Archive for the 'Literature' Category

Happy 100th Birthday, Roald Dahl! 


I grew up in a house with no books. There were, of-course, a very small selection of baby books in our room, and the obligatory Dictionary, French Dictionary, and Medical Dictionary in the living room drawer, never opened. Aside from that; nothing. My parents, although possessing many wonderful qualities, are not academic. They read the redtops, if anything; never pushed me to do homework, and were only ever concerned when I was in trouble for not handing it in. 

It is remarkable then that I started school being able to read, and read well. This was thanks to one shining light in the darkness; Roald Dahl, and one stark exception to our bookless house. Each night, my mother would read to get me to sleep; a few chapters from three battered old books; The BFG, The Witches, and Matilda. I think the copies had come from a mixture of an older cousin, and those shelves in library doorways, selling dog-eared books for 50p.

It didn’t take long for me to reach that moment. I can’t remember precisely how old I was, or even when it happened, but I know distinctly that there was one night, when I’d started reading Matilda back to my Mother, instead of her reading it to me, that I realised. I realised it all. I had, without knowing, been learning the very important fact that you can be different to the people in your house, and it doesn’t make you bad, or wrong, just different. If your parents read The Sun, you don’t have to. If your parents think that books are irrelevant, and lofty, you can still love them fiercely (the parents, and the books).  

That was the moment when I understood. I am not alone. There are hundreds of shelves, in hundreds of buildings, with millions of words on pages, written by people who know how I feel, and what I think, because they thought the same thing. They may have thought it two hundred years ago, but they thought it. And I knew I would never be alone again. As soon as I could read, I belonged to a rich and limitless world full of people, and places, and thoughts. I belonged to them, and they belonged to me.
There are children who have never discovered Matilda, who believe that because they are different to their parents and siblings, and because they want to read The Famous Five in a corner with a lamp, instead of watching quiz shows with their family, it makes them stupid, odd, and abnormal. I wish I could tell those children how special they are. I wish I could shine the light for them. 
Shining that light is precisely what Roald Dahl does. Like the BFG’s long golden trumpet, blowing dreams through children’s bedroom windows, Roald Dahl, with his words, and characters, and help from Quentin Blake, reaches through the darkness of children’s lives, and shows them that they are normal, and crucial, and noble. He makes children see the nobility in their everyday actions.

What makes Dahl remarkable, for me, is that he did it all without really intending to. Roald Dahl was not a saint-like messiah, setting out on a selfless mission to do honourable deeds, and save children from awful lives. He was a battered old RAF pilot, who nearly died when his fighter jet crashed in the desert, who spent his childhood away from his family, being beaten and caned at boarding school, and lived his adult life as a spy, passing messages in the Second World War directly between presidents and prime ministers. He was an unsuccessful writer, writing books for adults without much notice, and the odd screenplay here and there, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, managed to bring extraordinary magic into children’s lives, and arguably changed the world, and the way we think.

Who else was brave enough to tell children that their parents and teachers might actually be catastrophically wrong, and even unintelligent? Who else told children that the monsters and dangerous things they’ve been warned about for their entire young lives might actually live in their own home, or school, in the next bedroom, or classroom, or down the street? And he gives children the bravery to fight them. For so many children, myself included, Dahl’s words give them the strength to fight back; to stand up. He lifts their chin up.

Owing solely and unequivocally to Roald Dahl, our bookless house is now full of books. Downstairs is filled with crammed bookshelves, and in my own tiny bedroom, the walls are covered in shelves, filled to drooping, and the room is filled with bookcases, and piles of books on the dressing table, chair, and floor; piled just high enough on every surface that they won’t fall over. All of them are mine. My parents still read the redtops. I can pay no greater respect or thanks to Roald Dahl than that. 

Happy Birthday, Bill : A Love Letter to Shakespeare


Happy Birthday, Bill: A Love Letter to Shakespeare.

Dear Bill,

The 23rd April marks both your birthday, and the anniversary of your death. 1564 – 1616. I know those dates without even checking Google, since that day ten years ago when they passed me on the side of a bus with a picture of your face, and I have remembered them ever since. I take this day to express my thanks, and respect.

I call you Bill, as I’m certain that’s what your friends would have called you, and that’s definitely what you are to me. I think of you as a friendly arm around my shoulders in the pub, on a rowdy Saturday night.

I call you Bill because from a faded portrait on the wall of a gallery; a musty anachronism with stiff collar and balding head, your words transform you into something breathing, and visceral, and vivid; a tangible, vibrant part of the modern world; a crucial part of our 2020 lives. It is your words that change you from dull oil colours into a bloke down the pub, and you would be the clever life of every party, if only you still had flesh and blood.

As a student of English Literature, I feel about you the way other people feel about God; that you are father to us all.

With ink-stained hands, you gave us words where we had gaping holes in our native tongue. You gave form and names to emotions we couldn’t identify. You gave us stock phrases to perfectly express those ideas we had previously been unable to articulate.

You showed a dark, and frightened world that it is a clever, and noble thing to write words beautifully, and to let them shine like gold.  Which is why, at two o’clock in the morning, when my hands are covered in ink because I insist on using a fountain pen, and I’m in the dark with my i-phone lighting up the covers instead of a candle, I remember you.

To writers, you give words, and entire dramatic conventions. You built the foundations of their profession, and fleshed it out with wealth, and depth.

To actors, you give the best role they will ever play. You have become the mettle by which actors prove themselves. You are their Olympics, Grand National, and PHD.

To theatre audiences, you give unbound excitement, and breathless thrills every week, for the price of a seat. Four hundred years after your first audiences huddled together in rancid crowds, now we do the same, to listen to the same words. In 2014, I saw Maxine Peake play Hamlet at The Royal Exchange in Manchester. I was six feet away from her. It was breath-taking. You gave us that.

You hold a mirror to all human life, from the lowest to the highest, every corner of society; every beggar, and every king. You teach us how human beings love, and hate, and why, and the often terrible consequences. You show us jealousy, and revenge, and misery, and every facet of human emotion. You show us why siblings have all-consuming and co-existing adoration and contempt for each other, and the constant struggle that will always exist between them.

With the help of hundreds of actors over four hundred years, your characters have become part of our social consciousness. Just by the mention of a name, they are a shortcut to expressing paragraphs of description and backstory.

Like JK Rowling borrowing ideas from Tolkien, you may have patchworked ideas, and words together from different languages and cultures; merging characters from Commedia del Arte with plots from Ancient Rome, and Latin words with Dutch metaphors, but the skill is in the merging; in the sewing together with golden thread. Like Rowling, your magic lies in that final beautiful patchwork, and the sparkling world created by your words, and no-one else’s. The magic cannot be borrowed or counterfeited. The magic is in the golden thread, which lives only in you.

You gave us Morrissey, and Oscar Wilde.

You gave us; “A scratch”, and Mercutio’s death, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s; “I was adored once, too”, and a thousand other lines, and people to break our hearts, and heal them again.

You show us that the pen is mightier than the sword, always.

Whenever I draft a Contract Clause, or Client Disclaimer, or particularly assertive response to an argumentative opposing Solicitor (I am in the legal profession); that flourish in my turn of phrase, which I enjoy with so much relish, is there because of you. You are there in the excited hammering of my keys, and in that moment, I am Shylock, and the satisfied smile as I press the send button is for you.

Every text message I send in full sentences, with correct grammar instead of abbreviations, is because of you. Because when I was fifteen, in a comprehensive school, in a grey northern town in the nineties; you taught me how beautiful, and important language is, and how much it says about the speaker.

When I passed my GCSEs, and A-Levels, and Degree; in every exam, and rehearsal, and at the side of every stage; every time I hit the final full-stop to the conclusion of an essay, you were there. Every time a Literary Journal arrived in the post, with one of my poems published, the elation and pride I felt belonged half to you, and half to my English Teacher, Mr Blake.

At University, for a production of As You Like It, whilst memorising speeches that are three pages long, I learned how rich, and complex your language is. I learned how it flows like music, or water.

You handed us words like ‘moonbeam’, and ‘shooting-star’, and ‘arch-villain’, and a hundred others, like precious gifts to be passed through generations like heirlooms, and we do.

Here is a small selection of phrases that we use every day, because you carved them out of dirt and darkness, and left them as a glittering legacy, to articulate our thoughts, all these years on;

A fool’s paradise
A foregone conclusion
A plague on both your houses
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
A sorry sight
All corners of the world
All of a sudden
All that glitters is not gold
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players
All’s well that ends well
As cold as any stone
As dead as a doornail
As good luck would have it
As pure as the driven snow
At one fell swoop
Bated breath
Be all and end all
Beast with two backs
Beware the ides of March
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks
Brevity is the soul of wit
But screw your courage to the sticking-place
Come what come may
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war
Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble
Eaten out of house and home
Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog
Fair play
Fancy free
Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man
Fight fire with fire
For ever and a day
Frailty, thy name is woman
Foul play
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears
Good riddance
Green eyed monster
He will give the Devil his due
Heart’s content
High time
His beard was as white as snow
Household words
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child
I bear a charmed life
I have not slept one wink
I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
If music be the food of love, play on
In a pickle
In my mind’s eye, Horatio
In stitches
In the twinkling of an eye
Is this a dagger which I see before me?
It is meat and drink to me
Lay it on with a trowel
Lie low
Love is blind
Make your hair stand on end
Milk of human kindness
More fool you
Much Ado about Nothing
My salad days
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Night owl
Now is the winter of our discontent
Off with his head
Oh, that way madness lies
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more
Out of the jaws of death
Pomp and circumstance
Pound of flesh
Primrose path
Rhyme nor reason
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything
Send him packing
Set your teeth on edge
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Short shrift
Shuffle off this mortal coil
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em
Star crossed lovers
Stiffen the sinews
Stony hearted
Such stuff as dreams are made on
The be all and end all
The course of true love never did run smooth
The Devil incarnate
The game is up
The Queen’s English
The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on
There’s method in my madness
This is the short and the long of it
This is very midsummer madness
To be or not to be, that is the question
To sleep: perchance to dream
Too much of a good thing
Truth will out
Up in arms
Vanish into thin air
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
We have seen better days
Wear your heart on your sleeve
What a piece of work is man
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions
Wild goose chase
Woe is me

Your language is everywhere in the modern world. Adaptations, like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which is one of my favourite films, demonstrate how vivid and current your language can sound, and how freely it flows, as easily as if it were today’s grimiest street slang. This is the talent of the actors, and director, of-course, but mainly your shining words. In the right hands, your words flow so easily in modern culture, like rap lyrics, or spray-painted graffiti on a wall.

You are the beating hearts of Wuthering Heights, and the entwined plot turns, and many intricate misunderstandings of The Importance of Being Earnest. You are with Samuel L Jackson and Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction; every speech is yours. You are in Alan Bennett’s monologues; you invented the rise and fall of their form.

You are in every sentimental greeting card verse. You are in every one of Alex Turner’s lyrics; every couplet is yours. You are the reason tourists come to England every year for rainy holidays.

You are the reason the English go to parks on hot Summer nights, and eat strawberries, watching your plays on cushions. We sit utterly spellbound, noticing the dew-drops on the evening grass, because you make them into characters before us, and give them life, and names. You make us notice the grass as vividly as the velvet of the costumes on stage.

You are with us all. All the time. Every word.

I’m ending with a poem by Kate Tempest called My Shakespeare, which was the inspiration for my writing this letter. It was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and perfectly articulates what I would like to say, better than I can say it.

I’ve also included a link to the project website, and a video of the poem being performed live, which is the best way to see it.

My Shakespeare

by Kate Tempest

He’s in every lover who ever stood alone beneath a window,
In every jealous whispered word,
in every ghost that will not rest.
He’s in every father with a favourite,
Every eye that stops to linger
On what someone else has got,
and feels the tightening in their chest.
He’s in every young man growing boastful,
Every worn out elder, drunk all day;
muttering false prophecies and squandering their lot.

He’s there – in every mix-up that spirals far out of control – and never seems to end, even when its beginnings are forgot.
He’s in every girl who ever used her wits. Who ever did her best.
In every vain admirer,
Every passionate, ambitious social climber,
And in every misheard word that ever led to tempers fraying,
Every pawn that moves exactly as the player wants it to,
And still remains convinced that it’s not playing.

He’s in every star crossed lover, in every thought that ever set your teeth on edge, in every breathless hero, stepping closer to the ledge, his is the method in our madness, as pure as the driven snow – his is the hair standing on end, he saw that all that glittered was not gold. He knew we hadn’t slept a wink, and that our hearts were upon our sleeves, and that the beast with two backs had us all upon our knees as we fought fire with fire, he knew that too much of a good thing, can leave you up in arms, the pen is mightier than the sword, still his words seem to sing our names as they strike, and his is the milk of human kindness, warm enough to break the ice – his, the green eyed monster, in a pickle, still, discretion is the better part of valour, his letters with their arms around each others shoulders, swagger towards the ends of their sentences, pleased with what they’ve done, his words are the setting for our stories – he has become a poet who poetics have embedded themselves deep within the fabric of our language, he’s in our mouths, his words have tangled round our own and given rise to expressions so effective in expressing how we feel, we cant imagine how we’d feel without them.

See – he’s less the tights and garters – more the sons demanding answers from the absence of their fathers.
The hot darkness of your last embrace.
He’s in the laughter of the night before, the tightened jaw of the morning after,
He’s in us. Part and parcel of our Royals and our rascals.
He’s more than something taught in classrooms, in language that’s hard to understand,
he’s more than a feeling of inadequacy when we sit for our exams,
He’s in every wise woman, every pitiful villain,
Every great king, every sore loser, every fake tear,
His legacy exists in the life that lives in everything he’s written,
And me, I see him everywhere, he’s my Shakespeare.

Love always,


Books Worth Staying Up and Being Poor For


Lots of books are good, but there are those few books that keep us awake at night because they’re too good to put down, or compel us to spend that last £5.00, perhaps even forsake lunch in favour of buying that special find.

There are some books that have had me reading through the night, when I can see sunlight slowly brightening through the curtains, and hear birds getting louder, and I know that my alarm will be going off in two hours to get up for work, but I just can’t stop reading.  The tiredness becomes something at the back of mind, something irrelevant, and I’m spurred on by some magic literary adrenaline.  Equally, I have given up lunch hours in search of a particular book, and ended up starving hungry for the whole afternoon, or left myself without money because I couldn’t not buy that book I’ve searched for.  Nowadays we can order books online and have them through the letterbox the following morning, any book ever written, but I still go in search of that old-fashioned thrill of searching the spines of Waterstones, or better yet, a small, independent bookshop.  This thrill is even greater.

These particular books aren’t just good, well-written and interesting.  They have to have something exciting and enthralling about them.

We read books for different reasons.  We might read a crime novel for the rush of working out whodunit, and the intrigue and mysterious plot, or we may read a romance to swoon at Darcy or Heathcliff.  Sometimes we read books because the characters wrap us up in their life, or because the twists of the story keep our breath short and avid.  I usually read books for the language.  I’m attracted to novels written by poets, because one often comes across a sentence that you have to stop and re-read, and let yourself be filled with a glow because the sentence is so beautiful.  I think the corny expression is; ‘takes your breath away’.  I love books that make me laugh, and have exciting twists, but I love books that make me smile just by how beautiful the sentences are.

And so, for any one of these reasons, sometimes a book goes beyond being just good.  A good book can keep me glued to a chair all Sunday afternoon, totally wrapped up, or make me oblivious to the people getting on and off the bus, but sometimes a very special book will make it impossible to sleep.

These are the few that have kept me awake most recently.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett.


This book combins all of the reasons I’ve already talked about.  The characters, the plot, the language, the whole novel just made me happy to be reading it, and I didn’t want to put it down.  I looked forward all day to getting home and picking it up.  It’s a novel with so much warmth, and vibrancy, and jumps between every emotion possible.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte.


What can I say?  I’ve read this book so many times, but I never tire of being swept up in the wildness and romance of it, being totally enraptured by the desperation and bleakness, and the LOVE! ( I felt I should type that in capitals).  Oh, the love.

Comfort and Joy, India Knight.


This book, although categorised at chick-lit, is so much more.  I don’t usually read chick-lit, apart from Bridget Jones, but I was immediately wrapped up in this novel.  It takes you away from your ordinary life and suspends you somewhere warm, and enveloping, and comforting (hence the title).  The characters, the exciting plot, the humour, it’s just so endearing and welcoming.  I forgot what was going on in my own life and stayed in a safe, colourful pocket somewhere.  It has a good story, makes you laugh, and is full of colour.  This book made me very content, and kept me up until it was light out.

Death Comes to Pemberley, PD James.


As an ardent Darcyist, I was totally carried away with this book, which is essentially very well-written fan-fic.  It’s a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and if you didn’t know better, you would think Jane Austen had written it.  PD James is remarkable, especially when one reads her long list of accolades and awards, and has been able to write a true sequel, as though it were actually created by the author herself.  It quenches that thirst for all readers of Darcy and Elizabeth who wanted more than just the one novel, a century after the original, and wanted the story to carry on after the author had died.  How often does that happen?  And aside from all of that, it’s an exciting murder mystery, with a great whodunit plot.

It started when I stayed up through the night to read the Harry Potter books when I was a teenager (and twenty-something), and I will always love that feeling of being part of something communal and important.

Review: As You Like It, Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

Copyright Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

Last night I spent a Summer’s evening amongst striped deckchairs and strawberries, at Grosvenor Park in Chester.  I’d gone to see As You Like It.  My expectations were somewhat mixed, because from outside the secluded, fort-like open air theatre, standing with the peasants in the park, the impression is of something quite unsavoury, almost like being at the back of a circus tent, or fairground.  When I walked in, however, I was immediately transported.  I was in a world of people sitting in deckchairs, or around the seating terraces, eating food and drinking glasses of wine that sparkled.  I was in a world of soft blankets around people’s shoulders, hampers from Carluccio’s (included with the VIP ticket), strawberries and clinking plates.  I was suddenly at ease, found a spot on the front row of the tiers, and settled into my meagre feast of strawberries, watermelon, and Pringles.  As the pleasant hum of conversation, and picnic-clinking babbled merrily along in the soft evening sun, no-one noticed a man enter the stage, until he spoke.  The audience was taken by surprise, mouths still full of pasta or, in one case, a carefully assembled Eton Mess, constructed from Tupperware with strawberries, ice-cream, and meringue in them.  Suddenly the performance had started, whether we were ready or not.

The Guardian described this production as; ‘Idylic’, and The Stage; ‘nigh on faultless’.  I can only reiterate those words.  It was a blissful experience.

After the initial abruptness of the opening, when the audience were caught on the back foot, following the initial exchange between Orlando and Oliver, which felt  absolutely fraternal, and something much more than just stage fighting, there was an intensity to the physical contact between the two actors that really felt like they were two brothers, the audience (I felt) was suddenly woken from the unsettled beginning by the startling entrance of Charles, the wrestler, played by Rob Compton.  Like a bright light, this Sid Vicious character with punk hair and black leather came in with such energy (and David Beckham looks), it was a shot in the arm.  He had wildness, a cockney accent, with a genuine blood-lust for his opponent, straight out of the Sex Pistols.  As Rob Compton displays a much softer side in later scenes, as other characters, his ferocity in this scene is really impressive .

Only two things, for me, stopped the production being perfect.  I wasn’t that keen on the stainless steel trees which are part of the set, and I think they would have worked much better in another material, perhaps more natural and realistic, even real trees.  The metallic effect is contemporary and modern, but in the middle of such beauty and the greenery of the park on a summer night, with the real trees hanging over the walls, the unnatural hardness of the stainless steel felt, to me, ugly.

The other thing, the only other thing, is the use of jeans as trousers for the men, an unnecessary incongruity, which (for me) spoiled the otherwise perfect costumes, which were elaborate, luxurious, and looked absolutely lived-in, and well-worn, and looked like real clothes, rather than costumes.

During the first few scenes I was actually preparing for disappointment from some of the performances.  In honesty, I was worried that some of the actors were going to be too weak to fill the shoes of previous productions that I’d seen.  Rosalind didn’t immediately appear to have the adequate substance and inner-metal that the character requires, and felt a bit too much of a girl and almost insubstantial.  Likewise, I didn’t feel Touchstone was ultra-quick-witted enough, compared with previous performances I’d seen, and he didn’t immediately seem to have the fast intelligence of the character, and instead felt a little bit petulant.  However, I’ve only expressed these feelings because after the first couple of scenes the actors seemed to have overcome whatever unease they felt at the start, and had really sunk into the roles, completely allaying my fears.  In the later scenes, they felt perfect.

One last niggle- I was disheartened that Le Beau, played by David Hartley, wasn’t French.  A lot of the jokes and other characters’ lines depend on Le Beau being outrageously and humorously French, and the lack of a French accent meant that those jokes didn’t work, and were lost, which is a shame.

Orlando, played adorably by David Ricardo-Pearce, was a really refreshing revelation.  He was quietly heroic, with a gentleness and softness, not aggressively masculine, which made for a really endearing portrayal of the character.

As Rosalind, played fantastically by Natalie Grady, transformed into Ganymede, she took on all of the gumption and substance that makes this female character an equal for the men.  She had joyfully adolescent lasciviousness and lusty growls when away from the men, which ascended to a beautiful dexterity when manipulating Orlando, so that you felt she was a real match for him.

There were moments of pure, stomach-tickling comedy, of the kind that Shakespeare would have created in his day, and which are often lost nowadays on an audience that doesn’t really speak the language they’re listening to.  One of these moments was created by Silvius, played by David Hartley.  His anguished screams of; ‘Phoebe’ from outside the theatre, perfectly timed, and hilarious, made sense of the references to him by Corin and Rosalind, which have been lost in other performances I’ve seen.

The next remarkable entrance was by Jaques, played by Nicholas Asbury as a kind of drunken Rik Mayall figure with a Young Ones voice, who made his first appearance taking gulps of the drinks of the front row of the audience.  His scene with the musicians, Rob Compton playing guitar, was absolutely uplifting, and their interaction was funny and heart-warming with pure joy.

Asbury’s interpretation of the famous ‘All the World’s a stage’ speech, perhaps one of Shakespeare’s best known, was delivered in a drunken and irreverent way, which made it lighter to experience, and refreshing, and not what one expects.  However, he never lacked the weight and poignant intensity that that speech requires, but managed to be  funny with it, although it could have had a little more depth of volume (perhaps ‘Boom’ is the right term).  Nicholas Asbury is cockle-warming and effervesces with comedy, to the point where it becomes exciting to watch.

In these later scenes Touchstone, played by Paul-Ryan Carberry, really revels in the role, and comes into his own.  If he started out a little weakly, in his later scenes, especially the verbal dual with Corin, he gave the character all the flourish and intelligence, and deep intensity of wit, that he so needs.  Touchstone has a particular kind of personality, and Carberry captures it perfectly.

The other entrance that produced, actually, one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre, was by Phebe.  I’ve played this character, and anticipated the portrayal in this production with baited breath, anxious that it should be done right.  Phebe, played magnificently by Rosie Jones, entered the space running flat-out, with utter determination and a blazing conviction in her eyes which was so beautifully hilarious.  If the expression ‘eyes ablaze’ should ever be used, it’s now.  Rosie Jones, with that spunky northern fire perfected by Maxine Peake in her formidable female roles, played Phebe like one of the Furies.  The speech where she’s describing Ganymede to Silvius, juxtaposing positives with negatives, grew and grew into a schizophrenic dichotomy, and she went from being torn between like and dislike, to a real mental tearing-apart, a meltdown.  The performance was given so much energy, aggression, and passion, that the audience applauded, though with reluctant uncertainty because of overlapping the next character’s entrance, and the actors had to take a pause because the audience felt so compelled to give Rosie Jones commendation in applause.

The whole experience was just beautiful, from the perfectly English complexions of the women on stage, to the perfect pitching of the humour and music.  It was enthralling, uplifting, dazzling to the eye, and absolutely warming to the heart.  I can’t recommend it enough, as a complete experience.

Does posting make me undignified? The Poetry Dilemma!

I didn’t grow up in a household where poetry was ever read, discussed, or even acknowledged.  When I eventually, at the age of twenty-three, told my mother that I wanted to be a writer, and do it seriously, her first words were; ‘Get your head out of the clouds.’  Although I might appear unduly self-confident, even self-important sometimes, I’m actually not.  I do have confidence in myself, and I’m sure of who I am, but when it comes to facing the world I’m all too aware of my shortcomings and awkward little flaws, which make me a bit of a twat.  I realised, a couple of years ago, that if you  pretend to be more confident than you are, and just assert yourself into life’s little situations and conversations, people will accept you for your flaws, rather than thinking you’re weird for them.  Therefore, when it comes to writing, I am absolutely torn.  One half of me wants to hold my words to my chest and protect them like a child, but what would be the point in that?  You see, the other half of me wants to share them.  I don’t want to send them into the void for people to read them so they can be impressed by them and think how wonderfully talented I am, or to receive comments telling me how brilliant my piece of work is.  What I want is feedback.  A person’s honest opinion means more to me than all the patronising, sycophantic cooing under the sun (not that I ever get any).  This week I posted an old poem on my blog.  Because my blog is linked to Twitter and Facebook, a friend from my creative writing class read the poem.  This lad is an exceptional writer.  He’s intelligent, hilarious, sharp-witted,  and brilliant.  When he’d read this poem, which I feel is juvenile and unsophisticated, as it was written two years ago when I’d only just stopped writing poems called things like;  ‘In Lord Harry’s Lair’, he told me it was ‘great’.  I made some modest, demure comment in reply, about it being an old poem and not very good, and his reply was ‘Your honesty makes me smile. I enjoyed it, laziness not being a factor.’  These few words meant so much to me, and lit me up for the whole day.  To know that somebody, a person I respect, and who knows what they’re talking about, has taken the time to read something I’ve written, and actually enjoyed it, makes me incredibly happy.

My dilemma is; does posting poetry online make me a knob?

As a writer, should I humbly squirrel my words away, and hide them from the world?  Do I devalue myself and my work by whoring it over the internet?  I want to retain integrity and modesty, and to deserve respect, but I want people to read what I’ve written, so that I can know whether it’s any good.  Because, when it boils down to it, I don’t actually know whether it’s good.  I have a fear that I’m sending these things into the world, these little pieces of myself, which is what they are, and people are reading them and grimacing with embarrassment for me, at how awful they are.  (Please note, if I ever write anything that makes a reader cringe, please tell me, I really would rather know).  Of-course, I don’t share everything I write, a lot of it is private or ‘work in progress’, but of the few things I do share, I would like to know how people feel about them, be it good or bad.  As I’m not likely to be paid a nice sum of money to print my poems in the Times Literary Supplement any time soon (yes, this is one of my dreams), the best and only way I have of getting feedback on my work from people who love and care about poetry, is to share it on the internet.  When my Mother or Grandmother read my work, they’ll tell me it’s very good, and smile at how nice it is (with the exception of one poem (which was actually published in a very well respected literary journal), which my Nan felt was derogatory to the working class), but I want the opinion of other writers, people like the friend from my writing class (who may not be a friend any more if he reads this blog).

What’s your answer, dear Void?  Does it make me look desperate and deluded to scrawl my work online?  Should I continue sharing it, hoping for honest opinions, or hide it away to maintain integrity?  In truth, if work stays bound in a notebook, and I know no-one has ever, or will ever read it, I feel a burning frustration.  Anything I write is an expression, and a release of how I feel, and if I shut it away, and bottle it up, I feel as though I’m caging an animal.  It’s somehow soothing to know that someone, somewhere, might read a poem and smile.  Likewise, if something is terrible, I want to know.  I find it impossible to judge my own work.  I can read something I’ve written and think it’s the work of a genius, then five minutes later hate myself because it’s actually appalling. It’s helpful for people to make suggestions, and give an opinion that I can trust.

I suppose my fear is that I will devalue what I’m writing.  I don’t want to appear like a teenager writing poems about a crush, and posting them for the world to see.  Some of the poems I’ve written have been in journals, which means they’re already publicly accessible, but I’m worried that putting them on a blog will cheapen them.

Also, I don’t want to appear as though I think each poem is the best thing ever written, and they’re small gems of ingenious that you should all behold and marvel at, admiring my prowess, then tell me how brilliant I am.  The main reason for posting a piece of work, for me, is that I’m unsure.  I have a feeling that by making something public, it will appear to the outside world as though I’m saying ‘here it is’ and showing it off proudly.  This isn’t the case.  Yes, I feel an attachment to my writing, because it’s so personal, and I suppose that in a way I’m proud of it because I know how hard I’ve worked on it, but I’m certainly not posting it because I want to show off, and I think it’s a perfect piece of art to be beheld.  In truth, what I’m hoping for is for someone to say ‘Actually, I think it would be better without that line’, or a suggestion to swap two words around, or change the title, or cut a stanza.  Because it’s impossible to judge whether one’s own work is good or not, I’m hoping for someone to give me advice.

I’ll stop now, because there is no answer.  I just hope no-one thinks I’m a pompous prick.

Oscar Wilde, Fading Memory

auctionOne of the saddest things I have ever seen occurred in a recent presentation on Oscar Wilde by a fellow student. One of the visual aids was a copy of the auction sheet following Oscar´s trial. Amongst the list of various goods and chattels; ´Valuable Books´ etc, with no prominent position or status were the words; ´Old Blue and White China´.

They sent a ghostly shiver down my spine. The collection so adored and treasured was reduced to five words with no trace of the love, pride and adulation felt by its owner, who famously said ´I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china´. Those cruel five words erase years of affection and emotional attachment. I think that what makes me feel so much tragedy about it is that it is merely one item on a long list, no importance or value, just a small part of a miscellany. One just happens across it as they meander down the list of unimportant and various objects, and this was his most prized and beloved possession, something which symbolized and reflected him, who he was. This entry on a commonplace list of household items represents one of the greatest literary and human influences in history. Like or loathe him, he made a difference, he was important. To many he created things of beauty, works of art. He was a man. A man who in the best days of his life was tried and convicted and thus ruined. A valuable and artistic life was cut short because he could not conform to the restrictions society imposed. He was tried for gross indecency. His life was curtailed because he was homosexual. All of this is reduced to five words; ´Old Blue and White China´.

Saying that his life was curtailed is not unjust. He was tried and imprisoned because he was homosexual. The strain both emotional and physical left him broken and the auction left him bankrupt. His manuscripts and everything he owned and loved were gone. When he was released he lived only three years. He was forty-six.

Any life is beautiful and the loss of a short-lived and valuable life is tragic. Wilde created beauty and truth, he changed how we think, what we think and what we are allowed to think. He was born too early, in a time that could not and did not want to understand him. He was not allowed to be the person he was and was ultimately condemned for it. Those five words appear so unremarkable and insignificant but they represent the man and everything that happened to him, everything he created.

A life and a life´s work is boiled down to so little, remembered as such triviality. In his lifetime that collection of china, and indeed all the objects on the list, were part of his home and his everyday life, they were part of him. He cherished and cared for them. He identified himself with them and signified that he and they were part of the same entity. They sat on his shelf or perhaps in a cabinet, in his living room or maybe his study. They were dusted, protected and admired. They were home.

Those five pathetic words have spoken more to me, moved me more and represented more to me than anything I´ve ever read about Wilde. Though they seem trivial they are in fact a symbol of Oscar himself; lost in the midst of a miscellaneous list, unnoticed. Shining like a beacon out of the murky list, they represent a remarkable and beautiful human being whose memory is tainted by and obscured by the searing brand left on his name when he was convicted. His work is overshadowed by the criminality and purported depravity. Words and metaphors and beautiful sentences, ingenious characters and hilarious lines are all faded beneath the imprint of his homosexuality and imprisonment. Poetry and humour are lost. We do not remember the writer, the man, we remember Oscar Wilde the incarcerated poof and pervert. All that is left of the real man is ´Old Blue and White China´ and a few scattered words.

‘And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.’

From ´The Ballad of Reading Gaol´.

Oscar Wilde: Farce as Facade

‘The only real people are the people who never existed, and if a novelist is base enough to go to life for his personages he should at least pretend that they are creations, and not boast of them as copies. The justification of a character in a novel is not that other persons are what they are, but that the author is what he is. Otherwise the novel is not a work of art.’ (Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying).
There is a portion of Wilde’s work which is considered what we would term ‘farce’. Work such as The Importance of Being Ernest is almost invariably referred to in such terms and is considered to be superficial, fairly shallow frivolity. However, if one scratches just a little beneath the surface then it is clear to see that the farce is merely a disguise, a mask. Farce as façade.
Wilde used a shallow and one-dimensional exterior to create a Trojan Horse for the real message of his work. He disguised his true meaning and intention in a more easily palatable, innocuous form. In the same way that Wilde used his characters in The Importance of Being Ernest to satirically mock and criticise the very upper-classes who made up his audience, meaning that without realising they were actually laughing at themselves, so too did he feed his message to his audience subconsciously, without them registering the true meaning behind his fluffy masquerade.
In The Importance of Being Ernest two characters both live double lives, attempting to balance two very differing personalities. Both characters present a different person in their home life to the person they present to society. In the case of Jack Worthing, he immerses himself in the glamour and excitement of high-society and fashionable life in London in order to escape the responsibilities and burdens of domesticity and his ward Cecily Cardew, a life which he finds banal and claustrophobic. He explains to Algernon, in elucidation of his double life, that ‘when one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring’ (The Importance of Being Ernest). Jack has become prematurely responsible for another person’s wellbeing, left in charge of his ward before he had experienced the joy of bachelor life. He feels a loyalty to his ward and is faithful to the responsibility bestowed upon him. By creating two personalities, he is able to fulfil his obligations at home while also living the life of an unburdened bachelor whilst in London.
Wilde creates characters who each have two separate relationships with society. Both characters manipulate those around them by escaping the life they are chained to. Similar to Jack, Algernon creates not an alter-ego but an excuse. He uses a fictional friend; Bunbury, in order to give himself a legitimate and excusable reason to escape the unbearable company of his relatives. When he wishes to avoid a social occasion or family obligation he invents the excuse that he must visit Bunbury, his ailing and frequently ill friend. Algernon explains to Jack; ‘You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose’. Both Algernon and Jack escape their mundane, everyday lives to experience a small taste of the life they wish they could lead. Jack is able to live as a bachelor and Algernon is able to escape the relatives who overshadow his life.
Wilde is exploring a basic human quality, the desire for space and to live your own life, which conflicts with the need to fulfil domestic obligations. This is also a prominent factor in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The novel’s protagonist and title character finds that he is able to live a decadent and often immoral life but retain his youth and beauty, while his portrait grows old and haggard, his sins and immoralities being reflected in the portrait’s disfigurement.
In both texts it could be suggested that Wilde is using the idea of his characters’ concealing their true identities and escaping their obligations as a manifestation of the double life and deceit that he was forced to live himself as a homosexual man in a time when homosexuality was illegal. The theme of concealment and false personalities would surely have been extremely important to Wilde, as his true life and true self were lived in secret and illicitness. While not explicitly embellishing his characters with the specific agonies and personal dichotomies which he himself would have struggled with, he does evoke a sense of the same internal conflict and split life which he would have lived.
Wilde’s states in The Decay of Lying; ‘Art finds her own perfection within, and not outside of, herself. She is not to be judged by any external standard of resemblance. She is a veil, rather than a mirror.’
Wilde’s veil is an ingenious manipulation of his audience. What appears to be superficial and harmless fun is actually an extremely potent message about not only his own life but the suffering shared by those with the same experience.
Algernon’s comment to Jack; ‘nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it’ (p14), could quite plausibly be a particularly poignant reference to his own life, in which he lived as a devoted and loyal husband and father while still being true to his own homosexual self in his personal relationships. In this comment Wilde could be echoing the fact that without being able to indulge his true feelings within his private homosexual relationships; his secret identity, he would have been unable to successfully maintain his public identity as the heterosexual husband and father.
Dorian Gray’s ability to live his immoral life while appearing aesthetically to be virtuous and beautiful, thus concealing his true self to the world, could also be reference to the hidden and surreptitious nature of Wilde’s true self. The true life that Wilde wanted to live had to be suppressed and lived in clandestine secret. This recurrent theme was integral to his eventual trial and conviction.
Wilde repeatedly presents the individual’s relationship with society as a burden, something which must be lived with and around, even escaped. Wilde’s characters frequently have conflicting sides of a split personality and must carefully manipulate what they present to society in order to mould their surface image into something acceptable and conforming.
In The Importance of Being Ernest Gwendolen tells Cecily; ‘The home seems to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not?’ (p44). It is a prominent factor in Wilde’s work that men and women must conform to what society expects. This is one of the primary reasons for his characters finding a way to escape the responsibilities forced upon them. This particular comment, made by a strong female character who would in modern terms be considered feminist, is another sub-surface and indirect reference to Wilde’s own life.
Like his characters, Wilde had two very differing personalities. Wilde endeavoured to fulfil his domestic obligations and is reported to have been an extremely devoted father. Gwendolen’s comment could very easily be a reference to the fact that Wilde felt defensive about his success and ability as a father, while still being faithful to his homosexual self. The conflict experienced by Wilde is arguably the influence on the conflicts he gives his characters, manifested in their need for escape and sanctuary.
It could therefore be suggested that Wilde’s view of the individual’s relationship with society is one of deceit and Machiavellian duplicity. In another comment made by Algernon to Jack, Wilde could again be alluding to his own life:

Jack: If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry, I certainly won’t want to know Bunbury.
Algernon: Then your wife will. You don’t seem to realize, that in married life three is company and two is none.

Wilde could once again be making direct reference, though indirectly made, to the fraudulent and carefully constructed persona he used himself to disguise the truth of his identity. It could be argued that Algernon is the manifestation of Wilde’s more deceitful side, the truly Machiavellian and intentionally deceptive aspect of his personality, while Jack is the more virtuous half of the pair, the loyal desire to be faithful to one’s obligations, although Jack too cannot escape the overwhelming need to be faithful also to the true self. He does however manage to balance simultaneously, though only for a short time, domestic and personal loyalty.
In both The Importance of Being Ernest and The Picture of Dorian Gray Wilde illustrates the inherent human conflicts which exist within us all. In both texts Wilde’s characters fight against the inescapable dichotomy of social life and home life, finding a way to display the appropriate aspects of their personality at the relevant moment. Dorian Gray, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrief all behave very differently in varying situations and they display carefully selected and apposite aspects of their personality according to company and situation. Wilde’s character Cecily Cardew for example, remains studious and dutiful to her academia under the scrutiny of her governess Miss Prism, while daydreaming of romance and escape in the freedom and secrecy of her imagination. She conceals her dreams from her governess and appears conscientious and attentive to her studies, while dreaming secretly of being rescued and taken away. The appearance and superficial exterior which is presented to the outside world differs greatly from the internal self, the true thoughts which are allowed freedom within the security of her mind.
Algernon: My letters! But, my own sweet Cecily, I have never written you any letters.
Cecily: You need hardly remind me of that, Ernest. I remember only too well that I was forced to write your letters for you.

Algernon’s second deception and his disguise, presenting himself as Ernest, enables him to appear as Jack’s brother in order to win the affections of the already infatuated Cecily. After deceiving his relatives with the false alibi of Bunbury, Algernon then poses as the fictional brother Ernest who Jack has used as his own excuse to escape.
Wilde’s interwoven plots and various pretexts, lies and disguises are all representations of human behaviour. On the surface a light-hearted and superficial farce, The Importance of Being Ernest actually makes an extremely profound comment on human nature and inherent human dichotomies. Shrouded in apparent triviality and shallow humour, Wilde does in fact send a powerful message to his audience about the problems caused by society for people who struggle to comply with the rigorous and restrictive demands placed upon them.
As he himself no doubt did, Wilde shows that his characters are unable to live as their true selves and must instead conceal themselves beneath a façade. Wilde is ingeniously and covertly attacking the same society which prohibited him from being who he truly was.
The comparatively minor problems faced by his characters are undoubtedly a symbol of the unbearable burden Wilde experienced and the exhausting challenge of hiding everything about himself he wanted to show proudly to the world. While Wilde concealed his sexuality and his true romantic life behind his marriage, his characters merely wish to escape temporarily from the minor annoyance of relatives and domesticity. The Importance of Being Ernest is actually a testimony to the injustice experienced by those living in society but unable to truly live unrestricted and truthfully.

‘In point of fact what is interesting about people in good society—and M. Bourget rarely moves out of the Faubourg St. Germain, except to come to London,—is the mask that each one of them wears, not the reality that lies behind the mask’.

Wilde’s core message, beneath both his trivial façade and true meaning is the old chestnut that we are all of us the same. Shakespeare said:
‘What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d’.
Wilde’s own expression of this message is extremely similar, that beneath the skin we are all identical; ‘It is a humiliating confession, but we are all of us made out of the same stuff. In Falstaff there is something of Hamlet, in Hamlet there is not a little of Falstaff. The fat knight has his moods of melancholy, and the young prince his moments of coarse humour’ (The Decay of Lying). Wilde’s innermost message, the most greatly disguised meaning is that although his true self is something which is illegal, illicit and considered depraved, he is still just a man. Though truly homosexual, still a capable and loving husband and father.
‘Where we differ from each other is purely in accidentals: in dress, manner, tone of voice, religious opinions, personal appearance, tricks of habit and the like. The more one analyses people, the more all reasons for analysis disappear. Sooner or later one comes to that dreadful universal thing called human nature. Indeed, as any one who has ever worked among the poor knows only too well, the brotherhood of man is no mere poet’s dream, it is a most depressing and humiliating reality; and if a writer insists upon analysing the upper classes, he might just as well write of match-girls and costermongers at once’ (The Decay of Lying).
Wilde is silently asking his audience to be accepting of those who are rebuked and punished by society for that which is inescapable, inherent and uncontrolled. Something which is not a decision or choice but which is illegal is condemnation and damnation for any man. Beneath his humour and light entertainment is a man in pain, asking for understanding and acceptance for every man or woman in society who is concealing their true self.

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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up ( with your thoughts.

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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Pete Doherty,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day

Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road

Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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