Needle in the Hay Stack

Just over seven months ago, on a drizzly summer day, I took this photo. The setting was Hay-on-Wye – a tiny town nestled between the foreboding valleys of the Powys-Herefordshire border; Welsh by a wisp with part of the town situated in England and the other in the land of St David. The Hay Festival of Literature and Arts has been an annual celebration of all aspects of creativity since 1998 and has remained a fixed point in the British calendar since then – being descended on by droves of authors, journalists, poets, lecturers, actors, musicians, artists, school children and tourists in Whitsun week.

Hay itself is a sleepy place, albeit one with a wonderfully sprawling collection of second-hand book shops. In fact, on entering Hay you are greeted with a sign beholding “Hay-on-Wye – Town of Books”! The very fact that such a town can survive and that this festival of the Arts continues to grow year on year, attracting some of the greatest authors, poets, comedians and thinkers of the 21st century is surely uplifting in our current climate of library closures and bookshop decline – a topic I mused on over a year ago in my post “The demise of the local bookshop”.

Ironically, my bemusement at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts being sponsored by The Telegraph (for some reason it tickled me at the time) morphed into excitement when I had the great pleasure of meeting Lisa Armstrong; Telegraph Fashion Editor, ex Times Fashion Editor and Vogue contributor. I had half an hour to kill between Michael Morpurgo’s glorious Annual Hay Library Lecture and David Bellos’ fascinating talk on language in translation, humorously entitled “Is that a fish in your ear?”, and having been alerted to the fact that Lisa had given her own talk earlier in the day I was off on a hunt to find her.

To put it into context, Lisa Armstrong’s Times Magazine columns accompanied my Saturday afternoon lunch for as long as I can remember; I’d even go as far as to say that she was one of the reasons I became so interested in fashion because of her ability to make it appear accessible to me, a thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year old schoolgirl. I arrived, a little out of breath I might add, at The Telegraph tent only to spy her chatting with a festival-going couple. I hovered, debating whether to pluck up the courage to introduce myself. In short: I did. She was lovely, gave me advice about becoming a journalist and complemented me on my black felt hat. I was a very happy girl. What’s more, she very kindly agreed to have a photo with me and even snapped me for The Telegraph’s festival style blog!

Experiencing Hay was, without doubt, a true highlight of my year. Sitting in a huge tent, my pen poised above my favourite RSC notebook and surrounded by other fellow Morpurgo devotees I felt inexplicably at home. Even more so when Michael, as I like to think of him, boomed;“Cutting library funding is the stupidest thing this government has ever done”, amid cheers and applause from the delighted audience. A phrase which has stayed with me ever since the festival came from his lips too: “Reading is the oxygen of enlightenment”. A metaphor so strong and so true it doesn’t even feel like it should be granted metaphor status.

My favourite quote from the festival came courtesy of Twitter; “Only at Hay-on-Wye would a talk on fonts be so popular it has to move venues twice”. There is something so honest and uplifting about that sentence which embodies this festival in the accolades it deserves. I can’t wait to be returning this year. If you’ve never been – go. I dare you.

Hay 2

Hay 2

Hay 3

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The Bard Lives On

Ben Crick as Romeo

Ben Crick as Romeo

Outside of the English department, professing my enjoyment of Shakespeare in school is hardly likely to gain me any smiles of agreement; in fact I’d be lucky to get a nod of acknowledgement. It is with this in mind that I rejoiced (or rather, breathed a deep sigh of relief) upon seeing British students like myself immersing themselves in the infinite capabilities of the greatest writer the world has ever seen. Shakespeare: Off By Heart – a talent competition with a difference – corresponds with the BBC’s current focus on all aspects of Shakespeare’s life and works, rather sensationally titled Shakespeare Unlocked.

Whittled down from 2000 people aged between 13 and 15 throughout the nation, nine finalists were chosen to attend workshops at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon before appearing solo on stage and performing a well-versed soliloquy in front of several hundred people and three thespian judges. Jeremy Paxman hosted – an interesting choice as I can’t imagine anyone with the ability to unnerve young contestants any more than the man who berates swathes of intelligent under and post-graduates on University Challenge with put downs such as “No no no Corpus Christi you’re in the wrong century let alone decade” or similar such remarks. This choice was presumably intended to offer some gravitas to a relatively unadvertised BBC2 programme where the critics were three people you vaguely recognised from having seen on tv a few times.

As most people know, BBC2’s track record of, as Paxo put it, “X-Factor for intelligent people” programmes is pretty sparse and rightly so; we tend to leave that to BBC4. Due to this, the format of the show lacked any real sense of structure and although this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, their inexperience at behind the scenes, diary-like, “reality” tv footage showed, refreshing as it may have been. Clips of the patronisingly described “children” undergoing voice and acting coaching were dispersed between video of the actual performances and portraits of the 9 and their backgrounds. If I were to be critical I’d say that this didn’t help viewers to sustain a real sense of watching the action continuously in the theatre as the audience would have done, though on the whole this didn’t detract from the show’s overall message or impact.

There were some real characters among the chosen few and all showed a real enthusiasm for the literary gospel they were proclaiming the words of. My favourite, however, had to be Ben. Aged 15, he delivered the famous balcony scene monologue of Romeo and Juliet with suitable exaggeration and aplomb, despite the fact that he didn’t care much for the character of Romeo – deeming him naive to become besotted with Juliet so swiftly. He used his inner thoughts to his advantage by portraying Romeo almost comically and capturing the attention of the audience on all three sides. I was sorry that he didn’t make it through to the final three – each charged with the task of performing Hamlet’s daunting “To be, or not to be” speech – though from the wallpaper of his room being made up of rosettes from local drama festivals and as a member of the NYT (National Youth Theatre) I’m sure he’ll go far.

For anyone who missed it I offer you my sincere apologies as it is no longer on i-player (they definitely need to extend the one week limit to two at least), however I am able to point you in the direction of a couple of other reviews which will fill in the gaps for you and hopefully make you feel like you’ve watched it through alertly, twice. Here’s what The Telegraph,  The Times and Sunshine Tomorrow had to say. I’d be very interested to know your views if you did manage to catch it first time around and hopefully it will be repeated soon for those who didn’t.

Shakespeare and his plays may often seem another world away – and sometimes they are – but his comedies and tragedies speak reams about human nature and even today stand up against the most respected of writings as works that define literature. Last year, I studied Macbeth and loved every minute of it. It’s alternative title for the superstitious, The Scottish Play, doesn’t do it justice. The challenge of understanding what appears to be a different language altogether is directly proportional to the levels of satisfaction felt on revelling in the richness of the words once understood. If nothing else, it’s certainly the only incentive I’ve ever had to wield a carving knife around the kitchen, proclaiming wide-eyed and as if possessed “Is this a dagger I see before me?”

The Hand Of Kinship

Have you ever reached the end of a novel or a film or a play and wanted it to continue, not because you didn’t want the fiction to end and reality recommence, but because you felt that should a character cease evolving, you should dissolve into nothingness along  with them? At its lightest, this feeling of being parted from your alter ego can extract a little sigh of momentary sadness from the one who is occupied with such a book, as it is usually from the printed word this feeling of longing slithers into the soul; silent reading is, as the title (pun heartily intended) suggests, a past-time to be undertaken in solitude.

Only a little brain racking is required by most of us to reminisce upon a character from which we couldn’t bear to be parted. Waving a close-to-tearful goodbye to Hermione (both on paper and on-screen) marked the end of the period of my childhood which will be forever spoken of as the ‘Harry Potter Years’. She was the girl everybody related to: you were either like her and rejoiced in her bookishness or unlike her but couldn’t help secretly admiring her all the same. She was smart, sarcastic, confident and oh so easy to emulate in costume form on World Book Day (which other girls in my year did but I opted for the more considered approach of Professor Minerva McGonagall – mask of Maggie Smith’s face, long black dress, green shawl, Scottish accent).

For me, this feeling of sorrow is difficult to extinguish in a hurry. It can be distracted from by events in reality, or even other works of the same medium, but it cannot be suppressed or banished. It lingers at the back of one’s mind – only to meander to the forefront in moments of quiet or calm. It is due, more than to our yearning to continue with them on their journey through a fantasy land and instead to the uneasy notion that they will embark on adventures and experiences that we will never be able to share with them.

As if, by some cruelly unfair twist of fate we are forced to make hasty farewells to the humans and animals and creatures great and small with whom we have shared so much of ourselves; our hopes, our dreams, our spirits. For me it was with The Twins of St Clare’s and The Famous Five, the Fossil sisters of “Ballet Shoes” fame and any number of Michael Morpurgo creations. These characters – or people, to many of us – will never age, will never change their personalities, their fears or their goals. They are cast in a bronze haze of memory and long may they remain that way.

Women Of The World…

We Can Do It!

First posted February 15th - February 28th 1942

For the past three years, this poster has been the view I have awoken to every morning. Staring me in the face was a strong-willed woman – urging me to get up, get a move on and get out there into the world. I don’t mind saying that this poster has inspired me hugely and encouraged me daily to make a difference in the world, just as the women of Great Britain did during the Second World War. Just think of all those young girls who dropped everything to join the land army and or work in munitions factories; consolidating their efforts to give Britain a fighting chance. If they could have had such an effect, then so can we. The poster also affirms my strong belief in feminism, but it’s probably best if I leave my views on that particular subject for another post altogether! To see a visualisation of inspirational women take a look at Bollykeck’s post on the same topic.

Last Wednesday was International Women’s Day. The byline on their website reads “connecting girls, inspiring futures”. I can think of no better plan, especially as this includes providing “a common day for globally recognising and applauding women’s achievements as well as for observing and highlighting gender inequalities and issues”. I am inspired by so many women; dead and alive, fictional and real, family members, friends, teachers, writers, actors and politicians to name but a few. They all possess different qualities which I aspire to one day have myself, yet are united only because they all share the same gender. Here are the chosen few, known to all:

The Queen is the ultimate model of poise, grace, patience and hard work. She always projects positivity and never, ever, shows any degree of being tired, bored or uninterested by the people she meets or the places she visits.

Helena Bonham Carter (who has portrayed two Queens in her time!) is fearless with her fashion choices as well as being a versatile and captivating actor. Transforming from the teenage girl in Howard’s End to the kindly Mrs Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the chilling and terrifying Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series proves her acting capabilities.

Caitlin Moran wrote an extremely good book last year. It’s called “How to be a Woman”. I’m confident that many of you will have read it. In it she professes on paper everything we have all being thinking about feminism for the last few years but have been too self-conscious to say out loud. Moran is also a journalist for The Times and her weekly column in the Times Saturday Magazine has been my weekend luncheon companion for the past six years.

Emma Watson cropped her beautiful locks short to celebrate the end of an eleven year contract by which she had agreed not to tan her skin or alter her hair whilst appearing in the Harry Potter series. The result was that she inspired many girls to do the same and take the short-hair plunge. I was in such a “GO EMMA!” mood about it that I wrote a post at the time.

Victoria Coren, as well as being a top-class journalist and presenter with a degree from Oxford is also a World Poker Champion and a member of Team PokerStars Pro, with lifetime winnings of $1.5 million. I finished her autobiography “For Richer, For Poorer – Confessions of a Player” in January and found it engaging, witty and refreshingly honest. Coren is a quirky individual who deflects negativity and instead focuses on what matters to her. I think she is incredibly cool.

Bel Rowley (The Hour) was played brilliantly, last Summer, by Romola Garai. Bel is a fifties feminist and a woman who holds a strong journalistic role at the BBC’s Lime Grove Studios in the middle of the Suez Canal crisis. Despite her ability to perform her role extremely well, she is subject to subtly sexist marks. When inquiring after Prime Minister Eden’s health, one of his Press Advisers replies “Such maternal instincts. I do think you are rather wasted in news”. She later slights his intelligence by saying to her Editor, in the adviser (Angus’) presence, “Auribus teneo lupum”, and then snapping to Angus “Look it up”. The Latin translates into English as “Take the wolf by the ears”.

Morgan Le Fay, the villain of the Legend of King Arthur of Camelot is one of the oldest records of a feminist. True, we have little or no evidence as to whether she actually existed, but she is portrayed in the printed word and on-screen as a woman who will not rest until her right to ascend to the throne of Camelot is acknowledged.

Jenny Mellor (An Education) decides against marrying a much older man who can give her all the riches she could ever want in favour of studying to gain a place at Oxford and make her own way in the world. The character of the early 1960s schoolgirl Jenny, played to perfection by Carey Mulligan, doesn’t fall into the trap of giving up on her education to be married in her teens simply because she has had a good offer of marriage and in doing so proves to herself, and everybody else, that she can be independent.

Which women inspire you and why?

Cinematography

War Horse

For me, a visit to the cinema has always been something of a treat. Only rarely do I see a film when it has just been released – with the matters of finding the time to go, finding a film I really want to see, finding the perfect companion with which to watch it and justifying the cost of the tickets all coming into play. In fact, the last film I saw in a cinema setting was Jane Eyre which I posted about the week of my seeing it in September 2011. Gosh, how time flies! This time the setting and plot were altogether very different – with War Horse being the film that hankered for my attention and which caused me to give in and make that seemingly bi-annual cinema visit. I can honestly say that I was not disappointed.

It is unusual for me to see something in which I am not aware of who the lead role is played by – but War Horse was one such  film. Jeremy Irivine plays Albert “Albie” (to his friends) Narracott who forms a close bond with a horse he names Joey – bought by his father to plough the land on the family farm despite the colt not being  a shire horse. As many of you will know, Albie and Joey are separated when war breaks out – only to be finally re-united at the very end of the story. Obviously the large chunk I’ve neglected to comment on contains all the nitty gritty scenes of the First World War in action, with some superb acting by two of my favourite actors – Benedict Cumberbatch (yes, he of that coat two summers ago!) and Tom Hiddleston.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Mr Spielberg – hats off to him – had kept remarkably close to the original novel by the renowned children’s author Michael Morpurgo, which I feel really kept the morals which are a strong theme throughout the tale grounded. Hope, trust, loyalty, solidarity and courage. I actually had the privilege of hearing Mr Morpurgo speak, two years ago, about his experiences of being an author and about the inspiration behind his works. The two hours I spent in his presence were two of the most insightful, inspiring and valuable of my life and many of the things he said have stayed with me since.

I feel it is testament to his great skill as a writer that only a very small number of changes were made when transferring his novel from a manuscript onto the big screen. The result is a modern masterpiece – the kind of truly successful collaboration which only occurs when two people come together with the same goals and the vision of creating something powerful, and in this case visually stunning and quite spectacular. In contrast, I’m saddened to say that I was disappointed with another film which had been critically acclaimed for it being one of the best of the year.

The adaptation of John Le Carré’s 20th Century Classic “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy” although faultless from a cinematographic point of view just wasn’t made with its audience in mind. Even when putting aside its one great fault – the difficult to follow plot line which left myself and around 85% confused about twenty minutes in (and this is a two-hour film we’re talking about) – I felt that its creators had, with their target clientèle in mind, made it too high brow for their own good. It is a great shame, especially as the likes of Colin Firth, Gary Oldman and Benedict Cumberbatch all contribute to making the cast list, after Harry Potter, Britain’s best in a while and definitely best male cast.

Compared to War Horse, Tinker Tailor offered little or no opportunity or hook to draw the audience into making an affinity with one or any of the characters. Also, the distinctly Cold War feel and the lack of emotions in the film (somewhat similar to my views on “Never Let Me Go” – if you’ve seen it you’ll probably get my gist about the characters feeling very different from the world in which they lived) made it an even less inviting tale to embrace. I think for me the main problem was that, as I did when I went to see True Grit last year, I walked into Tinker Tailor thinking it was going to be the best film I had ever seen, and it wasn’t.

I blame the media hype which whips up a frenzy of copy gushing with praise for every film released – making it increasingly difficult to separate the real ‘not to be missed’ films from the three star titles. One of my perhaps easier to keep resolutions was to get out to the cinema more this year and appreciate decent film-making. I think so far I’m not doing too badly and hope to add “The Woman in Black” onto my list of “viewed” films next weekend. If anyone has seen it please let me know your thoughts so I know what I’m in for!

The Joys of Spring (Reading)

Decline and Fall

What I wouldn't give for an original penguin copy

Today is the 1st of March and it has been a glorious one at that; mild and sunny with blue skies and a beautiful sunrise. It is days like today which make me forget all about the dismal weather we Brits experience for 90% of the year and have a positive effect on me. There has to be some sort of scientific link between good weather and optimism! For me, 2012 has been a year for reading. There is nothing I like better than to arrange myself on my bed, head propped up by two pillows with a hot chocolate in one hand and a novel in the other, but more often than not this isn’t a reality for me. Reading, although a joy, is unfortunately not my top priority and always seems to get pushed down the day’s agenda until I’m far too tired to be able to enjoy anything I might read and all I want to do is sleep.

This year, it will be different. Reading is educational, enjoyable and an escape into as many different worlds as there are novels in the world. In 2008 I began keeping a record of every single book I read – the title, the author and my starting and finishing dates and when I totted up the total number of works I had completed in the course of four years I was actually a little disappointed to see that I had actually only managed to finish a rather measly total of 56 books. That’s an average of 14 books per year – just over one per month. It’s true that I go through periods that are more fruitful reading-wise than others – I can guarantee I’ll have gotten through one book per week in the summer when I have little else to worry about other than whether I’ve lathered myself with enough sunblock or when high tide is – but that isn’t an excuse for me to neglect my bookshelf. After all; reading is something I gain such pleasure from and learn so much from.

My current favourite author is the brilliant Evelyn Waugh. I was recommended and leant A Handful of Dust in the last week of December, and the next time I saw the lender (mid-January) I returned the novel having completed it and with a fulfilment that can only be felt when one has experienced a novel of such clever writing, intriguing sentences and subtle humour as Waugh’s chapters exude. The novel, set between the wars in Belgravia and a Stately Home in Warwickshire is the story of social graces (or lack of) in a time when the people you associated with mattered more than your own character, and acquaintances were forged merely out of a lack of need or inclination to do anything except hold parties or host country weekends.

It is Waugh’s clever irony that leaves readers such as myself eager to learn the outcome of such a tale without caring about the situation of any of the novel’s characters and feeling an intense dislike for the meaningless nature of their lives. Fickle is the word I would use to describe the lives of those persons of the upper classes depicted in what has to be one of the most intelligently written novels of the 20th century. I can heartily recommend it. My second Waugh novel, the rather lighter and far more humorous Decline and Fall is just as sophisticated without being arrogant and contains such comic moments that I have found myself garnering disparaging looks if I am guilty of a sudden outburst of laughter upon reading one of Waugh’s hilarious, one line sentences.

The upshot of this post is that I want to make myself make time to read more often. After all, I hope one day to be writing articles or novels which other people take time out of their busy lives from to sit down and enjoy. Reading is such a simple pleasure and one which I do not feel I have been alone in side-lining from my schedule in favour of other tasks which are deemed ‘more important’. The text on the right hand side of this post reads “I pledge to read the printed word”. And I do. And I will always.

The Diary of a Film-goer

I knew this would happen. I knew that once I was back in a daily 9-5 routine my blogging schedule would be scrapped in favour of meeting work deadlines and all of the other commitments that September never fails to bring. September has flashed by startlingly quickly and I can’t believe I haven’t posted since the fourteenth. I love writing (not that I’ve ever mentioned that before) and I am determined to make a special effort to keep posting regularly, so here we begin…

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre

There aren’t many people who would be willing to go to an early morning showing at the cinema, especially not on a Saturday, a fact which a good friend and I discovered this past weekend on an excursion to see the new film adaptation of Jane Eyre. I can tell you from experience that if you are willing, early mornings are by far the best times to visit the cinema, and here’s why:

  • You can usually obtain some variation of an ‘early bird’ ticket which is cheaper than your standard ‘peak’ time one.
  • Rarely will there be more than ten people watching the same film as you are at that time of day – we were the first people in and so had the pick of the seats – which should equate to their being less chance of being disturbed whilst enjoying the film.
  • Due to the earliness of you showing the only people who will be willing to drag themselves from their beds to the cinema on a Saturday morning will be the hardcore film-goers, the type of people who abhor others who munch popcorn all the way through the film because they are their to enjoy the showing and not listen to somebody else’s munching during the climactic scene of the film.
  • You leave with the knowledge that you have already had your fill of ‘culture’ for the day and it isn’t yet lunchtime.
Judi Dench and Mia Wasikowska

Judi Dench and Mia Wasikowska

The film itself was excellent – really enjoyable despite many ups and downs and circumstances that seemed to change within seconds! Directed by Cary Fukunaga and adapted as a screenplay by Moira Buffini from the Charlotte Brontë novel the running time of 120 minutes was a feast for the eyes, the ears and the heart. Mia Wasikowska – known predominantly for her starring role of Alice in Tim Burton’s animated version of the classic Lewis Carrol novel in 2010 – plays Jane to Michael Fassbender’s Rochester, and both are supported plot-wise by Judi Dench’s Mrs Fairfax – a kindly, ageing housekeeper who gives companionship to the lonely Jane.

When Bertha – the mad, confined-to-the-attic wife of Rochester – first appeared, my instant reaction was that she was being played by Helene Bonham-Carter, in possibly her most wild role yet, and this is the woman who has played the Queen of Hearts (as in “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!”) and a Death Eater. Indeed. Alas, it was not to be as the casting director had evidently been searching for a HBC lookalike and found her in the form of Italian actress Valentina Cervi. The costumes were superb and the attention to detail of lace-collars which appeared to have been painstakingly constructed was  so very creditable.

Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender

Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender

If you get a chance, go and see it. It’s quite long (though in a good way) and there comes a point when you think they’re going to wrap it all up but in reality there’s still twenty minutes to go(!) but the landscapes, the costumes, the cast and the incredible script really are something to sit back, relax and enjoy. For another blogger’s perspective do have a read of Kate’s post about her perception of the film. On a tedious link (that being period drama!) has anybody been watching Downton Abbey? The new series is as lavish as I hoped it would be, despite WW1 being in full swing, and the only downside is the ridiculous amount of advertising breaks and their length which is what can be expected of channels such as ITV. Downton is one of the few non-BBC programmes I watch and I yearn for the show to be a BBC-made programme so as to allow me uninterrupted viewing of what is arguably one of the best programmes of our time!

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska

Bowing Out Gracefully – August Inspiration

This Was My Summer

This Was My Summer

Well it appears that this is it. Tomorrow we wave goodbye to August and with it the last remnants of the Summer. Without wanting to launch into a lengthy post about the transition from Summer to Autumn again (but if for some reason you are inclined towards that sort of blogging take a look at my last post) I simply want to talk about the things that for me, have made Summer, Summer…

First and foremost I have enjoyed the sun. No, we haven’t had much, but what we have had I’ve walked in, swum in and ultimately, revelled in. Summer wouldn’t be Summer without sun – something which Rosalind touched on saying that the element of the Summer she would miss most was reading outside in the sun. Summer is the time of the year when I myself read the most – a combination of longer holiday time and feeling relaxed and in the mood to sit and read and read until I’ve had my fill. When you’ve really got into a book, time is irrelevant – that’s why Summer holidays are the best time for them! But it’s not just books – being able to read the paper over a leisurely breakfast or lounge on the sofa flicking through the September editions of magazines is yet another, thoroughly enjoyable and leisurely pursuit.

So far I’ve finished How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (but I’m sure you’ll be hearing my opinion of that in a future post) and With Your Crooked Heart by Helen Dunmore. I’m currently wading into the first chapters of Roger Deakin’s Waterlog and am already finding it highly enjoyable – both his excellent descriptions and manner of storytelling are extremely compelling and next in line is Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie. Another book I’m looking forward to settling down with is supermodel Alek Wek’s autobiography. Having read interviews with her in which she described her incredible journey from her native Sudan to the UK where she has become an international supermodel and one of the most recognisable faces in fashion. I found the book whilst perusing in the sale section of my local independent bookshop for just £1.99. A bargain if I ever saw one! I’ll be sure to let you know my thoughts once I’ve finished it.

How To Be A Woman

Continuing the cultural theme I’ve seen no less than two amateur dramatic productions whilst on holiday and have thoroughly enjoyed them both. There’s nothing like the excitement of watching enthusiastic performers burst into an infectious song as the lights go down and the sheer amount of time and energy that go into such performances is unbelievable. In my opinion live theatre can never be overrated – be it in the West End or a Church hall. I had the pleasure of attending one such production last night and even now I’m still singing the repeated two lines of the title song! As regards to events happening further afield I’ve been keeping up with all the goings on at the Edinburgh Literary Festival (follow them here on Twitter and try taking part in their daily #UnboundEd challenge) and have promised myself that one day I will be there – definitely as a paying spectator but one can dream of frequenting it as an author/writer!

The BBC have produced some excellent television over the past month or two including The Hour (lengthier post about that here) and Page Eight. I was delighted to read (in The Guardian I think) that The Hour has been recommissioned for a second six-part series next year in which Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai and Dominic West will all reappear. You can read all about it yourselves on the BBC Press Office site .

Freddie and Bel - The Hour

In other news I got to have a play with a Canon 500d the other day and was instantly hooked. I’m really hoping to acquire a DSLR in the near future so if anyone has any suggestions I’d be really grateful if you could leave a comment. I marked the end of Summer with the purchase of a knitted aran cardigan from an independent woollen jumper shop. It’s made from plum coloured aran wool with lots of cable knit pattern and I absolutely cannot wait to wear it. Oh and in case anyone was wondering, I checked with the shop-seller where the garments were all made and she told me that they are all sent from the factory in Leicester where they are made, a fact which I later double checked on the website. New, unworn, ethically made, guilt free clothes. Why can’t they all be like that?

The demise of the local bookshop

Sometimes modern society leaves me ashamed to be part of it. Ashamed and disappointed and really, really annoyed. Really annoyed because, like many people, it has sucked me in to its world of consumerism and mass-marketing. I’m talking about books – and if you want to see the article that sparked my fury click here. It is an article from the Book Blog of The Guardian which discusses the increasing pressure on publishing houses to settle for supermarket deals on formulaic books instead of seeking out and nurturing promising talent from undiscovered, unique writers who are telling a different story than everyone else.

It’s the same for independent book sellers – what with supermarkets now doing “two for £5” deals on books and Amazon consistently selling everything, particularly books, at the lowest possible prices it is impossible for anyone even attempting to sell books at their “recommended retail price” to find enough customers to keep them afloat. It’s a shame, because as a society we are disconnecting ourselves from the arts. I don’t mean that no one’s reading or listening to music any more – far from it – it is the way in which we are doing it….

We’re not going browsing in bookshops any more – savouring the distinctive smell only books can have or marvelling over the sheer number of books it stocks instead we’re wandering round Sainsbury’s or wherever and chucking “the latest bestseller” on top of our weekly shop or possibly worse, sitting at home and ordering books to be delivered to our front doors at the click of a mouse. I’m guilty of it, you’re probably guilty of it, we’re all guilty of it! Because it’s easy and lazy and doesn’t require the effort of leaving the house to go out and find a book shop that you’ll go into thinking “I guarantee I can get every single book in here cheaper on Amazon”.

I’m not going to lie – you probably can. But you know what you don’t get with Amazon? You don’t get to actually hold the book you want to buy, to inhale the fresh smell only a brilliant novel can have, to flick through the pages for no apparent reason other than the fact that you can. Because the book is physically there in front of you. If you’re lucky you might even get a really friendly bookseller who is happy to recommend books to you that they will have actually read because they are a bookseller and books are their passion. They’re not a robot recommending books to you based on books you’ve “previously bought” or because it’s what everyone else is reading. 

Phew. That was intense. But let’s just go back to books for just one more minute. Have you ever stopped to think what it would be like if you gathered together every single printed book that exists in the world right now – in every language and every edition – and how many words and stories and morals and struggles and people you would have there in that room with you? You wouldn’t be able to comprehend it. That is what is so wonderful about literature – whatever they do with it, however they market it, whatever form they put it in be it as printed copies or e-books or electronic messages programmed into our brains (give it a few years, I’m sure we’ll get there) people will never stop reading – because people will never stop writing. There, I’ve said all that I wanted to say.