Short fiction: ‘Lost Highway’

lost highway

An old man had pulled up in his car outside the shop. We could see him through the front window, parked out beside the petrol pump. Sitting in behind his steering wheel. The old man was alone. His car was an old, boxy Ford, shaded with dust and rusted through in little patches. He sat there, staring over the wheel, looking through his glasses. He sat there for a long time.

‘Are you alright, mate?’ My Dad asked. First, Dad tapped on the drivers’ side window and the old man flickered to life and looked up and he wound down the window just a bit. The old man stared up, eyes like a puppy, looking out to my Dad.

‘Yes, yes, fine,’ the old man told him.

‘Well, you’ve been here for a while, mate. Do you need some help or something?’

‘No no,’ the old man raised a hand as he turned his head. ‘I’m okay, thank you.’

Then the old man settled back into his seat, looking on ahead. In the front seat, Dad told me later, there were all sorts of plastic drink bottles, both empty and full, all littered about the place.

Dad let the man sit there for a moment, just watched from beside the car. Dad looked up the road ahead. There was nothing there, nothing to see. The road and the trees and the yellow grass beneath the sunlight.

‘Do you wanna come in for a bit?’ Dad asked, his voice reaching in through the still wound down window. The old man looked down a bit, dropped his head, then he looked back up through the windscreen.

‘Okay,’ the old man said.

He unclipped his seatbelt and opened the car door, stiff and creaking, then he hefted himself out onto the crushed stone of the car park.

 

He came into our shop, the old man. I remember that he was wearing a brown cardigan that was so thin you could see straight through it, a sky blue shirt underneath. Old-style dress pants with folded lines along the middle, brown leather shoes, the tops of them worn away like callouses round their curves and edges. The old man had white hair that flailed out at the back, thinned into sprouts and dots on top. I don’t know how old he was, but I’d guess in his eighties.

He shuffled along the linoleum floor, a slight hunch. He moved with the grace of a fridge being shifted by a single person.

The old man came out into the back room and sat on a chair by our table, the surface of it covered in papers and lolly wrappers, crayons and pictures that had been left by my little sister. The man let out a breath as the chair took up his weight, leaned his head back. He looked tired, sun-worn. The gaps in his hair shined with sweat.

Dad gave him a cup of tea and the old man sat and looked around, staring out through his thick glasses, squinting to see.

‘You been on a big drive, mate?’ Dad asked.

‘The longest I’ve ever been done.’

‘Really?’ Dad sat down at the table too. There was no one in the shop. It was a quiet time of the day.

‘Yes. I’m taking a drive up the coast.’

‘Okay. How you going with it so far?’

‘It’s okay,’ the old man told Dad. ‘It’s a lot of quiet, there’s a lot of quiet periods with not much to see.’

‘Yeah,’ Dad said. ‘A lot of paddocks.’

The old man was still looking around, looking behind himself, at the brick wall, the calendar on it.

‘Are you going okay?’ Dad asked.

‘Okay, yes,’ the old man said. ‘Just…’ The old man turned to look at Dad. ‘I’m not sure where I am right now.’

‘Oh,’ Dad said. ‘So you’re lost?’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘Well, I guess you are then, hey?’ Dad laughed. The old man showed no response.

‘I’m not as good with maps. My wife did the maps, you know?

‘Where’s she then?’

‘She died. Some years back.’

‘Oh,’ Dad said. ‘Sorry to hear that.’

‘She died, then the dog passed away last week. Then I decided to go for a drive, go see the coast, you know?’

‘Okay,’ Dad said. ‘Wow, that’s a lot to take on. Really sorry about your wife, and your dog.’

‘I couldn’t go before,’ the old man said. ‘Because who would feed the dog?’ He looked at Dad.

‘Yep, no. I don’t know, mate.’

The old man bowed his head a moment. And when he lifted his face again, his eyes glistened beneath the overhead light. He was crying.

‘Well,’ the old man leaned forward, a hand on his knee. ‘Time to get moving.’

‘Hey, no, it’s okay,’ Dad raised a hand. ‘It’s fine, just stay here a bit, just rest a moment.’

‘No no,’ the old man said. ‘I need to crack on.’ The man stood up, arched his back up slow.

‘Well, where are you headed, mate? I can help you with directions.’

‘That’s the thing,’ the old man smiled. ‘I don’t really know.’

 

The old man shuffled back across the shop floor, in front of the shelves of biscuits and pasta and canned soup. He stepped carefully down the concrete steps, then he moved across to his car. He eased himself in, a steadying hand on the metal frame.

‘Really,’ Dad told the man. Dad was holding the door open, helping him get in. ‘I’d rather you stayed for a bit.’ The old man settled into his seat, shuffling across. ‘Is there someone we can call for you?’

‘No, no one to call,’ the old man said. ‘I’m fine. Just need to get back on the road.’

‘Well mate, if you need anything, just come back, alright? Do you have a phone or something?’

‘No,’ the old man pulled his door shut, the slightly open window quivering in its frame as he did. ‘Time to get going,’ the old man said.

 

The old Ford rattled across the car park and out onto the road, the old man’s head hidden behind the headrest, which I could see through the back window, shadowed beneath the sunlight. Dad and me stood out in the heat of the day, watching him leave. The red lights of the car blinking on as he approached the curve. Then he was gone.

Sometimes I wonder about the old man. Who lost his wife, lost his dog. Sometimes I wonder where he ended up next, where his travels took him.

Sometimes I think about him, when I consider what it is to be in love. And how the beings that have your heart eventually become your home.

 

Main image via Good Free Photos.

Revisiting the comic book narrative

umbrella

After watching the Netflix series ‘The Umbrella Academy’, I was inspired, for the first time in a long time, to go check out the original comic books of the same name. Written by Gerard Way, and illustrated by Gabriel Ba, both of whom have storied histories of vastly different backgrounds, it’s been interesting to take a moment to drift back into the comic book world and get that surge of nostalgia and recognition – even if the modern comic universe looks almost nothing like the one I knew when I was a kid.

What’s been most interesting, from a writing perspective, is analysing the stories from a more mature viewpoint. The first thing? Comic book narratives are unlike anything else, and it’s almost impossible to compare them, for the most part, to any other form.

Yet at the same time, these narratives were part of what lead me to being a writer. I was hugely into comics between the ages of 11 and 14, and while I couldn’t understand the moral complexity of the stories, the narrative style definitely had some impact, at least early on, as to how I approached writing.

That was then refined by novels and screenplays, so it’s hard to say what elements stuck with me, if any. But in particular, it has been interesting to note just how much is left up to your imagination in comic books, how you’re only getting a brief snapshot of this whole other world, and whatever else is going on is only alluded to between the lines.

That lends itself to the writing style I prefer, in minimalism, which puts increased onus on the reader to connect the dots. That, to me, is a more engaging style, as it demands attention and lets you piece things together a bit more than a descriptive, prescriptive style, which is what most genre work caters to. In Umbrella Academy, the main storylines are actually very brief, but you can imagine the lives of these characters and the worlds they live in outside of the focus narrative, which makes it a more engaging, and dare I say it, obsessive experience for those readers who connect with the work.

You can see why comic book fans are so passionate, they’ve been asked to invest a lot of themselves and their own imagination into these characters and worlds, which is what keeps them coming back. Because it becomes part of them – each person’s vision of each world is unique to them, which helps solidify their relationship. It’s also likely why comic book fans get so upset when a film adaptation veers from what they know, from the rules that have been established within the lore of the source work.

Of course, there are longer form comic books – graphic novels and the like – which more closely align with a traditional Hero’s Journey type narrative structure. I’ve checked out some of those over the years (did you know that Chuck Palahniuk’s two Fight Club sequels are both available in graphic novel form?), but they’ve always felt, to me, like a hybrid form that straddles the line a little too much, which has left them, in my mind, less satisfactory. But the traditional comic format will always have a place in my heart, getting small insights into these worlds one episode at a time. Writing such is a dedicated skill within itelf.

It’s been interesting to note why that is, and what engagement elements work best within the format, which may help to inform other writing approaches.

Two Simple Writing Notes

Two simple pointers to help you improve your fiction writing are:

  • Avoid flat description
  • Eliminate unnecessary adverbs

The first point is fairly obvious – your writing will be more mentally engaging if you can add more to your descriptions, and provide context, as opposed to instruction.

Here’s a basic example – in a recent short story I wrote, the first line was originally:

“When I was sixteen, I had this girlfriend, and one day she didn’t want to go home.”

That’s not so bad, but it’s fairly basic, right? I’m telling the reader, straight up, that ‘I was sixteen’. That, to me, is flat description, and I think there’s always a better way to communicate such detail.

On my second edit, I changed it to:

“Back before I was old enough to drive, I had this girlfriend, and one day she didn’t want to go home.”

That’s a small change – going from a direct age reference to an experiential one may seem like nothing. But reading both examples back, the latter is more engaging – it’s active and prompts a recollection, it engages a little more of your brain than just reading a summary detail.

Subtle changes like this can add significantly more depth to your work, and invite the readers to invest more of themselves, and their own experiences, into the story, which can help bring it to life. Reading a flat description doesn’t do the same, and it’s a fairly easy element to correct.

By pushing yourself to think of a more engaging description, as opposed to relying on prescriptive detail, you add more creativity to your work, and offer more ways for your readers to connect.

The second element to be wary of is unnecessary adverbs – words like ‘quickly’, ‘sleepily’, ‘sadly’, ‘hurriedly’ etc. There’s likely a better, more engaging way to say the same thing, normally within the surrounding context – when you go to use an adverb like this, it’s an opportunity to consider whether you could add in extra description, a more visceral reference, it there’s another way to add depth to your work.

For example:

“He moved quickly across the room and hurriedly scrambled with the lock”

Could be:

“He rushed across the room and clawed at the lock, as if it was hot, burning at his fingertips”

That’s an average example, but it illustrates the point – instead of relying on simplistic description, it’s an opportunity to provide a simile, a way for the reader to ‘see’ what you do, as opposed to simple noting the detail.

These rules, of course, are not definitive, and your capacity to judge when, and how, to apply them will be what truly separates your writing (which is why teaching creative writing is difficult). But they are some additional points to consider, which may help you improve your description and context, and build more engaging scenarios with your words.

Works in progress…

I’m always writing, working on one writing project or another. I was able to establish a good daily routine which enabled me to allocate time to fiction properly when writing ONE, and since then, I’ve tried to stay active, to keep working on new projects, so I don’t end up filling that time with something else.

I have a few projects in various stages – so nothing is definitively set in stone as yet – but here’s an overview of the main things I’m working on, and hoping to get to the next level sometime soon.

Control (Novel)

How in control of your life are you really?

Control follows the intersecting stories of four very different characters, as each navigates their own major life shifts, with their past experiences returning to define their current perspective. Can you truly escape your past? Is your life everything you believe it’s become?

Are you really as in control as you think?

A Home (Novel)

What if your child was hurt by someone, by another adult, when you weren’t there to protect them? How would you respond? Could you just let it go, or would you seek revenge, your own form of justice?

A Home follows the story of a father who chooses the latter path, hunting down the man who hurt his son in order to confront him, and his own regrets in failing his boy. But is revenge the answer? Does anger lead to real resolution?

A modern-day take on a Western-style story, A Home explores themes of protection, retribution and healing, and how we come to live with the hardest of realizations.

Argonaut (YA Novel)

In the mid-nineties, in a country town in rural Victoria, a teen girl commits suicide. No one wants to talk about it, people would rather avoid the topic entirely. But one young boy wants to know where she went, what happened to the girl who lived over the back fence.

For a school project, he decides to investigate the case, and he finds that the more he asks, the more he pushes the boundaries, opening wounds which are still healing and disturbing the close community. But maybe it is something we should be asking, and discussing with younger generations, rather than sweeping it under the carpet.

Set against the backdrop of a town event to celebrate the launch of a new war memorial, Argonaut looks at our contrasting approaches to death – and confronts us with questions of how that impacts our broader perception.

The Returned (Screenplay)

A magnetic disturbance has been pulling boats and aircraft into a remote section of the Southern Ocean, possibly for years. Now, they’ve found it, but they’ve also found survivors, frozen in the wreckage. And once they’re recovered, years out of time, re-connecting with the world seems impossible.

The Returned is a science fiction mystery story which looks at what it means to be isolated, and what the reality might be, if you were somehow displaced. And there’s more to the disturbance than it even initially seems.

Sunshine (Novel)

In a time of personal data tracking, political confusion and larger concerns that impact the very future of our planet, it’s easy to get lost in the vastness of it all, to feel powerless, floating in the middle, hoping for the best.

Do you ever feel like just going? Just packing your bags and heading on your way, getting away from everything?

Sunshine follows the story of one man who does just that. In the wake of the hardest incident he’s ever had to face, he decides that there’s nothing here for him, that his life, as it stands, is finished. So he leaves, heading off on an uncertain journey to find a mythical location that he doesn’t know exists. He has no phone, no vehicle and limited funds, as he walks north, looking for the edge of the world.

Incorporating a modern take on the work of ‘bush poet’ Henry Lawson, Sunshine is an epic journey that criss-crosses the Australian landscape, taking in the sights and sounds along an emotional trip.

As noted, all of these projects are at various stages, and any and all details could change. But hopefully I’ll have more to share on each some time soon.

 

What speaks to you

At this week’s announcement of the 2019 Stella Prize longlist, author Emily Maguire delivered a speech about literary snobbery and the cultural expectation around reading the ‘right’ books.

As per Maguire’s speech (re-printed in The Guardian):

“When I got to uni I read a lot of amazing books I never would have come across otherwise, and I’m forever grateful for that. But I also got infected with this idea of the canon, and the associated conviction that books outside the canon are fine for a certain kind of person – but not for serious readers. Definitely not for serious writers, which is what I wanted to be.”

No doubt you’ve experienced the same – some books are serious, others not so much, and if you were really serious about literature, you wouldn’t waste your time on the latter.

Maguire’s focus was more related to the dominance of the white male perspective in ‘the right books’, but the point relates to all reading, and writing, more broadly. No one can truly say what the ‘right’ books are, nor define, in absolute terms, what literary merit is. Sure, there are certain elements that I would argue are relative to what I consider literature to be, but they may not definitively be correct. What I look for in a book is likely very different to what someone else seeks – and that’s really what’s most important, that you find the work that speaks to you, which aligns with what you want to read, when you want to read it.

Some people read to educate themselves, some for pure pleasure, others for both. Some look for realism, some escapism – as a writer, the key point of reading as widely as possible, in my opinion, lies in finding writing that sticks with you, that catches in your soul and ignites your own thinking, connecting with you on a deeper level than the mere words alone. And that, really, can be anything.

Of course, if you want to actually be a writer who sells books, there are certain commercial realities, but those can and do shift, things change in the marketplace, new readers raised on different stories and formats grow up to expect books and movies to do different things. As such, there’s a wide range of readers looking for a diverse variance of stories, which means that rather than trying to enhance your work’s appeal based on a market-defined set of rules or ideas, you’ll likely be better served by simply finding what works for you, what you love to write, and going with that.

Will that guarantee you success? No it won’t, there’s no way of knowing for sure whether your work will connect with readers and find its people. But you have to work with what speaks to you, what feels true to what you want to create. That’s a harder path, in terms of how you then, ideally, go on generate income from the same. But literary culture is made richer through diversity, through the sharing of many perspectives, which enables readers to see things they otherwise would not, and cannot, experience.

If you’re ever stuck thinking about what you should write, how you should write, what works best – go read. Read through many styles, many genres – not hundreds of books from each necessarily, but enough to understand what connects with you and what doesn’t. Absorb what you can, think through it. Then, as you start to connect further with those sentences and stories that spark in your mind, your own prose will eventually start to come clear.

Back to it

bag

Today is the final day of school holidays – which means that tomorrow, my kids go back to school, and I go back to my regular writing routine.

It’s the greatest being able to spend time with the kids, but it obviously makes it hard to set aside the time to write in peace, especially amid the arguments over Pokemon, Roblox and whatever else it is they’re doing.

It’s been stupidly hot in Canberra too, which has limited what we can do, so it’ll be good for the kids to get back to hanging out with their friends and moving into a new school year.

For me, the long break is all about reading as much as I can, and writing notes on ideas and inspirations, and I have a heap of little reminders and scribbles in my notebooks that I now get a chance to delve into and see what comes out as I move back into full-on creative flow.

It’s great hanging out with the kids, but I’m very much looking forward to getting back to it, and burying myself in the depth of the next project to see what pans out.

And a relevant note here too for those trying to work out their own writing routine – I’d heard for years that the more you write the easier it gets, that if you get down, say, a thousand words per day, it all starts to flow eventually. I personally never found that advice overly helpful, until I really made it a focus – and while not everyone has the time or capacity to write that much, I can absolutely vouch for the fact that developing a writing routine does work. I’ve written more in the last two years than I had in the previous decade.

It’s hard to set aside time in amongst everything else you need to get done each day, and you have to push yourself a lot to get the ball rolling. But just like exercise, once you start moving, and stick with it, it gets easier. Till you can’t imagine not doing it.

Hopefully I’ll have more to share on my latest writing projects some time soon.

(FYI – The above image is my writing bag, with the various books, notepads and the mass of pens that I take with me wherever I go to write. The books change relevant to each project, as I use notes or passages for inspiration, or as a guide for sentence flow and structure, dependent on what I’m going for.)

The secret to becoming a writer

It’s interesting to consider what it takes to become a writer.

It’s a key focus among the questions that people commonly ask – ‘How did you get published?’ ‘What’s your writing process?’ ‘What word processing program do you use?’

As evident by the raft of self-publishing platforms out there, many, many people want to be able to call themselves writers, and want to be able to generate income by doing what they love. And they’re looking for the secret, the magic trick that will transform them from amateur to professional.

But the truth is, there really is no one thing.

Of course, you likely know this, but when I consider what I’ve done, in comparison to others I speak to who haven’t yet seen the same success with their writing efforts, I think the main difference is that I get it down and I send it out.

I’ve always been fairly disciplined in this respect, and good at maintaining a level of writing momentum. Even when my most recent novel slowed me down (significantly), I still kept writing, I kept working on other things. Within that process, I had to really re-assess whether this is what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to keep pushing, and once I had decided that I needed to stay with it, I had to re-arrange my day-to-day scheduled to make time for fiction work.

And eventually, I got it down, and I’ve written a lot more since (in what may come as welcome news for those struggling with a difficult project, once I’d gotten my second book out, and freed my mind of it, I was back into full swing, and I’ve written more in the last 12 months than I had in the previous 5 years).

For me, I feel like that’s been key – having the persistence to get the work done in the first place, then the confidence in it to send it out.

Many aspiring writers I talk to will say that they’ve always wanted to write, but they’ve never had the time. You won’t get anywhere unless you actually do it. Then there are others who would never dream of showing anyone else their stuff – or at least, not until it’s 100% perfect, and that, in many ways, is a noble, logical approach. But at some point, you need to send it out. So what if it gets rejected, or if you don’t hear anything back? At least you’re pushing. At least you’re trying to get to that next stage.

There is also a level of natural ability, and research required. I guess that’s another element which is often overlooked – while you might not necessarily see it, writers are constantly reading in the genres they write in, and in general, they’ve thoroughly studied writing theory and process too. It may not be obvious, but every writer has to do this work – if you want to write and be published, you have to know the market, and you have to understand what works.

Reading what’s out there, and understanding literary analysis is key.

As a basic example, sometimes my wife will be like ‘why don’t you just write some big selling commercial fiction book and set yourself up financially?’ Because I can’t – because in order to do that. I would have to read hundreds of books in that genre, in order to understand the language flows, the tropes, the ways in which to best communicate that type of story. Genre fiction may seem more straight-forward than ‘lit fic’, more formulaic to a degree, but you still have to do the work to make your stuff great. You have to know the style, in and out – you have to read, a lot.

Again, this is what all authors do, and that’s likely why there is no magic pill, no secret tip that can turn you into a published author. Because, for one, there is no set path – there are no prescriptive guides, everyone’s evolution is different. And really, it comes down to work, to your capacity to learn and adapt, to your commitment to understanding your story, your genre, and your ability to connect everything together into a compelling piece of your own.

Maybe, then, that’s the secret. It’s not easy, it’s no shortcut. But the truth is you have to do the work.

Get it down, fix it up, then send it out. Then start on the next thing.

Completion

I have a confession to make – I don’t always finish the books that I start.

And it’s not necessarily because they’re not engaging or interesting, it’s not boredom, definitively, that’ll make me put something down. As a writer, I read for education as much as for entertainment, and I often find myself so inspired or my imagination so triggered by the way the book is written or a certain idea within the text, that I drift into my own work and move back to writing.

I imagine a lot of writers have the same, though definitely when I tell some people that I don’t finish every book I read, they can’t understand it. For some, starting a book or a movie also requires completion – you have to know how the story ends, it’s like a need, a compulsion. But the ending, for me, is hardly a consideration. If I’m inspired by a certain aspect, or taken by some element, then I try to run with that and use it as fuel for my own work.

That’s also not to say I don’t complete anything – I read plenty of books to completion. But it’s almost become a guilty admission, a shameful secret. I don’t always get all the way through to the last page of every story. Yet, I probably still get as much value from the process as somebody who has done so.

It also feels kind of hypocritical – I don’t finish every book I read, yet I pain over every single page of my work in the hopes that it’s engaging enough to keep people interested. That, of course, relies on people reading to completion, so I write for people who do read. But then again, I guess if there’s some aspect of my work that people find inspiring, that’s fine too – I’d be glad I was able to provide some level of value.

It is interesting though when people ask ‘What are you reading?’ or ‘What have you read this year?’ I’ve read lots and lots of things, and I always have several books on the go. But could I give you a full rundown of the plot of each one – no. But I can show what things I’m working on.

It’s not the same, but that’s kind of how I look at it.

My Top Films of 2018

At the end of every year, I like to take some time to contemplate my favourite cinematic experiences of the past 12 months, and put together a list of the top films I saw during that period. But this year I had a problem – I couldn’t come up with five films I really loved.

Now, part of that is my own limitations in getting to the cinema – I have two young kids, which means that I’ve seen every kids film, but fewer outside of that. I still generally catch most of the buzzed about films when they get a DVD or digital release, but I do likely also miss out on some that I should have got to. Yet even then, I have seen most of the Golden Globe nominees, all the big ones. And not many really grabbed me.

But I do think 2018 marked a significant shift in the cinema landscape. This year, I really only loved two films, and both of them originated from Netflix, which, increasingly, is looking to experiment and distribute more interesting projects. They don’t always get this right, but they are getting better, and I feel like Netflix could become the new wave, the new platform of choice for ‘left of centre’ film making, a new home for more experimental, artistic film projects.

It’s been heading this way for a while, but it feels like Netflix gained more legitimacy in this regard in 2018, with some very big names partnering with the streaming giant on new projects.

So what were my top films?

Annihilation by Alex Garland

annihilation

Alex Garland is one of my favourite writer/directors to follow – he wrote one of my favourite books of all-time, ‘The Coma’, which was far less commercially successful than his major breakthrough ‘The Beach’, but was far more aligned with his film work. Following The Coma, which was Garland’s third novel, he moved onto screenplays, working on an ill-fated adaptation of the video game ‘Halo’, then ‘28 Days Later’, and the remake of Judge Dredd. Garland then shifted to directing, with his breakthrough film ‘Ex Machina’, providing him with the perfect platform to showcase his eye for detail and cinematic ability.

Annihilation is not as good as Ex Machina, but it’s close, and it definitely deserves more attention than it seems to have been given. Some of that is due to a distribution deal which saw the film skip a cinematic release in most regions, going straight to Netflix instead. But on Netflix, it has gained an audience and momentum, making it something of a cult winner.

Annihilation features excellent effects, a great cast (hard to go wrong with Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac) and in intriguing story. Studio executives were reportedly concerned that the plot was ‘too cerebral’, and certainly there’s a lot to take in. But there’s a lot to get out of it too – a really interesting film that uses its science fiction setting to tell a human story, which is what the best of the genre does.

Also worthy of note, Annihilation is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by Joel and Ethan Coen

buster

I’ve been a big of the Coens for a long time – they were among the film-makers in the mid-nineties who really introduced me to a new way of appreciating cinema and what the medium could offer. From ‘Raising Arizona’ to ‘True Grit’, the Coens have an amazing handle on the form, and how to use it to maximum effect, which is showcased in varying capacity in their western short-film collection ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’.

The film is a great representation of their style, with excellent dialogue, a great sense of timing and pace and visually interesting stories. There’s a heap going on in each of these little tales, and while I don’t think each one hits the mark exactly, the ones that do more than make up for any minor shortfalls.

As noted, both of the abov films represent an interesting shift for Netflix, which is gradually starting to refine its process in regards to its original production efforts. They still produced some films that missed the mark in 2018 – ‘Bright’ had an interesting premise, but failed to capitalize on it, ‘Extinction’ felt generic, as did ‘How it Ends’, while Duncan Jones’ ‘Mute’ felt only partially realized and never seemed to elevate. But then again, others like ‘Set it Up’ and ‘Next Gen’ were nuanced and clever, and showed what Netflix produced films can be, and can do for the broader film scene.

Then later in the year, Netflix also released the excellent ‘Outlaw King’ with Chris Pine, and the much-hyped ‘Bird Box’ with Sandra Bullock. And while Bird Box sometimes felt constrained by cliché, Outlaw King was another high point for the streaming giant, and an indicator of the potential of its projects to come.

There were other films I liked in 2018 – ‘Solo’ was, I thought, a good step back in the right direction for the Disney-owned Star Wars generation (once it found it’s footing about 40 minutes in), while the comedy ‘Blockers’ was far better than I expected, with the marketing angle for the film seeming way off. But I didn’t see anything that really blew me away, that really stuck with me after, as the above two films did.

What that means, to me, is that Netflix may be moving to take up the mantle left by the decline of Miramax and arthouse cinema in general as studios have looked to bigger productions (and lots of remakes/sequels). Netflix invested around $13 billion into original projects in 2018, and plans to up that further in 2019, as it continues to increase its subscriber base and build out its business.

That’s a very positive sign for those working in literary circles, as it means more opportunity for film projects – both in terms of original screenplays and adaptations. Indeed, in 2018, Netflix also invested in its first Australian original feature film, while it’s been working with the ABC on several TV productions. While it remains to be seen exactly how the next phase of video on demand – or ‘Television 3.0’ – plays out, it is good to see new opportunities arising from the expansion of the field.