Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The stuff of parents' nightmares

So it was party weekend, this weekend.  We duly trotted off to the party, which was a 4th birthday party for one of E's classmates so the average age of attendee was 3/4.

The party begins with lovely songs and dancing, all the children playing together.  Then it's time for the "Entertainer" (and I must stress here how I am using that one in its loosest possible form).  He asked all the children to sit down, then started doing his thang. 

Problem number one: entertainer smacks himself in the face with a diablo, busting his lip.  Well you would have thought he'd ruptured his spleen the way he was carrying on.  He kept wiping it on his hands and showing the children, swilling his mouth out and spitting it out and then insisted on an ice pack for his face

Problem number two: he brought out a fake pair of giant scissors and was putting them around his neck, around his wrists and pretending to cut.  Now that may be funny to an older audience but to a group of impressionable pre-schoolers? Not so much.

Problem number three: The music.  Oh god my ears.  He started a dancing competition with the instruction "listen to the words of the song and see if you can dance to it". He then played My Humps by the Black Eyed Peas.  Now as a parent I'm pretty darn laid back but I do not want my four year old gyrating to the immortal lyrics "What you gon' do with all that ass/All that ass inside them jeans?/I'm a make, make, make, make you scream/Make you scream, make you scream." and "The boys they wanna sex me./They always standing next to me,/Always dancing next to me,/Tryin' a feel my hump, hump/Lookin' at my lump, lump"

Added to the above a general inability to deal with small children, screaming at them, manhandling them.  Just awful, I felt so sorry for the lovely mother of the birthday girl.

Needless to say when he said "If anyone needs an entertainer for their party please come and take a leaflet" we ran, ran like the wind away from the horror.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Writing..writing and writing again

So fan-fiction.  For those that haven't heard of fan-fiction, it is broadly a piece of writing involving characters or settings written by fans of the original work rather than the original author.   You name it, if it has been on television, appeared as a movie or as another book there will have been fan-fiction written about it. 

For new writers I think fan-fiction is a brilliant vehicle to get yourself going!  I am a big fan of fan-fiction.  The lure of taking already established characters that you know and, most likely, love is not to be sneezed at.  You can make them do anything and people quite frankly do!

It probably comes as no surprise when I admit I write fan-fiction.  I think fan-fiction has a bad press really, it is assumed that it is geeky or even nerdy.  Well they may be right, I never promised to not be a geek or a nerd!  I actually use fan-fiction as a writing exercise.  I decide on situations e.g. a romance, a death, an illness, an accident and use established characters to write about them.

One of the problems I have encountered as a new writer is developing believable characters.  I have plenty of ideas of situations, of plots, of story lines but sometimes I can't find the character to be involved.  Or I have what I think is going to be the character and he/she doesn't develop as I want or they do something unexpected (and believe me they do, which I think is rather rude of them given I created them!). For me, fan-fiction is a great way to get your ideas down on paper, any idea, with characters you already understand and know.  They can be predictable so the writing can be totally about the plot you want, without input from an errant character that you suddenly realise doesn't feel the right way about the hero, or turns out to be eminently unlikable.

Another great benefit of writing fan-fiction is that for me it really helps ease writer's block.  I am trying to write in amongst the rest of my life - motherhood, being a wife, running a home and working - and sometimes I just cannot find the words to begin writing my stuff.  So if I'm really struggling I write a little fan-fiction.  Not much, just a single incident even but that seems to get my creative juices flowing and means I can then happily crack on with my own original work.

I probably don't write fan-fiction in the same way as the majority of other people.  I certainly don't write it to be read by anyone other than me and would never dream of posting it on the net to be read at random.  More for me it is written then filed away amongst other bits and bats I have written.  Sometimes I re-visit and either think "good lord this is dire" or "I quite like this one, what did I do here that was good" which again is a useful too so see how I'm progressing.

So there we are.  Why not have a go!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

How do I define myself?

There have been many words that could be used to describe me.  Of course I was a daughter first, a school girl, a student, a BA, a Legal Executive, a wife, a mother.

But I think I'm still in the enviable position of thinking of myself as simply "me".  I don't feel defined by being a wife or by motherhood - of course they're such important facets of my character if not THE most important.  But I'm still me, Rachel.  I am quite happy to be called mummy, wife, daughter because to me they're the most apt words to describe who I am, but that doesn't mean I have lost part of my character or identity of self.

Maybe I'm lucky that I haven't needed a career to fuel my self worth - I was quite happy to give up my career to start a family and am still 100% happy with that decision.

As I bark on another chapter (you see what I did there...) of my life which is the writing I hope one day that I am described as a writer but I still don't think that will define me.  I'll still be me, quirky, eccentric me with another string to my bow.

So what is the best way to describe one's self.  Do we need labels?  I know that deep down I have a lot of roles - Rachel the mother, Rachel the wife, Rachel the daughter, Rachel at work, Rachel at home, Rachel at singing society, Rachel with friends but the important word in all those is the first.  Rachel.

That's me.  Rachel.  Warts and all.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Writing in the past

I was ten years old when I first discovered historical fiction. My Grandmother found a book that had belonged to my mother and gave me it to read - it was St Thomas' Eve by Jean Plaidy which is still, incidentally, on my book shelf!  I fell for the author's style immediately! As I got older I collected more and more of her novels - she is probably one of the most prolific authors there is - and made it my goal to have a collection of everything she had written.  This has got somewhat easier through time as her works are re-published.  Most of mine are from charity shops and second hand book stores.

It is no secret I think that I am making forays into the world of writing.  I have a handful of ideas and projects on the go at the moment - a couple of which have a historical slant.  One of them is about a completely fictional set of characters, the other about a real historical figure, probably not the best known but still real!  And I have discovered what a minefield the world of writing historical fiction is.  The level of research needed is astronomical!

I am a conundrum you see.  Whilst I am quite happy to read novels that aren't accurate I really want mine to be as accurate as it can get.  I'm finding it hard to accept that the work could still be enjoyable, if there were errors in the factual side, or if I had to make changes to make the story fit.  I don't read historical novels as a text book, I don't finish them and want to mark them as an exam piece on accuracy and factualness.  But I still cannot assimilate this with my work!  I find myself checking and re-checking facts over and over - I think I'm going to have to convince myself just to write and then double check all the details otherwise I may never finish! 

Dates and places are the easy bit I think when you're using an actual historical figure.  Court records, writings from contemporaries etc all give a pretty accurate and definitive guide to who was where and when!  Of course my other work is much easier in that the family is my own creation completely - so they can be where and when I want them to with no prior constraints such as an actual life!

My other problem is my hero.  I'm almost loathe to call him that but I suppose that's what he is.  And he's going too well! He's too likable.  Documentation and records show he was a bit of a cad - a bounder if you will, but I like him.  Actually I think I'm a little in love with him.  Time will tell whether he continues in his pleasing vein or whether he does in fact go off the rails.  He has to come to a sticky end though - I wonder how traumatic that will be to write!

I read a lot of historical fiction.  If you're interested, here are some authors you should check out: -

  • the aforementioned Jean Plaidy.  Has written from Norman times to Victorian and pretty much everything in between including some European history.  My favourites are the Tudor and Stuart novels, the series about Catherine de Medici and the novels about Lucretia Borgia
  • Cynthia Harrod-Eagles - her Morland dynasty is astonishing.  She tells the story of a family - the Morlands from Yorkshire - right through from the start of the Tudor period to present day - she has currently got to the end of World War One.  The scale of her project is absolutely enormous - and each book links the fictional family in with major events in history.
  • Elizabeth Chadwick who's novels are set in the medieval period and are superb - rich, full of life and she is a spell-binding story teller.  As an aside William Marshal is a wonderful character - I defy anyone not to like him after reading The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion
  • Philippa Gregory - probably the most immediately well know historical author.  Her work The Other Boleyn Girl was made into a Hollywood movie.  I do love her novels mainly because like me she has a mix of novels about fictional characters and novels about actual historical figures.  Again the Tudor works are my favourites - if you haven't read it I would recommend reading The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance.
  • Jeanne Kalogridis - her novels The Borgia Bride and The Devil's Queen are fabulous.  Two fascinating characters brought so fabulously to life.  I have always (possibly bizarrely) felt stirrings of pity for Catherine - whilst she was undoubtedly wicked and in all likelihood unhinged by the end of her life I think she simply didn't stand a chance coming as a 14 year old to the established French court.  Both of these are absolutely MUST reads.
  • Diana Gabaldon - her Outlander series is slightly different in that it involves a modern (well 1940s) day character travelling back in time.  The historical sections of the books are incredible though - you can practically live, breath, smell, taste 18th century Scotland.
So there we are - historical fiction in a nutshell!  Watch this space in a couple of weeks as I'll be adding an excerpt from one of my novels.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

World Book Day!

Every day is World Book Day for us - but what a great cause. If it makes just one person pick up a book and start reading it is a success in my opinion.  So in honour of World Book Day here is our list of mine and my daughter's favourite books to share together: -

1. A Squash and a Squeeze - Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

A hard choice this - not as to whether to include it or not but simply which of Julia and Axel's books to include as they're all just gorgeous and a must for any child's bookshelf!  I thought The Gruffalo was probably too obvious a choice, so we went for this one.  A lovely story about an old woman who thinks her house is too small - and the very wise advice of an old man culminating in her deciding her house isn't too bad after all!

2. Giraffes Can't Dance - Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

I cannot describe how utterly sweet this book is.  The scan, the words, the pictures - just a perfect, perfect read for your child.  And a lovely message as well, confirming that it doesn't matter if you're different - a cause very close to my heart as you can see from this blog post here. 
I defy anyone not to have a huge lump in their throat at the line "sometimes when you're different you just need a different song".

3.  A Lark in the Ark - Peter Bentley and Lynne Chapman

The story of Noah's Ark as you have never heard it before! Lots to do to capture a small child's attention and a hilarious story full of fun!  A great re-telling of a biblical story, great for if like us you're not religious at all!  We re-read and re-read this one over and over again and it never gets old!

4.  The Bad Tempered Ladybird - Eric Carle

Again it was hard deciding which of Eric Carle's fab books to choose. Probably not so obvious a choice as The Very Hungry Caterpillar but we love this story.  The obstreperous ladybird fights his way through the book to prove that he should be the recipient of all the aphids on the leaf.  Of course he more than meets his match and decides to share them after all.  Lovely story.

5.  Each Peach Pear Plum - Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The first of three entries from the Ahlbergs.  This is a story I grew up with - in fact Emily has my copy! It is just an adorable little book.  So much to spot on each page, visitations from favourite children's characters and so much to try and spot on each page.  My daughter knows this by heart and still wants it to be read to her regularly, such is the beguiling nature of the Ahlbergs' works.

6.  Here Come The Aliens! - Colin McNaughton

Superb book - absolutely hilarious.  Particular favourite parts are the description of the different aliens.  Who can fail to be amused by "the first mate looks like wobbly jelly, he's sort of gaseous and smelly, he has an eyeball in his belly, the aliens are coming!"  The book has a lovely repetitive pattern to it, meaning very quickly the child wants to join in with the refrain of "the aliens are coming!"

7.  Funnybones - Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The second we've chosen from the Ahlbergs and probably one of the best known!  I can't imagine there are many people who don't know the beginning of this book "This is how the story begins.  On a dark dark hill there was a dark dark town.  In the dark dark town there was a dark dark street.  In the dark dark street there was a dark dark house.  In the dark dark house there was a dark dark staircase.  Down the dark dark staircase there was a dark dark cellar.  And in the dark dark cellar....." Well if you don't know you'll have to read it and find out.  Lovely book, frightfully funny and perfect for children to read.  There have been a number of subsequent books in the Funnybones series but this remains, in my opinion the original and best!

8.  The Owl Who was Afraid of the Dark - Jill Tomlinson illustrated by Paul Howard

Now this was MY favourite book when I was younger.  I had the audio book on tape (yes I'm that old!) which I listened to until it quite wore out.  Emily now loves the story of little Plop and all the exciting things he finds to do to persuade him that the dark isn't frightening.  On a practical level this is a fabulous book to share if you have, as we do,  a child who is nervous of the dark!

9.  Cops and Robbers - Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The final choice from the Ahlbergs and my favourite of the three.  The characters are hilarious and how I wish that all policeman were as dashing as brave Officer Pugh.  And of course it is still amusing that it is the female baddy that manages to escape, the villainous Grandma Swag!  I'm not sure there is a better refrain to be found in a child's book than "ho ho for the robbers, the cops and the robbers, ho ho!"

10.  The Nursery Alice - Lewis Carrol with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel

This book is simply gorgeous.  A very simple re-telling of the classic tale of Alice in Wonderland just perfect for smaller children to share.  The illustrations are absolutely divine.  Its a slightly longer book - which probably lends itself to reading over a few nights but it captures the imagination so well.  Another book I think every child should have access to.

And two final ones as alternates: -

11.  Monkey Do! - Allan Ahlberg and Andre Amstutz

The perfect rhyming and rhythm of Allan Ahlberg

12.  Dinosaurs Love Underpants - Claire Freedman and Ben Cort

There are three books so far in this series (the others being Aliens Love Underpants and Aliens Love Panta Claus) but this is our favourite.  We love the fact that the extinction of the dinosaurs was brought about by a fight to the death over pants! Plus we can spend many a happy hour choosing our favourite pants from the illustrations.  Desperately funny book which will make any child fall about laughing especially at the start "It all began when cavemen, felt embarrassed in the nude.  So someone dreamt up underpants, to stop them looking rude!"

I hope you liked our choices in honour of World Book Day - do you agree?  What are your must reads for children?

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

In honour of the Oscars...

Here are my favourite films.  I can't pretend they're particularly highbrow, they're probably not the movie with the greatest script or storyline, but those movies that I can watch again and again without getting bored.  I like to watch films to be entertained first and foremost and I think these choices reflect that! I don't think they're too predictable although those of you who know me won't be surprised by some of the choices.

So...in no particular order here we go: -

1.  Gone With The Wind

I can remember quite clearly the first time I saw this film.  I was 11 years old and fell in love with it at first site.  I adore the sheer scale of it, the costume, the superb characters.  I love the storyline, the fact that it is so epic, that it doesn't have a happy ending for...erm...anyone really!  But, despite the fact I know the script forwards, backwards and each of the parts I watch this film pretty regularly.  Usually when my husband is away or out at the football and my daughter is in bed I settle down with a duvet, a box of tissues, a hot chocolate and revel in this film. I think, in conclusion, to say it was released in 1939 it is an incredible spectacle.  I had this film poster on my wall for many years.

2.  Sweeney Todd

What is not to love about this movie? Dark, Gothic, amazing Stephen Sondheim score, the brilliant Johnny Depp, the superb Alan Rickman and of course the wonderful Helena Bonham Carter.  Blood, guts, gore and singing - a truly fabulous mix! The soundtrack is one of my favourites on my iPod - there's nothing I love better than singing along at the top of my voice!

3.  Skeleton Key

This is one of the cheesier choices! I adore this movie. Starring Kate Hudson, set in New Orleans and Terrebonne Parish in America it is a mix of the supernatural and hoodoo.  The ending is a super little twist.  I just find this movie such fun and love watching it!

4.  Quills

This is such a harrowing film but I really enjoy it.  Geoffrey Rush is just absolutely superb as the Marquis de Sade in this story of his incarceration in a mental hospital and the writing of his most famous works.  It is a film I only saw for the first time recently but I have long been a fan of the Marquis' writing - ever since we read Justine at school.  Lovely film, brilliant cast but expect to howl!

5.  Bram Stoker's Dracula

Again probably no surprise if you know me but for me this is the ultimate vampire movie.  Rich, sublime, perfectly acted but again with a touch of sadness that will make you cry if you're feeling delicate! I think Gary Oldman is a superb actor overall but this role for me is utter perfection.  I'm not, if I'm honest a huge Keanu Reeves fan but even he is perfect as Jonathan Harker.  Again a must see film if you haven't and one I revisit regularly!  Even the strap line of the film "Love Never Dies" touches me inexplicably!  I like the fact that Dracula seems such a sad character in this movie, rather than portrayed as a monster.

6.  The Crucible

Another leftover from my school days - we studied the play by Arthur Miller.  My father spotted the film in Woolworths and bought it for me and it has become a staple for my DVD shelf.  Again another tearjerker (seeing a theme here...) but such a powerful story.  I have always been interested in witchcraft and especially Salem.  My husband took me on honeymoon to New England and we visited Salem - truly fabulous but very moving.  I love the chemistry between Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder in the film.  With an utterly tragic end.

7.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy

OK a little bit of a cheat here as I'm classing three films in one but in my opinion they cannot be separated.  I think Peter Jackson's adaptation of the JRR Tolkien novels is just utterly amazing.  Such a huge task to take on but he did it so well.  The sheer scale of the films is overwhelming, the creatures, the scenery, the special effects.  I cannot pick out one actor/actress that is better than the others but together I cannot imagine anyone being more appropriate for each of the roles.

8.  The Slipper and the Rose

Probably not so well known this one - it is a musical version of the Cinderella story from the 1970s.  I adore the costume, the characters and the damn catchy songs (written by the very talented Sherman brothers).  Some of the actors are pretty incongruous in a singing part and I know certain of them were not keen on being reminded of the film later in their careers but I think its absolutely lovely and a real feel good film on a horrid winter day!

9. The Railway Children

See technically I don't know if I can include this.  It IS one of my favourite films but only when I stop it 10 minutes before the end.  I cannot bear to watch the end where Jenny Agutter runs along the platform yelling "Daddy, my daddy!" (I'm actually welling up writing about it) It is the saddest moment I have EVER seen on film.  But the film is lovely and filmed not so far from where we live which I like also.  It really is an absolute classic and EVERYONE should see this film at least once.  But remember to brace yourself for the ending unless you're made of stone!

10.  The Harry Potter films.

Again no real surprise here, and another cheat but my blog my rules!  I prefer the later films....my daughter is only allowed to watch to the fourth film (she's 4 and obsesses with Hermione).  So we compromise by watching the first four when she wants to then I watch the later films whilst she's at school!  It works well!  I have a feeling that the Deathly Hallows will become my absolute favourite - at least the first part.  I love the scale of it, the actors are perfect and they're just fun.

So there we are.  My favourite films - do you agree/disagree?  What would you have chosen?