The Tempest v Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood rewrites a Shakespeare masterpiece

As a Patron of the Royal Shakespeare Company, I am lucky enough to get advance notice of the next season’s productions and when I learned that the RSC were performing The Tempest, I was thrilled. It’s not a play I had seen before and nor did I know the story.

Imagine then, if you will, how excited I was to learn that one of my favourite authors, Margaret Atwood, had been commissioned to rewrite the story of The Tempest in novel form. Bingo!

The Tempest starts with a great storm, during which the King of Naples and his entourage, including the Duke of Milan, are shipwrecked. Watching this drama unfold is Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda.

It becomes clear that Prospero has conjured the storm himself with the help of the sprite, Ariel, because this group are his enemies. Indeed, the Duke of Milan is in fact his brother, Antonio, who betrayed him for the title of Duke some twelve years previously.

Now, to Hag-Seed. Our Prospero has become one Felix Duke, renowned theatre director who gets unceremoniously sacked and ends up working in a prison where he teaches Shakespeare to the inmates. His latest project is… Yup, you guessed it, The Tempest.

Felix’s Miranda is not real, she is a memory he has recreated and transposed into the present as a mechanism to deal with the grief at losing his daughter.

Estelle pulls strings for Felix, both inside the prison and in organising the visit of the politicos. She is the Ariel to Felix’s Prospero, creating the ‘storm’ which brings them to him.

Just like Prospero, Felix exacts his revenge during the production but afterwards feels strangely unfulfilled. The result is an anticlimax. What does this teach us about the nature of revenge, methinks? Is it really worth it? Or shall we just hold our heads high, despite the injustice inflicted by those who wronged us?

All in all, a fantastic production of The Tempest by the RSC, as one would expect, and an amazing work by Ms Atwood. Again, no surprises there. Well worth the time on both counts, if you have the opportunity.

Yummy School Project!

Many years ago, as I was nearing the end of sixth form and thinking about university, I acquired a penpal from France.
Claire lived in Brittany with her mother, father and sister. As teenage girls do, we chatted mainly about our respective school lives and our hopes and dreams for the future.
So much deliciousness!
Fast forward twenty-odd years. The magic of Facebook has kept our friendship alive, although the tone has changed somewhat. Nowadays we discuss the impact of Brexit and whether or not I should move to France!
Claire is now married with two children, living near Paris and teaching English at this school. She also adores chocolate. Or, more appropriately, her students do.
It was this love of chocolate which fuelled Claire’s imagination to undertake an unusual school project –  to create a recipe book, in English, written entirely by her students.

Ah…. Chocolate! One of my favourite topics, as my ample hips will testify.

Imagine, then, if you will, what a delight it was when Claire asked me to help with the translation of her students’ recipes into English.

And what a wonderful surprise when, some months later, I received a copy of a book containing said recipes in the post. It even has my name in the back. (Sadly, this book is not available on Amazon. Boo hiss!)

On that note, I’m off to make some brownies. Bon appetit!

Interview with Peter Jones, on the release of his novel: The Truth About This Charming Man

29103615Author Peter Jones has been a significant part of my writing journey. He was the guy I went to for help with formatting and uploading my very first offerings to the global phenomenon known as Amazon, which I did under my pseudonym.

Therefore, I am truly delighted that he has agreed to be interviewed for this blog and to talk about his new book The Truth about this Charming Man.

The novel charts the antics of one William Lewis, an aspiring actor, who has dreamed of treading the boards for about as long as he can remember. He has yet to be involved with the theatre, but he still manages to get to do something of what he loves by pretending to be people that he’s not in the real world.

It’s hilarious, well-written and kept me hooked until the very last page. A very solid 10/10 from me. Here’s what Peter had to say:

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Where do I begin?!

I started professional life as a particularly rubbish graphic designer, and followed that with a stint as a mediocre petrol pump attendant. After that I got embroiled in the murky world of credit card banking as a ‘fix-it’ man. Fun times.

For the past 6 years I’ve been a full time author, with three and a half self-help books under my belt (if you’re unhappy, lonely or overweight I might just be your guy), and more recently two hilarious rom-com novels.

I don’t own a large departmental store and I’m not a dragon of any description.

 

Can you describe a typical day for you?

Most days I’m writing. I like to be at my desk, working, by 7am. By midday I’m usually beat (creatively speaking). Afternoons are reserved for post, admin, social media, that kinda thing.

Once or twice a week I’m out giving a talk at a WI, or a U3A, or a writing group somewhere – entertaining people with tales of this writing life.

 

You wrote a few non-fiction self-help books before your move into the fiction market? What made you change? Was it a difficult transition?

It’s ironic. I never wanted to write self-help. That kind of happened by accident.

I was in the middle of writing my first novel (in the evenings, after work) when I lost my wife. As you can imagine that event turned my world upside down. Made me question what I wanted in life. Made me question everything.

I decided to take those fix-it man skills and apply them to my own life – to build the happier future that I so wished I’d given my wife. When some of the changes I came up with started to make an obvious difference to my demeanour a colleague suggested I ought to write those ideas down. Six months later I’d accidentally written How To Do Everything And be Happy. I self-published it (because I couldn’t be bothered with the effort of sending it to agents and publishers), and it did well. Really well. Really, really well. So much so that Audible and Harper Collins came knocking, as did an agent.

However, after three and a half non-fiction books I was keen to get back to the still unfinished novel. Naively I thought my non-fiction readers would pick up my novel out of curiosity, but I soon realised I was effectively starting again from scratch. My then agent was only interested in my non-fiction, as were HC and audible. It took me a while to find a new agent, and land a new book deal.

 

In your latest novel The Truth About This Charming Man Will comes across as a sound character with a good dollop of common sense, despite his unluckiness in love. How much is he like you? 

I like Will a lot, and yes, I suppose we do have a lot in common, although I don’t really see him as ‘unlucky in love’. He’s quite upfront about the fact that theatre is his first love – and I totally get that. If you told me I could be happily married to Kylie Minogue for the rest of my life, OR have a 50/50 chance of three book deal with penguin… I’d take the latter every time. Is that mad? I think it might be.

 

Will plays a number of different ‘parts’ in the book, to great comedic effect at times. To what extent do you think this mirrors the parts we all play in our own lives? (i.e. husband/wife, child/parent, boss/employee)

Blimey. That’s a deep question. Let me side step it.

Initially, The Truth About This Charming Man was never intended to be a novel. It was a five part short-story about an actor, who acts in the ‘real world’ (rather than ‘on stage’), and what happens when he’s asked to play two characters at the same meeting. But the more I wrote, the more intrigued I became by the duality of the other characters, and how – as you say – people often play different roles in their own lives. Roles that might, sometimes, require a little bending of the truth.

When my (new) agent suggested I turn the short story into a novel, I looked to that duality for my inspiration. The book then wrote itself.

 

Could you tell us your favorite book from 2015?

I read a lot of non-fiction in 2015. My favourite was Excuse Me Your Life Is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Stop aspiring and get writing.

 

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m juggling a couple of projects at the moment. There’s some exciting talk about a Truth About This Charming Man film or TV series (can’t say more than that at this stage), but regardless of whether that happens or not, a third novel should be out in the not too distant future.

 

Where can we find you?

http://facebook.com/peterjonesauthor

http://twitter.com/peterjonesauth

http://peterjonesauthor.com

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

I have just got to tell you about this book I just finished. It’s another great choice from the book group that I joined last summer (thank you ladies!).

The book is set in the not-too-distant future. We learn that NASA has been making trips to Mars for some time. Sometimes these are unmanned trips to drop off supplies and sometimes manned voyages to conduct research. A tragic accident during one such journey results in astronaut Mark Watney being left behind after his crewmates presume him dead.

A large proportion of the book is written in Mark’s own words in the form of a logbook. We learn early on that he is an incredible individual with an astonishing sense of humour which never fails him, even in the most challenging of situations. It goes without saying that he is extremely clever and resourceful; his scientific, and especially botanical, knowledge saves his life on more than one occasion.

The reader gains a wonderful insight into the characters back on Earth, too. We meet the guys at NASA, desperately gathering the cleverest minds they have to put together a rescue plan and get him back home. I could really picture the billions of people glued to their TV screens watching him via satellite as he goes about his day on the Red Planet. We learn a little of his cremates too, as they learn he is still alive and mount a rescue operation to go back to Mars and collect him.

The author captures the reader’s imagination very quickly, and holds it throughout. I couldn’t put this book down. I’m not a scientific person, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the technical content, but from what I know of the author, I don’t get the impression he would have messed up.

This is a story of overcoming adversity, of soldiering on against all the odds, and ultimately, a tale of triumphant victory. I am not at all surprised this was made into a film. It lends itself very much to the Hollywood disaster movie genre very well.

512e-pP0zGL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_For those of you who have seen the film, I understand it’s also very good. It’s on my To Watch list. This is almost, but not quite, as long as my To Read list, which means it’s unlikely I’ll get round to it any time soon.

Awesome book though. It had me in tears on more than one occasion. A solid 9.5 out of 10 from me.

Why not a nice round 10? I hear you ask. Well, there’s a very good reason for that. I have a thing for geeks. Mr Watney is my favourite geek out there right now, and I have a teeny crush on him and I feel this emotional attachment may be clouding my judgement. So there!

Happy New Year for 2016! My plans for the coming months…

Howdy folks!

Well, it’s been quite a hectic start to the year, not least because I am now the proud owner of two beautiful kittens!

Freya & Marlowe
Freya & Marlowe

Here they are, sitting side by side, as they often do, posing for the camera. Freya is the long-haired one. She’s an absolute sweetheart and adores being brushed, lying on her back in my arms, purring away. Marlowe is her stepbrother and he’s not quite so affectionate just yet. He prefers chasing all manner of things, including his own tail, round and round in circles until he gets dizzy and flops into a heap on the carpet.

They actually have different mums, but they were brought up in a communal feral setting. Thankfully, the foster mum has done a spectacular job at making sure they were handled  and well socialised before they came to me. They’ve been here nearly two weeks, and they’ve settled really well so I’m very pleased. Stay tuned over the coming months for news on their progress. In the meantime, see here for a short video.

sfep_straplineTowards the very end of 2015, I made a very important step towards my goal of quitting the day job. I took, and passed, a course in proofreading. If you, or anyone you know, is looking for a final proofread of an already polished manuscript, please do get in touch at lizhurstauthor@gmail.com for further information.

Recipients of my newsletter will know that work on the second novel in the Lost Souls series is progressing well, albeit slowly. I write in fits and starts sometimes. There will be an inspiration of some sort, and I can get two of three chapters done in one go, then I run out of steam and it sits there, neglected and collecting dust, until the next flurry of activity. I am pleased with what has made it onto the page so far, though, and my characters are developing nicely. Keep reading my newsletter for progress on the book and a cover reveal some time in late Spring.

Like so many people at this time of year, January heralds the start of the holiday booking season. I have booked two trips so far this year: Dublin and Swanwick, both writing conferences. This year’s Dublin trip in June is for a whole week this time, so I can take advantage of more of what the city has to offer. (I’m particularly intrigued by the National Leprechaun Museum!) Having missed Swanwick last year due to Lily’s illness, I’m looking forward to catching up with my wonderful writing family in August too.

So, there will be a lot going on, and a lot to keep you informed about as the year progresses. Goodness! I don’t know how I shall have the time for work…

 

op99lj 4de[p;,i8kkn ygv rfdxwsl[p0[kjt5h e (NO FREYA! Keep off the keyboard when Mummy’s writing!)

 

 

 

Gone Girl – Is it worth the hype?

I was very late coming to this particular party, I’ll admit. Plus, I often find that I don’t agree with creative works which have been highly-acclaimed in the media (the movie Forrest Gump springs to mind here – I just didn’t get it).

So, I was more than pleasantly surprised when my mum recommended this to me. She has an eye for a good story, my mother, and we often enjoy the same authors, so I thanked her for lending me her copy and I launched into it with glee.

Let me say one thing first of all: the phrase “all is not what it seems” is not powerful enough for this book. It takes it to a whole new level. Read on…

Amy is married to Nick Dunne. They are the perfect couple, or so it seems, until Amy disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. The police believe she has been murdered by Nick, a theory which is bolstered by the fact that hergonegirl friends reveal to them that she was afraid of him. But he swears it isn’t true. On reading more into Nick’s character, we also realise he’s just not capable of anything like that.

Half the book is written as journal entries made by Amy, starting from the night they first met, and we learn how their relationship developed into what it is now. But, make no mistake, Diary Amy is very different from the woman that Nick believes he has married. And therein lies the problem with their marriage.

This is a thriller like no other. It sinks into our minds and searches through our insecurities and, like Amy, we learn that on many occasions, we too have been lured into becoming someone else for what we think is the benefit of our relationships.

This book will question how you view your partner. Do you really know them inside out? You may think you do, but do you, really? Do you support and encourage them, or do you hinder them in some way? Do you feel they stand in your way, perhaps?

As a singleton, I can ask these questions of my previous relationships and I know why they all failed. For those of you who are attached to someone, happily or otherwise, maybe you might find some of those questions difficult. But ask them you should, of yourself at least, if not your partner too.

Now, I am not saying this book will now necessarily mean that my next relationship will be a fantastic success, but I will certainly consider asking myself those questions when I meet someone new. Perhaps a good strategy as I find myself at the end of 2015 and staring a New Year in the face…

Here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Liz xxx

To Kill A Mockingbird – Is it still relevant today?

I was absolutely thrilled when someone suggested we read this for my local bookclub last month.

Snip20151013_1

Having just read the sequel a few months ago, I was very much looking forward to getting into this one again. I say ‘again’ – we actually read this at school, and I remembered that I had really enjoyed it.

I have re-read a number of books from childhood recently. Regular readers may remember my post about the Lord of the Flies and how being an adult can change our perspective on a story. I did wonder if a second reading of Harper Lee’s classic tale would have a similar effect.

There were lots of things about the story which I had completely forgotten. The touching sub-plot of Boo Radley and his affection for Jem and Scout springs to mind.

I remember as a child there was a house in our street which looked a bit neglected compared to the others. It desperately needed a lick of paint and a tidy up of the garden, and that probably would have done it. But to us children it was the topic of much gossip, as was the older guy who lived there, apparently alone. We used to make up stories about how he had murdered all the other children in the neighbourhood, and we used to wonder which of us would be next. (Jeez, I just got a shiver up my spine thinking about that!)

I had also forgotten the court verdict after the infamous trial, although looking at the story as a whole, it almost doesn’t matter.

So, I arrived at bookclub last month full of lots of things to say. Inevitably, most of us thought exactly the same thing: this story is most definitely as relevant today as it ever has been.

*** SPOILER ALERT *** For those of you who have NOT read the sequel, please do not read beyond this point!

I came across this great article from the Huffington Post which discusses what we really think of Atticus Finch (a literary hero so great that his first name is a popular baby name for white males in the US). Especially when we learn that he does not quite deserve the pedestal upon which we have perched him for such a long time.

Consider too the recent uprisings in the US, including KKK rallies and the figures relating to civilian killings of members of the African American population by white police officers. This is very sobering reading and tells us that racism is, in fact, alive and well in certain areas of the United States. Shame on them.

Psychedelica: The Adult Colouring Phenomenon

IMG_0859

 

IMG_0873There are strange goings-on in living rooms all over the world. Colouring books are being completed. Under normal circumstances, this might not sound so unusual. But these books don’t belong to the pre-schoolers. It’s their parents who are picking up the crayons.

Forget yoga and meditation (although they do have their place). The new way to relax from your working week is to grab some pencils, pens or crayons, and get colouring.

It’s even thought to help counter mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

IMG_0872

The pictures in this book are all completed by my own fair hands, and from one such book: Being in the Now by Luscious Books.

I love this book because rather than just the pictures, there are wise words of wisdom, giving us handy life tips at the same time. Zen therapy, you might say.

It’s become the perfect way for me to wind down after work and get into the right frame of mind for accessing my creative brain and writing.

The paper isn’t very thick with these books, unlike those of Johanna Basford, so there is only one image per sheet. However, this allows you to carefully cut out each page and hang it on a wall, if you’d like to. Neat, huh?

I believe I may well do that. Just as soon as I’ve finished this little blue bit…

See here and here for more articles on this topic!

Review: From Cornwall to the Andes, Barbara Webb

I don’t read a great deal of non-fiction but I was drawn to this book, partly due to the striking painting on the cover (which I later found out is the author’s own work), and partly because of its acutely personal nature.

“How brave!” I thought. “What great courage this lady must have to share such a private and emotional journey in such a public way.”

I find I am drawn to people who display characteristics such as courage and strength. Webb seemed to be just such a person and so I decided to purchase this little book.

The first thing that is clear is that the author is no shrinking violet. This is a lady who has travelled all over the world, visiting countries and cultures of which most of us can only dream.

Yet not even such experiences can shield us from the very human condition of profound grief when a loved one dies.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been, after such a traumatic period in one’s life, to make the decision to commit to paper the journey from her late husband’s diagnosis through his death and into the unknown territory of widowhood.

But the beauty of this story is that there is no wallowing in self-pity amongst the pages. The illness and subsequent deterioration in her husband’s condition is handled with care and tenderness, which many in a similar position will find of great comfort.

Instead, we find a moving tribute to her late husband and a candid reflection of her own despair after his death. How lucky we are that the author found herself and created such a wonderful new life to share with us.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It moved me to tears on occasion, but between the pages lie also joy and hope, and this makes it an inspiration for those with a loved one also suffering from terminal illness.

You can find out more about Barbara Webb and her books below:

Website: http://www.cornwall2theandes.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cornwall2andes

 

Review: Labyrinth, Kate Mosse

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year so far, and I don’t say that lightly.

I love reading books where the action takes place along two different time lines, but so few authors can really get this right. I believe Kate Mosse has done a superb job with Labyrinth.

In 13th century France, the spirited and adventurous Alais, daughter to a leading political figure in Carcassonne, becomes aware of a greater truth that her father entrusts to her, that of the safekeeping of ancient Egyptian texts belonging to the Cathars. Her people are being persecuted, however, and she must keep the books safe from the hands of the Northern French Crusaders who are currently marching south, pillaging land and possessions as they go.

In the present day, Alice joins an archaeological dig in the Languedoc region and inadvertently disturbs a curious burial site, bringing Alais’ story to light. Everywhere she goes there are echoes of the past, threatening her sanity and ultimately, her life.

Mosse never allows the two plots to coincide. Instead, they run seamlessly alongside one another, merging only at the very end when the reader gains a beautiful understanding as if, we too have been entrusted with this sacred knowledge of a Universal Truth.

This is a great book for celebrating the role of women in fiction. Both leading characters are women, and neither is constrained by traditional, stereotypical female roles. There is a useful glossary at the back for interpreting the Occitan language (something akin to Old French, but with distinct differences), although this is hardly necessary, and her Author’s Note explains all historical references and separates the fact from fiction.

I was never a fan of history at school. Indeed, it is through reading wonderful books such as these, that the fire in my own belly ignites and I want to write my own stories about the past. I shall certainly be reading many more from Mosse, including her recent offering, The Taxidermist’s Daughter.