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.

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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.

Six Short Stories by Jack Croxall

6SS Cover

A collection of six incidents, memories and curiosities. Some of these short stories are happy, some of them are not so happy. It’s difficult to tell whether any of them are related, such quandaries are never resolved easily. 

Includes the 2014 eFestival of Words Best Short Story, X.

Jack Croxall is a most industrious chap. He trained as an Environmental Scientist and now utilses his sciencey knowledge in his YA fiction and other writing adventures.  His latest YA publication, Six Short Stories, is a collection of, well, six short stories … does what it says on the tin.

There is a lovely range of narrative style and subject from ghostly happenings in the 1800’s to a post apocalyptic nightmare somewhere in the future and other charming tales in between.

I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a little snapshot from each story:

1. Guardian angel. This is an uplifting tale that highlights that things are not always as bad as they seem. When all hope is lost there is always another option. And don’t be so sure about what you want; be flexible; be kind; be generous. Nice.
2. Rose Root. This a haunting tale about a rumoured ghost. Its told in the style of a newspaper article. The use of language is particularly evocative of the 19th century in which it is set. Spooky and realistic in its delivery. I like this one a lot.
3. Scruffy. This reminds me a little of the style of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. There’s something quite bittersweet about hearing a deeply tragic story from an innocent voice.
4. Space dementia. Jack takes us into deep space to talk about the importance of mental health. It’s about sharing, not bottling up feelings or secrets and standing up for what you believe in. A good story with a good message.
5. Tethered. Like Rose Root, this is another late 19th century setting. It is a short newspaper article that tells a big story.
6. X. A zombie story with a tragic twist. The hero is an unnamed teenage girl. We follow her in the final weeks of her life during an invasion of ‘uglies’. This was named Best Short Story in the 2014 eFestival of Words.

Six Short Stories showcases Jack’s ability to manipulate language to fit the story.  He goes from very traditional English to a child’s voice to a counselling session in outer space. Each story is wrapped up in the language used and each character feels genuine. I’m always so impressed with writers of short stories in how they can create whole worlds with so few words. Amazing.

I very much enjoyed Jack’s collection of short stories. I recommend reading in conjunction with a cuppa and a [barrel of] biscuit[s] of a lazy afternoon. Perfection.

Six Short Stories is available to download on 8th February 2015 for UK readers here, for readers across the pond here and for all peoples here.

Enjoy!

p.s. Thank you Mr Croxall for letting me read and review Six Short Stories.

 

 

Talking Statues Competition Runner Up!!

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Hi everybody!

Just a quick post to let you know some exciting news. I entered the Talking Statues writing competition in October and guess what? I’m a runner up!!

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I found out about Talking Statues via fellow blogger Gina on her blog Playwright’s Competition Calendar. (You should follow her. She shares lots of interesting news).  The competition was to write a 400 word monologue for one of eight statues, four in London and four in Manchester. I chose to write for the handsome chap pictured above, Stan the T-Rex. Stan lives in Manchester Museum. He is a bit scary looking at first but don’t let that put you off. He is very lovely really, plus he’s been through quite a lot so y’know, give him a chance.

I found it quite tricky to write just 400 words. After visiting the museum and sitting with Stan for an hour or so, I had many many notes to wade through. I began by absorbing as much information as I could from the displays around Stan. The brief was to be educational and informative as well as entertaining, so I wanted to be as factually correct as possible. I then just sat with Stan for a little while.  My initial draft was 1500 words, so trimming that down was very strange. I much prefer the longer version to my final 400 word piece. I might publish the full thing on here soon for your perusal, you lucky things you.

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The competition winner is BJ Edwards. His monologue has been recorded by an actor, which you can hear if you visit Stan at the museum. I haven’t made it yet but will hopefully pop in and visit him soon.

You can read all the runner up monologues, including mine (!) on the Manchester Museum website.

Enjoy

Shadow and Shade by Matt Gerrard

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Matt Gerrard is a blogger from Boston. On his blog, The Daily 400, Matt sets himself the impressive challenge to write 400 words every day. His first novel, ‘Shadow and Shade’ is a heady mix of fantasy, sci-fi, romance, wolves and mayhem with a few slitherings of the real world about it.

Here’s what you need to know about ‘Shadow and Shade’ (taken from The Daily 400):

Logan doesn’t just hunt with wolves. He talks with them. He can also see in the dark, heal, and feel the emotions of the forest itself. If only dating were so easy.

Marissa, the missionary’s stepdaughter, captivates him with her fiery spirit. Logan’s taste for trouble and strange ways fascinate her. Marissa’s stepfather fears that Logan will drag her into darkness with his heathen ways. Logan’s mother is outraged because she thinks Logan is abandoning the blood of their people.

Angry words turn to vengeful deeds. Logan and Marissa become ensnared in a web of bitterness that was spun hundreds of years before they were born. Blood demands blood, and it refuses to be denied.

The book is described as a fantasy novel with supernatural themes and otherworldly experiences. I found this to be accurate but it sometimes got a little bogged down with belief systems of the real world, particularly with reference to organised religion and the prejudices that it emanates into a community that doesn’t follow its rules. There are some very big themes in this book; religion, belief, love, being caught in a witch hunt (literally) and family all wrapped up in the workings of a community.

I enjoy the themes within the book; Gerrard talks about some important issues within his fantasy novel, but for me, this is eclipsed a little by the presentation.   This is definitely a YA book. Regular readers (hello to you) will know that I’m not a huge fan of this genre. To me, the simplicity of the language used can come across a little patronising. Events are often over-explained, leaving little for the reader to discern for themselves. I think particularly in ‘Shadow and Shade’ some of the themes are a little laboured. For example Marissa’s choice of living arrangements or Jon’s control issues. But then other more serious areas involving life and death (I won’t drop a spoiler) seem to be lightly skimmed over. This is not a personal attack on Gerrard’s writing, it’s just my opinion on the genre. Although I do think there is an over-use of the word ‘lad’ here. Also, it read more like a screenplay to me than a novel. There is too much dialogue, peppered with stage directions rather than prose. But don’t take my word for it, give it a read and see what you think.

If you enjoy your fantasy hero caked in mud and always ready for a fight, then ‘Shadow and Shade’ is for you. Its a good story, with a bitter sweet ending that resonates with real life.

Thank you to Matt Gerrard for sending me a copy of his book straight to my kindle. ‘Shadow and Shade’ is now available for you lovely readers to snap up here. Enjoy.

‘The List’ by Joanna Bolouri

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Hello and welcome! Come on in, make yourselves at home here at Tales from a Bruce Eye View. Grab a brew and a biscuit, take a look around. Thank you for joining me on this, the third day of the Blog Tour celebrating Joanna Bolouri’s delightfully risqué debut novel, The List.  Bolouri has honed her comedic writing talents over the years by working with the likes of stand up comics, comedy scriptwriters and actors in the UK after doing rather well in a BBC comedy script competition. She has certainly utilized her funny stick in The List (not a euphemism) which is filled with frolicsome hilarity along with the odd innuendo and/ or blatant description of some lurid sexual act.

Here’s what the back page has to say about The List:

Phoebe Henderson may be single, but she sure doesn’t feel fabulous. It’s been a year since she found her boyfriend in bed with another woman, and multiple cases of wine and extensive relationship analysis with best friend Lucy have done nothing to help. Faced with a new year but no new love, Phoebe concocts a different sort of resolution.
The List.
Ten things she’s always wanted to do in bed but has never had the chance (or the courage!) to try. A bucket list for between the sheets. One year of pleasure, no strings attached.
Simple, right?
Factor in meddlesome colleagues, friends with benefits, getting frisky al fresco and maybe, possibly, true love and Phoebe’s got her work cut out.

As you’ve probably gathered, not one to bring to the hypothetical book club you share with your grandmama of a Sunday eve. No, no. 98.2% of the pages of this book are absolutely dripping with sex. Not in a cringe worthy I-don’t know-where-to-look way. It’s not so graphic that it burns your eyeballs but still a tad too much to enter into any discussion about with a more senior member of one’s family.

But then again, its only sex. We’ve all did it. Not as much as Phoebes but still, its nice to read a book that’s so open about sex, which can be a bit of a taboo subject to write about.  (Can it? Or is that just my prude of a brain talking? I think it is a bit…) Phoebe’s attitude towards sex is quite healthy with regards to her mental health more than anything. She has highlighted an area in her life that she wants to improve and tackles it one greased up bullet point at a time. Why not! If its safe and everyone’s happy, there’s nothing wrong with that.

A good point about this book is that it highlights some side effects of having sexy sex that may be uncomfortable to seek advice about in real life. I won’t go into it here but you can read the book for the deets. Never again will you have to wipe your Google history in haste at the sound of footsteps close by.

I found Phoebe to be a very likeable character. She is very funny, strong and independent and tackles her problems very much head on. As it were. Ahem. Some of her friends/ conquests/ ex’s on the other hand were a little two dimensional. The book is written in the style of a diary, so the story is understandably very much centred on Phoebe and her view of things. Oliver is the only exception to this. I felt like Bolouri communicated his character really well with his cheeky quips and his Irish charm. (FYI reading a book in which the two main characters are either Glaswegian or Irish in my Lancashire/ West Yorkshire brain was NOT easy. I do always try to hear the characters in their designated accents, but I’ll be honest it just turned into a bit of a Gaelic mush and a two day migraine, so I gave up.)

The metamorphosis of Phoebe and Oliver’s relationship from beginning to end is enchanting, if a little predictable in a happy ending kind of way. Its like a very sweet, lube laced fairy tale. Again, it tackles some very important relationship issues and the effect that sex can have on a friendship.

I imagine this book is a little more accessible to people in the Glasgow area where the book is set. Bolouri leads us around the city as we follow her characters to the next adventure. There are lots of local shout outs that I’m sure would please the Glaswegians among you.

All in all, The List is a funny, funny book that made me laugh out loud over two times. Many thank yous to Joanna Bolouri for writing and to Emma Louise and Quercus Books for organising this Blog Tour and for sending me a shiny new book to read.

Happy reading everyone!

‘The Beautiful Warmth’ by Adam Gilmour

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‘The Beautiful Warmth’ is Adam Gilmour‘s debut play as writer and performer. Gilmour won a commission through To The Stage in March 2014 to produce and perform this play at Sale’s Waterside Arts Centre.

Set in Whitworth, Lancashire in 1989, we follow TK as he struggles to make a crucial sale for his uncle’s fireplace company.

Here’s a little taster off of YouTube. (You will be convinced to buy tickets. Do not buy tickets. It happened 3 days ago. If you have a time machine however that is a whole different kettle of fish and you should indeed buy tickets. But I digress. Watch the video).

I first heard about this play in March 2014, when I popped along to The Waterside Arts Centre in Sale for an evening of new theatre. There were not one, not two but FIVE writers all there with some original works in tow. Oh, the tension! The competition! The many many wines …  Each writer had ten minutes to showcase their work. Some writers literally showed the first ten minutes of their play, others gave a very condensed version of their play and one (Gilmour) sold their play in the form of a presentation.  I have to say that I had gone along to support brilliant writer and script-writing guru, Emma Hill. Her play was very brilliant FYI. You should check her out. Not in a pervy way. In a look-how-very-talented-she-is kind of way. (You’re welcome Emma. I usually settle these transactions with cake).

If you’re a Lancashire Lass (and/or Lad) like myself, there isn’t much to complain about with this play. I do love to hear our beautiful regional utterances on stage for a change. But aside from that, it was also very darkly comedic. My favourite kind. TK (Gilmour) is a happy-go-lucky chap. Yes, he’s somewhat deluded in his selling abilities but he sure has pluck, ambition and determination. And powerpoint slides. Lots of powerpoint slides. My favourite thing about TK is his opening mantra, which sees him through most things; “Hello! Bonjourno! Mais Oui!” (pronounced “Mez Wee” obviously).

Then we have TK’s uncle. Slightly scary chap; brandishes a suitcase, likes short shorts and a bandana, you know the type. Then there’s the office rival, Lucky. At first glance, Lucky is just your run-of-the-mill over confident salesman. We learn some interesting things about him later on, particularly with reference to past liaisons with Rena. Along with Tom, Rena lives in the only house in Whitworth without one of ‘The Beautiful Warmth’s product. Tom has recently been made redundant and fills his days proofreading newspapers, until a certain salesman comes a-knockin’. The unravelling of Lucky and Rena’s relationship and the formation of Rena and Tom’s relationship is explored with some surprising twists along the way. In and amongst, we have a sliver of the surreal with Kylie, an actress hired for an advert gone wrong. Very wrong.

I was two in 1989 so I’m not at liberty to comment on the authenticity of the play. However, I did enjoy the realistic relationships portrayed under the dark dome of the all powerful fireplace business. The one house, marked in blue in a town of red dots, filled with such drama and history! Very exciting. I also very much enjoyed the stylish changeovers in between scenes. 80s music, hooded stage hands with questionable dance moves, sunglasses indoors. Very good.

I was intrigued to see the end product of ‘The Beautiful Warmth’ after seeing the initial “sell”. I was not disappointed. Lets have more events that celebrate new writers in the North! We have so many amazing theatres and venues here that should really be filled with local talent. (As well as a classic musical or two obvs.)

I look forward to Check Shirt Theatre‘s next production. Keep writing Mr Gilmour.

 

NaNoWriMo 2014

The year is getting on, leaves are changing colour before plummeting to their mossy ends, and I’m getting a real hankering for mulled wine. This can mean only one thing. It’s NaNoWriMo time! November is National Novel Writing Month. 30 days, 50, 000 words, 1.2 million coffee beans.

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Why should you do NaNoWriMo? You shouldn’t. Not if you don’t want to. Its very damaging socially. Your intermittent ideas will force you to keep very unreasonable hours. Plus all those dehydrating coffees do nothing for your skin. But here’s why I’m doing it anyway.

When new acquaintances ask me what I do, I veritably lie and loudly pronounce “I’M A WRITER DONCHA KNOW!”  I then realise that I haven’t said this at all but only thought it quite loudly to myself whilst emitting a low giggle. Consequently, my almost acquaintance unfairly concludes that I am quite insane and immediately moves on with their life, in a less deranged direction.

Sadly this is not made up and is loosely based on at least two real life experiences.

While my authoring claims may be considered to be incorrect, my means of employment having never involved the assemblage of words, I am a writer. Sort of. I write all the time. At home, when no-one’s alooking, but I’m still a writer.

However, because monies must be earned away from my writing desk, my writing time has slowly been squeezed out over the past few years (blogging and inane twitterings aside). NaNoWriMo is just brilliant because it allows you, nay commands you to focus solely on one idea. It gives you permission and the time to release that story that’s been jumping up and down on your imagination box, tapping away at your neurological pathways and invading all available orifices.

There’s nothing like a goal and a looming deadline to get stuff done. 30 days to write 50,000 words can be quite overwhelming. But broken down into daily chunks, it really is manageable. It helps if you have a plan. E.g. knowing beforehand what you want to write about and some idea of character and/ or plot is always a bonus. Some people draw up a schedule for each day, so that they don’t have to think too much. They can just write one scene and move on.

From what I’ve seen on twitter and the interwebs, real writers don’t wallow around in dozens of half formed ideas and self pity. They have one book. They talk about it, they promote it, they give talks based on the themes from that book. So, that is what I’m going to do this November. Just write. One book.For this reason, I’ll be taking a break from reviewing and blogging. Cue loud sobbing and despair from my hoards of readers. Calm down dear ones! A break will be occurring apart from one book blog tour that I’m involved with for this book on 12th November. I also have a couple of reviews in the pipeline for the end of October. But after that, no more! Until December when I have a very exciting post coming up. I’ll be reviewing Matt Gerrard’s novel Shadow and Shade. But I digress.

So, that’s why I will be NaNoWriMo-ing in November. Anybody else getting involved? Its very easy to sign up. Let me know. Maybe we can be writing buddies and bully each other into achieving that 1, 667 word count every day. I can be found on the NaNoWriMo website under the imaginative name of Alicia Simone. Look me up. What fun we’ll have.

Happy writing x