Tools of the trade: Aeon Timeline

As detailed on the official Aeon Timeline website, it is a tool for writers, project managers and legal practictioners to plan, visualise and analyse data.

Aeon Timeline
Participants and arcs in Aeon Timeline

I’ve always had problems recording and recalling dates and times for my story and characters, without losing my notes (and my shit), which is why Aeon timeline is such a fantastic bit of kit. For me it represents the missing piece of the puzzle. I can now record births, deaths, important story and world events and everything in between visually, all in one place and -I’m tempting fate here- without creating massive plotholes; or at the very least, having an easier way to root them out.

Alternative views in Aeon Timeline
There are several different views in Aeon that are useful depending on how you work.

One of the best features for me is that Aeon can link directly to Scrivener, another great writing tool, enabling you to drag across all of your chapters and plot them on a timeline. You can create “arcs” (e.g. a character arc) on the timeline, so everything can be compared, collapsed and exapnded fludily in one view. You can zoom into minutes and seconds and out to your heart’s content. You can jump between important story milestones in the form of shortcut buttons. Births/creation dates can be defined, and also assigned to locations and any other entity; so you can see how old anything is at any given time on your timeline.

Plotting tension in Aeon Timeline
Plotting tension in Aeon Timeline

I’m still learning the intracacies of the software, but I have it down for basic stories without crazy otherworldly calendars, although this is entirely possible and I’m sure there are plenty of comprehensive online tutorials out there if that’s what you need Aeon to do.

Managing entities in Aeon Timeline
Managing entities and birthdates in Aeon Timeline

Aeon Timeline is not free, but there is a 20 day trial period (link below). You don’t need to put in any card details to try it, so there’s no risk of forgetting and being hit with a sudden direct debit. At the time of writing a full copy is £42 ($54). It is a one-off fee and for my money, more than worth it for all of the time it has saved, and no-doubt will save going forwards.

Here are some ace videos that helped me get up and running with the basics of Aeon Timeline:

Setting up Aeon Timeline as a writer. This is a simple, practical and no-nonsense guide to getting set up, without going too bonkers or expansive!

A tutorial on synching Scrivener directly to Aeon so your chapters appear within it on your timeline.

If you’re not sold on Aeon Timeline or it seems a little too much like overkill, here’s a discussion around other timeline software.

Tools of the trade: Scrivener

Scrivener is a writing tool that allows you to organise your novel into chapters and scenes and format your manuscript for publishing (among a bunch of other stuff). It can be purchased out-right for either Windows or Mac, and for iOS there is an App for writing on the go, which will allow you to synch things up. For a more expansive explaination of what it can do, please see Apple Insider’s pretty rad article (and yes I’m bringing rad back).

I have a Mac, but unfortunately an Android phone so no app for me. However, there’s a workaround that involves synching to Dropbox as a middleman. It works pretty well, especially with a light wireless keyboard if you’re on the move (provided you don’t mind using it in conjunction with a small phone screen).

Check out Scrivener’s prices

See the Scrivener overview

I don’t work for these guys, and it’s always worth checking out the competition, so here’s a few alternatives you may want to try (and it looks like at least one of them is free, so may be a good place to start).

In time, I intend to join up the dots with these ‘tools of the trade’ blogs to present a bible of the tools and methods I use when tackling a novel-length (and indeed series-based) piece.

Of course, if you know any other great writing tools or tips, please give me a shout in the comments!

Brighton up

I’ve held Brighton in high regard since my first visit, many moons ago for a gig with a friend. It was an unprecedented barmy few days at the beginning of September, 2011. There was sunbathing and ice cream. We’d been to see Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra at Concorde 2 (on purpose) and also landed up seeing Carl Barat at The Prince Albert (by mistake). Both were brilliant.

Brighton Pier circa 2011
Brighton Pier circa 2011

Of course, it could well be that I’ve been there so little, but enjoyed my short breaks there so much, that I’ve created a blinkered view of the place. It could be because the likes of Nick Cave and Natasha Khan (of Bats For Lashes fame) have made it their home. It’s just that on the whole the people don’t seem to be jerks, the pubs are old but paradoxically serve stuff I can actually eat and drink, they often play music that isn’t a repetitive drone and yes, according to society I am probably already past it.

Several years on, much has changed. My favourite club night has gone (Stay Beautiful), as has the venue (RIP Sticky Mike’s). I’m a lot less bothered about clubbing, which is sort of a blessing as we arrive on Sunday night and all of the club nights I have any interest in, aren’t on. We sack off Brighton Pavilion for its expensive entry and no idea of what’s actually inside. Even the weather is against us – for our only full day, it is torrential. The place, however, feels fresh and full of life. Besides, rain means an exhilarating trek across the Palace Pier with some well-earned chips in the Palm Court and then onto a succession of gloriously oldy-worldy pubs including The Black Dove (gothy antique-shop chic), and the cheekiest little seasoning of satanism in the form of The Hope and Ruin and The Quadrant.

Beelzeburger: 666% Vegan
Beelzeburger: 666% Vegan

The fact that the landscape has changed does not effect my enjoyment of the place. I realise we’re only a few days into February and we’ve just had the yearly resolutions and Veganuary, but as a recent convert to “guilt-free” eating (and for a man who’s not long since shunned everything plant-based unless heavily processed into something unrecognisable and full of sugar) Brighton feels like it’s a big part of that movement. Without being a preachy bitch, seeing a bus with a “see me as someone, not something” ad beside a gorgeous little lamb ( and pubs and restaurants that are 100% vegan (Purezza and Beelzeburger) now speak to me. There’s also the graffiti adorning most walls and alleys and artwork abound depicting the unloved Gallaghers of the skies (AKA seagulls). Are you considered vermin by anyone who won’t look past their unguarded potato-based snacks? Head to Brighton and have your likeness painted!

Brighton Palace Pier. Storm? Still technicolour.
Brighton Palace Pier. Storm? Still technicolour.

We don’t go to any gay clubs this time, but it’s great to see the rainbow flags everywhere, and for someone who’s always feels like a bit of a freak (and despite unfortunately not being gay myself – to quote Troy McClure; “Gay? I wish!”) Brighton feels safe and inclusive.

By the time it comes to our actual reason for being in Brighton – to see Tears for Fears supported by Alison Moyet (both are absolutely fantastic) – we’ve almost forgotten we aren’t just here to relax and soak up Brighton’s ambience.

Morris and Jacques breakfast
Hearty avocado breakfast at Morris and Jacques

I love you Brighton, and I wish I could live with you, but where would the hens go, and where would I get the money and the job? I fear I may not see you for a little while, but for all your energy and inspiration I thank you. Let’s not leave it so long next time.

Alison Moyet’s loveletter to Brighton and the LGBTQ community that has embraced her.

For the love of Luther

Now that the dust has settled following the fifth season of Luther, here are my thoughts.

***Please note this post contains spoilers for all seasons of Luther.***

Four whole bleak episodes. What a way to start 2019! With a show blighted by ever-reduced air time (season one: six episodes, season two and three: four episodes, and season four: a mere two episodes), it certainly feels like they’ve given us something to work with from it’s meatier, updated titles to Alice’s vastly increased screen-time although season five plays out more like a greatest hits; even with everything ramped up to eleventy-stupid in a rather fantastic fashion. A coda, if not the coda. Season five isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but they’ve committed to giving it more love and attention; especially given Luther’s lean and lacklustre fourth romp. Season four started promisingly with the introduction of DS Emma Lane (Rose Leslie). It also intrigued with Alice Morgan’s supposed drowning following a bungled robbery in Antwerp, but there the wasn’t time (or Ruth Wilson) to play any of it out effectively. It feels satisfying then, that given the four year gap, the creators are able and willing to tie up loose ends. That they can tell a full story without pulling punches, even if it means killing Alice for good this time.

Season five has only one serial killer making it more feature-length as a result. So the first episode with its somewhat gimmicky LED mask and now iconic bus scene plays a little like trailer-fodder (I’d seen too much already to experience any real surprise fright, but it was still cool). If anything the season improves from episode two.

Everything makes sense in the world Neil Cross and co have built

Though a lot of fans share my enthusiasm, season five is not without detractors, who find it overly-violent and generally over-the-top. To me this is misguided given the very first episode’s opening scene in season one saw the titular copper chasing a paedophile off a precipice and into a coma (yes, John’s always commited morally questionable acts in order to solve crimes). It also offered up three brutal murders (including a family dog). That and a bungled attempt to catch a killer John rumbles due to the fact she doesn’t exchange yawns, proving she’s the empathetically bankrupt culprit I’m still not convinced this is a foolproof approach. Everything makes sense in the world Neil Cross and co have built. It feels for all the world like a vast chunk of the British population has gone and pandered to the sniffier verdicts and then formed an opinion which isn’t theirs (see Google reviews to reach enlightenment). There’s been no tonal shift since John madly dashed onto our screens a decade ago. Luther has always had the propensity for at best uncomfortable viewing and at worst brutality and gore. So by now I’d have thought those still watching would have made their peace. The show is pretty highly rated where it matters season five has the highest viewing figures of the bunch in the UK to date. Perhaps then, it’s simply a victim of Idris Elba’s success; and I wonder whether Luther would have found a much more universally agreeable cult audience if not for this. Hell though, Luther is Luther and Idris is Luther and we probably wouldn’t have had a season two let alone a season five without Idris Elba and his dogged persistence at singing the show’s praises, so its fine by me.

London itself has always been one of Luther’s major characters, and season five does not disappoint, but rather expands its locations (and even goes cross-continent at one point). The stark white cliffs and John’s home there (“the days seem to fill themselves” –season four, but we realise they probably fill themselves with Alice and John’s inability to switch off, and indeed, to switch off the news –season five). We revisit Alice’s parents home too –a dusty monument to season one, and where it all began. And then London itself with its wicked streets, askew suburbia and rain-soaked colour palette, transforming double deckers and side-streets into nightmare territory. As ever, the settings are on-point and fit the mood perfectly. 

For the first time I find myself more compelled by what I would ordinarily see as a side-story to the main event, that being the hunt for the killer. You’re really following John, Alice and George Cornelius ((Patrick Malahide), that old-school London mob-boss from the last season). The serial killer/s: Jeremy (Enzo Cilenti) and Vivien Lake (Hermione Norris) are a surgeon and psychiatrist respectively and begin to feel somewhat secondary the more things progress, which I know a lot of people have had difficulty getting behind. Things start out twisty-turny, where the Lakes use James Houser (a disturbed client of Vivien’s) as both a sacrificial lamb and scapegoat for Jeremy’s killings when he is almost caught. There’s intrigue and horror to their story but things culminate perhaps a little too quickly for some viewers towards the end. This doesn’t bother me too much, but perhaps this is why the Lakes feel less iconic compared to some of Luther’s previous villains: I’d argue for the likes of the Millberrry twins (both Steven Robertson), Graham Shand (Rob Jarvis) and DCI Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh) to top the billing in that department. Having said this, what we do get of Jeremy’s character is brilliant, and with two of his major talkie scenes to a patient and also John and Hallidayyou really get a feel for his narcissism, almost to the point of god complex. Despite his wife’s culpability in this crimes, there are some things she just won’t get behind. He drugs her in order to sneak a mistress into his underground dungeon. In a suitcase. She is one of two characters who manages to evade a horrible death at his hands (and there are plenty who don’t).

Unable to parade his killings publicly, the exposure of Jeremy’s incriminating art work doesn’t do him much good, but by this time he’s putting masks of his own face on corpses, and living out his happy families fantasy by inviting plumbers and sex workers to sit around a dinner table being …well…dead. This final Jeremy Lake showdown segment is completed in record time (Vivien’s already safely behind bars), but it’s spooky stuff nonetheless.

Jeremy’s doctor/patient speech is incredible:

Alice turns up with a wound courtesy of George’s shotgun and John patches her up. He’s not pleased to see her, and George wants her head on a spike for kidnapping his boy. We learn through flashbacks of John and Alice’s whirlwind romance at that lush little house by the sea I’d wanted more of in season four. We find out what happened in Antwerp, how Alice faked her own death (with money), and then we witness the full force of the mob bearing down on them both.

Things escalate as Alice kills George’s son and a hit for her goes out (she’d kidnapped him to get what George owed her instead of trading cash for diamonds he’d chosen to take it all, and with it, Alice and John’s getout clause). John pays Mark North (Paul McGann) a visit to drop-off Alice and Benny “Deadhead” Silver (Michael Smiley) in the not-so safe house. The appearance of Mark, however welcome, and the fact Benny is suddenly allowed out of the office, makes me instantly uneasy. One or both of them, I know, is bound to wind up getting killed. That I care about Mark given the manner of his role in season one and his relatively small role since is testament to his likability. Benny too. Both are gentle souls wrapped up in all of the horror. Mark North it turns out, has been vegetarian since he was seventeen (a fact Alice finds entirely unsurprising). He obviously has a nice house and apparently a new wife: “Don’t drink all the orange juice and don’t get blood on the sofa”, he says. Unfortunately he seems to have jinxed the sofa/living room with this statement, but at least he lives to breathe another day. When Benny catches a bullet defending Mark in that selfless/foolish way characters sometimes do? Well, there are no words.

Brand new (and potentially fast-tracked) DS Halliday (Wunmi Mosaku) is happy-go-lucky but never evolves into anything more before effectively solving the case for John and catching Alice’s bullet which spirals us into final act territory and ultimately seals everyone’s fate. Which is a shame because although there’s the obvious shock-factor of bumping off Halliday so early into her tenure, we still have a DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) shaped hole that was not filled by either Halliday or Emma Lane, either of whom could have become more layered, interesting characters. Despite criticism, I think the fact John doesn’t have the chance to do much actual police work in this season is more to illustrate how he’s spread himself too thin and that the chaos Alice has thrown at him is simply too big to deal with at the same time as a case (or ever). I  believe that’s what Neil Cross intended. This is escalation; where before things felt tough, now they feel impossible. And they are. Nobody can go on the way John has without consequences. His downfall is trying to save everyone and solve everything and he pays the ultimate price for it. After Alice’s fall, DSU Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley) removes John’s famous coat (he’s a bit the worse for wear at this point having taken two none-fatal shots from Morgan) and places it over his hands, apparently to cover the cuffs (George killed his own hired hitman, framing John for it with a phone-snap). This derobing has happened once before (at the end of season three, when Alice says “I think you should get rid of it” (his coat) and it lands in the Thames), but not like this. Will we ever see John plunge his hands into his pockets “to not spoil the crime scene” again?

If like me, you’ve recently rewatched all of the seasons (easily the best way to appreciate Luther as a coherent whole), or perhaps for the first time to prime yourself for numero five, you’ll notice a lot of seemingly deliberate repetitions. You’ll have registered the first season with the falling/dropping of Henry Madsen compliments the end of the fifth with Alice’s fall, but there are also plenty of other nods to previous seasons.

“Totally disco” – John Luther

John drinks tea, there are “wotcha”s and a “totally disco” (potentially referencing Jenny Jones (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) from season two). There ard also more apparent character references than in previous seasons; “I had this thing once with brothers” (a nod to the twins, Aka Robert and Nicholas Millberry from season 2) and Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves): “a really good cop”. Which all helps add to the sense of things coming full-circle. We also have all of the usual “now what?” and variations on “it’s not right” / “isn’t right”, which are the Luther equivalent of the Star Wars franchises’ “I have a bad feeling about this”.

Alice Morgan is dead? I must admit, I am gutted. Justin Ripley level gutted, though in a lot of ways this death made more sense to me. Alice has been dead before, and unless they think of some dazzling way to bring her back, it’d just be too silly to do so. Belief-suspending Luther may be, but I’m not sure I’d buy Alice falling from a great height onto concrete and then walking off in the guise of a balaclava-clad officer moments later. If anything the more poetic “fuck you” would surely be to make it look like John had killed her. Aaaand Halliday. Mission accomplished?

The end of the forth episode finishes on Nina Simone’s version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, the same track that left us bloodied and gasping beside Ian Reed’s shotgun-blasted body at the end of season one, accompanied by another “what now?”. Time will tell. I picture John in prison garbs, reviled for being an ex-copper in a distinctly Arkham-esque institute. Fighting to stay alive against a backdrop of larger-than-life grotesques, and potentially one or two he’s put away. Perhaps the first third of the movie involves him clearing his name, before they fast-track his reinstatment so he can halt the nefarious plot/tip-off he heard about in jail. Then he gets the coat back. Or perhaps numero five really was it? Apparently Neil Cross (series creator) gets tetchy whenever he’s finished a season and there are positive rumblings from Idris who spoke out about a film follow-up akin to Seven. Fingers crossed!

You can watch Luther in its entirety (season 1-5) on Netflix, for for a limited time on BBC iPlayer.