Christmas special starts today. Final sale ever of Come See About Me (Dec 19 - 26). Just .99 at and equivalent prices at .ca, etc.

Christmas Special: Download Come See About Me eBook 99 cents December 19 - 26 only
Big hair & cold war politics! My guest blog "Yesterday: Introducing the 80s" is up at Kindlepost UK. Yesterday, My Beating Teenage Heart and I Know It's Over are now available as ebook downloads from with The Lighter Side of Life and Death and One Lonely Degree soon to follow. I had great fun designing the ebook covers and am happy to share them with you (click on the image to see a larger version):

I Know It's Over
One Lonely Degree
The Lighter Side of Life and Death
My Beating Teenage Heart

I've also been preparing for Christmas and last week I headed over to my friend's house with a gingerbread kit and one of my favourite Christmas movies of recent years, The Holiday. Neither of us had ever put a gingerbread house together, but how hard could it be?

We started out by laying the materials as directed by the package, and the foundation piece (the one that sits at the bottom of the house) promptly broke in two in my hands. Ooph!

gingerbread house makings

We managed to glue the severed pieces together with icing and successfully erect the basic house (even the chimney!). Yippee!

gingerbread house, bare

Ultimately, our gingerbread house didn't closely resemble the one on the cover of the package. In fact, ours looks as though it's been hit by a fierce blizzard (a candy blizzard perhaps?). But hey, that's in keeping with the season too, right? I find it awfully cute anyway, even the mutant gingerbread men.

finished gingerbread house

finished gingerbread house

On Monday Paddy and I finally put up our Christmas decorations around the apartment and an interesting thing happened. Remember the childhood Smurf collection I brought back from my mom's place not long ago? Well, the Smurfs took a shine to our Christmas village and have invaded. The original village inhabitants don't know quite what to make of them and some of the Smurfs have been revelling a little too hard (the pub has been a problem area) but generally the Smurfs are following Papa Smurf's genial example. So I have every faith peace (and comfort and joy) will prevail.

Smurfs invade my Christmas village

Smurfs invade my Christmas village

Smurfs invade my Christmas village

Smurfs invade my Christmas village
Home late last night after a sublime Leonard Cohen show (that I wish I was still at!), I'm mucho groggy today but am interrupting my Internet break to point folks in the direction of my guest blog entry on "Reconnecting with Your Lost Love of Writing" over at Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. If you've lost that loving feeling lately, this post might be for you. Signed copies of Yesterday and My Beating Teenage Heart are up for grabs too!
Some very cool reviews of Yesterday have been appearing on the Internet and out in the world recently. I wish I could link to the wonderful Quill & Quire write-up, but it's not online yet. Here's an outtake to whet your appetite: "A satisfying, original blend of time-travel thriller, science fiction and romance, this white-knuckle read is more Jason Bourne than Katniss Everdeen."
I'm very happy to say that Yesterday review appears on the same page with a lovely one for Monica Kulling's new book Lumpito and the Painter from Spain. Aimed at readers five and up, Lumpito is based on true events—Pablo Picasso's love for the one of a kind daschund that comes into his life. Quill and Quire say, "Young readers will delight," but this older reader is very much looking forward to reading it too! Sounds like a great Christmas gift, n'est-ce pas?
I'm also extremely excited to report that School Library Journal has given Yesterday a starred review. Yaaaaaay! You can read the entire review on the School Library Journal website. The National Post has also been very kind to Yesterday and said, "Yesterday is a compelling novel that will take up permanent residence in your mind and haunt you, continually leaving you suspended in its spell until the very last page. Martin’s ability to manipulate the laws of time and space to create a fantastical fictional world is exceptional." Check out the full review here.
Finally, if you're in the U.K. and looking to pick up a copy of Yesterday as an e-book you can now download it from My guest blog entry about Yesterday will be going up at Kindle Post (uk) on December 11th and my other YA books will soon be available in-ebook format on too. They're being released via Curtis Brown's digital self-publishing programme, which you can read the details of on the Curtis Brown website. One of the things I loved about this is that it gave me a chance to design alternate covers for my books. Here's the U.K. e-book cover. I'll try to post the others soon too.
Yesterday U.K. e-book cover
From now until late December/early Janaury I'll be keeping a low profile on the Internet while I concentrate on the Yesterday sequel and other projects. That means minimal Facebook, Twitter and blogging time, but I'll still be checking email. You can also find me guest blogging at Adventures in YA & Childrens Publishing on December 5th. There'll be a Yesterday/My Beating Teenage Heart giveaway there too so don't forget to toss your name in the hat if you're curious about the books!

As for the Yesterday sequel, I don't want to give too much away but I can say it's called Tomorrow and is from Garren's point of view. The future's reach is long and Freya and Garren are not safe in the Vancouver of 1986. No one is.

Speaking of not being safe, I watched Flight earlier today and it had one of the best airplane crash scenes I've ever witnessed in a movie (right up there alongside United 93 and The Grey). If you're thinking about watching Flight, definitely go...unless maybe you're intending to fly anytime soon.

Fairly early on in the movie there's a scene in a hospital stairwell that let me know Flight was going to offer more a whole lot more than I expected in terms of character development. As persuasive as the trailer is, the film itself is much more compelling. Denzel Washington could, of course, convince a person of anything and between his brilliant performance and a script that never overplays emotions this is one of the strongest dramas I've seen this year.

I also watched Skyfall recently (I was never a huge Connery fan and was entirely won over by Daniel Craig back during Casino Royale so it's no surprise that I enjoyed this latest Bond offering too) and have been tensely following Olivia , Peter and Walter's ongoing battle in 2036 in Fringe. Peter Bishop, damnit, what have you done? In case I haven't mentioned it before, in my opinion Fringe is the best thing on TV right now and I'm simultaneously savouring every minute of its fifth and final season and mourning its imminent end. If you haven't checked out the show yet but like your sci-fi offbeat, super smart and with strong, likeable characters, I highly recommend starting at the very beginning. Fringe isn't the kind of thing you can just dip into and hope to understand but damn it's worth the time you'll dedicate to it.

Fringe team
My mom's moving house shortly and my brother was home from L.A. for a couple of days to help her pack things up. I spent a good chunk of Friday and Saturday pitching in with the effort so now have two sets of clothes covered in a fine layer of dust. But what a trip down memory lane!

While I'd either gotten rid of or taken most of my things in previous years, some stuff I didn't expect was still lying around, including notes I'd taken about my first trip to London, England —a vacation my best friend and I paid for with our summer jobs when we were seventeen, a letter one of my cousins had written me when I was thirteen informing me he'd beaten my Pac-Man score (must have been a lie!), and a letter from my aunt which included the comment that I was developing a very impressive super ball collection. Yes, I actually had a super ball collection when I was a kid! See the below photo.

C.K. Time Capsule: childhood goodies including View-Master, Star Trek annual, Smurfs etc

As well as the things you can see in the picture, I rescued a copy of The Detroit Free Press from February 9, 1986 and issue of Time Magazine dated December 23, 1985 that I'd boxed eons ago. Actually, I'd kept a good few newspapers from that period but I just didn't have room to take all of them home with me so tossed most of them in recycle yesterday. It was interesting that I'd saved so many in the first place—I guess I thought someday I'd need a time capsule to consult (perhaps sensing that in the future I'd write a book set in the 80s??). Seeing as I'm about to resume work on the Yesterday sequel I'm extremely eager to have a read of that old copy of Time and the Detroit newspaper.

And can I just say, my old View-Master is every bit as cool as I remembered! I can't imagine what younger generations would make of the thing but I absolutely adored my View-Master and looking through the slide reels of Star Trek (both animated and from the original TV show), Charlotte's Web, Charlie Browns, Land of the Lost, Scooby Doo and Planet of the Apes (the TV show) brought my enthusiasm back in waves.

You'll also notice my extensive Smurf collection from when I was eleven and twelve. Considering how many decades they've been packed away, the Smurfs remain in admirable condition. I was gleeful to discover some of the Babar books from my earlier years too. I am no less fond of Babar now than I was then and my heart leapt to see them. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to dust myself off and go play with my stuff!
The day after the big storm and it seems the rain hasn't stopped them from continuing industrious work on the parking garage beneath my building. They started fixing the expansion joints early in October and the construction is scheduled to be completed near to Christmas. I'm on day two of a headache but it seems churlish to complain about drilling noise when the power is on, the streets outside aren't flooded and here in Southern Ontario we're not having to deal with anything remotely like the damage some states have seen.

The images from New York City are particularly sobering— and what a job ahead to clean up and put all the pieces back together again. The scope of this is to difficult to fathom.

Earlier today I read a New Yorker article, "Watching Sandy, Ignoring Climate Change" which discusses the harsh realities bearing in on us, whether we're ready to deal with them or not. Between the memory of summer drought barely behind us, the destruction Hurricane Sandy's wrought as well as the results of a new Munich Re study, it's difficult to understand how nations that like to consider themselves enlightened (I'm looking at you Canada) continue to be in denial re. global warming and their part in it. "Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America. The study shows a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America."

We're not like Middle-earth elves, we have no Undying Lands to retreat to once we've junked up this planet. Yet we're still not giving the global warming issue the focus it should demand. What does it take, I wonder?

We need sea change and we need it now. Or better yet, yesterday.

Speaking of which, if you'd like to talk to me about my latest book (or anything else), I'll be spending next week (November 5 - 9) at Random Buzzers. If you want to read more about the book, two fantastic recent reviews are available at Midnight Bloom Reads and the School Library Journal blog. My local paper also did a nice write-up on Yesterday and me.

More importantly, I hope everyone's safe and remains that way and that you all impart to businesses and politicians at all levels how important protecting the environment is to you. Because unless we can strike up a deal with those Middle-earth elves, this planet is all we've got.

Frodo and Sam watch elves depart Middle-Earth
Frodo and Sam watch the elves leave Middle-earth for the Undying lands.
When I started writing YA, contemporary books were king. I fell in love with and was inspired by honest, emotionally complex novels like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Life is Funny, Breathing Underwater, Borrowed Light, and Every Time a Rainbow Dies. Although I love to write various types of books and intend to continue to stretch myself, I will always, always have a soft spot the size of Asia for contemporary books.

If you happened to read my last blog entry you know how much I enjoyed the movie adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It made me think of all the other contemporary books I'd be thrilled to see adapted for the silver screen. I'm very happy to note that Before I Die, a wonderful YA book that broke my heart, has also been made into a film, renamed as Now is Good. But that still leaves plenty of excellent YA material to adapt and here's my top ten wish list:

*  Stolen: There's such an odd beauty about this story of a girl abducted at an airport and whisked away to the Australian outback and the right director (Jane Campion?) could turn it into an equally magical film.

*  Boy Toy: My favourite Barry Lyga book deals with the difficult subject matter of a seventeen-year-old boy molested by a teacher five years earlier. As far as I'm concerned there's not a single false note in what could also be a fantastic film by someone who knows how to handle nuanced dramas. Someone like Peter Berg (writer-director of Friday Night Lights) perhaps!

*  Some Girls Are: I don't know how Courtney Summers manages to make mean girl Regina such a sympathetic character, but this is both a fascinating and chilling story of the cruel power dynamics that play out in high school. Sadly, that's a topic that's only grow more relevant in the last few years. Since I've started watching the first season of American Horror Story I've been thinking that Taissa Farmiga (Violet) would be riveting as the steely mean girl turned target character of Regina.

*  Let's Get Lost: Sarra Manning really knows how to write chemistry and, although this isn't strictly a romance, with the right young actors cast as Isabel and Smith the sparks would FLY.

*  Broken Soup: There's a mystery at the centre of this drama that makes this story of a brother's death even more compelling. Lone Scherfig's An Education convinces me she'd be the ideal director for this.

*  48 Shades of Brown: I jotted down this list before finding out this way already made into a movie back in 2006 (which I'll obviously have to check out!). But here's what I was going to write about it: Lighter material than most of the other books I've named here, Nick Earl's novel is the charming, funny and realistic tale of a teenage boy who moves in with his young aunt while his parents are in Geneva for work and promptly develops a crush on her roommate. Director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) or Greg Mottola (Adventureland) are both equally perfect for this jaunty material.

*  Tyrell: I can't imagine anyone, of any age, not being captivated by Coe Booth's story of an inner city teenager in a homeless shelter trying to hold things together for his younger brother while fielding numerous other issues (including relationships with girls) in his own life. Gritty without being overwhelming bleak, Tyrell isn't the type to feel sorry for himself so we don't either. But you root for him all the way in what, in my opinion, is already a very cinematic story.

*  Recovery Road: Like alot of folks, I first fell in love with Blake Nelson's work with Girl. But I just might even like this book about the love and friendship between two recovering young drug addicts even better. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (writers & director of Half Nelson, It's Kind of a Funny Story and Sugar), you two need to read this!

*  Teach Me: There's zero melodrama in this story of a romantic relationship between a female teenager and her male teacher. Instead it's admirably forthright with not a cliche in sight and I think Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) could be the one to accomplish the same with the film.

*  Gentlemen: This YA has one of the most arresting covers I've seen in recent years and the story inside is just as arresting. Mike's friend Tommy is missing and meanwhile their hate English teacher is acting very strange indeed. Coincidence? I was on edge for the entire story and think Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) would be ideal for this edgy material that feels liable to erupt at any second.

Covers from my books to movies wishlist
I'm writing this after more than two weeks away from the blog because I've just finished assembling everything I need for the writing grant I'm applying for. Hurrah! Loads of writers apply for this particular work in progress grant so I have no idea what the odds of success are but I've read my novel sample pages as many times as I can stand and the application due date is mid-October so it's time to let it go. Because I won't know whether I'll receive the grant money for several months I won't be returning to work on this particular novel until I hear how my application fared in the middle of winter. I won't lie—it's tough to walk away when the characters and their very dramatic situation are on my mind but this is what it's like being a writer, your head gets very crowded with fictional people and their concerns and you can't tend to them all at the same time!

In the meantime I'm moving on to rewrites for my agent (on a middle grade novel), returning to another YA project and generally enjoying fall. Yesterday Paddy and I had a delightful day in Niagara-on-the-Lake, stocking up on things like gourmet coffee from Victoria Teas (for him—I prefer my caffeine via Coca-Cola), Greaves jam and British snacks from the Scottish Loft. But mainly it was just a lovely day to stroll around town and look at the changing colours of the season.

On Saturday I caught The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the film adaptation of one of my all-time favourite young adult books. I was both excited and a little worried about how the change in medium might alter the material, but I needn't have been because Perks is one of the best movies about young people that I've seen in the last decade. The soundtrack alone would be enough reason to see it. I mean, here's a movie featuring the songs Come On Eileen (Dexy's Midnight Runners), Asleep (The Smiths) AND Dear God (XTC): my inner sixteen-year-old self was in heaven. At the same time, music is just a small part of what makes this movie great. Logan Lerman is luminous as Charlie, really just perfect. Perks wears its heart on its sleeve without being the slightest bit cheesy and Stephen Chbosky (screenwriter, director, author) makes the feat look effortless. So, yeah, the movie is infinite and if you enjoy intelligently rendered, sensitive characters, you'll love Perks. And if you still haven't read the book yet, what are you waiting for?

Recently I also had the chance to visit the Toronto Zoo again (my first visit in many years). For me the highlight was being able to get up and close and personal with polar bear cub, Hudson, whose first birthday is tomorrow. Having spotted a blue glass bottle on the ledge of the viewing area that someone seemed to have left behind, Hudson wandered over to take a look. Seeing him approach, I neared the glass myself and we had a cool moment, just the two of us while Paddy and the friends I'd come with hung back. Aren't they sweet? And Isn't he gorgeous?

Hudson, Toronto Zoo, September 30

Hudson, Toronto Zoo, September 30
Hudson, Toronto Zoo, September 30

Not to mention, playful!

Hudson, Toronto Zoo, September 30

And now it's time for me to nip out and do a bunch of errands, while the sun is shining.
yesterday blog tour: Sept 23 - 28
Just a reminder that the Yesterday blog tour begins tomorrow at Diary of a Bookworm! There are also some swoon-worthy reviews of Yesterday starting to appear including ones from CM Magazine: Canadian Review of Material, Happy Owl Books, Dark Faerie Tales, Stacked, Boekie's Book Reviews and YA Reads where Yesterday is the book of the month and you can enter to win 1 of 3 copies.

With Yesterday hitting shelves this coming Tuesday, sadly it's time to wrap up my nostalgic musings on the 80s. But first, here's the concluding post about music from 1980-1985.

People's relationship to music was very different pre-Internet and as a teenager I haunted my local record stores to browse and purchase new music. Better still was when I could travel to downtown Toronto to hang out in Sam the Record Man, with its vast collection of offerings (I've never stopped missing Sam's!). I also spent alot of time—more than most people I knew—listening to the radio and watching MuchMusic and the video shows that preceeded it.

The 80s was a terrifically dynamic time for music and I think many people would agree that pop music doesn't get any more angsty than Morrissey singing:

"There's a club if you'd like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die

The 80s just wouldn't have been the eighties without the edgy ache of new wave. I still ache when I hear songs like How Soon is Now, Yazoo's Nobody's Diary, Depeche Mode's Somebody, Tears for Fears' Mad World or Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy. How could anyone not?

There's a naked honesty in these songs—a depth of emotion that I have wonder if we've almost become afraid of in this age bent on cynicism and obsessed with superficialities. Not that 80s music consisted solely of opening up an emotional vein and bleeding onto the vinyl, to be sure. The first half of the decade (since that what's I'm concentrating on in this series) is also chock full of damn fine lighter fare too, songs full of sunshine and optimism or even ones that didn't have much to say but just made you want to dance or punch the air. Remember these fantastic tunes?

The Go-Go's, We Got The Beat:

Banarama, Shy Boy

Duran Duran, Is There Something I Should Know

Howard Jones, Things Can Only Get Better

The Belle Stars, Sign of the Times

In a Big Country, Big Country

Haircut One Hundred, Love Plus One

If you've already read Yesterday you'll remember that early on main character Freya becomes friends with a couple of new wave kids who stick out in the school hallways. During 1985, as I lived, it there were very visible groups of new wavers at school—diehard fans of bands like The Smiths, Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Psychedic Furs, and Echo and The Bunnymen who emulated the style of such bands. But the new wavers weren't the only hardcore music fans at my high school—there was a second group that was equally passionate about hard rock and heavy metal bands. At that time, teens ins Southern Ontario referred to this group as "rock-ons." While the new wavers generally wore pale makeup, dyed their hair black and dressed in dark clothing, the "rock-ons" had their own distinct style which consisted mainly of mullets and Kodiak boots (perpetually untied). Although overall I enjoyed new wave music more than hard rock I never fully committed to either camp and bought music from across the spectrum (all my babysitting music went on tapes, vinyl and concert tickets). Here are a few of my favourite hard rock songs from the early 80s:

Scorpions, Still Loving You

Saga, Scratching the Surface

Def Leppard, Photograph

AC/DC, You Shook Me All Night Long

Marillion, Kayleigh

Van Halen, I'll Wait

Twisted Sister, We're Not Gonna Take It

Finally, although the 80s isn't generally regarded as a sexy time like the free love era of the sixties (which Freya visits in virtual reality) there were some pretty hot songs. Here are some of my personal favourites from 1980-85.

Modern English, I Melt With You

INXS, The One Thing

Adam and the Ants, Physical THIS ONE IS HEAT FACTOR 10.
Proceed with caution!

Romeo Void, Never Say Never

'You Shook Me All Night Long' by AC/DC (embedded earlier in the page! Scroll up)
Bryan Ferry, Slave to Love

Bryan Ferry, Windswept

Blondie, Call Me
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, I Love Rock N' Roll

The Rolling Stones, Start Me Up

Sheena Easton, For Your Eyes Only

There's nothing like music to hurl you back in time and in a way that means I visit the 80s not infrequently, but I'm happy to have had a longer stay in the past thanks to Yesterday. If you read the book I hope you'll also enjoy the trip.

The best music is both a pathway to the past and timeless and I'm going to close this entry on a song that is both those things a tune I consider to be one of the most inspirational songs from the 80s from British band Talk Talk.

Read the Rest of the 80s series:
* The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there
* The past is a foreign country: 80s TV
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Movies
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Toys and Technology
With the release of Yesterday just a week away (gasp!) I still have one final 80s post to write. I'm planning to put up my 80s music entry on the weekend but today want to point people in the direction of YA Reads where they're giving away 3 copies of the book. You still have 11 more days to enter the contest and there's also a new interview with me there.

If you want to read more about Yesterday, I hope you'll also catch up with the blog tour which begins this Sunday. I was lucky to work with a great group of Canadian bloggers on this tour who all had fantastic questions and ideas for guest posts. You'll find plenty of Canadian content!
yesterday blog tour: Sept 23 - 28

Diary of a Bookworm September 23
Just a lil' Lost September 24
Mermaid Visions September 25
Evie Bookish September 26
Midnight Bloom Reads September 27
Book Nerd September 28

From November 5th - 9th I'll be at Random Buzzers answering questions so would be happy to see you there too. In between times I expect to be pretty quiet as I work on other projects. I'm applying for an Ontario Arts Council WIP grant which is due October 15th and need to have forty pages of a sparkling new book ready for that. I know some writers could whip forty pages up in no time, but I write at a snail's pace. Anyway, it's much too early to talk about that book yet but here's the first line as proof of its existence:

"Who can really explain why a certain piece of straw is the one that breaks a camel's back?"

After I hand the grant application in, I'm simultaneously moving on to rewrites for my agent and returning to work on yet another YA project. Having taken a writing break for the Toronto International Film Festival earlier in the month I feel like I need to be extra on the ball in order to get everything done but I'm in a bit of a TIFF withdrawal funk and today's rain isn't helping. Is it weird to even miss the movie line-ups? I guess they help raise the thrill of anticipation, plus they give you the chance to hear everyone else's cool TIFF stories!

Anyway, I was lucky to have the chance to sing Happy Birthday to Colin Firth again this year (this last happened to me two years ago when he was here for The King's Speech gala on his birthday) at the premiere of Arthur Newman. Colin Firth''s a total class-act and was very eloquent in answering his questions about the film. He even brought screenwriter, Becky Johnston, who was equally insightful, up on stage to speak about it. Emily Blunt, who has to be one of my favourite female actors, co-stars as the charismatic 'Mike' and was also at the screening.

The most ambitious flick I saw at the festival was the much anticipated Cloud Atlas.

The critic's response to the film was markedly fractured and prompted the following Movie Line article:

Early Reviews: Is Cloud Atlas A Triumph Or A Disaster (Or Both)?

I think the article makes an extremely important point here: "one critic's disaster is another's transcendent cinematic opus." For the record, while I didn't think Cloud Atlas was perfect I greatly admired its scope and aspirations and found it a thrilling watch.

Meanwhile if I were handing out awards for most positive TIFF film The Sessions——based on the true story of Mark O'Brien (played by John Hawkes), a poet paralyzed from the neck down since childhood, who embarks on a voyage to lose his virginity—would have my vote.

I was already a John Hawkes fan——he's what drew me to this movie—and his portrayal of Mark O'Brien is so full of light and warmth that I'm hoping he wins an Oscar for his stunner of a performance. Helen Hunt is outstanding as the sex therapist who helps him too. I loved what she had to say about the film in her interview with The Toronto Star: "For me, the take-away is this sex-positive message that I wish so badly 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds would see (in) this movie…I would so want any young adult that I cared about, along with all the other (sexual) images that they're going to see, to see this." Hear, hear!

Finally, the film that provoked the strongest emotional response from me was Mr. Pip starring Hugh Laurie and Xzannjah, and directed and written by Andrew Adamson, based on the Lloyd Jones novel. I went into the movie knowing little about it but expecting the story of a schoolteacher and young girl who form a friendship based on their shared love of Great Expectations during the Papua New Guinean civil war. What I actually discovered was so much more—a brutality, depth and passionate respect for truth and love that had me thinking about the film for the rest of the evening.

Now you know what I've been up to and what I'll be doing through the fall so I hope you'll forgive me if I'm not around much. Don't forget to check back for my 80s music post this weekend!

So far in my blog series on the early 80s, I've written a post introducing the period and covered my favourite movies and television shows. But the 80s wouldn't have been without the 80s without the popular technology and toys of the time. With that in my mind here's a list of my favourite tech and toys from 1980-1985:


top-loading vcrBefore there was Netflix, before DVDs and even before Blockbuster Video was born (the first store opened in Dallax, Texas in late 1985) VCRs were making their way into homes and changing the way people watched movies and television. The two big formats at the time were Betamax (considered the superior technology) and VHS (the format that won the war despite Betamax's better quality). My family were late-ish in acquiring our first VCR in 1986, but even beforehand we rented machines or occasionally borrowed them from my dad's school over the weekends. The summer I was fourteen we rented a top loading VHS VCR along with the Duran Duran video album and a couple of movies while away at the cottage for a couple of weeks. I was so excited at the thrill of being able to repeatedly watch even the most obscure Duran Duran videos, that it's a wonder my head didn't explode and burn down the cottage. Watching what you wanted exactly when you wanted to watch it was revolutionary and when our own VCR arrived a couple of years later it was pretty awesome to be able to tape General Hospital, Late Night with David Letterman


In 1980 and 81 (possibly even 1982!) I was pretty much inseparable from my Merlin, a handheld device the size of a mutant phone that contained 6 different games. I can't imagine how many batteries I must've gone through or remember whatever happened to my Merlin, but I'd love to stumble across one of these again and see if I still remember how to play the tune Molly Malone on it in electronic chirps.

Rubik's Cube

You knew that was coming, right? I think everyone who lived through this period probably had a Rubik's cube in their hands at some time during the early 80s. Its runaway popularity led to a sort of 3D handheld puzzle fad and I probably had ten different games inspired by the Rubik's Cube at one point. But the Rubik's Cube was my first and favourite. I became sort of obsessed by it and worked on it for hours at a time, until I finally figured out how to solve it. I still can't explain the process in words and don't know exactly how I can do it but a part of my brain recognizes the patterns that come up while you're shifting the cube and also knows how to turn the various sides accordingly until the six sides each show a solid colour. There was a time during the early 80s when I could do the cube in 2 minutes but when I tried about five years ago it took much longer.
Pac-Man ghost
(arcade game)

The 80s was a hot time for arcades and before Atari really took off the best way to get your Pacman fix was to throw a quarter in the machine. This and Burgertime were my favourite arcade games of the time. 

Burgertime (arcade game)

You can check out what Burgertime was like at Shockingly Fun! Games. And if you ask me what I found so compelling about a game centering on a tiny chef who must assemble burgers by walking the length of buns, meat patties, tomatoes, etc.), while being hunted by an egg, hot dog and pickle, I confess that I have no idea, but then, most arcade games didn't make much sense! Better not to apply logic to them.


You may wonder if I should've stuck this under TV shows but the idea of a channel dedicated solely to pop music felt like a technological breakthrough too. As did the newly popular artistic medium of music videos and their role in selling music. 

MuchMusic (1984 and onwards)

Canada's very own version of MuchMusic hit airwaves in the summer of 1984. After the free trial of the channel was over my main birthday gift the following December was a subscription to MuchMusic. 


The first mainstream videogame console! Obviously the thrill wasn't dependent on cool graphics. Those didn't exist yet. So the sense of fun in Atari games like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Pitfall! and Missile Command was more along the lines of what you'd experience playing something like pinball. You can see a list of top-selling Atari Games here. I never played RiverRaid or Atlantis but most of the other titles are familiar and I can't tell you exactly how many times I saved E.T. by sending him home during the early 80s but for awhile saving E.T. was kinda one of my hobbies.


The Smurf craze was at its height when I was in seventh grade. All us Smurf fans taking part would bring our Smurf collections ins and sit them on our desks and, no, the teachers didn't tell us to put them away. I was much less a fan of the show than I was of collecting the toy smurfs but I watched them on TV too and although there was seemingly only one female Smurf—Smurfette—I actually had several female smurfs. I believe my Smurf collection still exists, intact but well-worn, in a box somewhere in my storage locker.

Sony Walkman

As a music format, tapes sucked— they'd get tangled up and warped if you listened to them too many times (as a result I had to throw out most of the favourite albums that I'd purchase on tape from this time). But the coolest thing about tapes was that they allowed you to carry your music with you. Portability! From the moment I got a Walkman my favourite music went everywhere with me (Goodbye, Merlin). Bliss!

Just one more eighties post left. Drop back in next week and read my fav music from 1980-85 entry.

Read the Rest of the 80s series:

* The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there
* The past is a foreign country: 80s TV
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Movies
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Music

Before I get down to my movie list I wanted to shout a quick but loud hurray! Yesterday is YA Reads Book of the Month. Head on over to read their review. I'll also be guest blogging there during the month.

Continuing on with my 80s series (see previous posts on 80s TV and intro to the 80s) today I want to focus on my favourite movies from the first half of the decade. My family bought their first VCR in 1986 and while we were fairly late in getting a machine there were plenty of other people who didn't have a videocassette recorder until then either. In the early 80s people usually watched movies in a theatre or on TV (full of commercials and usually quite awhile after a movie would've finished its theatre run). Theatre runs were also longer than they are today, probably because there was less competition from other types of entertainment which had yet to develop (videogames were in their infancy, the Internet as we know it today wouldn't be born for years to come and in Canada dedicated movie channels were brand new and had few subscribers in the early 80s).

For the first few years of the decade one of my major problems in movie-going was getting the box office clerk to sell me a ticket for movies with an AA rating while I was underage. The Canadian rating meant adult accompaniment was required for viewers under the age of 14 and was usually applied to PG-13 type material. In grades 7 and 8 I was the youngest of my friends but also the tallest and as the majority of the movies we wanted to see fell under the AA rating we'd generally slather on the makeup and try to appear as blasé as possible while approaching the ticket counter. Mostly it worked and like millions of other Canadian kids I saw oodles of AA rated movies well before I turned 14. However, some of the movies listed below I caught up with when they were shown on TV, when our VCR showed up on the scene or when my parents subscribed to the movie channel. You'll see from a few of the groupings I've done here that my top twenty list is a bit of a cheat and even with the groupings comes in at 24. But hey, there were so many movies I loved during that period that making a true top twenty list was pretty impossible. It's also important to note that this is time capsule type list—the movies from the period I would'e called my favourite then, but not necessarily now.

Top 20 + personal film favs from 1980-1985 in no particular order:

E.T. (1982, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore) This is a movie that totally wears its heart on its sleeve. I went to see the tale of a lost, Reese's Pieces loving alien at the theatre numerous times when it was originally released and I cried at E.T.'s demise on every occasion.

Gorky Park (1983, directed by Michael Apted, starring William Hurt, Joanna Pacula, Brian Dennehy, Lee Marvin and Ian Bannen) /The Big Chill (1983, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, starring William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams and Tom Berenger)/Body Heat (1981, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner)/Altered States (1980, directed by Ken Russell, starring William Hurt and Blair Brown). You can see by this William Hurt grouping I was a big fan and if Children of a Lesser God had been made a year earlier I would've squeezed it in here too. In Gorky Park Hurt plays a Moscow police detective investigating a triple homicide. The Big Chill centres on a large group of college friends reunited for the weekend by the death of one of their friends. Body Heat sees Hurt paired with Kathleen Turner who wants him to murder her husband. The film was considered super hot in its day. Altered States, where Hurt plays a scientist conducting experiments that cause him to regress genetically was every bit as trippy as Body Heat was sexy. But personally I like it best when Hurt plays angst which puts Gorky Park at the head of the pack.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Harrison Ford and Karen Allen). Snakes, Nazi bad guys, the Ark of the Covenant and Harrison Ford as our archeologist hero, but then, I don't really need to tell you about this movie, do I? In my opinion it remains one of the best adventure films ever made.

After Hours (1985, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr and John Heard). Griffin Dunne plays a word-processor unlucky enough to run into Rosanne Arquette in a coffee shop one evening. Soon he's having the worst night of his life in an after-hours New York not unlike an adult version of Alice's 'Wonderland.'

Blade Runner (1982, directed by Ridley Scott, Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young). It's bizarre to think this wasn't the runaway hit it should've been (a victim of bad timing, it seems, as it was released the week after E.T.) but this sci-fi thriller only looks and feels better as time goes by. Rutger Hauer, as the replicant Roy is mesmirizing, but then so is everyone in this movie, which carries with it an aura as thick as smoke but cool as granite. I'm dying to see what Ridley Scott does with the coming sequel.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980, directed by Irvin Kershner, starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher)/Return of the Jedi (1983, directed by Richard Marquand starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) My favourite Star Wars movie remains The Empire Strikes Back. Ending on that dark note, with victory uncertain, left us all wanting more. But who can frown at celebrating Ewoks? So I couldn't leave Jedi off the list.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, directed by Amy Heckerling, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates). Most 80s teen movies were so gentle that this one about a group of California young people seems comparatively hard-edged and realistic. Sean Penn is highly entertaining as stoner Jeff Spicoli but it's Jennifer Jason Leigh's naturalistic performance that you can't take your eyes off.

Letter to Brezhnev (1985, directed by Chris Bernard, starring Peter Firth, Tracy Marshak-Nash and Alfred Molina). Endearing British romantic comedy about a working class girl who falls in love with a Soviet sailer during his one night in Liverpool. Unable to forget him she writes to Soviet leader Brezhnev asking for help in allowing them to be together.

Poltergeist (1982, directed by Tobe Hooper, starring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Heather O'Rourke). I first went to see this film about a family terrorized by ghosts with my own family while we were visiting California and I couldn't stop thinking about the tree behind my bedroom while lying in bed that night. And who would ever give a kid a toy clown? That's just cruel. They're creepy as hell.

This is Spinal Tap (1984, directed by Rob Reiner, starring Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer). Mock documentary about a hard rock band that inspires genuine fondness for the characters while offering up classic "this one goes to eleven" moments.

The Breakfast Club (1985, directed by John Hughes, starring Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall). If, like me, you were a teenager in the 80s there's ZERO possibility you haven't see The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. But The Breakfast Club remains the best of the bunch. The five stereotypes the film throws together for morning detention may not have been as clearcut in real life but they're not total fabrications either.

Restless Natives (1985, directed by Michael Hoffman, starring Vincent Friell and Joe Mullaney). Two Scottish friends commit colourful, non-violent hold ups of tourist coaches in the highlands and become folk heroes and tourist attractions in the process. Loveable and highly entertaining.

Reckless (1984, directed by James Foley, starring Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah)/Desperately Seeking Susan (1985, directed by Susan Seidelman, starring Rosanna Arquette, Madonna and Aidan Quinn). The Aidan Quinn grouping! I actually did an entire blog entry on Reckless in August 09) but if you want the short version it's this: High school student Tracy (Darly Hannah) falls for Rourke (Quinn) a guy from the wrong side of the tracks. Desperately Seeking Susan sees a married suburban woman (Arquette) falling into Susan's (played by Madonna) crazy life when a conk on the head gives her amnesia. Lucky for Arquette, Madonna's life comes with an attachment to cool projectionist Dez (Quinn).

Until September (1984, directed by Richard Marquand, starring Karen Allen and Thierry Lhermitte). I haven't seen this film in yonks but at the time found the romance between exceptionally blue eyed but married Frenchman Thierry and loveable but single Karen Allen extremely charming. I'm kinda surprised they haven't remade it yet.

The Terminator (1984, directed by James Cameron, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn). With all the sequels its spawned the Terminator plot needs no explanation. While this first film now feels dated it's still a damn cool idea and the spark between Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn feels genuine. The romance is my favourite aspect of this movie.

Legend (1985, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara and Tim Curry). It's been so long since I've seen Legend that I'm damned if I can remember what it was about. Some fantasy whimsy about a demons, a unicorn and a fairy princess. It had a terrific vibe about it.

Little Darlings (1980, directed byRonald F. Maxwell, starring Kristy McNichol, Tatum O'Neal and Matt Dillon). Fifteen-year-olds Kirsty McNichol and Tatum O'Neal compete to lose their virginity first while at summer camp and end up feeling differently about it than they expected. What impressed me watching this as a young person was that it didn't feel as if the movie was being didactive, although it definitely has a message. Neither was it sensationlist.

The Company of Wolves (1984, directed by Neil Jordan, starring Angela Lansbury and David Warner). These interwoven tales of wolves are a visual feast and delightfully heaven on atmosphere.

Heaven Help Us (1985, directed by Michael Dinner, starring Andrew McCarthy, John Heard, Mary Stuart Masterson and Donald Sutherland)/St. Elmo's Fire (1985, directed by Joel Schumacher, starring Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Mare Winningham/ Class (1983, directed by, starring Rob Lowe, Jacqueline Bisset and Andrew McCarthy). The Andrew MCarthy grouping. Like with William Hurt, I prefer Andrew McCarthy when he's playing angsty which he does frequently in these movies about 1) a boy's prep school 2) a group of fresh-out-of-college friends and 3) an innocent prep school boy who falls into an affair with a sophisticated older woman who just happens to be his roommate's mother.

Romancing the Stone (1984, directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) The chemistry between the two leads makes this picture about a romance writer drawn to Columbia where she meets rough around the edges Douglas. Pure fluff, but plenty enjoyable.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984, directed by W.D. Richter, starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin and Jeff Goldblum)/Firstborn (1984, directed by Michael Apted, starring Peter Weller, Teri Garr, Christopher Collet and Cory Haim)/Of Unknown Origin (1983, directed by George P. Cosmatos, starring Peter Weller and Jennifer Dale)/Shoot the Moon (1982, directed by Alan Parker, starring Albert Finney, Diane Keaton, Karen Allen, Peter Weller). The Peter Weller group! These three films have nothing in common aside from Weller's coolness. He's at his coolest as Buckaroo Banzai, an almost Doctor Who like figure that battles evil alien invaders. In Of Unknown Origin he fights a different foe, rats that infest his townhouse. But in Firstborn it's Weller who's the bad guy, dragging Teri Garr into a destructive lifestyle and forcing her young son to take action.

The World According to Garp (1982, directed by George Roy Hill, starring Robin Williams, Glenn Close, Mary Beth Hurt and John Lithgow). My first introduction to John Irving's writing was via this film where Robin Williams offers a wonderful performance as the gentle but flawed Garp, son of one-of-a-kind nurse Jenny. The World According to Garp has such a warmth and perceptiveness about people that I couldn't grasp in its entirety when I first saw the movie, being as young as I was. But I knew enough to know I loved it.

White Nights (1985, directed by Taylor Hackford, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Isabella Rossellini and Helen Mirren). When a plane mulfunction lands expat Russian dancer Baryshnikov back in the Soviet Union he plots an escape, watched over by Gregory Hines, an American tap dancer who defected to Russia years earlier. The dance scenes make the movie.

The Sure Thing (1985, directed by Rob Reiner, starring John Cusack. Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Ewards & Nicollette Sheridan). Sort of an 80s remake of classic screwball comedy It Happened One Night with opposites Cusack and Zuniga finding themselves on a college road trip together. The chemistry works and it's a very gentle comedy with Cusack at the height of his boyish charm.

Other notable movies from 1980-85:

Gandhi (1982), Back to the Future (1985), Witness (1985), The Right Stuff (1983), Ghostbusters (1984), The Road Warrior (1981), Tron (1982), Footloose (1984), Flashdance (1983), Fame (1980), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Gremlins (1984), Time Bandits (1981) Superman II (1980), War Games (1984), Excalibur (1981), The Jewel of the Nile (1985), Blue Lagoon (1980), The Shining (1980), National Lampoons Vacation (1983), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Amadeus (1984), The Color Purple (1985), Ordinary People (1980), Tootise (1982), The Killing Fields (1984), Out of Africa (1985), Scarface (1983), The Outsiders (1983), Gregory's Girl (1981), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), A Christmas Story (1983), Ladyhawke (1985), My Bodyguard (1980), Starman (1984)

Read the Rest of the 80s series:
* The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there
* The past is a foreign country: 80s TV
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Toys and Technology
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Music

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