Review: God is Dead by Ron Currie

God Is DeadGod Is Dead by Ron Currie Jr.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

God is Dead feels less like a novel and more a collection of short stories linked by the title theme. Although many of the satirical episodes stand up on their own (as can be seen by those previously published as stand-alones) the structure of the book lends itself more to a reading by dipping in and out rather than an engaging and driven narrative.

I began the book, interested and impatient to read about this world, meeting characters I invested in and plot lines that were intriguing. As the book went on I discovered I was not going to meet most of these characters again, plot lines were discontinued, some adjacent and intermittent and some completely unrelated. And the world as central character in the any overall story was underdeveloped and inconsistent and sometimes looked like it was just tacked on to link the individual stories together, much like the bible quotes before each chapter.

I started out excited and intrigued by the book and its characters but by the end I just didn't care.

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Review: Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

NT Live broadcast from The Old Vic Tom Stoppard's play Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in cinemas around the country on the 20th of April 2017. Daniel Radcliff and Joshua McGuire are two minor characters from Hamlet who are barely able to understand their part in the action. Through them we see the story of Hamlet, sometimes seep in, sometimes sneak in and sometimes explode onto the stage in bizarre situations and comic scenes.

NT Live: Why?

If bringing theatre to the masses is the remit, NT Live has succeeded as far as I'm concerned. NT Live has certainly meant that I have been able to experience more live theatre. For the price of a cinema ticket I am able to go to my local cinema and see a West End play. And if I appreciate this, not just from the perspective of cost but because it takes me 20 minutes to go to the cinema but up to two hours to get to the theatre, then I would imagine those who don't live in London appreciate it even more.

The Play

Tom Stoppard's play on reading it, promises surreal comedy which is hard sometimes to elicit from the page. On the stage however, in the hands of Radcliff and McGuire we see what it was all about.  The ridiculous antics of the comic pairing is laugh out loud funny. Laurel and Hardy. The two Ronnies. Fry and Laurie. Whatever era you remember best. A brilliant mixture of slapstick, wit and social commentary. David Haig is the icing on the theatrical cake.

West India Quay Cineworld

One consideration with regard to cinema screening is that 2 out of the last 5 productions at the West India Quay cinema have had technical hitches, losing sound on one occasion and at this screening losing the correct aspect ratio. Radcliff and McGuire with distorted proportions, looked like hobbits with short torsos and long feet and when they stretched out a hand or arm seemed to reach to the other side of the stage which luckily added to the comic effect and only for the first twenty minutes.

Next Screening?

Jude Law in Obsession, live from the Barbican Theatre on May 11th.  

Review: The Garden Party

The Garden PartyThe Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Garden Party delights in setting and breaking the boundaries of class, convention and experience. A hat, like the one worn, can be a marker of all three especially when handed down from mother to daughter. Death, the great leveler raises questions on these areas which is balanced out by all the limitless possibilities of life, once you are not restrained or restricted by such boundaries as class, convention or experience.

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Secret Cinema: The Handmaiden

The Troxy, in the East End of London, hosted the latest immersive cinema event by Secret Cinema. Their strand called Secret Cinema X (which is a little less expensive & a lot more intimate) is not only at a secret location like the mainstream strand but also involves a secret unreleased film, undisclosed until arrival at the secret location. The tagline is: Tell No One.

Having attended mainstream Secret Cinema experiences such as Star Wars, Dr Strangelove and 28 Days Later (and getting value for money considering what seems like a lot for watching a film you have seen before), it was interesting to try the Secret Cinema X, low-key and comparatively low cost version. When I went to my first one, Victoria, I didn't know what to expect. However from the start, even waiting in line outside, we were drawn into the secret world of the film, beginning with what looked like trouble-makers climbing over bins and looking for cigarettes. We were stamped with ink and then entered the blue-lit smokey atmosphere of a Berlin techno club thumping out beats. This was followed by the film, a gritty realistic movie of two hours in real time, filmed as one continuous shot. A great movie and experience.

On this occasion, the film was The Handmaiden by Park Chan-Wook. Beforehand, guests were told the location near the time and sworn to secrecy. The name of the film wasn't revealed until it appeared on the screen, (however there were hints leading up to the event and if you looked at film release dates you could put two and two together). The lead-up, including the mystery, quest and preparation beforehand, was nearly as much fun as the event. 

Beforehand we were told to bring a notebook and pen, as we would have to be silent during the event and only communicate in writing or gestures. We were also told to wear black tie and evening gowns, with men in black gloves and women in white. We dug a little deeper and guessed the movie and geared up for 1930s evening dress in the appropriately Art Deco venue, that is the Troxy. 

On arrival we were reminded of the rules of silence and the threat of expulsion if we broke the rules. We switched off and sealed our phones and followed a dark, lantern-lit stairway past cherry trees and nooses into the grand Art Deco venue.  As maids in 30's style Korean aproned-dress escorted people to their seats, everywhere notebooks were being written in or read, while wineglasses were filled on tables set with origami paper and instructions, lollipops and lanterns and a performance on stage including actors and musicians, leading up the start of the film (The lollipop's place in the scene-setting quickly became apparent).

During the film, pivotal moments were acted out on stage or behind lit Japanese-style screens, like a shadow puppet show with human bodies. Dry-ice rolling across the ground and cherry blossom petals falling from above, were some of the key touches which created the perfect atmosphere. After the film the tables were moved back to create a dance floor and cocktail lounge music played on into the night.

The only suggestions I would make for improvement are minor such as matching the food and drink holders/containers to the theme a little more. Although the food came with chopsticks, the containers were too modern and although the white wine came in a metal ice-bucket, it also came with cheap plastic glasses. Rather ruined the look. And perhaps the dancers, who were there to encourage people to dance after, could hold back on the full performance so that those of us with two-left feet might not feel so intimidated and not need so much courage to venture out onto the dance floor.

Other nice little extras, for the higher paying clients were sofas in the Library area and copies of the book The Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, (the Victorian London story the film was based on, transposing the story to Japanese occupied 1930's Korea). One lovely couple, on receiving their red ribboned books, decided to share one and kindly give us the other.

A great night pulled off by Secret Cinema X, in a great location - the Troxy with a great film, The Handmaiden. A memorable night but I would, as Secret Cinema says, 'Tell No One' if they hadn't now released me from my vow of silence.



Review: The Brothers Karamazov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dostoevsky's story of The Brother's Karamazov is distilled eloquently into this 5 act play. Morality, politics, family alliances and faith are some of the themes explored in the witty dialogue of the play. We, alongside the characters, question the drives and motivations that promote, develop or destroy all that is seen as good or evil in the human condition.

The brother's between them are the 'Everyman'. Each one an aspect of our being such as intellectualism, spiritualism or sensualism and together as brothers, they are greater than the sum of the parts.

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Poetry Reading: Martina Evans

Martina Evans, as the youngest of ten children growing up alongside a petrol station in Cork, uses all such life experiences in her poetry. Today Martina read some of her poetry and discussed her writing life with a Royal Literary Fund reading group in the Whitechapel Ideastore,

Why Poetry?

Although, also a novelist, Martina says she prefers poetry, partially because, as she says, she is 'better at it.' She talks about how people say that everyone has a novel in them, she, more realistically believes 'Everyone has a poem in them.'

Audience/Reader

When asked, 'Would it matter if no one read your poetry?' she answered, that she would still write, 'but it would be different.' This is most apparent considering her recitation of her poems for the audience that day. Carrying on an oral tradition, Martina's poems, especially came to life with her Cork accent and the particular tones and rhythms she had had in mind when she first wrote them (with a little poetic license taken, in an organic editorial). This coupled with the insights into her stories joins the audience more robustly in the contract or relationship, that is other side of the balance of writer and reader. 

Form

Although Martina's poetry is mainly freeverse, she told her audience 'I hear a very strong rhythm'. This,  she considered to be from her mother. She said, 'I sometimes think my mother is speaking out of me.' 'I like the music of voices,' she told her audience, 'like Joyce.' Martina recalled overhearing her mother, a widow amongst widows, saying, 'Now we can talk openly about men'  and realized later how this was iambic pentameter, a form she is working with at the moment. The physical shape of the poem on the page is also a consideration for Martina's when it comes to form. It is part of her process, as she said, 'like building a house on a page.' When talking about how conscious she had been of falling in recent times, she mentioned a poem she wrote about going down into the basement with some rhyming couplets like the steps going down into the basement. 

Memory

Memory plays a large part in Martina's work. From the memories she uses of her childhood in Cork to those more recent of London. Research into first-hand accounts are the backbone of some of her more historical or political poetry while at the same time Martina talks of how her mother would freeze in the middle of a story realizing, if she was not careful her words would appear in print in one of Martina's poems. Martina even talked of the initial  difficulties of memorizing her poetry, and the benefits of this kind of activity as a brain exercise and to prevent memory loss in the long term,

Personal Stories

I talked to Martina about my own difficulties with memory, ie; that I could recall very little of my childhood, like she was able to. And that her work inspired me to make those 'links' she talked of. When she spoke of a poem 'Horses in the Basement', I thought of one I had in mind called 'Turkeys in the Attic'. I had a memory of a nightmare I'd had as a child where I could hear the movement and trilling of turkeys overhead in the attic and the appearance of white feathers at strange times. However I found out this wasn't something I imagined or dreamt but did happen. The turkey's ended up killed and plucked and I had thought it was just a dream (perhaps to disassociate). I have been inspired by Martina's poetry to investigate my memories more deeply and ask the questions of family that might be part of some stories of the future. Like Martina's ones of taking cats to the vets in velvet bags or run ins with dentists or 'anti-erotic' oysters. Martina's stories are those celebrated in Kavanagh's poem Epic where the local stories of times, places and events are promoted to a glory, in her poetry, on a par with any epic story.

Note: Martina is also a teacher of creative writing and suggests using the exercise 'I remember...' as a memory jogger. Write the words 'I remember' and write whatever comes to mind (example here).

WTW: The Yurt, St. Katherine's Precinct


Where to Write (WTW): Good places to write. Places I like to write or have written, from libraries to cafes to park benches starting in London and going further afield. Following recommendations, geographical convenience and my nose for good coffee and cake.


(St Katherine's Precinct, London/Saturday,12 midday on)

I checked the criteria (in no particular order):
  1. Accessibility: A community cafe and project within a stone's throw from St Katherine's docks for the marine folk and around the corner from the Number 15 Bus or Limehouse Station. All is at ground level for buggies and wheelchair users (apart from picnic tables on the incline outside). Open Monday to Sunday 9-5pm.
  2. Breath-ability: It's very airy with heaters for colder weather but depending where you sit inside, the sun may hit you making it uncomfortably hot when eating. Two areas inside for writing, with the reflective space being less busy. Loads of fresh air outside of course.
  3. Decor: As a Yurt should be, hessian flooring, round wooden latticed structure with material lining (see below).
  4. Furniture: An eclectic mix of converted boxes, crates and benches with up-cycled pieces and in the reflection area, white garden furniture (perhaps for ease of converting room to other uses but rather flimsy and unstable for writing and eating from ie. required readjusting with either a well placed foot or folded up leaflet to prevent movement/wobble). There are plenty of cushions for extra comfort.
  5. Music: A mix of languages and styles that fade into the background with the buzz of conversation and the trains passing overhead.
  6. Sockets: I didn't expect any but there were two within easy reach.
  7. Space: There was less room in the main tent where, movement around the room is restricted by the layout. The reflection area tent has a lot more space, with tables only around the edges and the centre space free.
  8. Service: One person takes the order and gives you a wooden spoon number in a bottle, even for just a couple of coffees which means waiting for longer than normal for your coffee. Perhaps this is to prevent spillage or because of the busy layout.
  9. Food:  Good variety of sweet and savoury but all the menu isn't always shown. Great veggie brunch with sourdough bread, poached eggs, mushroom, tomato, bubble & squeak and beans (not ordinary baked beans but with a twist). The portion size was perfect and everything was cooked beautifully. The only gripe I have is that chopped parsley was sprinkled on as a garnish and I dislike raw parsley. Next time I will say 'hold the parsley', which I would have done this time had I known. Why do chefs do it anyway? I asked for what was on the menu. It didn't mention parsley. I didn't expect parsley. I got parsley. How is this OK? It is an ingredient I did not order. Do I have to say I don't want parsley? What else do I have to say that I don't want? I guess most people like parsley and it doesn't ruin their meal if they have it. 
  10. Drink: Good Americanos, small but cup handles not disastrously small (and came with a mini chocolate egg). Water containers and glasses at far side of counter available for the table. The kind of place you can sit and write for hours for the price of a coffee.
  11. Wifi: Available but limited.
  12. Toilets: Available and clean.
  13. Guilt: A community space which tries to source food locally, is growing veg, pay staff a living wage, try to keep menu affordable with surpluses being reinvested into their community work. Zero guilt needed.
  14. Writing: The space is so unusual in a densely populated area of East London that it is like an little oasis of tranquility (apart from the trains passing by overhead). 
  15. Creativity Rating: Overall 7/10 for writing. If the seats and tables didn't wobble so much it would have been higher (and if I'd not got parsley on my plate when I didn't order it).


WTW: Caffe Nero

Where to Write (WTW): Good places to write. Places I like to write or have written, from libraries to cafes to park benches starting in London and going further afield. Following recommendations, geographical convenience and my nose for good coffee and cake.


3. Caffe Nero (*CP £2.20)

 
(Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf,  London/ Sunday April 2017, 3pm on)

I checked the criteria (in no particular order):
  1. Accessibility: A chain available all over the country. This one is walking distance from a hub of transport including buses, the Jubilee Line and Docklands Light Railway. Escalators and lifts give access under the park to this subterranean area of shops, restaurants and a couple of other cafes.  Open Monday to Friday 6am to 9pm and Saturday from 7am to 9pm and Sunday 830am to 830pm. So plenty of time to write.
  2. Breath-ability: Opening out to a concourse the air con is light and some daylight can be seen  overhead via glass skylights. Airy considering it is underground.
  3. Decor: European coffee-house style, with wood floors and blue walls, keeping with the brand colours with large photos of Italian cafe scenes.
  4. Furniture: Comfortable brown leather armchairs and sofas and wooden tables and chairs.
  5. Music: An easy-listening mix, which is easy to listen to and fades into background and a Euro-pop mix which rises to the surface a little more.
  6. Sockets: Designed with a hoover in mind rather than laptops I expect but there were at least two areas available and I have seen Neros with better socket availability.
  7. Space: The concourse area has a large number of tables and chairs (as if creating an outside space) and inside are more areas with two entrances and a clear path for entering, exiting and ordering, meaning people rarely brush up against you and there is a good flow through cafe.
  8. Service: A number of tills, which can be confusing but line up and they will call. You take your coffee and any hot food means taking a number so it will arrive at your table when it is ready. Tables are cleared regularly.
  9. Food:  Mix of sandwiches, toasted panini and cake. I like the biscotti. Sometimes just a little something is enough, like the little piece of chocolate they sell that is a perfect bite.
  10. Drink: Very strong and flavoursome Americanos but in cups which tilt because of the shape of the handle or because my finger doesn't fit properly (I don't have unusually big hands).  Water jugs are available with ice and paper cups. Another place you can sit and write for hours for the price of a coffee.
  11. Wifi: Available via The Cloud. 
  12. Toilets: Not inside but across the concourse within sight.
  13. Guilt: Working on their Ethics and towards more robust sourcing of coffee beans, with research into recruitment practices across the world, increasing free-range across own brand products and increasing recycling to lessen landfill waste. Some guilt but working on improvements.  .
  14. Writing: The work vibe, which is left over from the office workers means it is a good space to get down to business. People have laptops and study manuals and tourist guides. Plenty sit on their own lost in their own worlds. The only sounds to interrupt are the coffee machine parts, from the grinder to the dispenser to the milk frother, which in some areas seem to bounce around the room's hard surfaces. The music can also rise to the surface a little, but move around to find the optimum level. 
  15. Creativity Rating: Overall 6/10 for writing. Bouncing sounds sometimes are distracting but is a relaxed atmosphere to write. 
*CP = Coffee Price where the common denominator is a medium or regular americano

Review: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Our Endless Numbered DaysOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The novel started out well and with hints from the blurb, moved us quickly into an exciting story. However the plot was too thin for anything more than a novella and the dark fairytale-like qualities we were promised at the start never quite paid off.

Devices like the survivalist lists and the playing of music without instruments all pointed to the need to make sense of trauma, order from disorder. The side by side narrative of past and present revealed the truth to our protagonist as well as ourselves and helped us all to make sense bit by bit. And however unconvincing the voice was in its description of the understanding that came with time, we hoped for pay-off in the end.

Unfortunately the predictable plot made the read disappointing in the end, unless you didn't guess.

Although it reminded me of Donoghue's Room, it may have suffered in that comparison.

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The Short Story Salon: Macleod, Hadley and Greengrass

Waterstones on Gower Street London hosted The Short Story Salon with authors Alison Macleod, Tessa Hadley and Jessie Greengrass. Chaired by Alice Slater from Mslexia, the evening explored the short fiction form including readings and discussion of aspects from inspiration and writing styles to the authors' own tastes in short stories.

The Readings

Mcleod read from All The Beloved Ghosts (2017), a collection of short stories which blended real life characters into fictional stories. Hadley read from the story 'Her Share of Sorrow' from her collection Bad Dreams (2017). And Greengrass read the full title story from 'The Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It' (2017) a fictional narration based on real accounts.

On Research & Inspiration

Both Greengrass and Macleod relied, they said, on a tremendous amount of research and for the rest of the story, as Mcleod said, 'You imagine between the gaps.' Hadley on the other hand almost never did research, and would 'just make it up'. 

 

Short Story to Novel

When questioned on the movement between short and long forms, from short story to novel, all three authors recognized the difficulties and differences. Hadley, after six novels admitted that she had been relying on her ability as a short story writer, using an episodic approach and that she was only now finding her 'flow'. One of the differences between how she approached a novel and a short story, she said, was that as she was sixty-five thousand words into a novel she wondered 'Am I leaving anything out' whereas in a short story, she said, 'You leave everything out.'

Greengrass considered the short story to have something specific to say, 'like an essay', she said, whereas a novel has a 'territory' to cover. Macleod considered a short story to be a 'relationship between two things and something is born' whereas 'a novel needed architecture'. 

The Short Story Comeback

When discussing the resurgence of the short story form it was suggested that there could be many reasons for its rise, from the culture created by an abundance of creative writing courses to increased media presence in magazines and online and even ease of production due to technology.

What the Authors Read

The authors' own tastes varied from Macleod's enjoyment of the 'yearning', comedy and characters of Chekhov to Hadley's fondness for Mavis Gallant to Greengrass' keener interest in less fictional short form
such as essays and such pieces as John Donne's sermons.

Review:

An excellent inaugural salon and wonderful celebration of the short story form. The readings were appropriate and enjoyable and the discussion was managed skillfully by a very passionate and knowledgeable Alice Slater who kept the evening going at the right pace to leave the audience awed and inspired.

(Tickets were £6 and included a glass of wine and the cost of the ticket could be redeemed against any of the books read from that night)