might have escaped from that field in the sixty-odd years that have elapsed since.

The reason I bring this up is an otherwise interesting summary of one small reading group's reaction to Something Wicked This Way Comes. This book, you may be aware, is a fantasy story set around an evil carnival that arrives in a small American town in the 1920s. It is not science fiction, not even by the hugest stretch of the imagination. And yet the Journal Standard reports that some readers struggled with the book. Because. They. Don't. Like... Sci.Fi.

Amazing! Read all about it here.

A rather odd piece of video has appeared on DailyMotion. Recorded in Bergamo, Italy in 2000 it captures an interview with the writer Robert Sheckley and a video conference call by Ray Bradbury. Unfortunately, the sound is very poor. I find it almost impossible to hear anything Bradbury says.

In the frame grab (left), Bradbury is on the big screen while Sheckley sits on stage on the right hand side. Bradbury first appears around 39 minutes in. You can see the whole thing here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bradbury 13, Sherwood Anderson, F451, SWTWC

I was pleased to discover that there is another blogger out there who has an enthusiasm for Bradbury 13, the Mike McDonough-produced radio series from the 1980s which was first broadcast on National Public Radio.

The blog Such a Sew and Sew has a couple of posts about individual episodes, and looks set to review all thirteen shows. It also has welcome links for (legal) downloads of the shows and places to buy the (legal) CD version.

My own page about the show is here, and tells the behind-the-scenes story of the making of the series with exclusive photos from producer McDonough.

One of Bradbury's influences - revealing itself in both The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine - was Sherwood Anderson's novel Winesburg, Ohio. It seems that there is a new film adaptation of Winesburg coming soon, although the action is shifted to the city of Chicago, giving the film its title Chicago Heights. Read about the film here.

Creature Features has posted some images of Bradbury signing copies of the Laserdisc (yes, Laserdisc!) edition of Something Wicked This Way Comes from 1996. See the photos here. Before you chortle too much about Laserdisc, that antiquarian format, please remember that the Laserdisc of SWTWC carried audio commentaries - unlike the DVD edition, which comes with not a single extra feature!

Finally - and you may have already seen this one, as it is all over the blogosphere - some designer has come up with a marvellous fixture that every home should have. It seems to combine the best elements of a roaring fireplace and a convenient bookshelf. You, too, could have Fahrenheit 451 in your own living room. Details here, and a picture here:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Write 1 Sub 1

For those who are practitioners of creative writing - and especially those with ambitions to professional publication - Ray Bradbury's advice on how to write is priceless. Of course, in books such as Zen in the Art of Writing he talks mainly of his own experiences. But it shouldn't be forgotten that in his early career he was himself following advice and guidance from other industry professionals, and so his methods are founded on solid experience of writing for professional markets.

One of his techniques in the heyday of his magazine short-story selling - we're talking 1940s and 1950s - was to write a story a week and to send them out to magazine editors. And not just send them once, but keep them in circulation around the various publications. By the end of a year he would have 50 pieces of work doing the rounds; some would be accepted and published, others would circulate and finally come home to rest in a box of rejects.

This is not to say that he would just do a first draft and then send the story off. Bradbury frequently talks of his approach as "throw up in the morning, clean up at noon", meaning that you get your first draft on the page without any intellectualising, but then later return to the manuscript for carefully editing and re-writes.

Of course, there aren't nearly so many paying markets for short stories as there once were, but there is no doubt in my mind that Bradbury's idea of write, write, write until you get good at it is very sound advice. I have done some creative writing myself in the past - short stories and radio scripts in the 1980s and 1990s, screenplays in the 2000s - but have never had the time (or courage?) to live up to Bradbury's advice.

Now there is a new web challenge out there, inspired by Ray. Write 1 Sub 1 is a new blog which is essentially challenging writers to write and submit a new story every week for the whole of the year 2011. Its a terrific idea - but like some of the commenters on the blog, I'm afraid I will have to cry off this one and observe from the sidelines.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

New Graphic Novels Announced

Following on from the successful graphic novel adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, new graphic adaptations of Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes have been announced.

Chronicles is drawn by Dennis Calero. Something Wicked is drawn by Ron Wimberly. Both books are due out in May 2011 and are already available for pre-ordering from Amazon: MC here and SWTWC here.

There is more information at ICV2.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Palm Springs

With the UK weather as cold as it has been lately (below freezing for several days in a row this week), my thoughts turn to warmer places... Palm Springs, for one. I paid a brief visit to the place in the summer of 2008, and found it to be one of the hottest places I had ever been. The locals told me it wasn't usually that hot - it's a heatwave, they said. Fortunately, cooler air was to be found by taking the aerial tramway up into the mountains.

Oh yes, Bradbury. There is a Bradbury connection, as Ray Bradbury has a second home in Palm Springs. This blog post describes a series of Palm Springs encounters between Bradbury and one Eric G. Meeks. It sound like typical Ray, always keen to do what he can to meet fans and sign books.