Decentring Classics: Bringing Minor Characters to the Foreground with Alison Case

Good morning book fans.

Just thought I’d take a moment to tell you about a really fun day I had a few weeks ago. A small group of writers gathered together at Ponden Hall, the house that inspired Emily Bronte to create Thrushcross Grange in her beloved novel, Wuthering Heights. This was part of a range of events celebrating the Bronte Festival of Women’s Writing.

Workshop

Led by Alison Case, author of Nelly Dean, we delved into the lives of some minor characters of classic novels. Most people chose to write about Bronte characters. We talked about Bertha Mason, Mrs. Reed, Helen Burns, Adele Varens in Jane Eyre; Isabella Linton, Zillah in Wuthering Heights among others.

Being in the inspirational home of the Lintons, I felt drawn to Isabella and wrote a short piece for her. During our discussions about Isabella, we explored her motivations with a strong emphasis on her childish idealism. We also talked about Emily Bronte’s opinion of Isabella and came to conclusion that she probably didn’t like her very much. I was interested in the influence on Isabella of the gender norms and values in her society. She had very limited options as a woman living in a rural location. She would have felt all sorts of social pressures from her family and while she is portrayed by Bronte as being a heady cocktail of downtrodden, masochistic and selfish, I like to think that there’s a little bit of self-assured control in there as well. Yes, she made some unusual choices and reveled in the torture of young dogs, but she was moulded into the creature she became by societal pressures. I wanted to give her a voice that cut through all the incidental evidence we have about her through the eyes of Lockwood and Nelly Dean.

Here is Isabella at Thrushcross Grange, a few weeks into Cathy’s lengthy sojourn, following being caught by the dogs as she spied on the Lintons with Heathcliff. Isabella is writing in her journal.

Mrs Phillips is bringing tea and cake into the room. Again. I am busying my mind and hand in this activity so that I will not be tempted to indulge her fancy that I love her cooking or that I shall remain so petite with such richness in my belly. There Edgar goes taking his fill. He is feigning a deep interest in a small volume of Shakespeare. I know not who he is trying to impress. That wild child will no more step inside the house than I would step out of it today. Unlike my deluded older brother, I see very clearly where Miss Cathy’s heart belongs and it most assuredly is not with poor Edgar. Do not mistake me; I do not sympathise with the fool. Pity, perhaps, but pity cannot survive where the seeds of triumph take root and flourish. All in time. There is no malice, no real harm. We are siblings and therefore share a healthy rivalry. But all rivalries must one day declare a victor, only in our case perhaps a “Victoria” is more apt a term? My! How clever I am. One day, perhaps I will share this tome with H. What fun we shall have as we pore over these pages and find new ways to ridicule our respective siblings and their pretentious marriage. Of course we will likely stay away from the Grange for many months. While I am while sure my H will be as devoted to me as he is devilishly charming, I cannot trust Cathy, for what hold can my poor insipid brother have on her affections when such a man as H is present. Of course I plan to trust H implicityliy but care must be taken. C is wild and uncouth. I must not expose H to that. And of course, once the marriages are made and homes established I shall be declared winner. For I will have H, who is wanted by C who is wanted by E, all the while being adored by Heathcliff. It is such a plan. And now I think I will eat some cake after all.

Alicia Bruce, September 2015

I was largely influenced by the amazing array of homemade cakes that were brought out for us, mid-session. I think I heard every single participant say that this was the most beautiful writing workshop they had ever been on. I concur. Look …

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Can’t wait for next year’s Bronte Festival of Women’s Writing! 

While we’re on the subject, I believe there will be a celebration of all things Bronte at the Huddersfield Literature Festival 2016 which runs from 3rd to 13th March 2016, so keep an eye out for that.

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Nelly Dean by Alison Case

Nelly Dean

Young Nelly Dean has been Hindley’s closest companion for as long as she can remember, living freely at the great house, Wuthering Heights. But when the benevolence of the master brings a wild child into the house, Nelly must follow in her mother’s footsteps, be called servant and give herself to the family completely.

But Nelly is not the only one who must serve. When a new heir is born, a reign of violence begins that will test Nelly’s spirit as she finds out what it is to know true sacrifice.

Nelly Dean is a wonderment of storytelling, a heartbreaking accompaniment to Emily Bronte’s adored work. It is the story of a woman who is fated to bear the pain of a family she is unable to leave, and unable to save.

Harpercollins.co.uk

This is one of those inescapable titles that once seen must be immediately bought. Being a fan of anything Bronte with a particular adoration of Emily Bronte and her masterpiece of a novel, Wuthering Heights, how could I not read Alison Case’s Nelly Dean?

My attention was first brought to this book at a Huddersfield Literature Festival committee meeting in August. I was very innocently handed a flyer regaling the events taking place as part of the Bronte Festival of Women’s Writing. Before said meeting had begun, I had very efficiently purchased a ticket to the writing workshop with Alison Case (more on this in a later post) and downloaded Nelly Dean onto my kindle. Oh technology, how I love thee.

A Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts with an academic background focused on Victorian Studies, Narrative Theory and Gender Studies, with several publications well respected in her field, Nelly Dean is Alison Case’s first novel.  Her expertise and love of 18th Century novels clearly comes across.

Nelly Dean was everything I expected and more. Case delves into life at the Heights, enriching Emily Bronte’s flawless story with expertly imagined back stories. She gives Nelly a stronger voice and deeper experiences while taking nothing away from Bronte’s original characterisation of the beloved house keeper.  In this, Case explores other minor characters from Wuthering Heights. This gives us access to individuals in the village that were overlooked in the original stormy love story on the moors. I was particularly blown away by Nelly’s relationship with Hindley and the ensuing complications; the enigmatic elderly woman with a penchant for potions; Nelly’s industrious mother and wayward father; the explanation of Mr Earnshaw’s adoption of Heathcliff; and all the inhabitants of the tightly knit community on the Yorkshire Moors.

If you’re a Bronte fan, you will adore this book.

Off the Hook – Dylan Moran

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Hello comedy fans! I just wanted to tell you all about a cracking night at Leeds Town Hall last night with one of my all time faves, Mr Dylan Moran. Now, those of you who know me understand that I am a slightly huge fan of this man. I even named my kitten after his cantankerous alter ego, Bernard Ludwig Black. And behold, here we have a photo of little Bernard …

Bernard

I know; the resemblance is uncanny isn’t it. He even loves books. What a dude.

Being such a huge Black Books fan, I was a little reticent about seeing Moran in a stand up capacity lest I be thoroughly disappointed and become disillusioned with the world. I can now confirm that I was not disappointed and Moran’s performance was the perfect balance of cutting irritability and raucous hilarity.

Very like his character in Black Books, Moran would be ranting about one particular nuisance of life when a distraction would intervene and send him off on a rant tangent, for example in the direction of late-comers to the show or audience members in the possession of flashing cameras and telephonic devices. I suspect these distractions led to a bit of off-roading script-wise but this added to the fun of the show. I suppose it provided a nice bit of audience participation – apart from those audience members being thoroughly scolded, head teacher style, for taking photos or using their phones. And quite rightly so; isn’t it common knowledge, common courtesy and common sense to not take photos of live performances? Come on people.

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Leeds Town Hall

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The stage!

Moran made a good point about this actually; about cherishing the moment rather than being bogged down by technology. Its so much nicer to experience a moment live rather than through the lens of a camera. Wise words.

Awaiting entertainment with Ian

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Pretty ceiling of Leeds Town Hall

Just a little bit on Leeds Town Hall; what a lovely venue! It’s my second trip here, having visited to see Caitlin Moran last year. I would definitely recommend checking out their what’s on list. I’ve only ever seen stand up here so not sure what its like for music gigs etc. but definitely worth a look.

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Leeds Town Hall

Dylan Moran can be found wandering around the UK and elsewhere for the rest of 2015 here.

Storytime with Joanne Harris at Huddersfield Literature Festival

Joanne Harris HLF2015 image c. Kyte

Photo by Kyte Photography

Its Huddersfield Literature Festival time again! Yay! On Friday 6th March my excellent friend Ben and I visited the cellar of the Lawrence Batley Theatre where  Joanne Harris made her contribution to the festival with a new and exciting project, which she called Storytime.

Joanne began the evening by introducing the concept of her Storytime. She had joined Twitter a few years ago and started telling stories on it because that’s what she does; tells stories. If you are a twitterer I’m sure you’ve experienced these bursts of stories of a slow day at work, while “researching” that important thing you were supposed to be working on ….

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 Joanne was not alone on her stage in the cellar of the LBT. As well as a range of lighting and colourful projections to accompany each story, she had a band of helpers. Literally. Her stories were accompanied by a drum set, guitar, keyboard, bass, a flute and other miscellaneous percussive instruments.

Following Joanne’s introduction, we were treated to a musical introduction from the band. They played a beautiful song including the lyrics ‘There is a story the bees used to tell, long ago, long ago…’. This is how Joanne begins each of her twitter stories. The music, composed I believe by Joanne’s husband, was rather haunting. The melody was calm and lilting but with a dark edge to it. It was almost like accepting a warm invitation but once inside, a minor sequential cadence tinged with a sceptical coolness wrapped around the room, trapping us all inside. ‘…long ago, long ago, which makes it hard to disbelieve.’

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Photo by @Cat_Lumb

Each story once told was summarised in musical form by a song or an instrumental. Who knew that Joanne Harris was such a talented flautist? As a writer and flautist myself (show off) I have never considered putting the two together. But that’s what the whole evening was about; challenging storytelling norms. There was one point when Joanne leaned towards the mic without her flute where I was worried that she was going to sing. Then she did. And I was pleasantly surprised. What a beautiful voice. But writers aren’t supposed to be singers. Writers are solitary creatures who only surface once in a while to sign a few books and push the boundaries of blood to caffeine ratio.

I think there’s often a supposition about what people should be and how we identify with them. This is a philosophy that Joanne is trying to dispel. A lady in the audience asked the question “In your short stories tonight and actually in many of your novels, there is a feeling of ‘seize the day’. Would you agree?” Joanne did agree and she talked about this at some length.

When I saw her at the Huddersfield lit fest last year (where she was talking about her excellent book The Gospel of Loki) she made the point of saying that she didn’t subscribe her writing to any particular genre, preferring instead to tell her stories and letting them land where they land.  So it is with her Storytime on Twitter. The stories had been ephemeral in nature, flying through the twittersphere and being sporadically caught by readers. Now the stories are being saved and collated and are even being published soon in a book titled Honeycomb. But that all came from sitting down and telling a story in a different way.

The stories themselves were often quite dark, again belying the apparently safe, cosy nature of ‘Storytime’. My favourite was about a toymaker (I think he was a toymaker. Or a carpenter. He was a handsy sort of person anyway) who one day, noticing that his once lovely wife is no longer perfect, sets about fixing her to his satisfaction. A poignant parable about the struggle for unattainable perfection and (as my friend Ben surmised) the throwaway, consumeristic way that many of us live our lives. Thought provoking stuff.

All in all, Storytime was a magical evening. It was very refreshing to see a writer not only thinking outside the box, but dispelling said box altogether. An amalgamation of stories, music and theatre, Storytime with Joanne Harris and friends is something that I would certainly like to see more of.

There are still many fun events to get involved with in the Huddersfield Literature Festival. You can find out about it here.

 

P.S. Joanne, it was very lovely to meet you again. Thank you for signing one of your books for me. Should you need an additional flautist and/ or keyboardist for your future projects, I am always available. I’m really good. And sometimes modest.

P.P.S It was also very lovely to meet Jennifer and Lynne of Kyte Photography. You should check out their book of famous people from Yorkshire ‘Yorkshire Made Me‘.

Bouncers by John Godber

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Directed by its writer John Godber and featuring a frightening array of northern talent, the definitive production of multi award-winning hit comedy BOUNCERS follows 2014 revival of Teechers to the LBT stage.

Lucky Eric, Judd, Les and Ralph are the original men in black, portraying an astonishing range of characters over the course of one eventful night in a Yorkshire disco in the 80s. All the gang are out on the town: the boys, the girls, the cheesy DJ, the late-night kebab man and the taxi home, all under the watchful eyes of the bouncers.

Sad, hilarious and full of humanity, BOUNCERS won the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Award an amazing seven times, and was named as one of the top 100 plays of the 20thcentury by the National Theatre.

http://www.thelbt.org

On Wednesday evening I visited my beloved Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield for to watch a performance of John Godber’s Bouncers. Having watched Teechers last year I was very excited to see another of Godber’s plays. I can confirm that I was not disappointed!

The four main characters, Lucky Eric, Judd, Les and Ralph, are played by four very talented actors. We duck and weave with them as they become the various groups of intoxicated clubbers of a Saturday eve. The whole play is very fun and chuckle worthy, but particular hilarity ensues when the fellas don their sparkly handbags and became the  young girls out for Rosie’s 21st. Tres amusement.

As the play is set in the 80s the music is obviously amazing. You’ve got your thriller, you’ve got you spin me round, round baby right round like a record baby …. Plus other classics that will be firmly lodged in your head until the very moment that you need to remember them for when you’re writing a review about them. *severe eye roll*

As previously stated, this play is v funny. However, before I recommend that you immediately purchase tickets for this play I feel it is my duty to warn you of one very disturbing toilet scene. Now, as a former bar attendant (Lloyds No.1 Bar, Huddersfield circa 2005-2007 before the indoors smoking ban. I smelled just wonderful after those shifts) I am under no illusions as to the thoroughly disgusting nature of the men’s toilets. It is only now that I have witnessed this particular scene in Bouncers, along with acknowledging sniggers from male members of the audience, that the full picture has been revealed to me. I have learned how truly grotesque men can be. I fear I can never unlearn this. There. You have been warned.

If you haven’t seen Bouncers, don’t panic! There is a list of remaining tour dates here.

“Jersey Boys” at the Rex

This week I went to see “Jersey Boys”. It was amazing. (This is my whole review of the film. Just amazing. That’s all you need to know. But if you want another opinion, I recommend Dan the Man).

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You may have noted that I’m a little behind the times in seeing this film as it was released some weeks back. Well my friends, there is a very good reason that I held off until now, which is that I was waiting for it to appear at my favourite cinematic establishment, the Rex.

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The Rex is a 100 year old picture house in Elland, West Yorkshire. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but there is a treasure trove inside waiting to be discovered. Walk with me.

Through the glass panelled doors, which stick slightly with age, a smiling face extends a welcome from behind the counter. Once tickets are purchased (at a very reasonable price. At least half the price of your regular cinema ticket), an array of neatly presented treats await your inspection. There’s the obligatory popcorn (sweet, obviously. We’re not animals), chocolate in all its forms, cans of pop and you can even get a hot brew. There is always an interval in the showings, so plenty of time to replenish the treats later on. Ice-cream is always a winner.

The Rex was built in 1912. After over half a century of success, turbulence and closure, the cinema was given a new lease of life with a full refurbishment in 1988. The décor in the entrance is respectful of the history of the building. You can almost picture a 1920s couple, resplendent in their fedoras and fur cloaks, excitedly purchasing tickets for the latest Hollywood picture. The dark, wooden panelling is adorned with black and white photographs in heavy frames. There is a collection of old cinematic paraphernalia, carefully displayed and informatively labelled. Its part cinema, part museum. Very interesting for any film enthusiast.

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Inside the auditorium there is a gentle sloping incline that looks down onto the smaller than usual screen. The red curtain exudes a charming warmth reminiscent of a theatre rather than a cinema. On this particular visit, we were treated to extra entertainment before the film and during the interval in the form of an organist. Very vintage-carousel-a-la-Blackpool-Pleasure-Beach. Have you ever seen an organist play live? Even if can’t get on board with the hollow pipe sounds and the oom pah of the bassline, watching an organist play is most fascinating.

So there you have it. That’s why I think the Rex is just brilliant. Its just a gorgeous night out.  Its a rare, independent gem, worth digging out every now and again as an antidote to our busy modern cinemas. Its so perfect for avoiding the rush, if you enjoy watching films but are not too bothered about being the first person to see it and/or have a low tolerance to overproduced, over amplified noise levels. Hearing aid/ old lady jokes welcome on a postcard.

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For the latest releases and film schedule at Rex Cinema click here.

Enjoy

Photographs of Rex are mine.

Jersey Boys pic from imbd.com

Write Now

Hello lovely readers

Hope your week has been fun thus far.  Today, I’m going to do a slight sales pitch for your eyeballs.  So, simultaneous apologies and allure-isms coming your way (this is a real word.  I know this cos I’m a writerer).

If you are a writerly type who enjoys a jaunt to the theatre, and you are located in the West Yorkshire area, then you should really know about Write Now.  Its a writing group specifically focused on writing for theatre.

A writer friend recently asked me, What actually happens in writing groups?  So for he, and anyone else who wants to know, here is a brief summary of what  actually happens in our writing group.

WHAT

Our main focus is writing for the stage but we do sometimes discuss screenplays too.  We talk about writing techniques including developing character, relationships between characters, place, purpose, motives, backstories.  We share reading recommendations, play recommendations, competition deadlines.  Sometimes we go watch a play together.  We talk about our goals and how to achieve them.  We read plays of established playwrights and some that we have written ourselves.  Oh, and we do some writing too.

All of this stuff might seem pretty obvious to any seasoned writer but talking about it really helps to hone our existing ideas and often create whole new ideas.  I always leave a Write Now sesh with at least five brand new characters and/or stories germinating in my head.

WHERE

Large Meeting Room, In the Attic, Up the Spiral Staircase, Through the Bar, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England, Planet Earth.

LBT

WHEN

Every other Tuesday, 7-9pm term time only.  (email letscreate@thelbt.org for Autumn dates)

WHO

Unlike a lot of other writing groups, we have the advantage of having a real life, published, working, human playwright to lead the way.  Emma Hill is our resident expert in all things theatre.  The rest of us are theatre and writing enthusiasts.  Apart from Emma, there are no professional writers among us (yet) but we are all really good and brilliant and funny.

WHY

Traditionally, writing is a solitary activity.   But writing for theatre definitely lends itself to writing groups.  We are able to bring our works in progress to the group and hear our characters come to life, through group readings.  This is where we discover if our ideas actually work and whether our characters are believable.  Yeah, you can always ask friends and family to read your scripts but there’s something quite delicious about sharing your work with peers.  We give each other honest and constructive feedback. Everyone has the opportunity to discuss any issues / ideas that they have about their own stuff.

MISCELLANEOUS

There are usually about 6 sessions per term. Each session is £8 and paid upfront at the beginning of term.  I think the cost is slightly less for students but I am not a student so I don’t take note of such things.

I originally joined Write Now following an active search for writing groups and stumbling across it on the LBT website.  I have always been a writer in secret but I wanted to meet other writers.  I was also interested in developing my somewhat non-existent dialogue writing skills within the stories I was scribbling.  What better way to do this than to dive into a writing medium that deals almost solely in dialogue!?

If you are a writer in West Yorkshire, wanting to develop your scriptwriting skills (or even if you just find yourself at a loss for what to do of a Tuesday evening, we’re not picky) Write Now is the place for you!  So, do pop along, wielding the writing implement of your choice, a sprinkling of theatre lovin’ enthusiasm, a big wodge of lined paper and join the fun!

Check out the Lawrence Batley Theatre website here

Email letscreate@thelbt.org or call 01484 430528 for more information