Sunday, 30 August 2015

Kids' Week - Getting Children Into Theatres


Kids' Week is a fantastic concept that comes around every August. Any child aged 16 or under can see participating London theatre shows when accompanied by a full paying adult - it gets children into the theatre, hopefully fostering a love of plays, ballets, and musicals (all creative arts really), and is a great treat for the end of the summer holidays.

We've taken advantage of Kids' Week twice now. In 2014, my daughter Alice (3 at the time) and I went to see The Tiger Who Came To Tea, which we both loved, and which Alice still talks about to this day. This year we went to The Garrick Theatre just off Leicester Square to see Let It Be.

What a hit!

Let It Be is the story of The Beatles told purely through their songs, played by excellent sound-alike musicians in all the right costumes, in chronological order. The audience is actively encouraged to stand up, dance, sing along, take photos, and even video the performances. It is a totally immersive theatre experience that everyone, whether they know the songs of The Beatles or not, can get into.

Alice (now 4) has been aware of The Beatles and their music all her life. Our household doesn't really 'do' modern music, stopping somewhere in the early 00s, apart from the odd song here and there. 80s and 90s are my preferred decades, whereas my husband adores the music of the 50s and 60s, and especially The Beatles. Before yesterday (no pun intended), however, Alice hadn't been a mega fan, as such. She just enjoyed some of the songs. Now, though, she is obsessed. She has been listening to the music all day. She has been trying - with a little success - to pick out the tunes on the piano. She wants to see the show again.

Her favourite songs are Here Comes The Sun and "All The Lonely People" (otherwise known as Eleanor Rigby).

And that's what Kids' Week is all about. It shows children that there is a different form of entertainment out there than can lead them to open up their own creative outlets. And who knows where that will take them?




Sunday, 16 August 2015

Review: Life, Death & Vanilla Slices by Jenny Eclair


Mothers should never have favourites... 

I borrowed Life, Death and Vanilla Slices from my local library on a whim. I'd heard Jenny Eclair speaking on BBC Radio 2 about her new book, Moving, and I'd thought it sounded pretty good. The paperback isn't out until December, however, and the hardback has a queue of 28 people wanting to borrow it from the library, so I went for something else by the same author.

I'd only known Jenny Eclair from TV and radio, equating her voice and face with comedy and satire, and I had had no idea she was an author, so I didn't know what to expect when I began to read Life, Death and Vanilla Slices. From the first few lines, however, I was hooked.

This is, to use a clich├ęd term, a page turner. I was desperate to know what happened next in the life - such as it was - of Jean Collins, and her daughters Anne and (the favourite) Jess. Each new chapter brought smiles, laughs, and no small amount of tears - the descriptions of a mother watching her children grow until they no longer need her went deep.

The book is funny. Definitely funny. But it is heart wrenchingly, gasp-inducingly sad too. That's because it feels utterly real. This could have happened to your grandmother. Your next door neighbour. The woman sitting next to you on the bus. And, because some secrets are meant to be kept, even when they weigh you down for life, no one will ever know.

The premise of the book is fairly straightforward: an elderly woman is knocked down by a car and ends up in a coma. Her eldest daughter feels she should travel from London to Blackpool to be with her. Both of them reminisce (Jean in her coma, Anne in her life) about what has brought them to this point. The memories start off pleasantly enough, but in every family there are problems and secrets, and we soon find that Jean's second daughter, Jess, is missing (and has been for almost 30 years). But that's not the half of it. There is so much more, yet none of it feels melodramatic or like something from a TV soap; the most clever and wonderful part of this book is that it all seems absolutely real.

I didn't know how the ending would hit me - I had hoped for happy, at least happy for now if not happily ever after, but as the pages began to grow fewer, I had to begin believing that not everything would be resolved. At least not in a fairytale kind of way. I don't want to give anything away, but I was in bits, sobbing to myself on the sofa when I finally closed this book. Partly because the ending was sad, in a bitter-sweet and terrible way, but also because it could have been different. If the characters had done one thing, just one thing different in their lives, everything would have changed. For the better? Perhaps. For the worse? Who knows? But the point is, there were missed opportunities to speak, to act, to live. And that is the saddest thing of all.

5 stars


Sunday, 9 August 2015

Crocodiles in Cream


On 7th August, I was lucky enough to be invited to watch the play Crocodiles in Cream at the Barn Theatre in Smallhythe Place. Smallhythe was the country home of the famous Victorian actress Ellen Terry, and The Barn was her own private theatre. These days, the National Trust has opened the theatre to the public, and there are often wonderful shows put on there.

Crocodiles in Cream is one such show.

This one man play details the life of Lewis Carroll during his time as a don at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he lived alone for 40 years. Superbly acted by the wonderful Kevin Moore, this was a different portrayal to the many other biographies of Carroll – the Rev Charles Dodgson – that have come before. The shy, witty, eccentric, funny, brilliant, yet tormented man that Lewis Carroll was is given a chance to tell his own story, to give his own side of himself, through his writing, letters, and poetry.

In Crocodiles in Cream we learn of Carroll’s love of photography, specifically taking pictures of the little girls he so loved. The play makes slightly uncomfortable viewing with twenty first century eyes and minds, and the audience must question whether they wish to take Carroll’s naivety – as he himself views it – as truth or not. Even Carroll himself admits that his contemporaries find it strange that he takes children to his room and on short holidays to Eastbourne, but he protests his innocence, explaining that they are simply friends. Yes in another of his letters to one girl’s mother, he asks whether the girl is ‘kissable’. And why, if there was nothing untoward in his relationship with the many children he heartily proclaimed to love, did so many parents soon prevent the man from making contact with them. This included little Alice Liddell’s mother. We learn that Alice herself, as an adult and with children of her own, ignored Carroll’s pleas for her to visit when she was in Oxford.
Through these letters, poems, and more, we begin to understand exactly how distraught Carroll was when Alice was no longer there to be his muse. When she grew up, when she left him – or was made to leave him.   


Moore gave Carroll a pathos that, notwithstanding the strangeness of the man’s relationship with the children, was heart breaking to watch. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Listeners - What Does It Mean?


The photo above may be tricky to read properly, but it's worth trying. It's the first few lines of my favourite poem, "The Listeners" by Walter de la Mare, and I spotted it on the side of a building in Guildford whilst sitting in traffic. Rain and vehicles made grabbing a snapshot difficult, and I did what I could, surprised and elated to find that the words I had always found so evocative should show up in that place at that time.

"The Listeners" is a strange poem. It could mean many things, it might mean nothing, and perhaps de la Mare was simply telling a story with no subtext whatsoever. For me, there are layers to "The Listeners". The first is that it's a story - a strange and ghostly one - about a man (The Traveller) who is looking for someone or something, and thinks he has found it behind a "moonlit door" in the forest (see where my blog's name comes from?). But there is no one (or nothing) there. His knock is not answered. He leaves, alone.

The second part of the story is the part that intrigues me, though. Who is the Traveller? Why is he there? Does he even know, or is this a dream? Who (or what) is he looking for, and what will he do now that he has journeyed to the place he was told (or was he?) to go to, only to find he is too late? Too late for what? Is this the end of the world? Has he been forgotten during The Rapture?

Each question opens up more, and none of them have answers.

That's what I love this poem.

The Listeners

BY WALTER DE LA MARE
‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,   
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses   
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,   
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;   
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;   
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,   
   Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners   
   That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight   
   To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,   
   That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken   
   By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,   
   Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,   
   ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even   
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,   
   That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,   
   Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house   
   From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,   
   And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,   
   When the plunging hoofs were gone.





Sunday, 28 June 2015

Poem: The Coast


A road runs away from me
Down to the coast,
Down to the sea.
I want to follow, I want to be
Down by the coast,
Down by the sea.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

100 Words - Strangers

Writing exercises are a great way to get back into the flow of creating if you have had to take some time away from fiction for a while. One exercise that is fun but which also gets the creative ideas flowing once again is drabble writing. 

Drabbles are pieces of writing that are exactly 100 words long, and should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes to write. I find that if I am stuck with a plot point, or need to ease myself back into writing, attempting a drabble helps my concentration and creativity. 



An example of a drabble I've written is this one, called Strangers. 

We entered the bank together, almost at the same time, so close, you holding the door open for me, me smiling at you but not really looking, passing you as I nodded my thanks.
I wanted to pay money in, I had places to be, people to see.
You wanted to take money out. You had debts to pay, loan sharks to obey.  
In my handbag was a purse and a cheque.
In your pocket was a gun.
We were complete strangers and yet now I can think of no one but you. I wonder if you’re thinking of me. 

If you are interested in reading more drabbles, why not check out https://drablr.com where there are hundreds of examples. 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Godstow Nunnery


We recently took a trip. A long weekend away. Thanks to my work on insideKENT and insideSUSSEX Magazines, I had been offered the chance to travel to Oxford and enjoy four days and three nights on a narrowboat. We'd never done anything like this before, and although my cautious nature threw up myriad reasons with this would be a bad idea (especially with a 4 year old, especially as we had no boating experience), in the end I said yes.

Why not?

Saying yes to scary things had been an unofficial new year's resolution of mine, but until now I hadn't had much of a chance to do anything about it, yes here was the ultimate test. If I could say yes to a long weekend on a narrowboat, I could be proud of myself. Not only that, but it would be nice to get away from it all for a few days. It would make a change. And we might never get the chance to do it again.

So off we went.

The trip itself was by turns terrifying and hilarious, argument forming and bonding, and you can read all about it in June's issue of the magazines.

But there was one moment that stood out for me.

On the way from Eynsham (where we had picked up the boat from the lovely and accommodating Anglowelsh boat hire company) to Oxford (our ultimate goal), we had passed a ruin of a building that, because we had our mission in mind, we hadn't stopped at to explore. I felt this was a shame, and managed to snap a few blurred pictures as we sailed (if that is the right word when it comes to a narrowboat) past. It was interesting, and I thought I would be able to use it in a short story or novel at some point in the future.

I forgot about it after that - we had locks to contend with, and mooring to deal with, and Oxford to be tourists in, so it was the furthest thing from my mind. But of course, when our time in Oxford was up and the weekend was drawing to a close, we had to return to Eynsham. So we passed the place again. This time, we passed it as we were looking for a place to stop for the night - the last night - of our trip. It was only as we were passing the ruins that I spotted a likely looking place for mooring, but by the time I had articulated as such, as had passed it.

It's a good thing that Dean is actually quite proficient at steering a narrowboat. He had liked the look of the flattish piece of bank and the open area beyond it, as well as the pub that could just be seen on the other side of the river, so he turned the boat around. This didn't cause too many problems. Mooring up, on the other hand, did. I jumped off the boat, but took so long hammering the mooring pegs into the soft ground that the back end started drifting out again. Panic ensued, but as luck would have it a couple who had moored up (with much more luck than us) just a little further upriver came to our rescue, directing Dean and helping me to tie some pretty sturdy knots.

That boat was going nowhere without our say-so.

In fiction our rescue and the tale of what the building actually is or was would be looked at as a coincidence too far, suspension of disbelief stretched to the limit, but this was real life, and so anything was possible.

Once settled, we - Dean, Alice, and I - went to check out the building we were moored directly next to.

It was called Godstow Nunnery.

It was supposed to be haunted (so of course we tempted fate by going inside and making a bit of a racket), but we saw and heard nothing that night, nor the next morning. It's still going to be the basis of a short story though - watch this space.


What we did discover, though, was that the Reverend Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll, of course), had come here. And not just him either; he had brought Alice Liddell (THE Alice) and her sisters here for picnics, after rowing down the Thames from Oxford.

What a beautiful coincidence.

Not long before discovering this information my own Alice had been running around the ruins of Godstow Nunnery, inside and out, playing and laughing, much as I imagined Alice Liddell to have done.

No ghosts were seen that night, but my dreams were full of stories. I hope to write them soon. I wonder what stories Lewis Carroll thought of here?