My current favourite podcasts

I’ve blogged about my favourite podcasts for writers before, but today I wanted to bang the drum for the other stuff I let into my earholes to on a weekly basis, and how it inspires me as a writer

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Ancient History Fangirl is a gleeful run through the ancient world’s most gory bits. Every fortnight Genn and Jenn regale us with tales of sieges, cannibalism, war elephants and flaming pigs used as munitions. Almost every episode I find myself taking notes for some future story. The presenters’ enthusiasm is infectious and they’re already developing a nice line in running gags and in-jokes.

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The Filmmakers’ Podcast (yes, I’ve added the apostrophe even if they’ve recklessly abandoned it) is essential for any aspiring filmmaker, especially if they live in the UK. The presenters, led by the very charismatic Giles Alderson have walked the walk in indie low-budget film and their passion shines through. A recent two-parter with actor Timothy Spall and director Stephen Cookson talking about how they developed the film Stanley, A Man of Variety is inspiring stuff and a great place to start.

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I probably look forward to my weekly dose of Smershpod more than any other, simply because of the number of times it has had me weeping with laughter when I’m supposed to be doing something constructive. Each week the wonderfully dry John Rain and a guest discuss either a Bond movie, or a movie with a tenuous connection to the Bond world. They’ve almost run out of Bond films (just Spectre to go), but my favourites have been the side episodes, with Meteor and Highlander being among my favourites, and I would not have discovered the classic horror flick Death Line (aka Raw Meat) were it not for Smershpod. Even if you hate Bond films (and a fair few of the guests do!) I would heartily recommend this weekly pleasure.

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If your memories of ’80s movies are all Goonies and Ghostbusters, then you’re in for a shock. In ‘80s All Over, presenters and esteemed film nerds Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg trawl through every US release in the 1980s month-by-month, a boy there was a ton of crap released back then. Each episode is thoroughly researched and full of surprises and forgotten gems that you’ll want to watch (only to find that it’s only available in the bloody States). Their knowledge is second-to-none and though they’re currently suffering through the hell that is 1983, they have the joys of 1985 still to come.

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If you love movie soundtracks as much as I do, then we still have some way to go to meet the passion of Edith Bowman. Edith can sometimes be heard as a stand-in presenter on the Kermode and Mayo Film Review (another great podcast, but one that hardly needs introduction, surely?), but with Soundtracking she talks to actors, directors and, crucially, composers about their work and their favourite film scores. One of my favourite recent episodes featured the lovely Garth Jennings, and Edith also compiles a Spotify playlist for each episode. Every week, something new gets downloaded to my iPod.

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Film Stories with Den of Geek‘s Simon Brew is the newest podcast – only two episodes released at the time of writing and I already love it. Simon is a delightful and enthusiastic presenter, and the podcasts are like gossipy chats with an old friend. He’s covered the tumultuous productions of The Addams Family, Tomb Raider, Patriot Games and Dirty Dancing and they’re choc full of great movie stories. I hope this one runs and runs.

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And finally an honourable mention for Junkfood Cinema with Brian Salisbury and C. Robert Cargill. Not one that I listen to every week, but they cover the films that no one else does. This gets a thumbs up for the episode on Sneakers alone. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only person who still loves that film.

Agree? Disagree? What are your favourites? Let me know below…

Oh, and don’t forget my podcast The Bestseller Experiment! Subscribe now and get scribbling.

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My Robot Occupation Movies #3 – Life Is Sweet

Third in a series – Imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

It was the 90s, and poster budgets were smaller then...
It was the 90s, and poster budgets were smaller then…

“Mum! Mum! You have to see this!”

Have you ever watched a film that was so uncannily like your own life that you were convinced that the film-makers were monitoring and recording your every move? For me, LIFE IS SWEET was that movie.

I’m not talking about the events in the story, but all the way through there were little character moments that chimed so precisely with the world I lived in (still living at home with mum, dad and sister, in a house too small for us all) that once I finished watching it, I rewound the tape, dragged my mum and sister into the room and made them watch it too.

They did so, with wide eyes and open mouths. One scene in particular had them screaming with recognition…

We were used to seeing a sort-of hyped-up reflection of reality in soaps on TV, but they were always done in such a rush, with such a sense of melodrama, that it was hard to take them seriously. But Life Is Sweet is a Mike Leigh movie. The actors spend weeks, if not months, working on their characters, rehearsing and refining them through improvisation. It’s a fairly unique method of film making, but gives the dialogue a naturalistic rhythm that would look impenetrable on the page.

To say that this film was a major influence on my early writing, especially my first play, would be a massive understatement. It gave me licence to write characters that sounded like people I knew.

Leigh gets a lot of flack for being patronising to his audience, characters and even the working classes*, but in Life Is Sweet, and the better-known SECRETS AND LIES, I saw truthful representations of ordinary people I recognised, and the trials they faced. Not epic struggles against monsters or aliens, but just people coming to terms with life in an ordinary suburban world. I’m learning that story is all about characters discovering who they are, reconciling the conflicting parts of their own selves. If you can pull that off, whatever the setting, you’ll have the ingredients of a great drama. And Leigh’s films have this in spades.

*Though I only ever see this criticism from middle class journalists, so…