The Play’s The Thing

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A couple of weeks ago we went to watch Andrew Scott in Hamlet at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London. This is probably the sixth or seventh time that I have seen a production of this play and I never tire of it. As I have also taught the play for GCSE for many years, it is one that I know well and that is part of the enjoyment. I love watching how different directors interpret the text. A few years ago the National Theatre production with Rory Kinnear used the idea of surveillance – everyone was watched by everyone else. This version uses CCTV to great effect.

It is difficult to write about this production in detail because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who is going to see it for themselves, but suffice to say – the creativity of the ending caused an argument between myself and my husband. I loved it, he didn’t.

Andrew Scott is an amazing Hamlet – the Shakespearean language and rhythm has almost been deconstructed so that it feels as if he is having a conversation with the audience. Loved it!

Back to School

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COVERS-FAN-RHS-2Can you ever go back?

Two weeks ago I attended my first ever school reunion – the Class of ’77. Back in the late seventies/early eighties it was harder to keep in touch. Social media didn’t exist. Mobile phones didn’t exist. The result – I lost touch with everyone. It’s 40 years since I left school, since I had seen these ‘girls’ and so the idea of the reunion filled me with as much trepidation as excitement.

I was never one of the popular girls at school, I was never ever in the ‘cool’ crowd. The outsider looking in – that was me. Don’t get me wrong, my school days were happy, it was just that I was always painfully shy and my parents, bless them, were very protective. Not for me the weekend parties, the discos. The result, I was never invited anywhere, I was always listening to my classmates talk about their weekends rather than sharing the experience. Therefore what was I expecting from the reunion?

Leading up to the event, photos were posted on Facebook and guess what? Mine was the face that several couldn’t name. Why was I even thinking about going?

In the event, I did have a lovely time. It was nice to see old faces, to meet again the girls that I had shared classes with. We didn’t really talk about what we were doing now. Surprisngly, there was no sharing photos of husbands and children/granchildren. Four of our teachers also attended, all in their seventies/eighties and they were thrilled to meet up with us again. The distances travelled to attend were amazing; America, Germany, Scotland. And it is funny how even though faces may change with age, character traits remain. The girls who liked to be the centre of attention at school made sure that everyone noticed them that evening. The group that used to stand in the classroom corner passing comments on everyone else, soon found their very own corner of the hall. The best bit for me – seeing my favourite teacher again.

When I returned home, my husband asked if I had told them about my Mike Malone novels. I had to confess that I hadn’t uttered a word about my books. Why? To me it would have felt as if I was trying – for once – to get noticed. I prefered to stay on the outside looking in, exactly as I used to 40 years before.

We all swapped numbers/email addresses and made promises to stay in touch. I’ll let you know if we do.

A Booklover’s Paradise

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File_001 (4)-EFFECTSI am always late to the party. Story of my life.

Last week I discovered a magical place that so many others have already found. A treasure trove for book addicts; a place that almost has its own independent time; a sanctuary where you can just relax. Where is this paradise? Hay-on-Wye.

Why we have never visited before, I don’t know. We had, for years, always talked about trying to visit when the annual festival was on, but for various reasons we just didn’t get there. This year we did – not to the festival – but to the town itself. A town overlooked by its castle that is now, finally, due to get a makeover; a restoration project has been agreed.

The town itself seems alive between the hours of 9.30 and 5 pm – and I am not complaining. It’s so refreshing to be able to walk in the evening through a town that seems to be devoid of cars and noisy groups. The town sleeps. The pace of life is slow, unhurried, leisurely. There is a sense of commumity – we even came across a knitting club in a pub garden. Wonderful.

But Hay-on-Wye is the town of books. In its heyday, there were over 20 bookshops, not so many now as market forces and the internet make trading hard. But the bookshops that are there, about 12-15, are amazing. There is nothing like the smell of old books and when you enter you are plunged into a different world, a world full of hidden corners, a world full of books. My sister-in-law always takes an empty suitcase with her when she holidays for her purchases – she loves clothes. I followed her example and took an extra bag which my husband and I filled with newly purchased books.

So, as well as writing the next Mike Malone – I’m nearly half way through the first draft – I now have an extra 14 books on and under my bedside table. Bliss!

Choosing a book

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What makes you pick up a book? I’m fascinated by that question. I always have a long list of books in my bag – those that have been recommended to me – ‘you must read this …’, a list of favourite authors who keep me waiting for the next one in the series. Jo Nesbo made me wait a very long time for his latest Harry Hole- but, boy, was it worth the wait. School reading lists also get added – I’m working my way – slowly – through those  nominated for the Carnegie this year.

But that is not all. When I enter a bookshop – armed with my lists – all too often I emerge with something entirely different. Covers captivate me. I picked up ‘Night Circus’ by Erin Morgentstern purely because of the striking cover – silhouettes on a black background. However the intricacy of the cover of ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ by Natasha Pulley attracted me for diffrent reasons and in both cases, the books did not disappoint.

For me, going into a bookshop is just like going into a cake shop.I know that the chocolate cake, the coffee cake, the lemon drizzle cake will be excellent – but there will always be that one individual cake that will catch the eye, make the mouth water and shout ‘eat me!’ In the same way, in a bookshop, there will always be that one book whose cover will catch the eye and scream ‘read me!’ And I will.

The Power of Words

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Wow! As I said in my previous post – there are perks that come with teaching and yesterday delivered an absolute peach. Two super presentations by two lovely writers, Kiran Millwood-Hargrave and Vanessa Altin. Kiran’s presentation told the students about crafting a story – how she built settings and characters. Excellent advice to young writers. Vanessa, on the other hand, told the students about real life. She told us of her experiences in camps with refugee children – heart-rending stories that had us grown-ups holding back the tears; she showed us images that broke our hearts. But the most inspirational thing that she did was to pass the baton onto the students- to charge them with the responsibility of taking this world of ours and changing it, of protecting the innocents, of caring. As I said – a wonderful day.

 

Teacher’s perks

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Brock

 

There are benefits to teaching that offset the planning and marking time. Meeting authors! My school has been involved in a project to promote reading and the authors of the books that we have been studying are coming in next week to work with the students. I am going to be lucky enough to be in a session with Anthony McGowan whose book, ‘Brock’, I have been reading with Y8 students.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave who won the Waterstones’ Children’s Book Prize 2017 with her book ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’, and Vanessa Altin, author of ‘The Pomegranate Tree’ will also be visiting next week. I just hope that I can manage to sneak into their sessions too.

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Elephants and houses

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Have spent a glorious day out and about, enjoying fantastic sunshine amd warm temperatures. Burghley House, near Stamford, is a treat. (Sorry about the pic – it was taken through the railings). It is a magnificent house that was built for Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer, Lord Burghley. If memory serves me correctly – and I might be wrong, so apologies if I am – this house has the most chimneys on a house. 76!! The interior is sumptuous, but this time we didn’t go inside – we stayed outside, wandering around the grounds and the sculpture garden where there is always something different to see. What took my eye this time was an elephant. How wonderful is this chap?

 

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