Wednesday, 22 October 2014

London Literary Festival - first look at Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn


I love London. It's so full of life and there is always so much to do.

A couple of weeks ago (oops was it really a couple of weeks...so little time, so much blogging) this took me to the Southbank centre for the London Literature Festival. They put on a whole range of events from talks to debates, to readings but what I was heading into the capital for, was a First Look Book Club.

The idea of this is simple and quite ingenious: give a small group of the general public a brand new novel that isn't even published yet. Ask them to read it. Throw them together in a room and encourage them to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of it. Observe all of this. Improve book accordingly.

It does really make sense and I am surprised that they aren't a common practice. You receive the criticism for the book while there is still time to make alterations, ultimately enhancing your chance of selling the book. And for a literature nerd like myself who is absolutely desperate to be published (and therefore always fan-girling at any events that involve authors/publishers) the event excited me a huge amount.

There were about 12 of us altogether, including me and my friend, made up of all females - teachers, students, book enthusiasts...and then there was the event runner who chaired the discussion, the author, his wife and his publicist. It was a nice cosy set up, very informal  and everyone was so friendly. It definitely helped that we were all book nerds as well so had a lot in common with everyone but it was great to meet everyone. Especially the author, Anthony Quinn who is really lovely and really appreciated our thoughts on the book.

The book was pretty great as well. Curtain Call is set in the 1930s and one of the best things about it is that you can't quite work it out. At first it appears to be a murder mystery when early in the novel, one of the main characters interrupts a murder. However, this is definitely used more as a plot device than as the focus of the novel and it takes a backseat for the majority of the story. What is far more central is the romance between two of the characters. But again, you couldn't simply call it a love story either as on top of those two elements there are enough historical references, to allow it to fall into the historical fiction category. It would be wrong to say that Curtain Call is just one of these genres and Quinn intertwines them beautifully.

Quinn is clearly an ambitious writer. Not only does he flaunt any restriction to specific genres but he also writes confidently about a great many more 'main characters' than most authors would normally attempt. In fact, I couldn't say there were any sub characters at all. Every single one had a very important part to play, had their own plot and was filled out enough for the readers to care about them. Plus they were all interlinked which was faintly satisfying when these links came to light. Each character was humanly rounded with flaws as well as strengths in their personalities and what was perhaps most endearing, was that each one had a secret that they were trying to hide from the rest of the people in the novel. This elevated position of knowledge as the reader is, again, faintly satisfying and it is also very entertaining to watch as they develop. They often have to face up to this horrible secret they are hiding and once they have confronted it, (and allowed it to come out in the open) they are much stronger characters so the work of the author is done.

Curtain Call is simply a really enjoyable novel. It is surprising and gripping, emotional and absolutely hilarious at points. It contains something for everyone and I believe that anyone could enjoy it, male or female, young or old. So make sure you keep any eye out for it as it hits bookshops early next year.

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Our Girl

Sunday nights are no longer going to be the same. For weeks now, the English general public have been lucky enough to have some exceptional Sunday night viewing which, let's be honest, is normally the kind of dead slot reserved for documentaries and occasionally a costume drama. But for the past couple of months, we have been enjoying a new type of drama. One which we have jumped on board with in a big way.

Our Girl, featuring Eastenders star Lacey Turner, depicts the progress of young army medic Molly through her fast tour in Afghanistan. Following a successful pilot episode which portrayed her training, we had to wait over a year for a full series to return. But this wait was well worth it.

The basic premise is very broad as you can see from above: I could sum up the whole 5 hours of viewing in a sentence. But this was intentionally done and clearly a clever design to allow the characters to breathe in an unimpeded way. Each episode had enough plot to be interesting and were definitely not short on action. What was the real focus of the drama though, was the character development. In particular this was portrayed in a skilfully realistic way by Turner. In the pilot, there were dramatic changes as Molly worked hard to complete her army training and Turner played it admirably. However, I believe her acting just hit a new level throughout the series. She shined as the warm yet blunt heroine, and the changes she underwent during the series were a lot subtler, but no less noticeable.

Her leading men (played by the very English Ben Aldridge and the very Welsh Iwan Rheon) also supported her in a perfect way. The whole boy-loves-girl-but-girl-loves-different-boy has perhaps been a little overdone in British drama but that is not to say it wasn't entertaining in this case. And in its slow progression, it isn't the overriding plot focus. It is more about friendship than anything else and coming to terms with the atrocities/danger that all who are in Afghanistan (whether locals, Brits or Americans) face on a daily basis.

With conflict happening a conveniently long way away, it is extremely easy to forget about it. To turn away and act like nothing is happening. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. But Our Girl has managed to bring the atrocities of the middle east to our attention once more and it definitely includes some simple words of wisdom that we should try to hold on to. None of us are wholly bad or wholly good, but all of us should (and can) strive to fix the little things in order to improve the bigger picture, one step at a time.

Our Girl is realistic, human and hugely emotive so it will be sure to stay with you, long after you stop watching it. It is heart warming, always slightly unexpected with a massive plot twist minutes before the end that you will just not see coming. So make sure you check it out. All 5 episodes are still on Iplayer and I promise you won't regret it.

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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Urinetown the Musical




There are a lot of musicals out there in theatreland. A lot. So it is becoming increasingly difficult to make one stand out from the crowd. They all follow a reasonably similar structure in terms of plot and musical numbers; they all have similarly cheesy lines and actions and they all have a happy ending. But Urinetown the Musical manages to add it's own unique edge to the regular format.

Most enticingly this occurs due to the character of Officer Lockstock being aware that he is in a musical. At points, he stops the show to explain what is going on to the audience and to the youngest character, Little Sally. This is quite a daring move as there is a danger of destroying the flow of the musical and the spoilers he offers could have a negative effect on the audience. However, in this musical, it does seem to work and it allows the characters to (excuse the pun but I had to do it at least once) take the piss out of themselves and the musical that they realise they are acting within.

And yes, it is how it sounds - the musical is principally about peeing. A little unsophisticated for a west end musical but it is entertaining all the same. The basic premise of the plot (set in a fictional futuristic version of the world where there has been a 20 year drought) is that the water has been depleted to such a serious level that private bathrooms have been banned in an effort to save the little amount of water they still have. Which means the characters have to pee in disgusting and expensive public amenities controlled by the corrupt Urine Good Company. Until a young and very handsome lead, Bobby Strong (played by the equally good looking Matthew Seadon-Young) decides to rebel after his father is exiled to the mysterious Urinetown for breaking the law by peeing in the street. And then all hell breaks loose, enabling the excitement of the musical to start.

The title Urinetown the Musical has caused a little trouble for those selling the tickets, or so I've read, and there has been talk of changing it. If Urinetown was simply the town in which the characters lived, I would probably agree with them. But it is so much more than that...it is the shadow of threat which overhangs the characters constantly, forcing them to follow the oppressive government with very little complaint. So it is only fitting that it hangs over the musical as well, consistently hovering in the background.

I did say that Urinetown the Musical is unsophisticated but that is the exterior which the writers have purposefully (and very cleverly) put in the forefront. Beneath that, it has a resonance of Animal Farm about it (you will see what I mean when you go to see it) and is a very cynical look at the political world that despite being fictional, could potentially become a reality.

And Urinetown understands how real this crisis actually is in certain parts of our world. Therefore they are now supporting water.org, a leading charity which looks for developing solutions to the very present water crisis. Next Monday 20th October, Urinetown are putting on a charity gala to announce this collaboration and proceeds from the gala (as well continued support for the rest of its run) will be going to this valuable charity. For more information and to book tickets make sure you visit http://www.urinetown.co.uk/gala.php - not only will you have a brilliant night, I can assure you, but you will also be helping people where the fictional crisis of the musical is very much a reality.

(photos courtesy of Urintetown the Musical)

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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Clifton Suspension Bridge


I have been to Bristol many times in the past but I have always stuck to the city centre. Which mostly involves sitting, eating and shopping. This time though, me and my best friend decided to do something a little different and headed out into the wilds of the downs to see the wonderful Clifton Suspension Bridge.

We wandered through the woods, walked the bridge itself (twice as we realised that we had to go back the way we had come to find the car) and also explored the Giant's Cave. This entailed descending through the cliff itself, to come out on to a little viewing platform about half way down. It meant that we got some pretty cool views of the river, the bridge and the cliff that towered above us, in a terrifying way. And I am not going to lie that little platform we were on, did not seem stable. At all.

I just find it incredible that this awesome piece of architecture is still standing, as strong as ever, almost two hundred years after it was built. Such a cool thing to see on my first day of #Blogtober!


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