Jennifer K. Oliver

Speculative Fiction Writer

Tag: miscellaneous

Graphic Design Shenanigans

I’ve been caught up with various graphic design projects lately, which has eaten into my writing time a little. The creative tables are constantly turning between text and visuals, but that’s just how I roll. I wanted to share something I’ve been working on, a logo design featuring custom-made artwork and lettering.

This logo was so much fun to make, and I’m quite happy with how it turned out. I love anything that has a dash of tongue-in-cheek. The chicken is from a small design project at my day job. Rather than let my disgruntled chicken go to waste I figured I’d showcase it.

I listened to a playlist of mellow music while making this. It seems that movie soundtracks and smooth beats work well with my visual-creative half. Choice tracks include:

Flight, by Lycoriscoris. Beautiful ambient beats.
Princess Margaret, by Lorne Balfe and Rupert Gregson-Williams (from TV show The Crown)
Fireisland, by Aly & Fila and Solarstone, from Quiet Storm. I also love the Uplifting Mix of this track, which you can find here.

I am available for freelance work right now, so drop me a line if you need a logo or business card design, or a book cover!

Podcast recommendation: We’re Alive

Trawling through the iTunes podcast library, I stumbled upon an audio drama called We’re Alive – A Story of Survival, by Wayland Productions. It’s a zombie podcast, but before you run for the hills, hear me out. It starts off as you might expect, but it quickly becomes clear that they’re doing something a little different with the zombie post-apocalypse. For starters, it’s done in the style of a fully realised radio drama. It has an ensemble cast of voice actors and high-quality sound effects. There’s also a clever score and custom artwork for each chapter.

There are 48 chapters overall, so plenty to keep podcast fans happy. Plus Wayland Productions are still active, with a new podcast Goldrush.  Generally chapters are split into three or four parts, each part running from under ten minutes to around thirty minutes, which makes it easy to squeeze in on a lunch break, a car journey, a walk, or even just before bed.

The pros:

  • The sound effects are brilliant. Who would have thought that something that’s usually so visual—walking, rotting corpses—could be way scarier when only in audio. And these zombies aren’t the shambling, shuffling dunderheads you see in a lot of other venues. Think 28 Days Later undead who can sprint. Listening with headphones is absolutely the way to go—when you first hear the rapid thump-thump-thump of the monsters running at you, the sound growing louder and louder in your ears, it’s terrifying.
  • Like I said above, they’re doing something different with the zombies. It was one of the main things that kept me intrigued all the way through.
  • Apart from a couple of minor niggles (see below), the voice acting is fantastic and high quality.
  • The score is also very good, building tension or relief at the right moments. I can only bring to mind one instance where I felt the background atmospheric music was out of place.

The cons:

  • Sometimes the dialogue can be hokey. There are a number of cliches that could have been avoided, and at one point a character even says (narrating) that she goes on “an emotional rollercoaster”. That old chestnut. But the podcast is otherwise quite slick and while it jarred for a moment, it didn’t put me off.
  • Once in a while the line delivery is slightly awkward, and you can tell that the actors are reading from scripts. It’s never so bad that I wanted to stop listening, and generally they do an excellent job. It’s just the odd line.

If you don’t usually go for horror or zombies in particular but have always wanted to try some, this might be a good entry point. Its format sets it apart from many other horror stories out there. Plus, if it’s the blood and guts visuals you tend to shy away from, you don’t have to worry about seeing any of it here—only the squishy sounds coming from all directions. 🙂

You can find We’re Alive on TumblrTwitterYouTube and Facebook, too.

A Sizeable Cool Link Roundup

Top 10 Gadgets From Iain M. Banks’ Culture Universe – I’m a massive Iain M. Banks fan, particularly his Culture sci-fi novels. This list breaks down some of the cool technology that exists in his storyverse, ranging from switching off pain to using knife missiles (yes, as cool as it sounds).

Why Nikola Tesla Was the Greatest Geek That Ever Lived – This was posted on The Oatmeal a few years ago, but it is still wonderful and hilarious and lovely.

When Sci-Fi Crime-Prevention Tactics Aren’t Actually That Far-Fetched – how likely is RoboCop? According to this article, fairly likely. 

“We’re now producing airborne drones that have the automated intellectual ability where they are able to pick out a terrorist and make a decision whether to kill them or not.”

NASA’s Sci-Fi Vision: Robots Could Help Humanity Mine Asteroids – from Universe Today. More sci-fi future nerdery, but an exciting prospect. So if Armageddon really does happen like in the movie, we won’t have to send Bruce Willis up there to blow it up. That’s a relief. I’m pretty sure he would insist on wearing a dressing gown.

And here’s a great website called Urban Geofiction where people create maps of fictional cities and countries. From their site: 

But they all have in common that they do not strive to create fantastic worlds with its own physical and natural laws like Tolkien did, for example. Their aim is to imagine new combinations of all variables that affect our daily (urban) life on this planet in a spatial way. 

There are many possibilities for stories here.

Lady Froggy Steampunk Gatling Gun for Dainty Death Dealing – I really want one of these. So deadly and cute! This is the James Bond tech of the steampunk 19th Century.

Considering Theme and Motif, by James Broomfield at the Storyslingers (old) blog. The blog has since moved and while it’s no longer updated you can read the past entries here. http://storyslingers.wordpress.com Here is an excerpt from James’s post:

Theme exists outside of narrative, characters, genre, time periods and language. It may never be directly stated in the story, it may only ever exist between the lines.

Your Age On Other Worlds – This is just plain fun. Fill in your birthdate and the script will calculate your age on the different planets in our solar system. Does this mean I can now tell people “I’m 0.23 on Neptune” when they ask me how old I am?

The Epic Music Compositions of Michael Maas

Before anything else, I have to point to GrumpySkeletor on Twitter. This account is a parody and if you’re a child of the 70s or 80s, yes, it might tarnish your nostalgia but it’s so ridiculously fun. This is one of my first ports of call if I need a giggle. There is also an article at The Poke listing 34 Times Grumpy Skeletor was the Funniest Twitter Account in the World.

On a music theme, for a good few months now I’ve been unashamedly stalking the music compositions of German composer Michael Maas. I’m a huge fan of epic score style music (it’s a great writing backdrop) and a lot of his compositions could easily be from movies, ads, or nature documentaries – they are so slick and beautiful.

Here are a few links, though there is a lot more available on YouTube and you can grab copies of his work on iTunes. Some of you amazing creatives might find his music inspirational like I do.

 Kaeri. This is soft and slow, with a slight melancholy edge to it which I love. Great to write to! Just listen to the violin and cello.

 Bittersweet. Possibly my favourite of his pieces (so far). I just find this so incredibly chilling, gorgeous, and atmospheric.

 Skylight (Thunder & Rain Edition). Epic and pretty.

 Monster Divinity (Position Music). This is a bit different, more gritty. Sounds like it could be from a first-person horror or sci-fi game.

 Morpheus and the Dream feat. Felicia Farerre. The beginning of this one is gorgeous, with a lovely build and stellar vocals.

I really hope this composer continues to do higher profile work and gets more recognition. And just in case you need a bigger dose, try this: Two Hours of Epic Emotional, Vocal and Piano Music by Michael Maas.

Writing What You Know

Researching your favourite places and writing what you know is one of the best parts of the writing process. I’m currently re-visiting a trip I took to India over a decade ago because some of the locations will feature in a story. I went to southern India for three months back in the year 2000 as part of a conservation programme. Honestly, I wanted to see a wild tiger, but I also wanted to do something completely different and it marked my first ever trip outside the UK.

I mostly lived in a small city called Puliangudi with a family who were volunteers on the programme. They made me and the other British girls feel like part of the family, and when I had photos taken towards the end of my stay, mummy lent me her wedding jewellery to wear. She also asked some of the girls from the local school to dress me in a lilac crepe sari and weave fresh jasmine flowers into my hair (because I would have made a complete hash of it if left to my own devices).

Alas, I didn’t get to see my wild tiger, though I did see a couple in captivity, as crocodiles, countless monkeys and birds, elephants and boars. Oh, and during a weekend excursion, a small island inhabited by lions whose roars drifted eerily across the lake to my hotel balcony at sunset.

One of the coolest things about staying in Puliangudi, apart from the amazing hospitality, was that I was close to the Ghat Mountains which run along the western edge of the Deccan Plateau—a 62,000 square mile deciduous rainforest. My most memorable place in the Ghats is Periyar National Park, where I could have happily stayed forever. I vividly remember taking the boat ride across Periyar Lake, barely blinking in case I missed the flick of an orange and black striped tail. Here is a video highlighting some of the area’s wildlife and flora.

Anyway, what I’m basically saying is that this is my favourite type of research because it takes me right back to that time. Sometimes I can almost smell the towns in the air, a mix of dust and cooking spices and heat and open sewers; there are so many great memories attached. I love that I can take my characters there and relive it.

I’m linking to the main theme to a Tamil political thriller movie I went to see while in Chennai (Madras). The movie was Mudhalvan and it was epic.

 Kurukku Chiruththavale, composed by A.R. Rahman.

Reblog: Tate Modern and the Damian Hirst Exhibition

I am reblogging this from an old journal. In 2012 I visited the Tate Modern while in London and saw the Damian Hirst exhibition. I’ve never been the biggest fan of (a lot of) modern art, so I was dubious going in, but open to try it and hopeful that I’d come away with a newfound appreciation. Well, I did. Mostly. The exhibition was interesting and beautiful and grotesque and frustrating all at the same time. Not all of the pieces worked for me, but a couple of them worked strongly enough that I came away with a general good feeling. I’m still not sure if modern art is my thing, though I’m much more amenable to giving it a whirl.

Pieces that were hits: the shark, the butterfly room and Black Sun.

Pieces that did not hit: The medicine cabinets lost their charm after the third or fourth. I get that our bodies ultimately fail us, and they may have provided a thematic thread through the whole exhibition. But! I didn’t need three roomfuls of this. And I admit, as much as I loved the concept of the butterfly room, I could only stick it for about three minutes before I had to duck out (literally). A lot of them were tropical butterflies and they were bloody humungous! One landed on my head as I went in and gave me the wiggins.

He’s very focused on birth/health and death/decay. You go from the butterfly room, with its canvas-lined walls embedded with pupae that the butterflies hatch from and carry out their life cycle, to the black sun room which is a gigantic mural made of dead flies caught in resin. Yum.

Another piece of note—one I’m still not sure whether I liked or not—is A Thousand Years. A massive glass box houses a smaller white box filled with hidden maggots. These maggots are continuously hatching into flies, which fly out of the white box and feed on a severed cow’s head. There’s also an electric insect-o-cuter in the box which draws many of the flies and obliterates them. Others just die naturally—they litter the floor like a black carpet. I must say, I felt a bit squiggly looking at that one. Plus, you could smell this faint undercurrent of flies and rotting cow’s head. Conceptually, it’s a well-executed piece.

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