Monday, 2 December 2013

Book Review: Carnaby Street's Great Uninvited by Safia Shah

I was sent a review copy of Carnaby Street's Great Uninvited: Around the World in 80 Years after the press release caught my interest. The book claimed to use "endangered words" in a campaign to "bring words back to life" and this jumped right off the page at me, and I did learn some fun words during my reading of this book.

Totally engrossed!
As the book is aimed at children, I read it through a couple of times myself and then enlisted the help of my middle child, James who is 9 and an avid reader. He said the illustrations were "amazing" and the book was "fun and confusing and that is what I like in a book". He was absolutely delighted to find the magnifying glass and started to search for all of the definitions hidden in the book.

On my own first read I must admit I found the story quite hard to follow but then I realised I was getting distracted by the definitions so I left the book for a while and then went back and just read the text and everything slotted into place. To start with I thought this was a negative point but on reflection the fact that you have to read the book several times to get everything there is from it is a good thing.

The illustrations are by Mark Reeve and are exceptionally good, with plenty to discover on every page.

I think this book is ideal for children who like reading, words or discovering. I personally would say it would suit 8+ confident readers and younger children with an adult reading will find it good fun too.

Original star rating: 4/5...

One day later I am making an unprecedented move of upgrading this book to a 5 star because I have never seen such enthusiasm about a book for 24 hours from one of my children before. James has just shown his younger brother his copy of the book, and it looks like I will be buying a second copy for him now too.

Star rating: 5/5!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

My Writing Inspirations and How Others Read My Stories

I have found it fascinating on many occasions how people comment on my stories, both here on my blog, by email or in person, wondering what happens next, or indeed where my idea came from.

I think the first time it really surprised me was when my first published story, Listen, was published, and a lady who teaches English said to me that she loved the idea of the spirits in the garden. When I wrote the story, however, it was inspired by having a submission deadline, and sitting at my kitchen table with no ideas, I gazed out into my garden and saw some birds flying around, so I based the story on those birds. I loved the idea that people can read a flash fiction story and take what they want from it, and go where their own imagination leads them.

I've realised lately that a lot of my stories are inspired by animals or nature, principally I suppose because I have a love of our natural environment so I pay attention to things going on around me. As well as the birds, I have had stories inspired by a single leaf, a documentary about elephants from years before, rose hips and autumnal hedgerows. Also, however, some of my stories are inspired by strong emotions, from a newspaper article, a museum visit, a friend in pain.

I think I escape into my stories when I need to. I am not one of those incredibly disciplined writers who sits and writes every day. For me, stories fall into my head (or that is how it feels) fully formed, and I simply mull them over for however long it takes (this can be minutes to a couple of days) and then sit down and write the whole story out.

I have had a lot of comments lately, very kind comments about how people have missed my writing and flash fictions in particular. I am so grateful for those.   I have had a very transitional time in the past eighteen months, going from being a stay-at-home mother with a (false) sense of security of being married, to how I find myself now, a divorced single parent who works every free minute she has. I'm not writing this for any sort of sympathy by the way, because I can say for certain I am a more complete person now than I was back then. With that sense of contentment and satisfaction (of building up my own freelance business) I am again finding stories falling into my head. It was a gradual process but they are becoming more regular, more varied and more in need of being written out again. I am grateful for that, and to you, my readers, for being patient enough to still be here waiting after such a long pause.

Thank you as always for reading.

Friday, 25 October 2013

#Fridayflash: Advance, Retreat.

Advance ~ Retreat

Spirited winds whip my hair into my face, across my closed eyelids. Waves breaking over finest shingle speak to my core: advance, retreat, advance, retreat.

My toes sink into the coarse sand of the tidal zone. A strand of Fucus vesiculosus wraps itself around my ankle as the retreating wave attempts to pull the sand from under my feet. Retreat, advance, retreat.

I turn from the shore, and walk to the cave, entering steadily, focussing on the tiny flame at the deepest part of it. Advance, advance. As I walk towards it, the light flickers and dims as if the sea spray had found a way inside. I pause and consider.

I slowly turn away, and retrace my steps, hearing the waves call to me again. Advance, retreat, advance, retreat. I glance over my shoulder at the flame, now burning bright. A question forms in my mind, and the waves whisper, “yes”.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Theatre Review: Jane Eyre (Myriad Productions at Thame Players Theatre)

As part of the Thame Arts and Literature Festival, Myriad Productions visited Thame Players Theatre
with their production of Jane Eyre.

You may think that going to a tiny local theatre and paying £10 for a ticket would leave you disappointed, but all I can say about the production last night is WOW! First of all visiting the Thame Players Theatre is a pleasure in itself, and rather like going back in time as the drinks are cheap, the staff are all friendly and the theatre is tiny yet perfectly formed.

The cast in Jane Eyre consisted of four actors, three of them playing multiple parts and Joanna O'Connor as Jane Eyre being on stage for almost the entire time.  The set was minimal, yet so effective, but the acting itself was outstanding, both my friend and I were completely absorbed in the show.

All of the cast were fantastic but Maxwell Tyler deserves a mention for his incredible range of accents and the way he portrayed each of his multiple characters.

I will be keeping an eye on Myriad Productions and will definitely see another of their productions if I get a chance.

Star rating: 4.5. 

Book tickets for Jane Eyre here.

Follow my Entertainment list on Twitter, which includes some of the cast and crew from this show. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Theatre Review: Blood Brothers (New Theatre Oxford Saturday 14 September)

2013 and 1998!
I can't remember how many times I have seen Blood Brothers - this was either my fourth or fifth time but it was the second time I've seen it in Oxford.

My friend and I got "restricted viewing" seats in row C of the stalls which were amazing seats and I took the one right on the end of the row which despite being to one side, had fantastic leg room. I haven't seen Blood Brothers for a while but I know the soundtrack by heart and as it's one of my favourite shows I got the shivers when the music started.

It was a treat to see Warwick Evans again, back in the role of the Narrator. Evans belts out his lines and the Narrator's constant presence on the stage is both a comfort and strangely menacing. This show wouldn't exist without him and he is worth keeping an eye on, wherever he is lurking on set.

Maureen Nolan was fantastic as Mrs J, especially in the second half. (I had previously seen Bernie Nolan play this role in Oxford in 1998. x)

My absolute favourite role in this show is always Mickey and every time I have seen it the actors who play him have the amazing ability to transform from a cute "almost eight" through adolescence to adulthood and be convincing at every age, Sean Jones was no exception and a joy to watch, as were Mark Hutchinson as Eddie and Olivia Sloyan as Linda.

I will definitely see this show again one day, and could quite happily watch this cast again as they were brilliant. A lot of the actors in this show play multiple roles and the amount of people on stage at the end never ceases to amaze me, as there seem so few of them. It must be an exhausting show to be in!

There was a very well-deserved standing ovation on Saturday evening. I've never seen the whole of the stalls on their feet so quickly before.

Star rating: 5+.  A firm favourite.

Book seats for Blood Brothers here.

Follow my Entertainment list on Twitter, which includes some of the cast and crew from this show.

Friday, 6 September 2013

#Fridayflash: As Time Passes

She stands on the beach at the foot of a cliff,
Lost in thought as the tide turns,
Grains of sand cover her toes; she's a question for each one.
The rampant curiosity of youth.

They stand on a hill in the glowing sunset,
She watches as the orange turns red then fades,
His words fill her head as she rewinds them again
Searching for an element of truth.

She stands with another, as time drips away,
one part of her beating as always
in time with his lyrical voice.
Constant undeniable proof.

She sits on the cliff-top, eyes closed in a dream,
A memory of sand and a sunset, a scent of citrus.
Or was it jasmine? Her whisper carried on the wind
A wise inexplicable truth.

Dear #fridayflash folk, 
I know I have slightly cheated with this flash-poem hybrid but it's all I've got this week. 
Please forgive me. 
The plan is to take part more often from now on.

Thanks for reading 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Theatre Review: Titanic at the Southwark Playhouse

On Saturday 27th July I went to the matinee show of Titanic at the
Southwark Playhouse's temporary venue on Newington Causeway.

The preview price was £10. (I know!!) It totally blew away the well known phrase, "You get what you pay for".

The seating is to the front and sides of the performance area. I would recommend arriving early so the seats aren't numbered, but having said that I was almost at the end of the side seating and could still see everything.

The show isn't the same story as the well-known film and I think that's a good thing. It relates the story of the Titanic from the point of view of crew, plus members of First, Second and Third class passengers.

The music is absolutely fantastic, the band were incredible and the songs are catchy and were well sung, I didn't miss a word. The set is minimal, with cast members doing any necessary changes, which works incredibly well.

The only slight negative was it was SUCH a hot day, despite air con the theatre (and the whole of London) were scorching hot.

As always I had my favourites among the cast, although it was hard to chose with this show as the entire cast were spectacular. Simon Green played Ismay to perfection. I loathed him by the end of it! Leo Miles (Fleet) has the kind of singing voice I could listen to all day. And Judith Street was fantastic in her role as Ida Straus. When she and Dudley Rogers sang their duet in the second half I have to admit I shed a tear. It was perfection.  But then the whole show was, it blew my mind and I was completely engrossed in the story, atmosphere and characters.

If there is one musical you see this summer, pick this one. It's running to 31 August. You can find out more and book tickets here.

Recommendations: Arrive early, sit in the second or third row of the seats facing the set. Take a cold drink. Prepare to be amazed.

Star rating: 5+.  One of the best shows I've ever seen, and the best show I've seen in London's fringe to date.

Follow my Entertainment list on Twitter, which includes some of the cast and crew from this show.

Last but not least, a special thanks to my theatre buddies for booking the tickets. xx

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Theatre Review: One Man, Two Guvnors (Theatre Royal Haymarket)

I decided to see One Man, Two Guvnors without knowing anything about it, when I walked past the theatre just after 7 on Saturday 13th July, and saw the posters. I got a seat in the middle of row E of the stalls which turned out to be a brilliant seat.

This show opens before the stated start time with a 4 piece band called The Craze appearing on stage and playing several  catchy tunes that simply make you want more. Make sure you are in your seat by 7.15 so you don't miss this, as I have to say they are outstanding (they sell their debut album in the foyer and yes, I bought it).

The lead role is played by Rufus Hound, the self-defined harlequin of the piece, who is superb in the role, showing perfect comedy timing and an amazing ability to ad-lib with audience members (and noticeably personally thanking them afterwards). He, along with the rest of the cast, were a delight to watch and very funny, also multi-talented as it seemed all the cast members also got involved with the music at one point or another, and there were some amazing singing and instrumental contributions all round.

In summary, I recommend this show if you like comedy. I wouldn't recommend the end of the row at the front of the stalls if you don't like audience participation. But what stood out for me in all honesty were The Craze, who I would happily pay to watch in a show of their own. They are totally amazing. And not only that but I have since found out (thanks to my good friend Twitter) that one of the band was making their West End debut that day. I would never have guessed that.

Star rating: 4.5 out of 5, but that is probably down to my personal taste. I suspect others would rate it a 5.
Music rating: 5 out of 5. Don't forget to buy the CD on the way out - at £10, a total bargain.

Check out the official website for more information.
Follow my Entertainment list on Twitter, which includes some of the cast and crew from this show. 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Friday Flash: Song of the Siren

Song of the Siren

She stood with her eyes closed, listening to the melody as the warm air circled around her. The hauntingly beautiful lyric wasn’t in any recognisable language, yet to her it made sense.

The flowers in the meadow turned their faces towards the sun and danced in the breeze, moving to the rhythm of the siren song, the irresistible theme tune of hope itself.

As the sunlight warmed her skin and the air currents raised the hairs on her arms, he came to her. She felt his lips skim hers as his arms encircled her waist. He whispered into the air, “I’m here” and in her heart, the final shard of ice melted.

But was he real, that friend of hers, the one who gave her the gift of sight? Who helped her to see what before had been hidden? She kept her eyes gently closed as she wondered if he really existed.

She stretched her arms out and slowly spun in the sun-kissed meadow. And with joy in her heart, she found her voice again.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Sunday Snaps: The Stories

Today, I've taken delivery of my copy of Sunday Snaps: The Stories which has been published by Chuffed Buffed Books and includes my story Downstream.

The book is packed full of a wide range of poetry, short stories, flash fiction and haiku. I'll warn you now, mine is not what you'd describe as cheerful, but luckily some of the others are.

The other good news is, when my Facebook page hits a 00 I always do a giveaway, and when I hit 800 likes I'll be giving away a copy of this book. It will be an international giveaway so if you would like to be in the hat for that, you know where to go. My Facebook Page, of course!

Always lovely to see my name in a book
Thank you, as always, for reading.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

#Fridayflash: He Knew, She Knew.

He Knew, She Knew

They knew, they both agreed, they weren’t ready. He, because he never would be; she, because her heart had been ripped out by another and fed to the ravens.

Yet somehow he took her hand for a fleeting second and the void in her began to fill, a trickle at first, then a gradual flow.

Molten heat coursed through her veins the day they climbed that hill and discovered the tumbledown shepherds hut. In its inner sanctuary they placed their tartan blanket on the floor and consumed each other in full view of their unopened picnic basket.

As they ground their bodies together in frantic desperation to feel something, anything, he whispered her name and the sun warmed her face and the tear on her cheek. For a few moments as their cries echoed around the lonely valley, they were alive once more.

As they left the hut and returned down the hillside, the fire within her cooled and turned to stone.
“I care about you, you know that, don’t you?” he said, gazing at her with clear eyes. “I didn’t expect to feel like this but I do.”

She turned away to hide the conflict within her.

A raven flew overhead, casting a shadow across her face. She climbed wearily into her car and drove away, knowing she must never see him again.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

#Fridayflash: Phoenix Rising

© Mangojuicy |

Phoenix Rising

It was the smell of wood smoke on a crisp winter morning that reminded her. The crunch of boots on snow ceased as she stood for a while, eyes squeezed tight, inhaling the scent of long ago.

Or was it so long ago, that day they'd walked together, and he’d brushed snowflakes from her fringe before he kissed her gently and the world around her had disappeared?

The log fire in his cottage had warmed their skin as they’d consumed each other, then relaxed on the sofa under red tartan blankets, fingers entwined.

As the fire died down, he’d reached beside the grate and she'd inhaled sharply as she'd seen the box.

"Forever?" He’d asked.

"Perhaps," was all she could manage.

She opened her eyes and walked on, away from the smell and the memories.

If you enjoyed this story, you may also like my collection A Knowing Look and Other Stories: