Portrait of a Writer #3: Ms Perky

April 20, 2011 § 6 Comments

From time to time I like to explore the portrayal of writers in fiction and film. Previously in this blog series, we’ve looked at Karen Eiffel of Stranger than Fiction and Richard Castle of the murder mystery TV series Castle. The character we are visiting today has a small role in a highschool movie …

WAIT don’t go. This is a teen movie that is not entirely putrid. I admit that there is a prom involved. (If we are to believe film culture, it seems like American highschool kids do nothing but attend proms). However it has nothing whatsoever to do with transforming the ugly duckling into the swan so that she is allowed to kiss Freddie Prinze Jnr. On the contrary, the plot is based on The Taming of the Shrew, and moreover it manages to be pretty consistently funny.

The film is 10 Things I Hate About You, and the character in question is played by the marvellous Alison Janney. Good huh? Her name is Ms. Perky and she is a Guidance Counselor (see what I did there? I spelled it the American way. Oh yes. Doing well).

Ms. Perky is not a very good Guidance Counselor (!) because she is very, very busy writing an erotic novel. Here is a clip of her first appearance.

How many writers do this? Work on the novel at the office, I mean, not… the rest. Necessarily. (Anybody want to own up to any of Ms. Perky’s more original characteristics?) I imagine most of us are a bit more surreptitious about it than Ms. Perky. It’d be fun to get away with tossing everyone out of the office so you can have more quality time with the novel.

And it would be so amusing to be able to get away with that degree of blunt talking. There are definitely times when I want to be able to say you are a fatuous moron without creating a miniature world war three.

Instead I just admire pink-clad, straight-talking, erotica-writing fake guidance counselors from a distance. If I can’t be Karen Eiffel when I grow up, maybe I’ll settle for turning into Ms. Perky.


Portrait of a Writer #2: Richard Castle

March 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

So: imagine you’re a writer. That is the easy part. Next, imagine you are researching a new novel. It’s going to be, say, a murder mystery set in New York. Your protagonist is a homicide detective and your novel is going to be full of police procedural details. Hard to research, right?

Next, imagine you are a best-selling author making millions of dollars from your books. (I know; it’s getting wild now).

And finally, imagine you are charming, witty, clever and look the spitting image of Nathan Fillion. You know everyone in New York, and everyone knows you.

You are… this guy.

Now, if only you had all those advantages, it’d be pretty easy to research a novel, right? You could, for example, use your connections with the Mayor to get permission to shadow a real homicide detective on the job. Wouldn’t it be even cooler if the detective happened to be glamorous, gorgeous, witty and the spitting image of Stana Katic?

Okay, so all of this is a tiny bit unrealistic. Hey,  it’s TV. We don’t need to ask how a homicide detective can afford a seemingly endless wardrobe of expensive designer clothes, right? The really great thing about Castle is that it’s a believable picture of the qualities a committed writer could bring to detective work. Kate Beckett’s all about the facts; logic; working her way through the case piece by piece. And that’s important. Castle’s approach is to think about what kind of a story would make sense. If the explanation Beckett’s arrived at is too simple to be true, he’ll come up with an alternative. Some of his theories are wildly wacky and very funny. Some of them are insightful and, once in a while, spot on. Not only does he gain plenty of material for his novels, he’s also able to contribute very effectively to the cases in hand.

I love Castle, because it is consistently funny, wry, and spot on with character and relationships. It’s a murder mystery series where the crimes are largely incidental to the ongoing story of the lives of Castle & Beckett, their regular assistants Ryan and Esposito, and Castle’s mother and daughter. It’s magnificently good storytelling throughout. What really intrigues me, though, is the portrait of the qualities that make Castle both a great writer and a great detective.

To close, here’s Castle advertising his latest book!


I have a couple of recurring themes on this blog, one of which is to share particularly good portraits of writers in film, TV and fiction.

This is the second post in this series. The first covered Karen Eiffel, a character from the film Stranger than Fiction. Find the original post here.

A Portrait of a Deranged Writer

January 18, 2011 § 10 Comments

There are certain stereotypes floating around about writers. A crowd of eccentrics, that’s what we are. Loners. Mad beasts closeted all day and all night with our pens and our paper (or more likely our laptops), haggard from lack of sleep, feverishly forcing word after tortured word onto the page. Eyes alight with the maniacal obsession that drives us.

True or not?  There’s some truth in there, probably, though in all likelihood most of us aren’t so… unhinged. The above portrait of a writer is hugely exaggerated, right?

That’s almost a shame, however, because by far my favourite portrait of a writer in film or fiction is Emma Thompson’s character Karen Eiffel in ‘Stranger than Fiction.’ Completely tortured, eccentric to the point of outright derangement, and wittily acerbic. Her idea of researching a novel is sitting by the motorway in the pouring rain, imagining car crashes.

Penny the publisher’s assistant: Sitting in the rain won’t write books.

Karen Eiffel: Well that illustrates exactly how much you know about writing books.

When I grow up, I want to be her.

Everyone thinks about jumping off a building.

(The film script can be found here).

Does any of this sound familiar?

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