Sunday, 31 July 2011

A request post on our recent visit to London

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

When I wrote a week ago about seeing "Much Ado About Nothing," I asked my friends on Facebook and Twitter what else about our holiday they would be interested in hearing about: visiting The Sherlock Holmes Museum; The London Film Museum; The Doctor Who Experience or The Cabinet War Rooms.  The response from some of you was that you wanted to hear about all of it.  So this is that post, apart from The Doctor Who Experience: I won't write about this because my husband has already written a post about it here.  He has the nerd credentials, I mean the expertise, to do justice to it better than I could.

The first thing that we did after dropping off our bags at the hotel was head to Baker Street and The Sherlock Holmes Museum (my choice, you will be surprised to hear).  We got off at Baker Street station, and I was pleased to see the tiles on the platform show a cool silhouette of a Sherlock Holmes head smoking a pipe (which is made up of lots of little Sherlock Holmes heads).  The station is a lot closer to the museum than I remembered (but then last time I went there - over 10 years ago - we misjudged London distances and had rather a long walk there).

There is no 221B Baker Street, as this number is swallowed up by a big office building.  The museum itself is just up from where the fabled address would be.  It is rather different from what I remember from over 10 years ago, which is maybe a sad indictment of our times (the little shop now seems to be a rather bigger shop, and Mrs Hudson's Tea Room - which I remembered and counted on for a late lunch - now seems to be closed).

The entrance to the museum is guarded by an employee in old fashioned policeman's garb, who poses for pictures with tourists at the entrance (there just happens to be a deerstalker hat to hand to be worn in the photo).  The museum itself ranges over about 5 floors in this tall, thin building.  The entrance hall leads up to a floor which has a mock-up of Holmes' bedroom (with disguise paraphernalia laid out on the bed) at the back, and the study at the front (complete with an older man, acting as Holmes, who invites visitors to sit down and have their photo taken wearing - again - a deerstalker and holding a Meerschaum pipe or magnifying glass).  The 3rd floor is given over to Doctor Watson's room at the back, and Mrs Hudson's at the front.  On the 4th floor are mannequins in poses from some of the stories, items of memorabilia, and a book containing some of the letters that have been written to Holmes.  This is something that fascinates me - that Holmes has such a life outside the stories that people write to him (I believe that the building subsuming 221B used to be Abbey National, and for a while they employed someone to respond to letters to Sherlock) - and I was a bit disappointed to find that they did not have so many letters on display as I remembered.  I'm not sure if this is just my memory playing tricks.  Some of the letters displayed are quite sweet letters written by children (I remember one in particular of a child asking if Holmes could solve where her cat went all night, and why it slept all day).  The final floor is a small Victorian toilet in the attic - I can honestly say that I had no desire to see Holmes's toilet.  It takes away some of the mystery, somehow.

By the time we left we were very hungry, so we had a quick lunch before going over to Westminster.  I had wanted some photos of The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.  However, by the time we got over there it was very overcast and soon started to rain.  We first of all headed for shelter, thinking we might go on The London Eye - but I decided that London would not look its most attractive in the murk, and I didn't fancy going on it when it was a bit windy.  By total happenstance, we sheltered in part of County Hall near The London Eye and found that part of it was given over to The London Film Museum.  As this was a) dry and b) sounded interesting, we decided to go in.

 I am very glad that we did.  The London Film Museum has standard exhibits as well as temporary exhibitions (at the time we went, a Harry Potter exhibition with costumes and figures, a Ray Harryhausen exhibition with some of the stop motion figures, and - of particular interest to Mark - a Chaplin exhibition including hat and cane).  There are photos from the history of film making in the UK and information on the studios that operated in the UK, as well as a multitude of models and artifacts.  To keep Mark entertained there were smaller exhibits on "Star Wars" and "Doctor Who", a figure from "Alien" and the Rank Studios gong.  I was entertained by Mark being startled when the dinosaur from "A Night at the Museum" suddenly moved, and I saw my second Sherlock Holmes study of the day (if only we had gone on to The Sherlock Holmes Pub, which I have been to before, then I could have made it a triumvirate).  I am also breaking one of my own rules - not to include any photos of myself on the blog - to show a photo of myself with some friends that I made at The London Film Museum...

We initially weren't sure what to do on the morning of our last day, until I remembered that Mark had said a while ago that he thought The Churchill War Rooms sounded interesting.  The entrance fee to The Churchill War Rooms - the secret rooms underneath Whitehall that were intended to offer some bomb protection for Churchill and selected staff, and from which he was able to plan operations - includes entrance to The Churchill Museum.  I have to admit that I think I was initially less interested in this than Mark, but I found these rooms and the stories of those who worked there fascinating.  The Churchill Museum, although the layout seemed a little illogical, had an interesting array of Churchill memorabilia (clothes, letters, a couple of paintings) as well as interactive exhibits such as a timeline that allowed you to navigate through significant moments in Churchill's life.  I was particularly taken with a couple of old fashioned telephones that were on display; on these you could dial a selection of numbers to listen to selected memories of people who worked in the war rooms.  Your tour of the rooms is aided by an audio navigation device, narrated by Geoffrey Whitehead (we asked, as it was really annoying me that I recognised but couldn't place the voice) from which you can select to hear information about the rooms that you pass.

We enjoyed our stay in London, and I hope that this post tells you a little about the places that we went (in conjunction with Mark's post on The Doctor Who Experience and mine on "Much Ado About Nothing").  We managed to do quite a lot in the time we had, also including meeting friends and paying tribute at 84 Charing Cross Road.  However, it was still nice to return home to the cat afterwards....

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

"A Time to Keep Silence," by Patrick Leigh Fermor

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Earlier this year I read Susan Hill's "Howards End is on the Landing," and wrote about it here.  In this collection of pieces on her favourite books and authors she wrote about her forty books - the forty books that mean most to her, which she could subsist on if she were allowed no other books for the rest of her life - and I made this choice of forty books myself on this blog.  Of her choices, the one that intrigued me most was Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time to Keep Silence," a short book comprised of three pieces of writing about the author's experience of travelling and being a guest at a selection of monasteries.  I borrowed this from the library - by coincidence on the day Fermor's death was announced - and I am just now finding the time to read it.

Patrick Leigh Fermor says in his introduction that these recollections have been assembled, in some cases verbatim, from accounts he wrote to a correspondent at the time (who later became his wife).  The first piece deals with a stay at a Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of St Wandrille de Fontanelle, the second with a brief sojourn at Solesmes and a longer stay at Cistercian abbey La Grande Trappe and the final, shorter, piece recalls a visit to the uninhabited rock monasteries of Cappadocia in Turkey.  His introduction to these recollections indicates his unease with whether the publication of these articles is an invasion of the monks' privacy and solitude (he has received both monastic censure and recognition).  A revised introduction in 1982 (the original publication was 1957) acknowledges that he feels he should maybe have written differently, or not written at all.

Now, I know my reviewing style is more personal than analytical, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  I believe that all reviewers, for all that they try to be impartial, will come to a book with their own preconceptions and predilections.  And, again, I wouldn't have it any other way - it is what makes us all unique.  I have the luxury of being more partisan and emotional in my responses because I am not affiliated to any particular publication, and because I am not edited by anyone else (though some of you may wish I was).  My reviews are undisciplined and personal and, because I feel that my state of mind is pertinent to an emotional response, I'm going to write a little bit about why I was drawn to this book.

I wouldn't say that I have any strong religious belief, so it might seem strange that I felt drawn to a travel book about life as a guest in a monastery.  Instead, I came to this book as someone who, for reasons neither interesting nor appropriate enough for this blog, currently feels that she is losing the war of attrition with modern life.  I am on holiday from work, and I feel tired and lower in confidence than I have done for a long time.  I'm finding it hard to relax into being on holiday - so I thought that this might be the right time to read this book.  The religious aspect of monastic life is outside my experience and understanding; instead I was drawn to the idea of solitude, escape and silence.  I hoped that reading this book now as an oasis of calm in a hectic world might, to use a hackneyed simile, be like plunging into cold, refreshing water on a hot day.

As an outsider to the way of life he describes, I found his book fascinating and in no way disrespectful.  It is an interesting account both of the monastic way of life, and his own personal reaction to being immersed in their lifestyle: at first exposure to their regimented way of life was oppressive to him - a state which lasted for days - until he relaxed into the solitude and the freedom from the demands of everyday life.  The reverse process - leaving the peace of the abbey to return to modern life - was an even harder, more traumatic experience (although he writes that subsequent retreats to monasteries have been easier than the first time).  He finds differences between the lives of the Benedictine monks - whose work and prayer is accompanied by a devotion to scholarship - and the harsher lives of the Cistercian, Trappist, monks who undergo even more extreme deprivation and live sparsely, atoning for the sins of the world.

I was interested both in the monastic way of life, and in the psychology of the acclimatisation process that he undergoes.  However, I was also struck by how beautifully written this is.  He writes evocatively both of the architecture and atmosphere of the monasteries that he visited, as well as of the natural wonders of the surrounding countryside.  I haven't done this in many reviews, but I am going to quote a bit from one passage to illustrate what I mean.  I was struck by the beauty and calm of this passage in particular:
"It was a wonderful room to wake up in.  Dreamless nights came to an end with no harsher shock than that of a boat's keel grounding on a lake shore.  Sunlight streamed in through the three tall windows and, as I lay in bed, all I could see was layer on ascending layer of chestnut leaves, like millions of spatulate superimposed green hands, and the crystalline sky of October framed by the thin reflected blue-white, or thick milk-white, or, where the sun struck, white gold surfaces of the walls and window-arches and embrasures." (This is on page 46 of the 2004 paperback edition, published by John Murray, which I have borrowed from my local library).
I read this book indoors, but I felt that, to truly appreciate its beauty, it should be read outside, sitting on the grass, maybe by a river, on a clear spring day.  Few books for me - the only other that readily comes to mind is Elizabeth Von Arnim's "Enchanted April" - so clearly suggest that they should best be read in a particular location and atmosphere.

So did this book succeed in helping me relax?  In all honesty, I'm not sure that it did - maybe I need to get me to a nunnery.  But it did have a curious effect on my reading style.  I'm usually a quick reader, with a nasty habit of sometimes skimming hugely descriptive passages to get to the action and the plot.  I'm not proud of it when an author has put so much time and craftsmanship into their work, but I'm aware that I still do it.  This book might not have calmed me and lowered my heart-rate - I'm too expert a worrier for that - but it did have the effect of consciously making me slow my reading and take in the beauty of his descriptive writing.  I wonder if that lesson might help me to find more solitude, peace and reflection in my future reading (which is likely to include more of Patrick Leigh Fermor's travel writing).

Sunday, 24 July 2011

"Much Ado About Nothing," starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate, at the Wyndhams Theatre (July 22nd 2011)

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

The tickets to go to see this play were my birthday present from my lovely, tolerant husband.  We took the opportunity to have a couple of days in London (he dragged me to "The Doctor Who Experience" -  which I probably won't write a post on, as I expect he will - and I dragged him to some culture).

To start this post, I feel the urge to state my intellectual high ground and differentiate myself from the girl next to me, who was screaming David Tennant's name during the curtain calls.  I have long standing fan credentials, as I discovered him long before he was in "Doctor Who" when I saw him in a BBC series called "Takin' Over the Asylum," which was also the foundation for my admiration for his fellow Scottish actor Ken Stott.  David Tennant is a very talented actor whose career since then I have followed with interest, and I was happy when his career intersected with my husband's "Doctor Who" obsession.  However, I won't deny that it helps a lot that David Tennant is very attractive, funny and intelligent, and I have a predilection for men with Scottish accents.  As "Much Ado About Nothing" has been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays - if not my favourite - since studying it at 6th form, the combination of one of my favourite actors in one of my favourite plays was irresistible.

I'm going to take a risk and and not start with a plot synopsis of "Much Ado About Nothing."  I'm assuming that my key readership are, like me, literary geeks who already know the plot and characters.  If anyone does need a reminder, they can find a plot synopsis here.  If you are lucky enough to be going to see this play, and don't want spoilers on how they interpret certain moments it would be as well to avoid this review for a while at least, as I am going to be quite specific about some matters of staging and interpretation.  As I am working on the assumption that the plot is commonly known, I am not worrying about plot spoilers.

I was looking forward to this production, although I will admit to some trepidation when I heard that it had been updated.  I do have a tendency to be quite traditional in my Shakespeare preferences, and I get worried when I hear a production has been updated.  There are some strange textual decisions and staging decisions made in this production - some work, some don't - but, largely, the updating of the action to 1980s Gibraltar is successful and not jarring.  The programme notes explain Gibraltar's military links and party reputation - which makes it an apt location for the returning heroes of Shakespeare's play to celebrate.  The modern timeframe allows for fun with costume - a masked party in which David Tennant is in 80s Madonna drag (for a very attractive man, he makes a rough looking woman) and a pig snout, and Catherine Tate as Beatrice is a Blues Brother - and props (David Tennant makes a grand entrance on a golf buggy).

This is probably the funniest production of "Much Ado" that I have seen, with a strong emphasis on physical comedy and slapstick.  I knew that David Tennant would be an excellent Benedick because one of the frequently listened to files on my ipod is the BBC recording of "Much Ado" in which he had already played the role.  He seems blessed with being able to do the comedy - which he seems to enjoy, particularly in the scene where he is in hiding to eavesdrop on Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro and ends up covered in white paint - as well as portraying his earnest challenge to Claudio following Hero's "death."  He also has a very natural delivery of Shakespeare's lines, which looks effortless but I'm sure has taken years of hard work and experience.  I took longer to warm to Catherine Tate as Beatrice, but this is not surprising given the facts that I covet both the role of Beatrice and the person of David Tennant (I'm joking, Mark, I'm joking!).  Her delivery and inflection has echoes both of Donna Noble and the teenage girl character from her show, and this portrayal of Beatrice took me longer to accept - although it is testament to her skill and her chemistry with David as Benedick that accept it, I did.

However, this might be a very funny production, but I felt that it is less effective at portraying the darkness that emerges later in the play.  For me, this hinges on the scene in which Benedick declares himself to Beatrice and she challenges him to kill Claudio.  This might be one of the instances in which I have a clear idea of how I would play it, and in my mind the scene is more subdued and a more mature admission of love.  The staging and direction of this scene brings out more of the comedy - Benedick and Beatrice have more of a spark of teenage merriment and excitement at finding that the person you have had a crush on for ages fancies you as well.  This works well until the moment that Beatrice asks Benedick to "Kill Claudio," and then the shift in tone is too abrupt.  Their merriment at acknowledging love, charming and funny though it is, is awkwardly sandwiched between the disastrous aborted wedding and Beatrice's anger and desire for justice for her cousin.  Skilled though Catherine Tate is as an actress, I'm not sure that she quite succeeds with this difficult shift in tone.  I know from other things that I have seen her in that she can do pathos and be very moving, but somehow this moment misfires (for me, at least).

Some of the staging decisions are very effective.  One thing that I felt worked particularly well, and went some way to solving some of the problems with the play, was the staging of hen and stag nights prior to the non-wedding of Hero and Claudio.  While I love the Beatrice and Benedick dynamic (which I have already written a little about in The Long and the Short of it), I take some of the Hero/Claudio plot on sufferance.  I don't see how Claudio can mistake Margaret for Hero so readily - and in this production they have differing hair colour - and I don't understand why Margaret doesn't tell Borachio to bugger off when he is shagging her and shouting out Hero's name.  But this production goes some way to make this more credible by throwing alcohol into the fray.  Hero, as bride to be on a hen night, wears a veil.  This gets discarded during the revels, and Borachio picks this up and places it on the drunken Margaret, which makes her superficially recognisable as the putative bride and disguises her hair colour.  Margaret, being drunk, is more likely to go too far with Borachio and, at a stretch, is possibly too out of it to object to him shouting Hero's name in the throes of passion (hmm, still dubious).  Don John plies Claudio with drink while telling him of Hero's unfaithfulness which, in turn, makes his gullibility more possible because his judgment is impaired (and he still seems queasy, hungover, and maybe even still a bit drunk when he denounces Hero at the wedding).

Less convincing is the staging of Claudio's grief, and I don't think that this is the fault of Tom Bateman, who makes a decent job of playing what is, after all, quite a dull character (and he was on the same tube train, same carriage, as us after the play).  Claudio is required to play rock music on a ghettoblaster to Hero's bones, while bouncing off pillars and getting raving drunk swigging from a bottle.  He then gets out a gun and is about to shoot himself before being stayed by an apparition of Hero.  This very nearly makes the play into "Romeo and Juliet" - always be wary of taking advice from a Friar in a Shakespeare play - and seems gratuitous and incongruous.

There was one textual element in this version which, as a lover of the play, left me wondering if I was cracking up, or if maybe I didn't know the play as well as I thought I did.  This was the character of Innogen, Leonato's wife, and this bugged me so much that one of the first things that I did when I got home was google it.  I didn't remember that Leonato had a wife, and many of her lines I remembered as being spoken by Antonio.  I found entries that say that she is a ghost character, and a remnant from an earlier version of the script - so I assume from her presence and from occasional slight variations in wording that they have used an earlier variant of the play.  I don't quite understand why this choice has been made, as she adds nothing to the plot and, when Hero is denounced, sits in dumb shock with no lines at all instead of reacting to the slander of her daughter.  When she does show some gumption in standing up to Claudio and Don Pedro, it is with words more normally assigned to Antonio and I didn't feel that it added any extra significance that they came from Hero's mother.  However, this might just be a rant of mine and might not seem disconcerting to someone less familiar with the play.

Despite some of my caveats, David Tennant and Catherine Tate work well together and they make an entertaining, sparky pairing.  The rest of the cast, many of whom I had not heard of before, were also excellent and I didn't feel that there was a weak performance in the show.  Particularly outstanding also were the Dons.  Adam James as Don Pedro (another recognisable face to me, as he has been in the "Doctor Who" episode "Planet of the Dead" and an episode of "Hustle," amongst other things), had a strong stage presence that might have made him a credible lover for Beatrice had Benedick not been in contention.  In all honesty he is not an actor who had previously made a big impression on me in his television performances but, having seen what he can do on stage, I am now more inclined to take note of his future projects.  Elliot Levey played the villain, Don John, like an evil Kenneth Williams via Michael Sheen, and made his machinations credible as a man who seems uncomfortable in his own skin.  Far from being a dominant manipulator, his henchmen, Borachio and Conrade, seem more in control and even rather dismissive of his villainy.  Even Mike Grady and John Ramm as Dogberry and Verges, normally very unfunny and often irritating characters as Shakespeare's now archaic malapropisms have not aged well, succeed in being funny.

This feelgood production ends with a dance that closes the production on a high.  I loved the show, and I was very glad that I had the chance to see one of my favourite actors on stage (we were only 6 rows back in the stalls, so I have been within a few metres of David Tennant and still don't have a restraining order) and I will be joining the petition to have it released on DVD because I would love to have that record of seeing the production.  But I can't deny that I miss the bit of darkness that a great production of "Much Ado" should have as a counterpoint to the humour.  The play is shadowed by the overhanging prospect of Don John's punishment, deferred in favour of wedding revelry.  Like "Twelfth Night" with Malvolio's threats of revenge, it shouldn't unequivocally have a feelgood ending; instead it should have a feelslightlyuneasy ending.  However, as the audience gave the production a standing ovation, I might be alone in wanting it to be a little less feelgood.....

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

"Fiction in No-man's Land:" a talk by Jasper Fforde

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

On Wednesday 13th July I took an afternoon off work - which never works well, as you always get away later than you hope - to go to Dartington for the Ways with Words Festival.  The Ways with Words Festival has been an annual event in Dartington for the past 20 years - 2011 is its 20th anniversary - but this is the first time that I have attended an event.  I hope that it will not be the last. 

The event that tempted me to lose my Ways with Words virginity was a talk on fantasy by Jasper Fforde.  If you haven't read any of his books, I would recommend them if you are interested in fantasy, comedy and literature in general.  He has written a few series of books, of which my personal favourite is the Thursday Next series (starting with "The Eyre Affair").  They are not easily described - most of the best books defy easy description - but, as a keen bibliophile, I was attracted to its central conceit of a bookworld.  Jasper Fforde's irreverent attitude to the classics - with its alternative take on figures such as Mr Rochester and Miss Haversham - is entertaining fun and startlingly, inventively detailed in its ideas and execution.

Jasper Fforde started his talk by explaining his background.  He started off working in films, but realised that the role he played had less interaction with the act of storytelling then he wished; his analogy was of being the printer who sets the type and facilitates the story, rather than the storyteller him/herself.  He turned to writing as an alternative.  He began by writing short stories (which sound interesting, and I would love to see these get published so that I would have the opportunity to read them), and moved to novels - although it took him 10 years to get his first novel published.

Effectively this time trying to get published was spent honing his craft, learning by experience what works, to reach the point where he had taught himself how to write.  By his own admission, however, when you learn to write as opposed to being taught to write, sometimes you don't quite know how you did it.  Early in his talk, he said that speaking to audiences and answering the questions of his readers serves to help him define consciously his process of writing.  This interests me, and has since returned me to a previous train of thought about creative writing courses: despite having done a creative writing module at university, taught by the excellent Patricia Duncker, I am still undecided about how much writing can be taught.  I can't resolve in my own mind whether I believe that there can be a universal definition of what constitutes good or bad writing, or whether such a thing is purely subjective (which makes assessment difficult, if not impossible).  The issue of marking and assessment aside, Jasper Fforde's experience bears out that one of the most important things is to keep writing, judging yourself critically, and establishing through practice and persistence what works best for you.  According to his talk, you can think of yourself as an author if you are able to go from a rejection for your 4th book to writing your 5th book with no loss of face (so I should get started on my first pretty sharpish). 

It was especially fascinating to hear him talk about his method for writing fantasy.  There are many things that I admire and like about his writing, but one of the things that I am most in awe of is his ability to imagine, describe and sustain an intricately detailed and elaborate entire fantasy world.  Very few fantasy writers that I have found are able to do this so entirely and entertainingly.  So I was interested to find that he doesn't plan his novels, but prefers to start with one or more "narrative dares" and some themes that he wishes to include.  A narrative dare can be a central idea or conceit and, around this, he creates the imaginary world in which this narrative dare can exist and have some veracity.  One of the things that he admits to finding hardest, as a writer of comic fantasy, is to recognise the boundary between something which is silly, and something which is stupid.  Silly is a good thing, stupid is not.

Following the talk there was a question and answer session with the audience.  A question from a lady sitting in front of me highlighted one of the other aspects that I admire in his novels: his ability to create a strong female character.  In my post on "Smokin' Seventeen" by Janet Evanovich I wrote a little about how I selfishly would not like to see a Stephanie Plum film, as I cannot countenance that someone other than me might get to play her.  I similarly covet Thursday Next.  In response to this question, Jasper Fforde said that he started to write "The Eyre Affair" in the third person, but the novel only started to work when he changed to write it in the first person.  It's hard to know what a member of the opposite sex is thinking; I know the trope about how often men think about sex, but I'm sure they must think about other stuff as well.  I'm fascinated by how difficult it is to bridge that gender gap - how hard it is for a man to write as a woman, and vice versa - and few writers do that as well as I feel Jasper Fforde does.  Candour also compels me to admit - which I might come to regret - that there is something quite attractive about a man who is "new" enough to write with empathy and understanding as a woman.

After the talk there was the opportunity to get a book signed.  I had come prepared with a flipback of his novel "Shades of Grey," which I thought would be an unusual thing to get signed.  He did seem quite impressed to get a flipback book to sign for a change.  Mark asked him if he shared Douglas Adams' dislike of deadlines ("I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by").  His response was to say that he has 6 children, which tends to motivate him to keep to deadlines.  He told us that, as his youngest is one year old, he is likely to be writing for quite a few years yet.  As a fan, I am pleased to hear that we have more of his books to look forward to, and he did give the impression during the talk that, unlike Douglas Adams, he actually quite enjoys the process of writing and storytelling.

I'm aware that I haven't written much before now on Jasper Fforde and on Thursday Next in particular.  At some point in the future I intend to read all the Thursday Next books in continuous sequence - so far I have read them sporadically when another is released - and write a post about the series.  "Shades of Grey" also shows another strong female character in the figure of Jane, and I look forward to reading the next in this series when it is published.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

My Dartington dilemma

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Earlier this week I went to a talk at the Ways with Words Festival at Dartington Hall in Devon (see post on Jasper Fforde).  While there, I faced a dilemma in everyday etiquette.

My moment of crisis was this: if you see a woman with her skirt tucked into her knickers, do you tell her?  I posted this dilemma in passing on Twitter, and raised the question at work.

The response at work seems to be that you should tell her.  But then I do work in an office of girls - it is probably more embarrassing and difficult to tell someone if you are a bloke.

I didn't tell her, but I have a good reason for this.  When I saw said woman, she was heading into the ladies toilet.  My theory was that the situation might rectify itself.  I was sitting in sight of the door, so I resolved to keep an eye out for her and tell her if she still had her arse out when she left.  When she came out, she was fine.

So do you tell someone?  I have to assume that, as she was heading into the ladies, she might have been like it for a while and no-one had told her....

Saturday, 16 July 2011

"Wicked Appetite," by Janet Evanovich

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Our local library had been hiding a Janet Evanovich that I had not yet read: "Wicked Appetite."  They fooled me by having it in the main fiction run, rather than the crime section.

This will only be a mini review, as I have recently written on Janet Evanovich with "Smokin' Seventeen."  "Wicked Appetite" is not a Stephanie Plum book - still my favourites of her prodigious output - but does feature a couple of characters who have popped up in Stephanie Plum books: Diesel, and Carl the monkey.  In this book Diesel enlists the help of Elizabeth Tucker, a baker living in Salem who has Unmentionable powers, to find the SALIGIA Stones (which represent the Seven Deadly Sins).  Think of the Sankara Stones with an attitude problem, and you will have a rough idea.  They have to find these stones before the bad guy, Wulf - who also guested in a Stephanie Plum novel - as the person who collects all the stones will have the power to "create hell on earth."

Since this novel only has them acquire one stone - representing gluttony - it's a fair bet that this will be the first in a series.  Salem is a nice change from the New Jersey of Stephanie Plum, and Lizzy Tucker has an entertaining friend in erratic, wannabe witch Glo.  The stones affect human behaviour, so there are some entertaining moments as the gluttony stone starts to affect Lizzy's actions and thoughts.  It isn't my favourite Janet Evanovich novel, but it is a fun and entertaining way to pass some time.