500 movie project The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Disclaimer: I started this project of watching the Empire Australia movie magazine’s top 500 movies of all time, many years ago in 2012 and I absolutely didn’t make it. Life happened, it became clear it was a rather flawed list, the world moved on. However I have a number of unpublished blog entries for the higher part of the list so I’m gonna go ahead and publish them. Enjoy!

Silence of the Lambs
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Ted Tally based on the novel by Thomas Harris
(number 130)

I was 11 when this movie came out, but even at that age I was well aware that this movie had come out, that it was generally acclaimed for the performances of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins and that it was about a serial killer called Hannibal the Cannibal. I was never brave enough to watch it.

I remember hearing stories, people having heart attacks in the theatre, and Anthony Hopkins sitting behind someone in a cinema and leaning forward to say ‘don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,’ to someone who was freaking out. There was a lot of media around the film, a lot of myth as well, and it all added up to making me not want to watch. A lot of it has become cinema cliche at this point ‘some fava beans and a nice chianti,’, ‘quid pro quo’, the ‘ff-f-f-ff-ff’ mouth noise, ‘it puts the lotion on its skin,’ and on and on. Until much more recently it became a hit TV show about (as far as I can tell) how lovely and charming the pyschopathic cannibal is.

I don’t enjoy watching things about serial killers, I’m not interested or intrigued by watching men kill women. I will not watch Dexter or Hannibal the TV shows. But there is a certain fascination I suppose. I enjoyed the book ‘I am not a serial killer’ from the POV of a sociopathic teenager obsessed with serial killers.

I really had never watched this film before. It wasn’t easy to watch and although it’s fascinating and well made, I don’t think I could say that I enjoyed it. I was pretty tense all the way through and I was almost at the stage of jumping at shadows and noises in my house. I had to watch it while Anna was out because it’s really not her kind of thing.

You can’t say that this movie started the fascination in modern media with killers, because that must have started with Truman Capote back in the fifties, right? But this certainly brought it all into the spotlight I think. In a sensible, psychological intelligent way that slashers and horror movies don’t.

It’s an extraordinarily white movie. Almost all of the speaking roles are white, certainly all the main characters are. It’s a bit of a drag but not particularly surprising.

Also there’s some confusing stuff about transgender people. Clarice says that Buffalo Bill cannot be transsexual because transsexuals are calm and non-violent? And then of course, the inextricable link of this guy who’s wanting so much to be a woman that he’s attacking, kidnapping and killing women so that he can become one?

I found this article about transphobia in this movie if you want to read more intelligent breakdown than I am capable of.

Does it make me love the people? It does, and I think that’s this film’s absolute success. You love Clarice because she is shown from the start to be not your standard screaming final girl in a horror movie – she’s introduced working herself hard on the Quantico training track, sweating visibly, grunting as she excerpts herself. When she first meets Hannibal you are afraid for her, and she is victimised by the other inmates.

Hannibal well, I don’t think you can say he’s loveable, but he’s shown to be such a gentleman; a well spoken man who is logical and respectful to Clarice. Except, of course, for how he’s entirely sexually fixated on her as well, and apparently on the senator he meets later as well. He’s calm and cool and totally happy to make it all about women’s physical sexual characteristics. It’s pretty gross.

Bechdel test: Early on Clarice runs quiz questions/tests a friend of hers on their classes. Ardelia is her name, and they speak again later on to talk about Hannibal but yes, it passes. Ardelia is also a woman of colour, so yay for Ardelia. She’s also shown to be smart and capable, concerned about Clarice and the two are totally comfortable with each other. How nice if they’re FBI trainee girlfriends. (Goes off in a little dream about nicer things than happen in the movie.)

Best line:
Jack Crawford: Starling, when I told that sheriff we shouldn’t talk in front of a woman, that really burned you, didn’t it? It was just smoke, Starling. I had to get rid of him.
Clarice Starling: It matters, Mr Crawford. Cops look at you to see how to act. It matters.
Jack Crawford: Point taken.

State of Mind: One cannot be too sad about the implication of who Lecter is going to kill at the end of the film. I won’t be watching this movie again though, I find it very uncomfortable and unpleasant to watch.


Overdues and Occultism out now

My latest published book is out now! It’s called Overdues and Occultism and I wrote it as part of the Witchy Fiction project. The project was conceived by a handful of New Zealand speculative fiction authors as a kind of balm for 2020. We all wanted to make something optimistic, something fun and something set locally. So we all came up with ideas for witches, where they live in New Zealand and the basics of plot and got to it.

Overdues was written after the strictest round of lockdowns New Zealand had, in June. I found lockdown pretty hard, the uncertainty and the fear for my friends and family took a toll on my creative output. In June things were starting to look up, so I poured myself into my memories of being a librarian in a public library (1997 – 2006 ish) and the things I love about my adopted home city of Auckland and got to it.

The project has worked incredibly smoothly, we agreed to use the same cover artist to give the books a uniformity, despite the variations in subject matter. We also covered editing, proofing and continuity checking for each other – each book was read through by two other Witchy Fiction authors, changes made, and then a third Witchy Fiction author did the proofs. We did all the formatting as an exchange programme as well, and some of our books have cute graphics for the end of chapter breaks.

It’s been a wonderful community, and a genuinely fun thing to be involved in. Mine is the latest out, but there are more to come, and some are releasing well into next year, so I recommend you sign up to the Witchy Fiction mailing list if you want to be kept up to date.

All that being said, Overdues and Occultism wasn’t the easiest manuscript for me to write. I’m used to writing with alternating viewpoints, and one of the rules we have for the project is close third person, on the witch character only. I also had trouble because my main character, Basil, is an introvert, and I’m really not. It was trickier than normal to get into his head and accurately reflect his reactions to things without letting my natural extroversion in.

I’m also aware that witchcraft is a real practise that I do not do, so I didn’t want to get anything wrong or make something jarring for a reader who is closer to the craft than I am. My solution for this was to make Basil a sort of lapsed witch. He grew up with witchy and enthusiastic parents, as a teen he came to feel that he knew it all, so when he got to adulthood he let it slide, knowing he had a solid foundation to come back to. That attitude felt relatable to me, personally, and also allowed me to write him freaking out about not being ‘witchy enough’.

My love interest character, Sebastian, is very dear to my heart. He’s an extrovert like me, and he is based on a number of roleplaying characters I’ve played over the years. He’s a paranormal investigator with a YouTube channel who’s been travelling around New Zealand’s most haunted spots trying to find evidence of the supernatural. His character also gave me a quick and easy way to slip in some Easter egg style references to some of the other books in the project.

Even though this book didn’t come as quick and easy to me as some of my other works, I’m very proud of it. And look at that gorgeous cover!

Here’s the blurb:
A witch in the broom closet probably shouldn’t be so interested in a ghost hunter, right?

That Basil is a librarian comes as no surprise to his Mt Eden community. That he’s a witch? Yeah. That might raise more than a few eyebrows.

When Sebastian, a paranormal investigator filming a web series starts snooping around Basil’s library, he stirs up more than just Basil’s heart.

Between Basil’s own self-doubt, a ghost who steals books and Sebastian, an enthusiastic extrovert bent on uncovering secrets, Basil’s life is about to get a lot more complicated.

Get a copy of Overdues and Occultism on sale now, part of the Witchy Fiction project.


Guest writers series: an interview with Kim Jackways

Hi Kim, and welcome. Please tell us a little about yourself?

 I’m a freelance writer and mother of two. When I get time, I like reading books, doing cryptic crosswords and going for long walks in leafy places with my dog. Where in the world do you live, and what do you like most about it? I live in Canterbury, New Zealand, and what I love most is the proximity of our beautiful natural features. I can be tramping through tracks in the foothills of the Southern Alps and searching for treasures on the beach within a few hours’ drive of each other. There aren’t usually many people around, either.

What’s a book that you have on your shelf which you’re particularly fond of?

 I have Rebecca and House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. Every time I open these books, I’m immediately blown away by the precise use of language and ability to transport me away, and also the way the author can make the normal and everyday, strange and foreboding.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with? 

Adverbs are bad. Like any part of speech, adverbs have their place in language, as long as they aren’t used too liberally.

Do you have any writerly superstitions?

 Not really, but I have a habit of hoarding beautiful notebooks and not writing in them!

If you had infinite time, opportunity and resources, what’s your absolute dream writing project?

Oh wow, what a cool question! I would love to travel around interviewing women and marginalised people who have done amazing things and then write something really inspiring about them to bring their contributions to light.

What is your favourite bird?

It would have to be the majestic kererū, the native NZ wood pigeon. It has beautiful blue-green feathers on its head and back. It’s not the most elegant, but the whoosh sound, when one takes off suddenly from a tree, and the heavy beating of its wings, leaves you gasping in awe at how they stay in the air.

Kim Jackways is a crafter of speculative fiction and freelance writer from New Zealand. She is normally found among dogs, kids and empty coffee cups.
 After a massive earthquake, she and her family spent a year speaking French (badly) and exploring the South of France. The cobbled streets and vivid history spurred her to start writing. Her short fiction has been published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Best Small Fictions 2019. Her stories expose the hidden lives of the past and the future, inspired by her background in psychology and linguistics.

Follow Kim on social media Twitter and Facebook and learn more on her Website

Get a copy of Brand of Magic on sale now, part of the Witchy Fiction project.


Guest writers series: an interview with Nova Blake

Welcome! Please tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a Māori author, mother of three, wife, sister, stalwart badass. I write a bunch of different things under a couple of different names. I love to read, listen to a wide range of music, enjoy close friendships, and am bad at small talk. I have a fascination with dark things and love to be creeped out (by fictional things!). 

If you were to have a personal familiar, what animal would it be?  

I feel like saying cat is cliched, but I do love my cat Luna. I also love dogs, and when it comes down to it, it’s more about the bond between animal and I than the specific type of animal.


Where in the world do you live, and what do you like most about it?

I live in Aotearoa, but more specifically New Plymouth. It’s a gorgeous place to live – Mount Taranaki is always keeping an eye on us, even though he’s often wearing a cloak of cloud, and we live between him and the sea. Perfection! 

Self-care is very important for writers, tell us how you look after yourself?

By reading a lot. I generally don’t work in the evenings these days unless I have a hard deadline, and I try to take plenty of rest time. As a writer with kids at home, who also has mental and regular health things that contribute to making life hard, that down time/rest time, is vital.

What kind of music do you like to listen to?

Every book has a different playlist, and the playlists can be quite different to each other – so it really depends on the book, or the day or the month. Here’s a link to the playlist I listened to while writing my latest release, Hexes & Vexes. Listen here.

What are you reading right now?

This year has been hard for the old reading with eyeballs thing, so I’ve mostly stuck to audiobooks. At this moment I’m listening to a book called The Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser.

What’s a book that you have on your shelf which you’re particularly fond of?

I’ve got a hardcover, signed edition of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s one of my all time fav books so it’s a prized possession. 

What do you do/where do you go for inspiration? 

I love to go to Back Beach, I find walking in the sand, the wind, the sea refreshing. It clears my mind and helps to untangle plots or make ideas bloom. There is something special about West Coast beaches; they are so wild, untamed, really helps shake things up.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with? 

I think the one that annoys me most is actually the old ‘write what you know’, people often seem to take and teach that quite literally, and instead of opening writers up it often shuts them down as they don’t think they know a lot. They haven’t done enough etc. But we all know so much. We know heartbreak and horror, we know adversity and grief, we know hunger and the way it feels when we bite into something that’s too hot to eat yet. I think we should 100% tap into the things we know, but we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to only those. 

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

PBTech… I am a sucker for good tech, and I’d replace all my gear I think! New cell-phone with excellent camera, mouse pad – one of those big ones that goes under your keyboard, new mouse, headphones, even BIGGER monitor/third monitor… lol I am greedy for speedy tech.  

The weirdest hobby you have, other than writing? 

Collecting skulls? If there are dead things around the place I will often move them somewhere safe so that when decomposition is complete I can put the skull in one of my skull gardens (don’t worry, these are small), which would be called succulent gardens if there were no skulls in them, but, let’s be honest – skull garden sounds much cooler. 

What is your favourite bird?

Magpie, hands down. I know they are loathed by so many but I adore them, which is probably why they keep showing up in the books I’ve been writing in recent years. 

Cassie is a writer of mostly science fiction and fantasy, from Taranaki, Aotearoa New Zealand.

As J.C. Hart she writes fiction most influenced by the mythology and culture of the land she lives on. As Nova Blake she looks more to the wider world, drawing inspiration from everything from fairy tales to mythology. In all her books she loves nothing more than exploring the complexities of relationships, whether they be between friends, lovers, family, or enemies.

Read more about Nova/JC Hart on her website here or follow here on Twitter

Get a copy of Hexes and Vexes, on sale now, part of the Witchy Fiction project


Contemporary Witchy Fiction

As a response to the horror and stress of 2020, through various shutdowns and other fears, a group of Kiwi authors, including myself, banded together to create a shared universe where the stories are kind and cosy, where you can escape for a moment into a place where all endings are happy.

Journey to New Zealand and follow the lives of witches around the country, from the heart of Wellington City to the foot of snow-capped Mount Taranaki, from Dunedin’s historic streets to the coastal settlement of Akaroa. Join our witches as they discover who they are, protect the local rivers and wildlife, untangle mysteries, or find out a little more about the monster under the floor. Accompanied by familiars with claws and feathers and fins, they discover new powers, concoct new ways to support their families and find themselves on the path to love. 

Read about the project here

The first three books are out now!

~*~*~Brand of Magic by K M Jackways~*~*~

An empath witch should be able to keep everyone happy, right?Hazel has put magic and men out of her mind. A break-up meant her own thoughts were bad enough, without sensing everyone else’s emotions too. The ghost in the attic and her sarcastic dog familiar would be way too much to explain to any partner.Instead, Hazel put all her energy into her job promoting the city she loves – Dunedin, New Zealand. And she is pretty good at it, too. When her neighbour, Joel, needs her expertise to save his woodworking business and stop the sale of his family land, she can’t resist getting involved. But the more time they spend together, the more stubbornly locked away his thoughts are.Then her powerful aunt is attacked, and Hazel has to find a way to get through to her and discover who or what is behind it. It seems as if her psychic powers are the key to everything.Can she bear to let magic – and love – back in?
Order here

~*~*~Succulents & Spells by Andi Buchanan~*~*~

Laurel Windflower is a witch from a family of magic workers – but her own life is going nowhere. Living in the damp, sunless side of Aro Valley, she works in a café, unable to produce anything more powerful than the most basic herbal potions. Until, one winter morning, Marigold Nightfield knocks on her door.Marigold is a scientist, but she knows plenty about magic. There are strange things happening in her house, and her future discoveries require careful negotiation with monsters.Laurel can’t walk away from a mystery – and she can’t walk away from Marigold either. But what lies ahead could reveal all of her shortcomings to the woman she’s trying to impress… or uncover the true nature of her power.
Order here

~*~*~Hexes & Vexes by Nova Blake~*~*~

Old wounds are hard to close; especially when someone pries them open.Small towns are full of gossip, and Mia is pretty sure that no one in her hometown of Okato has ever stopped talking about her. Cast off by her best friend, blamed for a local tragedy – Mia had no choice but to run away.Now, ten years later, she’s being dragged back.Something’s wrong with her big sister, Camilla, and her younger sister, Poppy, is panicking. At first, Mia just wants to check in and get out of town again as soon as possible. But when strange occurrences start to pile up, she realizes that there is something more than her perpetual bad luck at play; and the traces of magic she finds in her childhood home suggests that whatever is going on with Camilla could be caused by hexes, too.Mia is determined to find out what’s going on. If she can stop getting distracted by the hunky painter renovating her childhood bedroom, that is. Screw running away again.It’s time to bury the past once and for all.

Order here

… and stay tuned for more books, more authors, and my own contribution to the project. It’s called Overdues and Occultism and it’s on preorder now.