Tag Archives: reality TV

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

Reality television shows are made about just about anything these days. You can watch people survive on an island, housewives fight with each other or follow the exploits of a group of Kiwis on the Gold Coast, from wherever you are in the world. However, would you watch a man dying of a brain tumour as his family crumbles around him? Len Vlahos’ amazing new book, Life in a Fishbowl, shows us exactly what life would be like for a family in this situation.

32604250Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone’s father is dying.

When Jackie discovers that her father has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, her whole world starts to crumble. She can’t imagine how she’ll live without him . . .

Then, in a desperate act to secure his family’s future, Jackie’s father does the unthinkable–he puts his life up for auction on eBay. Jackie can do nothing but watch and wait as an odd assortment of bidders, some with nefarious intentions, drive the price up higher. The fate of her entire family hangs in the balance.

But no one can predict how the auction will finally end, or any of the very public fallout that ensues. Life as Jackie knows it is about to change forever…

I absolutely loved this incredibly powerful story!  Like a reality TV show, Life in a Fishbowl is addictive and entertaining, but this book will also make you stop and ponder the issues that it deals with.  What lengths would you go to to provide for your family if you only had 4 months to live?  How would you feel if someone you loved was dying and you couldn’t grieve in peace? How would you cope with people who want to twist and edit your words and feelings just to make better TV?  If the person you love asked you to help them die would you do it?

Like the house that the family Stone live in, with it’s multiple cameras and multiple points of view, Len Vlahos gives us many different perspectives of Jared Stone’s situation.  I feel that these different points of view set this book apart from your average YA read.  You get the perspective of Jackie, one of the teenage daughter’s of Jared, who is struggling to deal with her father’s illness and the constant cameras that follow her everywhere in the house.  However, you also get the perspective of Jared himself (who is quickly loosing his memories and control of who he is), the ruthless TV producer Ethan (who will do almost anything to keep his show running), Sister Benedict (a nun who wants to save Jared but has questionable morals) and Sherman Kingsborough (an immature millionaire who believes that money can give him everything he wants).  Then there is my favourite perspective of the book, Glio, the anthropomorphized glioblastoma multiforme (or brain tumour).  You watch as Glio gobbles up Jared’s memories with glee, giving you a taste of family life before Glio came along.  Glio becomes more and more adventurous and hungry for experiences as the book progresses, which ultimately means the deterioration of Jared.

Like any reality TV show you there are moments where you will be biting your nails, screaming at the characters, laughing with glee as a character you hate gets what is coming to them, and ultimately wanting to binge the whole book until you’ve reached the end. Rush out and grab Life in a Fishbowl now!

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Pop! by Catherine Bruton

There are so many different types of reality shows on TV these days, involving everything from singing and dancing, to cooking and building.  Suzanne Collins took the reality show idea and turned it into a fight to the death in The Hunger Games and in Catherine Bruton’s new book, Pop!, one of her characters has worked out the rules of talent TV and reckons she knows how to play the system.

The first round of auditions was a bit mad. All these wannabe popstars sitting around trying to look wacky/soulful/tragic (delete as appropriate) to catch the attention of the TV cameras.

At least we had a cracking back story. The story of me, Agnes, Jimmy and baby Alfie; the tears, the tragedy, the broken homes and feuding families, the star-crossed lovers. And only some of it was made up.

If I say so myself, it was genius: a sure-fire golden ticket to stratospheric stardom. Or at least that was the plan…

Pop! is a terrific story full of moments that will make you laugh, cry, cringe, jump for joy, and possibly want to slap a certain character.  The story is told from the point of view of the three main characters; Elfie, Jimmy and Agnes.  Elfie is the smart-ass who always comes up with crazy schemes that Jimmy gets roped into.  Her mum is incredibly unreliable and always walks out when times get tough, so Elfie is often left to look after her baby brother Alfie.  Jimmy and Elfie have been best friends for as long as they can remember, so Jimmy always gets involved in Elfie’s schemes.  Jimmy is a fantastic swimmer and his dad trains him hard so that he might get a chance to go to the Olympics.  It’s one day when Elfie and Jimmy are hanging out under the bridge that Elfie announces their next big scheme – they’re going to enter the Pop to the Top talent contest.  Their only problem is that they don’t really have any talent.  Then they hear a girl singing.  That girl is Agnes, the daughter of one of the ‘immos,’ the immigrant workers who have taken the jobs of local workers at the power station.  Agnes has an amazing voice and so Elfie ropes her into being in her girl band for Pop to the Top.  Agnes and Jimmy have no idea what they are getting themselves in for, and as Elfie weaves more and more lies, their lives and the lives of those around them spiral out of control.

Catherine Bruton has created three very different characters who are all doing what they believe is right.  Even though Elfie creates these twisted versions of their lives, she is only doing so to try and win the money that she thinks will solve all their problems.  She cares so much for her dad and her little brother and wants to give them the life they deserve.  Jimmy and Agnes go along with Elfie’s scheme because they want what’s best for their families too.  At first Elfie made me laugh with her plans and her fake back stories, then she made me want to slap her, but by the end of the story she had redeemed herself.  Agnes is a really interesting character because she really grows throughout the story.  At first she’s quiet and withdrawn because nobody, apart from her family, talks to her.  Not only is she the daughter of an immo, but she also doesn’t speak much English.  She says that she is a collector of words and she picks up new and interesting words from listening to conversations.  Throughout the story she grows in confidence and manages to settle the moths in her stomach when she sings.

I absolutely love Pop! and the wonderful characters that Catherine has created. Whenever I watch a reality show now I’ll be looking out for people who know Elfie’s Rules of Talent TV.  If you love Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books, like Millions and Framed, then Pop! is definitely the book for you.

5 out of 5 stars

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Guest Post: Catherine Bruton on Pop! Part 2

It’s my pleasure today to host Catherine Bruton, author of Young Adult novels We Can Be Heroes and, her latest book, Pop!  Catherine has written a couple of fantastic posts for me about how Suzanne Collins pipped her at the post and how Pop! came to be.  Thanks Catherine!

 

I guess ‘Pop!’ is a bit like my previous book ‘We Can be Heroes’ in that it’s silly and madcap and bonkers but underneath all that it’s actually dealing with some pretty serious  issues. The whole reason my main characters enter ‘Pop to the Top’ is  because  it’s the only solution they can think of to the rubbish stuff that’s going on in their lives – or maybe a way to help them forget all that. A strike is dividing the community; Elfie’s mum has run out on the family (again); her dad is on the verge of bankruptcy; and if that happens he’ll lose custody of Elfie and her baby brother too. Winning the prize money  is Elfie’s last chance to save her family.

But she needs Agnes if she’s going to do it. If Elfie is the brains behind the operation, Agnes is the talent. The only problem is that the  girls’ families are on opposite sides of the strikers/scab divide. Agnes’s family are under attack and ostracized by the whole community so going along with Elfie’s crazy plan is  the only way any one will actually talk to her  (not in public mind you – like Elfie said, this is strictly business and totally top secret!)

Then there’s Jimmy. Sweet, long-suffering Jimmy who’s been in love with Agnes since they were eight years old. Jimmy’s got his own problems: his dad wants him to be an Olympic swimmer. He reckons everyone should have a dream and this is Jimmy’s apparently. Only sometimes it feels like he’s only doing it to keep his dad happy – and now his dad talking about crossing the picket line to  pay for Jimmy’s training and Jimmy has to stop him.

Jimmy  gets dragged  into Elfie’s ‘Pop to the Top!’ plan because – well, basically because he does whatever Elfie tells him to do – it’s just easier that way.  Even if it does mean posing as the teen father of her lovechild and pretending to be in  love triangle with Agnes and Elfie – which he sort of is anyway  ( not that he is EVER going to admit that to anyone – especially not Elfie!)

Of course I had to watch my step writing  about Talent TV.  My original judging panel line up  for ‘Pop to the Top!’ would have got me sued by Mr Cowell and Co! And  the minute I changed my lead judge to a North West Pop Legend who’d headed up a Uber-famous boy band in the 90s  what goes and happens? Gary Barlow  only gets the top spot at the X Factor. So, can I do that disclaimer bit you always see on films: ‘Any similarity to real event and people is purely coincidence etc etc!’ Cos I love Gary, me! Despite how it might seem when you read the book!

It was a character from George Orwell’s novel who spawned ‘Big Brother’ – the first ever Reality TV show. And now  Reality TV is feeding right back into fiction and shaping the way contemporary authors are writing.  From ‘The Hunger Games’ and the  ‘The Running Man’ to novels like ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece’ ,‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’, ‘L. A. Candy’ ‘Strictly Shimmer’ – and loads more – see my list below – Reality TV is such an integral part of our culture that it’s hardly surprising that it should be a topic of interest to contemporary novelists.

And I might be a Talent TV addict, but  that doesn’t mean I don’ t think it needs to be mocked  a little – OK, more than a little! Or maybe the’ ‘Rules of Talent TV’ that head up every chapter of ‘Pop!’ really are  a fool-proof recipe for Talent TV success – perhaps someone should  follow them all and see! Only it won’t be me cos I really, really, really can’t sing! And I don’t have any talent really – oh, except writing, obviously (I think  I’m meant to say that aren’t I or no one will read my books!)

Anyway,  I guess I’m OK with not writing ‘The Hunger Games’.  I mean, thank goodness Suzanne Collins did cos they totally rock (I read all three in four days and barely ate, slept or spoke to my children whilst doing so).  But  I’m so indecisive I’d never have decided between Pet and Gale  and I’m so squeamish no one would actually have ever died in the arena. And  most importantly,   what would I have worn to all those film  premieres? I just don’t have the shoes! So perhaps I’m glad I wrote ‘Pop!’ instead. Which is not to say I would mind if any lovely film buff came knocking on my door … in fact, I think it’d make a cracking film you know … call me anytime, Mr Spielberg!

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Guest Post: Catherine Bruton on Pop! Part 1

It’s my pleasure today to host Catherine Bruton, author of Young Adult novels We Can Be Heroes and, her latest book, Pop!  Catherine has written a couple of fantastic posts for me about how Suzanne Collins pipped her at the post and how Pop! came to be.  Thanks Catherine!

Why I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’  – or how Reality TV and the novel have been getting it on for years!

I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’! No,  seriously,  it should have been me!   Suzanne Collins – Schmollins.  I should be topping those best seller lists and tripping down the red carpet to film premieres (although I haven’t a thing to wear!)  Cos  it was my idea, you know!  Well, sort of… I mean, I totally… practically… well almost thought of exactly the similar-ish plot.

OK, here’s how it was:  I’d been reading ‘Lord of the Flies’ whilst watching ‘The X Factor’  (yes, at the same time – I know, weird)  and I thought,  ‘Oooh! I should write a novel about a reality TV show where the contestants have to kill each other.’  I got a little way into plotting it too  (I have the notes in an old ideas book which I unearthed recently  in order to prove myself that I had basically written a best seller – sort of) but  then I remembered that I don’t much like blood. Or gory bits in books. Or killing off my characters really. And I’m rubbish at writing dystopian fiction.  And that’s as far as it got.

Only it didn’t – not really. Cos The Reality TV bit stayed with me, nagged at me – in that way certain plot lines tend to do. I think  it was Frank Cottrell Boyce who said that some plots  hunt you down, relentlessly   – like a predator, on your tail night and day until you get them onto paper. And that’s what this one did for me.  And as it went along it got muddled up with a load of other stuff:  oil refinery strikes and  kids with Olympic dreams and ‘Shameless’  and ‘Billy Elliot’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ via  Richard Armitage (him from ‘Spooks’ – swoon!) and ‘Glee’ and my sister making me pierce her ear with a fish-finger and my friends and I starting a girl band when we were seven  (we made dresses out of bin-liners) …  and somehow my ‘Hunger Games’ turned into a totally different novel which  eventually became ‘Pop!’ It’s still about Reality TV  – after  all it was the perfect cover for my BGT/ X Factor obsession – and it’s even got a love triangle but more it’s more  ‘Millions’ than ‘Mockinjay’. Less murder and more mayhem and madness , basically!

Cos I might be a bit too much of an optimist to  write dystopia but I do love a bit of Talent TV. OK I admit it – I’m a Talent TV addict. In fact some of the key moments of my life I associate with Talent TV. Novels got me through childbirth (yes, seriously: ‘Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix’ for child no 1 – it was a long labour – and ‘Wives and Daughters’ for child no. 2 – I still haven’t finished it!) but  ‘Pop Idol 2003’ (and ‘Pop Idol Extra’) got me through the new baby sleepless nights phase and ‘BGT’ was there for me the day  my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Stavros Flatley – better than Valium. God bless those little chubby river-dancers!

And I’m going to go  out on a limb here and declare that the editors of shows like ‘The X Factor’ and ‘BGT’ are some of the best story-tellers around today.  Yes, storytellers. Think of those perfect narrative arcs they script for the characters (sorry contestants); the heart-rending back stories; the will- they won’t they moments; the rollercoaster rides;  the butterfly from the cocoon makeovers; the nail-biting cliffhangers; the tearjerking  goodbyes and the edge-of-you-seat grand finales. It’s fictional gold dust!

Yes, there’s an element to which the editors have to relinquish control of their scripts to the voting public, but if you ask me that’s just a bit like one of those ‘fighting fantasy’ adventures – you know the ones you read when you were a kid (if you were a kid in the eighties, like me!) where you get a choice what to do at the end of each chapter. But the thing was that no matter what you chose they’d scripted a possible outcome for you – just like they’ve got every possible ending lined up in the Talent TV the edit suite, ready to roll out when the phone lines close. Honestly, those Talent TV bods know how to write a good story – and that’s what gets me hooked every time!

But I wanted to invent a kid who could see the narrative clichés of Talent TV and set out to exploit them. So my main character, Elfie Baguley, reckons she knows the ‘Rules of Talent TV’  inside out.   Her  useless –good-for-nothing mum is celeb obsessed  – and she watches so much Fame TV Elfie’s sussed out the ‘winning formula’.   So when she and her mates decide the only way to sort out their rubbish lives is to enter ‘Pop to the Top!’ (my fictionalised – and barely disguised –  version of The X Factor’!)   Elfie knows exactly how to ensure they get all the way to final – and if that means making up the odd whopping great lie and landing her best mates in a whole load of trouble along the way then  what can you do?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Catherine’s guest post tomorrow.  Pop! is out now in NZ so grab a copy from your library or bookshop.

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