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January 25: Writing update

I started a story a few weeks ago, responding to a prompt by an artist. I really meant to write that story, but after three chapters, I found it very difficult to incorporate the prompt, and I lost the urge. I might write the story one day, but for now, I have let it go.

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Posted in Theatre

January 25: Edward II

This was only my second Marlowe play, and it was as humourless as the first one I saw. It seems Marlowe doesn’t play to the masses, as his contemporary, Shakespeare, does. There are no comedy gravediggers or rude mechanicals here.

This play should be an epic tragedy, but it doesn’t quite manage it.

Each lord of duke had his own actor (unusual these days in small venues, where multi-tasking seems to be the order of the day), although eight young white men in business attire and bare feet were hard to tell apart, even when they were all onstage together). Alicia Charles (Queen Isabella) got a nice frock, and Timothy Blore, as King Edward, had a nice glittery crown, but failed to be “kingly” in my opinion. His lover, Gaveston (played by Oseloka Obi, the only black actor in the cast, who also, depressingly, played the part of the executioner) was as petulant as the King, and the whole thing felt very shallow.

Lazarus used all their usual tricks; harsh lighting, drums, air horns, etc. There was a pre-show warning for haze, language, nudity, but to be honest, they might as well have not bothered about that, there was very little of anything offensive.

The gay theme was overt, but not really sexual. The violence was stylised. The execution scenes were strange and oddly shallow.

My overall impression was of a company trying to offend but not knowing how to, really. They knew their lines and delivered them competently. They did what the director told them to. The fight scenes were well-choreographed, but the whole thing felt superficial and vaguely unsatisfying.

I have seen Lazarus before, and liked them. Hopefully, this was just an “off” performance.

Posted in books

January 18: The Man Who Laughs

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Having seen the musical play “The Grinning Man”, I decided to read the book it was based on. Victor Hugo’s works are available for free from iBooks, so I downloaded a copy and settled in for what turned out to be a very bleak ride.

Like many “period” authors (Melville, Dickens and the like), Hugo indulges himself in lengthy descriptive passages, and whole chapters of what seem to be lists of the peerage. I found the book to be a difficult read because of this, and caught myself skipping sections in order to get on with the story.

There is a (thankfully not too detailed) description of the surgical procedures used on Gwynplaine, and a quite horrible account of his reception by his peers towards the end of the book. The actual ending shocked me, and was quite different from the ending of the play.

Posted in Musical theatre

January 12: The Grinning Man

Yesterday, I saw what was possibly the best musical I have ever seen. It had everything: excellent live music (at one point I had a cellist disconcertingly close to my right ear); fabulous set and costumes; excellent singing and acting from a wonderfully diverse cast, and the best multi-layered puppetry I have seen. I loved this show. It brought me to tears in places, and provoked laughter in others. It was gory, and gothy, and quite wonderful.

Posted in books

January 10: Book bingo

I’ve had a bingo card hanging around for a while. Time to go through last year’s books and see how I did…

Colour in title

99 Red Balloons by Elisabeth Carpenter. This was a rather confusing crime/psychothriller novel with several characters narrating several different timelines, and a twist ending that I ought to have seen coming. The song in the title is only mentioned very briefly, which is odd, and the characters are not people I would like.

Family relationship in title

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić. Okay, this is a bit of a stretch, but Baba is translated as “grandmother” in most Slavic Languages. This is a book with several threads that seem disconnected, but turn out not to be. It’s a kind of “road” story, and the female characters are very interesting. Hard to describe, and really needs to be read.

First in a series

Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn. I hated this. It was a dreadful story of child abuse, and the rest of the series was no better. It is being made into a TV programme, starting Benedict Cumberbatch. It will be interesting to see how that turns out.

Red cover

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts. I really liked this. It is weird, like other books I have read by this author. It is set in Russia, which I like. It is SF and spies and possibly aliens, but they are ambiguous enough not to upset me too much. I love the fact that the title is a clever play on words and has nothing to do with the story. Yes, I liked this a lot.

Play or adaptation of play

All Our Children by Stephen Unwin

A very disturbing play, where the ethics of eugenics take centre stage. Needs to be seen as a performance, which I was lucky enough to do.

Non-fiction

CCCP Cook Book: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine by Olga Syutkin. This showed a bleak picture of just how awful the food was in the Soviet Union, and how hard it was to get. An interesting insight into an aspect of modern history.

Award winner

The Power by Naomi Alderman. This won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction In 2017. The story is about women gaining the ability to give electric shocks by touching, thus placing them in a position of power over men. An interesting format, the story is told as a future-history, post-post-apocalypse.

Food in title

Hard Cheese by Ulf Durling. This was a locked room mystery, and was very enjoyable. And there was actually cheese in the story.

Animal on cover

The Blue Fox by Sjón. This was very short, and quite lovely. It could have sat in several categories here- it is a prize winner, a historical novel, a literary novel… read it and enjoy

Dystopia

Archangel by William Gibson. A graphic novel by one of my favourite authors. This has a terrifying resonance, particularly in the final frames. The story is set in an alternate universe, but the resolution to the tale sets us up for something worse.

Historical setting

King Dido by Alexander Baron. This is set in 1911, so I am counting it as historical. It tells the sad story of a man hounded into crime by the underserved suspicion and hatred of a powerful police officer. Dido is not a nice person, but he doesn’t deserve to end up the way he does. This made me think hard about prejudice and power.

A book with music in it somewhere

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This could fit into a number of categories, but the song which gives this book its title is quite central to the main character, and so it fits here nicely. This is a dystopia. It is science fiction, it is literature. It is very depressing, and vaguely unsatisfying.

Science Fiction

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson. This is a nice little hard SF tale with a massively twisted ending. Lovely.

Literary fiction

Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I admit to being disappointed in this. Orlando is a man who has some adventures. One day Orlando wakes up as a woman and has some more adventures. There is no explanation for this transformation, or if there is, I missed it. It has not inspired me to read more Woolf.

Translated work

The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. This was a dark, strange and nasty story, set in Nazi Germany, and following the life of the central character, Oskar, from pre-birth to adulthood. (Yes, pre-birth). I didn’t warm to any of the characters, but the book itself was very interesting.

A “banned” book

Nothing for this category, surprisingly. The previous year there were three (Dostoyevsky, Joyce, Melville) and I have a couple on my “to -read” pile for the coming year, but an empty square for this one.

LGBT character

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin. Set in Istanbul in 1836, this is a detective story with a difference. Yashim the detective is a eunuch who likes to cook, and his sidekick Preen is a trans woman dancer. I have the rest of the series on my list to read.

Non-human character

Grandeville by Bryan Talbot. The protagonist is a police detective, who just happens to be a badger. His sergeant is s rat. The Grandeville books are graphic novels, and really excellent, if gory. Not for children, but I loved this.

One-word title

Bluets by Maggie Nelson. This was an odd little book. Literary, definitely. Memoir, possibly. Poetry, hmm. All about Blue. And I was surprisingly disappointed to find that bluets are cornflowers.

Number in title

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama. A police procedural, giving a particular insight into how matters of “face” affect the investigation of crime in Japan. I liked this a lot.

Published 2017

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves. The central character in this book is one of my favourite TV detectives, Vera Stanhope. This is the newest book in the series, and the first I have read, so I was surprised to see that the TV series has moved forward far more quickly than the books seem to have done. The book Vera is a little rougher around the edges than the TV one, and sadly, she drinks more ( I don’t like this trope). The book was still enjoyable though, and I am going to go back to the start of the series.

Water on cover

Earthly Remains by Donna Leon. This is the 26th book about Commissario Guido Brunetti, and I swear I will never get tired of him. He is older, which I like. The stories are more focused on politics and environmental issues, which I also like. The portrayal of Venice from a Venetian eye rings true.

BME character

The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch. This is the latest in the Rivers of London series, starring Peter Grant. I love these stories , crime and magic combined with the most diverse set of main characters you could ever imagine.

A book with a cat in it somewhere

Why Did You Lie? By Yrsa Sigurdadóttir. The cat isn’t a main character, but it is a plot point, and sadly, it comes to an unhappy end. The story leaves a lot of open ends, which I expect will lead on to other books. I didn’t like the characters enough to want to buy more though, sadly.

A “classic”

Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Famous for the Jarndyce and Jarndyce legal case. As always, some of the characters got seriously on my nerves, especially Mr Skimpole. The story was clever, but I find Dickens’ attention to detail tedious. I don’t need five pages describing what someone has on their desk.

Posted in books

9th January: Reading

I have had a soft spot for science fiction crime novels ever since I discovered Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Baley and R Daneel Olivaw, a long long loooong time ago. Going through the lists of new books coming out in 2018, the blurb for John Scalzi’s Head On caught my eye. It’s not out until April, but I noticed that there was an earlier book with the same characters…

I liked the idea that technology can be used to allow people with severe disabilities to live an active life. One such person is the protagonist, who is “locked in” , but has his mind downloaded into a “threep“- a robot body.

The crime element of the book is interesting, and the plot is fast-paced and believable (given the sci-fi context). I liked the diversity of the characters, mostly, but I wish the protagonists’s female cop partner didn’t have to resort to the old booze and random sex tropes to deal with her demons.

I enjoyed this book very much, and will definitely be buying the new one when it comes out.

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January 4th: Writing

I mentioned a few days ago that I was planning to write about a couple of my characters this year. So, I was browsing through Twitter, and up popped an interesting challenge that an artist has set herself (check out the details here ). She has specifically asked for her art to be shared, so here is the first in her series of illustrations.

It triggered an urge to revisit Billy, an old character of mine, which in turn led to a 1000-word opener to what might be an interesting fill-in of a major gap in his story. I’m not posting the link to the story, as I keep my writing persona away from here, but I haven’t written anything new for a long time, so I feel it is worth mentioning.

Posted in books

January 3rd: Reading

Last year I wrote about almost everything I read. This year, I’m only going to mention things I have really liked.

So, to start the year, I treated myself to a full set of Bryan Talbot’s Grandeville graphic novels.

I loved these books. I gave them 5 stars on Goodreads, and wished I could have given them more. They are beautifully drawn, and full of Easter eggs that made me smile each time I spotted one. Asterix and Obelix make a brief appearance. Tintin’s dog Snowy features in one of the books. And there are bears. Paddington Bear. Rupert Bear. Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (!)

If you don’t know these stories, imagine a mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade (the Rupert Graves version); add in an alternate history setting and a steampunk style. Oh, and the lead character is a badger.

It sounds weird. It is a bit weird, but not as weird as you’d think. There are some very bad villains (I won’t spoil it by telling you just who the worst villain turns out to be), and some clueless coppers. There is also a LOT of gory death. This is not a children’s comic.

The five books form a story arc, which is completed at the end of the final book. I want more though, and I hope that sometime in the future, Archie LeBrock will return.

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January 1: Resolutions

Happy New Year!

No pictures today, and a new blogging regime. Last year’s resolutions were to do something cultural every week, to lose a bit of weight (doctor’s orders), and to read 100 books. All three accomplished, although I sometimes had to be a bit creative about the culture.

This year, pretty similar.

I have a to-read pile of around 30 books, so my plan is to work through that and try to get it down to zero before I start buying from my wish-list, which is enormous.

I intend to be a bit more discriminating about my cultural activities. Three theatre trips in one week is probably overdoing it a bit.

I want to exercise a little bit to build up my post-illness stamina, although I have to say even staying upright is hard work at the moment.

I want to brighten up my living space. I have a pile of tester paint pots in shades of pale green. Time to get them on the wall and choose one!

Finally, I have had a couple of characters mulling around in my head for a while. Time to get them down on a page. Watch out for Frankie and Alex in a story near you soon.

That will do for now. Time to get 2018 started.