New look for jonkenna.com

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I have an official writer’s website which has just got a bit of a make-over. I’m going to try to use it a bit more than I have in the past so I’d love it if you’d take a look by going to

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The first of the planned regular posts is a list of my top 5 books of fiction. How does it compare with yours? It would be great if you could become a subscriber at that site as well as this. If you do, I’ll come round to your house and bake you a cake.

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Change, Decay, Transformation. The Breaking Brilliance of Vince Gilligan

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For years, everyone’s been saying how great Breaking Bad is. I never fancied it. Drugs dealers, hit men, terminal illness…? Narr not for me. Then someone lent me the first season on dvd. Like everyone else, almost instantly, I was a hopeless addict. And it’s all Vince Gilligan’s fault.

Actually it’s not. Brilliant though the initial idea of the ultra-square teacher and his former pupil cooking meth in the back of a trailer, Gilligan is the first to credit the team of writers, performers, directors and producers around him. Maybe that’s why the writers’ room for that show was reportedly the happiest of all writers’ rooms.

‘One of the more unusual things about the Breaking Bad writers’ room is just how happy it is, as opposed to the writers’ rooms on shows like Mad Men, The Newsroom, and Girls, which have an incredible amount of turnover often attributed to the egos of the showrunners who want to maintain control (and all the credit). As such, there’s been virtually no turnover in the Breaking Bad writers’ room over six years, so now that the show has come to an end, you can expect that many of those writers — Peter Gould, George Mastras, Sam Catlin, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett, Gennifer Hutchison, and John Shiban — will likely end up running their own shows soon.’  The 10 Most Influential Writers’ Rooms In Modern Television Drama History BY 08.27.13 http://uproxx.com/tv/2013/08/modern-television-dramas-influential-writers-rooms/

The series shows how collaborative drama can be of top quality. Breaking Bad is not only full of crowd-pleasing suspense and plot twists, it’s also full of superbly drawn characters and complex interplay. Parts of it are almost Shakespearean in their depth. Not what you expect from a committee.

Gilligan started out writing for The X-Files. A fan of the show, he submitted a script which became the second season episode ‘Soft Light‘. He went on to write 29 more episodes, in addition to being co-executive producer of 44 episodes, executive producer of 40, co-producer of 24, and supervising producer of 20. He also co-created and became executive producer of the The X-Files spin-off series The Lone Gunmen but it only ran for one season of 13 episodes.

What makes me love the programme are all the obvious things already mentioned but underneath that, I love it because it is character-driven. Where other collaborative TV goes wrong is that it mistakes incidents for story. Writers sit round a table and each comes up with 6 or 7 funny or quirky incidents which they think will be good to see in whatever show they’re working on. But incidents are meaningless unless viewed through the eyes of characters we recognise as true. I reckon this is where Vince Gilligan’s genius comes into play. As show-runner, he must reject writers’ ideas, however funny or dramatic, unless they serve the characters. That’s how we get such a powerful story arc. In UK television soaps used to do this and often produced brilliant drama. Nowadays they focus on incidents alone; plane crashes, tram crashes, murders, explosions…. Each incident has to be a little more sensational than the last in order to keep the viewers viewing. Breaking Bad has dramatic incidents yes but only when they spring naturally from the characters and, because of that, even the quiet moments when nothing big is happening, even those are compelling. Every one of the characters in Breaking Bad is thought-out, cared about and true to life. Walter White says in the very first episode that Chemistry is all about change… decay… and transformation. That’s what characters are all about too.

It seems that Gilligan is applying the same approach with the follow-up Better Call Saul. The focus isn’t on sensational incidents but on the depth of the characters. Change… decay… transformation. Chemistry…. characters…. life.

Amazing Then and Now Photo

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I love ‘now and then’ photos where you see a scene from years ago and then see the same scene as it is now. I’ve done a few of my own around my home town, posted on this blog. But this one is incredible. I don’t know who took the photos unfortunately so I can’t credit them, it certainly wasn’t me as I’ve never been anywhere near the location of these shots. They were taken in Afghanistan, the first picture was taken around 1967 and the second was taken around forty years later in exactly the same spot. I don’t know enough to judge whether the obvious deterioration between the two photos is indicative of the state of the country as a whole but I ‘d guess that it probably is. If so, how tragic.

100 YEARS LATER: Time Travelling Pub

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The photo above was taken about 100 years ago. The photo below was taken last month by me. They both show the same place taken from as near to the same angle as I could get. The Barley Mow is a pub in my home town of Runcorn, Cheshire, England.

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Then and Now

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Here’s another one of my now and then photos. The first shot is of Waterloo Road in Runcorn, my home town. The second is taken by me and shows the same spot from as near to the same angle as I could get, 100 years later. Lots of deterioration is evident in this comparison. This part of the town has struggled in recent years and there are plenty of boarded-up windows visible nowadays. The building on the right was a community centre. The community ended.

The Same Spot Almost a Century Later

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So it’s true that some things don’t change? The two photos above show the exact same spot from as near to the same angle as I could get. I don’t know who took the first one but it was taken not far off 100 years ago! The second photo was taken by me, last week. As you can see, there’s very little difference between the two. The main changes can be seen in the objects around the building which is a pub near to where I live; on the old picture there’s a beautiful old car parked outside whereas on the modern one there’s…. wheelie bins.

Routine Questions

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How important is routine to you? I’ve got some time off work at the moment and I’m using it to think about maybe changing some routines that I’ve been following slavishly for years now. I saw a thing on TV about the Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy and he was saying that he goes running from 12 midnight till 2am every night! He said it was the only time he could fit it in and he found it theraputic, trundling along with Johnny Cash blaring through his earphones. Can you imagine the motivation it must take to get your tracksuit on at midnight?! I struggled to go running for half an hour at 8pm!! But maybe, once a routine is established it actually takes less motivation because you’re not viewing that action as a decision to be made but just accepting it as what inevitably happens.

That’s why I asked about the importance of routine at the start. Maybe establishing strong routines might be a way for me to sidestep my terrible lack of motivation to do… well anything really. With a routine, you don’t say to yourself ‘shall I go for a run?’; you just go for a run without debate.

I’m reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey and I’ve learned that film maker David Lynch had a strict daily routine of eating at ‘Bob’s Big Boy’ (what?!!) I’ve got to go there!) at 2.30pm and drinking 7 cups of coffee before writing down ideas on napkins. In his thirties, author George Orwell would wake at 7am, open up the book shop in which he worked at 8.45am, write for four hours before returning to the shop and working there until 6.30pm. Artist Jackson Pollock would have breakfast at 1pm, then paint in his barn until 5pm when he would have a beer and walk to the beach with fellow painter Lee Krasner. It seems as though, regardless of what the routine consists of, creativity and productivity are boosted through the establishment of routine.

So routine is good. Great. I have a routine so I’m off the starting block. However, maybe there’s a down side to all this structure. Firstly, if your routine doesn’t leave time to do the things which are important to you then it’s probably going to work against, rather than for, you. I’m finding currently that I’m fulfilling work and family commitments but I’m not building in time to do writing. Also, I’m wasting valuable time watching bad TV or going on the net. I have to change this.

Secondly, if your routine is too rigid, too well-established, too old… then it may actually decrease creativity and productivity because it’s making you bored! Certain parts of my routine are well and truly fixed and can’t be changed such as time spent at my day job. Other parts I wouldn’t want to change such as time spent with my family. But the rest of it (and that’s a surprisingly large chunk) can be tinkered with.

Personally, I find this kind of stuff difficult. I find it very hard to change old routines and even harder to establish new ones. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to establish a routine for my running. I did have a good routine for writing but even that has gone a bit haywire recently. Also, there’s lots of other things I want to do more of such as photography, blogging, videos, painting, drawing and others. I want to do healthy things too like get eight hours sleep a night instead of my typical five. During my time off I’ve got to make a big effort to get a new routine ready to start when I go back to work. Unfortunately, I do have a tendency to slide towards laziness, mindless TV watching, alcohol drinking and basic slobbing around. This can change. This will change. If Jim Murphy can go running at midnight every night then I can change a couple of little habits. Can’t I? Can I?

Cars Are Killing Us

carYears ago there were communities. There was a shop on the corner of every other street, a post office down the road, a pharmacy five minutes walk away, a cafe in the next street… There was no way for people to travel quickly to larger towns or cities so everything had to be located in the neighbourhood. Then came the car.

From the moment that cars came within the reach of the average family, communities have faded away. It was possible now to get to places so much quicker. Global companies could build vast supermarkets on the edges of cities and everyone could reach them in less than ten minutes. There was no need for the corner shop anymore, no need for the local post office or pharmacy, and so they gradually disappeared. At the gigantic superstores you could get everything under the same roof and there was easy, free parking.

So why is that such a bad trend? If supermarkets are cheap and convenient, why is that a negative thing? Maybe because, along with the cheapness and the convenience comes de-humanisation. When the shops, cafes, butchers and pharmacies were located in our local communities, we knew the people who worked and shopped there because they were our neighbours. When we’re shopping at the superstore we rarely see anyone we know because they’ve travelled from a much wider region to shop there. We’re no longer amongst our neighbours. So we don’t say hello, we don’t pause for a chat, most often we don’t speak at all. We even start to get irritated if someone does try to have a conversation especially if they are in front of us in the queue at the checkout. Tutting and sighing is the nearest we get to an interaction. The superstores get bigger as the local communities shrivel out of existence. It’s not really the fault of the supermarkets; they’re just responding to our demands. The really dangerous factor is the availability of the car.

So there’s no hope? We’re doomed to see the destruction of local communities because we can all jump in the car and nip to the supermarket? Not necessarily. The car has become so popular that it’s becoming a victim of its own success. We’re starting to find that we can’t nip to Asda quite so quickly because there’s a traffic jam on the ring road, we can’t pop down to Tesco because there’s tailbacks all the way back to the motorway. So maybe the car is starting to fail to provide the wonderful freedom and mobility that it used to. When it becomes the norm to sit in a queue for half and hour to get to Sainsbury’s, perhaps we’ll start to think that walking to a corner shop would be a better option. Maybe the corner shops will start to reappear along with all the other local amenities. A feeling of community could start to return. The car will have driven us round in a great big circle.

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Do New Years Resolutions Ever Work?

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In previous years I’ve made New Year resolutions and they’ve not even lasted a week. Each time it has happened though I’ve used the experience to hone my resolution-making skills for the following year. For example, the first resolutions I ever made included 1. Irrigate the desert, 2 Solve the Middle East problem and 3.Moisturise every morning. I now realise that those resolutions were far too ambitious; there’s no way I was ever going to moisturise, for God’s sake!

The next year I tried to make my resolutions more achievable; 1. Eat a bit healthier, 2. Get a bit fitter, 3. Moisturise once a month. By February, I had plummeted into a deep pit of stinking, vomit-inducing, shit-smearing depression. I sat in front of the TV from March until November; didn’t even switch it on till August. This had happened because the resolutions had been too vague, mundane and uninspiring this time round.

Year 3; I deliberately made my resolutions much more lofty and inspiring. 1. Say one nice thing to everyone you meet every day, 2. Smiling makes you feel better and everyone around you feel better so smile, smile, smile, 3. Moisturise!  I still struggled however. Saying something nice to everyone I met proved to be tricky as I regularly associate with daleks, Dracula Prince of Darkness and Nigel Farage. Also, I found it a strain to have to smile whilst unconscious (ie- while asleep or at work).

Consequently, the year after, I tried to be a lot more realistic and down to earth when setting resolutions. My list read; 1. Use cockney rhyming slang whilst simultaneously replicating the voice of Ray Winstone, 2. Pronounce ‘th..’ as ‘ff..’ as in ‘I ffort you ffort I was ffinking I ffort you was ffick!’ 3. Ffarcking moisturise you ffarking nonce!

None of these resolutions worked and maybe we have to face the notion that the whole idea of just deciding to change something about yourself on some arbitrary day of the year is always going to be doomed to failure. Changing habits is one of the hardest things we can ever aspire to do. It takes planning, persistence, repetition and support. Even the simplest of habits can be so ingrained that it takes a lot of shifting. You can’t just decide to change it and then expect it to automatically change overnight. The real danger in making New Year resolutions is that the inevitable failure to stick to them can make you feel inadequate, hopeless and depressed. Then, change is even less likely than ever. So what should we do instead of making resolutions? Ah… well… haven’t figured that out yet. Definitely going to figure it out this year though. It’s one of my resolutions.