Dark Doors

Ask. I will tell you a story.

Category: Blog (page 1 of 3)

These are my informal pieces, musings, and diatribes.

OUCH status

I’m thinking of starting something, a little thing for everyone, really, but mainly for those who suffer with depression and anxiety. We know how difficult it is to reach out, ask for help, or even to just ask for someone to talk to for a few minutes or an hour or whatever. Just someone to engage with. We don’t need to talk about whatever trigger has just fired, so don’t panic that we’re asking someone to try to fix whatever is wrong. We just want someone to talk to.

Now, I know that ‘vague-booking’ is a thing, and people shit on vague-book statuses time and time again. But, sometimes, those vague-books are a plea for help without actually saying ‘help’. Because, no matter how much we talk about mental health, and no matter how open we are about mental health, it is still the most challenging thing to reach out and ask.

So, if you need to talk, post ‘OUCH’ on your Facebook status, (or even on Twitter). If I see ‘OUCH’, I’ll send you a private message. If you see ‘OUCH’, send a private message to that person. Reach out and talk, because there is a tentative hand grasping through the darkness, hoping and praying that someone will take it in theirs.

Do with this what you will.

The Aftermath

Last week I wrote to tell you that I had changed my writing goals: instead of aiming for a small number of acceptances, I’m now submitting stories everywhere to achieve a huge number of rejections – and in doing so, playing the averages and the odds to get even a few things accepted. I was inspired by this blog and thought that after an intensive year of prose workshops during the MA that I would be ready to cope with it.

Well, I was (mostly) wrong.

After several rejections in a row – many without feedback, many with a form email rejection, one with very negative feedback – it becomes more and more of a challenge to sit back down, put fingers to keyboard and start again, either to edit the story that just returned, battered and bruised from the world, or to send a new story out to face the battle of the slush pile. After so many rejections, that little voice of doubt gains a bit more strength, clears its throat, and starts that old, terrifying refrain: Maybe, you’re just not good enough. Maybe, you’re just not a writer. Maybe, you should just admit defeat, and go get a real job and forget all this. After a few days, if I’ve not successfully throttled that voice but whatever means necessary, it loses the maybes, switches from the subjunctive to the imperative, becomes less insidious and more insistent.

For someone with anxiety and depression, it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between reality and whatever the hell this voice represents.

I try to stay away from the internet during these episodes. While I love the fact that I now know lots and lots of writers, and I am so proud and pleased and absolutely thrilled when they get accepted, get interviewed, get the recognition they deserve … that little black demon voice in the back of my soul uses their successes to highlight just how truly awful a writer I am – look at them, they’re brilliant, they’re doing oh so well, yes, okay, whatever they ‘deserve’ it, they ‘worked hard’ (Yeah, that black demon is a complete twat who uses ‘air quotes’), but you don’t, because you just putz away, and hope that someone will do all the hard work for you, and by the way, your writing sucks ass. No air quotes. I stay away from the internet, and wrestle with the black demon, stabbing it through the throat until all I can hear are gurgles as it drowns in its own blood.

Rejections are hard. But I’m going to tell you every time I get a rejection. Every damn one. I’m going to celebrate the rejections as much as the acceptances (okay, maybe not as much). I hit 17 rejections last night, and even though I knew it was a gigantic long-shot (BBCNSSA 2016), I had to try. But it still stings.

Time to re-read that bruised and battered story, give it a trim and a polish, and fling it back out with a loud Tick-ensian cry of ‘CATCH ME!’ and see where it lands.

I’ll let you know.

 

Schroedinger’s Story

A few months ago, a writer-ly friend posted this link to Facebook: 100 rejections in a year.  I had just received an email rejection that morning, following on a streak of several form rejections, and I was gearing up to stomp around the house in a stroppy funk for a few days. But, reading that advice – to set rejection goals for a year – jolted me out of my habitual bad mood, and got me thinking instead.

Why not aim for rejection? Play the odds by submitting more and more often, and weather the rejections when they come with a gleeful malice – yay! One more closer to my goal! Because I’ve done that before – played the odds with multiple submissions – and got somewhere with it. (Dark Doors wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t done that. Orthros: A Night of Aconite Prose wouldn’t have seen the light of day if I hadn’t done that, which means I would have missed out on performing many times with Steve Toase over the past year.) So, I decided to try it again, and submit more stories to more places, and apply for things that I would normally discount because my application won’t be good enough to be accepted. (I’ll let those who are paid to reject/accept me do the rejecting/accepting; that way I’m not doing their job for them! Make ’em work for their money!)

Within one week, I had managed to double my rejections from the previous five months. Giving the stories a rest for a couple of days, I sent off two applications – one for free online writing courses, another for an actual grant for real-life money – within a couple of days of flying back to Canada, because I just knew that I would be too knackered to do it in time after I returned.

To date, I’m at 16 rejections, most of which have happened in the last few weeks. Sometimes, the rejections are soul-destroying; sometimes, merely a distraction. But more often these days, my response to rejections are: Right. Where shall I send this story next? What should I submit to them next?

Time to scour and scowl at my spreadsheet of submissions and send out the next bunch for future rejections. And before anyone shouts at me for being all negativity and storm-cloud-auraed… with every future rejection, there is always the possibility that it might transform into the next acceptance. (Schroedinger’s Story: the story is in a state of acceptance/rejection until the email is opened.)

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m waiting for my finest rejection* this week. The BBC will be announcing the shortlist for the National Short Story Award 2016 on Friday 16 September on Radio 4 at 7:15pm. I’m absolutely positive that this rejection will be spectacular!

 


*(And really, this one alone should count for five rejections in total.)

Writing on Air with ChapelFM

On Friday 15th April 2016, WordSpace Open Mic left its comfort zone of Horsforth, relocating to the fabulous ChapelFM studios for a live-to-air spoken word performance! Fun, thrilling and nerve-wracking in equal measures, WordSpace regulars performed their poetry and prose (with microphones that worked!) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. You can listen again here.

If you’re in the area, and find that you are in need of a copy of Dark Doors, or Inspiration: A Space for Words, there are a few copies of each available for sale in ChapelFM’s cafe area. Drop in for a cuppa and a browse.

 

University Radio York interview

I had the honour of being interviewed by Georgie Norgate from URY a few weeks ago.  You can listen again to the interview, and my readings of ‘Jimmy Six’ from Dark Doors, and a new short story, ‘Eight Times Eight’.

Many thanks to Georgie, and to Oz Hardwick for introducing us!

Longlisted!

I really should learn not to check emails first thing on a morning – inevitably, I miss some vital piece of information. I should check emails only after that first cup of coffee and well into the second, just to be certain that I am awake and processing details evenly.

So it was a bit of a surprise to find myself tagged into several congratulatory posts on Facebook about the Saboteur Awards 2016. I had seen the email, scanned it, didn’t see my name (though I did see loads of names I did know, and cheered for their shortlisted status), and closed it again. But the flurry of congratulations made me go look again, scroll down ALL THE WAY to the bottom of the email, and there it was – Dark Doors got longlisted for the Saboteur Awards 2016.

It took most of the rest of Sunday to finally calm down enough after this fantastic news, mainly because I realised how many people must have nominated my debut collection for it to hit the longlist. So to all of you who used their nomination for Best Short Story Collection to give Dark Doors and me a nod: thank you, from the darkest corners of my soul! I owe you all a drink.

To all those who got shortlisted – including Haunt Harrogate from Imove and Indigo Dreams Publishing – as well as all the other longlisted people, books, pamphlets, wildcards, etc., congratulations! Longlisted Saboteur Award 2016

 

LTU Writers’ Festival 2016 – review

Last week was Leeds Trinity University’s 12th annual Writers’ Festival, and I was fortunate enough to snag a last-minute space for the day. Click on over to LTU’s website to read my review of the Festival.

Then set yourself a reminder for March 2017 to book your own spot in the workshops – you won’t regret it. Ever.

TSOTA Review of Orthros

hydeparkbookclubdotOn Thursday 21st January, I had the pleasure and honour to share Hyde Park Book Club’s stage with Steve Toase, and bring ‘Orthros: A Night of Aconite … Prose’ back from the Underworld.

I didn’t know how a new audience would respond to our particular shade of dark fantasy and horror stories. But they came for a performance, and we gave the best we could.

From the thanks and praise offered by the audience before they drifted off into the night, and from Sophie Joelle’s review of the event, I think it’s safe to say that they liked us. They really liked us!

Read Sophie’s review here.

Graduation Day

Can I say this first?

It’s been a pig of a fortnight.

In an effort to guard against random colds and the infectious slurry that comes with working in a school, I put on my big girl pants and got a flu jab. Normally, this means that my shoulder gets swollen and sore for a few days, and I get a nasty case of the sniffles.

Not this time.

Cue five days or more of every variation and permutation of flu symptoms, culminating in the worst cold sore outbreak I have ever experienced. I looked like Heath Ledger’s Joker for a week, before morphing into crocodile mouth, complete with green scales. Yech.

Who wants pictures of the most important moment in your life?

Not me. Get that camera away from me. I’m going to go hide under this rock. Just stick the mortarboard and hood on this rock, and don’t take any feckin’ pictures. I don’t want to be remembered as the graduating crocodile. Put that camera in my face and I’m gonna slap you silly. Christmas tree shot? No thanks. Selfie pose with the family? Nuh-uh. Piss off.

With this poor frame of mind, I attended graduation. And everyone was there, looking fabulous and glamorous with lovely hair and clear faces and rocking legs – and that was just the guys. Every moment of smiling – which physically hurt, tearing through the scaled scabs at the corners of my mouth, shredding the delicate healed edge of my top lip – was an eternity of agony, and a reminder of how ill and sickly I looked. Add to that the monster-mega-PMT that latched on like a demon, and I’m ready to curl up under that lovely rock I saw earlier. In a fair-sized chapel with high ceilings on a cold rainy day in December, how warm do you think it could get? Think sauna, and you’re getting close. Add wool robes and a mortarboard perched on your head, and you’re getting closer still. Add in the Phantom Farter who must have had a toxic stew of garlic, onions, curry AND chili, and now you understand why I was ready to faint by the end.

Feeling photogenic now? Hell, no.

Is there a happy ending to this rant? Not really. No shuttle bus back to the car park afterwards meant having to trudge uphill through the windy darkness with cramps and crocodile mouth and a refined sense of dread about my behaviour over the last two hours.

No happy endings. But there were happy moments dotted throughout, when I could forget the miasma and bad burny feelings:

Hearing the department’s successes over the past year – to which I contributed, and got a mention – in the Vice Chancellor’s speech. Hearing my name announced and making that long walk to be welcomed to the MA. Seeing my good friends enjoy themselves, and receive their degrees and their recognition, seeing the joy and pride of their families in their achievement. Hearing my son say that he’s proud of me (in an oh-so-quiet voice with which I am familiar). Seeing the look of quiet pride of my husband’s face, but only now realizing that he has that look on his face pretty much every time he looks at me (unless I’ve just made a terrible pun, or am teasing him about the laundry). Introducing my family to my tutor, and getting that one picture (the ONLY picture) I really wanted of me with the three most important influences on my writing life.

So, no happy endings. But one good picture, and a pretty decent video of the walk.

After a pig of a fortnight, I think that’s the best I could ask for. (Along with the MA itself, and my very own graduation bear… because, well, BEAR!)

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Hesitation and the Writer

Today on Twitter, I bumped into a tweet from Guy Gavriel Kay, in which he confesses his reluctance to post and share comments from readers about his writing. I tweeted back that he should share other readers’ opinions about his work, because he writes for the readers. Another follower joined in with his agreement because word of mouth is the greatest way to reach new audiences, new readers. And this was just how I was introduced to the wordsmithery of GGK.

Years back, and two months before I left Canada to study in Scotland, a friend recommended Tigana as the best example of how a book could be a self-contained story, and not require endless sequels and prequels. I was quite skeptical of his assertion, but he assured me that the characters were nuanced, the plot and sub-plots riveting, and the writing superlative.

I had to read this for myself. No book written nowadays is that damn good.

Thankfully, I was so very wrong.

Tigana reminded me what a good fantasy story should be. GGK showed me – in no uncertain terms – how beautiful prose could be. For the first time since The Narnia Series, I became invested in characters, empathized with them, cheered for them when they succeeded, and cried for them when they failed. Tigana was the first book I read and re-read and wore out and bought a new one and wore that one out too. Kay’s storytelling ability is inspiring; his writing showed me how characters interact, speak, react, and grow with every turn of the page. I devoured more and more of his books, scoured the shelves of UK bookstores (which sadly lacked any titles from one of the best writers our time), and learned how to inject humour into dire situations, how to shape quirks and flaws into good characters to make them more interesting, more engaging for the reader.

And I hope – oh how I hope! – that I have learned enough from reading GGK that I have been able to create characters and write dialogue and set a scene as beautifully as he does.

Mr Kay, please don’t ever hesitate to share your successes with us. Being a writer is a lonely job.  Even reading has become more isolated, as every person has their own library or e-reader, and storytelling in groups is a fringe event art. If you share the response others have had to your words, then we all benefit, knowing that we are not alone.

Urban and the Shed Crew – edited

On Sunday, 8th November, I was fortunate enough to attend the screening of Urban and the Shed Crew at the Hyde Park Picture House. (And, a week later, I’ve edited my review. Some points needed expanding.)

A few admissions before I begin:

  • I am not originally from Leeds. Hell, I’m not even British, but I’ve been here long enough to understand the issues presented in the film. This means, however, that some of the cultural subtleties are almost lost on me. (References to different areas of Leeds, and the reactions of the audience to the difference between growing up in Beeston and growing up in Bramley are still a mystery to me; even though I know there’s a difference, I wouldn’t know how to begin to articulate it.) I would worry that if this film goes global, not all the references will be relevant to a global audience. This cultural niche will have to be addressed somehow.
  • I generally prefer books to their film versions. This one is no exception. Issues like substance abuse and sexual activity presented in Hare’s book are difficult to comprehend and shocking because of the age of the children involved. And because of protection issues in working with young actors, these issues could only be hinted at, not portrayed. I think (and this is only my opinion) that the film version suffered from the omission.
  • I am not a professional film critic or reviewer.

I enjoyed the film. Not as much as the book, but that is down to the constraints of the medium. Films naturally must move quickly and do not have the same luxury for character development or discussion of motivation that books do. And Candida Brady had quite a lot of material to work with, to distill down to its essence and present on-screen. Some things may have been missed, but she got what mattered most. The soundtrack was haunting and beautiful throughout, and did not overwhelm the scenes but added to them. At times, especially in the early parts of the film, the pacing is awkward; encounters between Greta and Chop should have possessed greater tension, but fizzled at times, and her explosive responses did not fit with the preceding scenes. This may be down to editing choices.

Overall, the performances from Armitage, Friel and Kelly were nuanced and dynamic, bringing these main players to vivid life for the audience. The film highlighted the fragile balance of Chop’s own equilibrium as Greta and Urban pushed and pulled him with their own volatile natures. Chop suffers when Greta is involved, but he flourishes as Urban becomes more important in his life. Further exploration of Urban’s own anger and rage could have helped to illustrate how his environment has shaped him, and to highlight further how important the role Chop plays in creating a stable centre for Urban.

The Shed Crew themselves provide a stark backdrop of the hopelessness. Their shed is a precious safe place, cherished and cared for, with its fairy lights and bright colours, set in a brown burnt-out back garden. I think that the film didn’t emphasise the shed’s importance enough, and how Chop’s flat becomes their safe haven when the shed is forbidden to them.

Throughout the film, you must keep reminding yourself – this is not fiction. Something inside you will resist it – surely no one can live that way? This is the reality of East Leeds in the 1990s, and this is not a purely British issue. Children suffer in more ways than we could ever conceive. And as Hare says, childhood should be sacred.

This is a big story with a big message that needs to be heard.

#GetUrbanMovieGlobal

B*st*rd Demons (contains swearies)

I’ve been putting off writing this post for so many reasons: I’m seeking attention; I’m jumping on the bandwagon with others in a similar situation; I won’t be able to express what I’m going through clearly; I’m looking for cheap publicity (the timing of this sucks); I’m suffering from first world problems and I should just man up and be grateful for what I’ve got.

None of these reasons are good. By any stretch of the imagination.

It’s a swan situation. I look great on the surface, gracefully drifting along. But the truth is hidden below the waterline, as I paddle like fuck to stay above the darkness.

I have anxiety and depression.

There. I said it.

I hate them both. These two bastard demons that follow me around – some days closer than others – and drip their poisons straight into my soul.

John Kenn – Stressmonster http://johnkenn.blogspot.co.uk/

Some days, I can outrun them, or confront them, or write them into oblivion. I have a specific file on my computer, called ‘Dealing with Demons’, and I write every shitty thing I feel when the bastard demons have me in their clutches. More often than not, this works. Especially on the really bad days.

Some days, though, they wear me down. No outright frontal attack when I’m reduced to a crying mess of tears and snot. Sometimes they play guerrilla tactics; strike and hide, strike and hide. That wears me down, reducing my strength and stamina to survive the full-blown attacks.

Sometimes, they don’t do anything but hover behind me. The knowledge that they’re there makes me doubt and question and dread and feel terrible and feel nauseated and feel worthless, and dammit!

I just did their job for them. All off my own nut.

No amount of praise or compliments or hugs or cups of coffee can diminish them, especially when they’re in guerrilla-mode. Because with every hug, with every compliment, their little bastard demon voices are whispering:

‘You don’t deserve that.’

Some days, I believe them.

Some days, I can’t fight them.

I’ve been struggling with them for a while, not very successfully. It’s been worse with the changes in the seasons and the weather – less sunlit hours, and the past several days have been completely overcast and foggy. So, they’ve been having a right old party at my expense, flinging fears like faeces into my face, and making me dread what should be an exciting celebration. Because tonight is the launch party for Dark Doors, my debut publication.

[A&D say: your ONLY publication]

SEE?! Bastard demons.

I’ve got to keep remembering that I’m a dab-hand at demon hunting. I must tell myself that they shouldn’t be allowed this much of my strength. I’ve got to remind myself to turn around, look those bastard demons in their beady little flaming eyes and say: ‘Fuck you. I worked for this. I worked hard for this. Now, piss off.’

Fingers crossed, folks, that today is that day.

Interview with LTU

Leeds Trinity University has played a pivotal role in the major changes in my life: in December, I’ll be graduating with an MA in Creative Writing, and the university’s imprint, Wordspace, has published my first collection of short stories.

In the run up to the launch party for Dark Doors, I was interviewed by Lisa Farrell. You can read the whole story here.

On Finishing the MA

Why do an MA in Creative Writing? Surely, if you can string a sentence together, describe a scene clearly and create some believable dialogue, you shouldn’t need to spend the time and money on completing a Master’s degree?

That’s oversimplifying the question, but the straight answer (well, my straight answer) is: if you’ve got the time, money, and inclination to do the MA, then do it. Seriously.

I learned so much more than just about the craft of writing. I learned how to give – and take – constructive criticism, and how to discern the difference between suggested edits and someone trying to rewrite what you wrote into something that they would write. I read books on writing and on different schools of writing. I discovered how to read as a writer, and allowed my writing to be influenced by a range of writers in a range of genres and forms which I wouldn’t usually read. I stopped procrastinating and became more efficient with getting stuff done NOW, rather than waiting until later, you know, tomorrow, maybe and oh crap! the deadline’s tomorrow. The course gave me structure, focus, and the intellectual stimulation I craved. I met wonderful people, and saw how my own writing improved from their advice, ideas and experience. I made new friends with people I never would have met under my usual circumstances, and my view of the world has expanded just that much more. I tried new things and reached for new opportunities – if I hadn’t been part of the MA course, those opportunities wouldn’t have been there.

I didn’t learn absolutely everything there is to know about writing, let’s be clear about that. But I did learn what my strengths and weaknesses are – and they weren’t what I thought they were. I’m writing now with a more accurate understanding of my abilities; I appreciate my strengths (I no longer apologize for enjoying writing in genres, rather than literary fiction) and am working to beef up my weaknesses into something stronger.

This was the busiest year of my life, and I enjoyed every minute of it – even during the most frustrating rewrites for the dissertation. Doing the MA in Creative Writing enriched my life and my writing.

If you’ve ever wondered about it, stop wondering and go find out about it! It just might change you – for the better.

Welcome to the next chapter

What the 42? was then.

Welcome to Dark Doors – a new website to celebrate the publication of my first book, and to herald this new chapter in my life.

Dark Doors is a collection of horror short stories, published under the Wordspace Imprint of Leeds Trinity University, by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd. You can purchase your own copy – either paperback or Kindle – here.

My thanks go to Oz Hardwick and Martyn Bedford and everyone at LTU and IDP for their support with this book. For once, I have no words to properly express what this means to me.

I hope you enjoy the stories contained within Dark Doors. 

 

Reasons for Silence

That title sounds much more literary than I intended for this post, but it fits, so it stays.

It’s already July, and time slipped away from me since that personal challenge in February. There are reasons for why I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog.

As you know, I’ve been working on an MA in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University, and have recently become a school librarian (best. job. ever.) to help keep my day structured and focused on books. Between the library and the writing for the MA, and all that adulting stuff that goes on (laundry, groceries, car troubles, kid, etc), I’ve been pretty busy.

But all that work and online silence has some pretty amazing results. Here is the project I was working on for the MA, which produced an awesome collection of poetry and prose.

You can purchase your own copy direct from Indigo Dreams Publishing if you click here. The university also provided a press release celebrating the publication of ‘Inspiration’, and the developing relationship between the MACW and IDP. They even interviewed me about the anthology and my experiences through the MA, in which I was able to announce that my own collection of short stories has been accepted for publication later this year.

Yes, that’s right. I found out in May that I’m going to be a published author. For reals.

And if this isn’t enough good news, here is a podcast interview I did with the wonderful folks at Wordspace Radio, an undergraduate project from LTU, and well-worth keeping an ear on.

Looking ahead, I will be performing at the Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe with Steve Toase (he is awesome – check him out) on Monday 5th October at 9:15pm in the Wildman Studio of the Ilkley Playhouse. Save the date! But I’m sure I’ll be back to remind you, and keep you updated on the progress of our show.

Go on and ‘like’ my Facebook author page, and follow me on @LMABaumanMilner for more recent and timely updates and silliness. I promise I’ll try not to neglect you again.

Connections and Disconnect

Very annoyed this evening. Today’s writing challenge is complete, and ready to go online.

However, in a fit of optimism, I’ve written it on my desktop, not my laptop. The internet connection on my desktop is buggered, but my laptop is still connected. I couldn’t save the file to my OneDrive, which bridges both machines. In fact, I was lucky to be able to save it at all. Which means that my story is stranded on my desktop, and I can’t post it until the connection issues are fixed. Or I could sit at my desktop with my laptop and copy today’s piece by hand.

Tech support (hubby) is currently working on it and I hope to have today’s writing posted on the blog soon.

Thinking about switching to a typewriter. Or ink and quill.

Embrace the Books

Embrace the books. Not in a creepy way, like actually embracing them, but – you know – don’t be afraid of them. They’re just books. They won’t bite. Granted, a paper cut is a nasty little bitch of timing, but how many paper cuts have you ever gotten from a book? Be honest. You’ve gotten more paper cuts from a letter, a memo, an envelope, hell – even a newspaper or a magazine. But a book – next to never. And if it does happen, it’s usually on a really old book that uses rag paper or vellum, instead of pulp. Those kind of paper cuts leave scars. Deep ones. Takes ages for them to heal, probably because of the fibres the paper left embedded in your skin and epithelial cells. (Is that redundant? I don’t know. I’m neither a doctor nor a dermatologist. Dammit, Jim!) And don’t you dare tell me that you’ll never get a paper cut from a phone or a tablet computer. That’s akin to comparing apples to screwdrivers. Don’t be a dick about it. Just… Embrace the books.

Embrace the books is more advice to myself than to you, though it does apply. All of my friends read, and all of my friends are intelligent, well-rounded and profound individuals. Okay, they’re also a bit weird… Some of them might be considered crazy (none of them are wealthy enough to be called ‘eccentric’). But you’d have a lot going on in there too, if you had just read 459 pages of the Best. Writing. Ever. and you might not be able to keep an even keel after that kind of experience either. Making a connection that deeply with a world filled with characters – idealised and villianised – has a huge impact on readers who fling themselves into books. They embrace them.

Again, this turned into advice for you, and not advice for me. I have a Library – it’s my new job (if you follow me on Twitter [@LMABaumanMilner] or Facebook, you may have seen the occasional ‘OOK’ of happiness at being a Librarian). And it’s lovely… but it could be so much more. So many books were taken in a cull before I arrived, and so many people have commented with regret over that which was lost… Now, all I can see are the gaps, where books once were.

I’ve just realised that I can’t ignore the books I do have. And that I’ve been doing that for the last few weeks. So I say again, embrace the books. Appreciate what is there and stop idealising what has been lost. If I embrace them, and revel in them… then the books shall thrive, and the Library will grow.

All that other stuff I said earlier? That’s true too. Embrace the books.

Books, books everywhere, and not a word to read…

Apologies to you all, Dear Reader. I have been remiss and neglectful of you. But I have reasons! Good reasons!

Okay, reasons.

I’ve started a new course and a new job. Finding a balance between those two things and writing has been … challenging. Irony of ironies, the course is an MA in Creative Writing, and the job is a part-time Librarian in a (relatively) local school. I have managed to immerse myself in books and words and writing, but at a cost to my own writing.

I didn’t have time for NaNo this year. I keep getting distracted from my own projects by the essay assignments for the MA. I’m rearranging an entire library, shuffling and cataloging books and putting them in their correct places. I wake up on a morning and wonder how I’m going to find more books to put in this Library, to replace the couple hundred books I’ve had to cull out. (Which goes against my heart, but I have to be ruthless – if the kids aren’t taking them out, and haven’t done in 15 years, then I’ve got to make space for new ones.)

My mind has been taken over by pragmatism, and creativity has taken a back seat. Temporarily. I will rearrange my own headspace and make room for writing for myself – and for you – very, very soon.

I promise.

Second View of ‘The Crucible’

If you’re looking for a review filled with gushing sentiment about Richard Armitage, go someplace else. You won’t find it here. Now, please don’t misunderstand me: I enjoyed ‘The Crucible’ both times I’ve seen it, and for very different reasons. There were strengths and issues in both performances, and I’m not going to go into the minutiae of Armitage’s expressions and movement, or any of the others on-stage, because that’s not the way my brain has been wired. I will admit that the fangirl part of me kept shrieking at me throughout the first time I attended the performance,* and I struggled to silence her, allowing me to pay attention to the full story unfolding before me. Because I didn’t just pay £85 to stare at one guy and not watch an entire play. If I just wanted to stare at him, I could have stayed at home and replayed interviews on YouTube,** thereby saving myself scads of money. However, Fangirl Bitch had the last laugh by not pressing ‘record’, and most of what I saw during the 22 August performance was reduced in my memory to mere reaction, based on vague recollection. Except for Act Two between Elizabeth and John, with the ghost of Abigail ever-present between them – that remains etched clearly in my mind, and Fangirl can’t take that away from me.

When the opportunity presented itself to see it again, I jumped at it.*** I guess I went with the hope for a repeat performance of the exact same intensity and overwhelming hysteria I experienced on the first viewing. Yet, there were many different factors involved in yesterday’s performance, all of which must have had some kind of impact on the production, that the second viewing – while good – did not match up. It is the final week of performances; this was an extra matinee on a day the cast didn’t usually have one; there were cameras filming all around the stage; the director herself was in the audience. Several voices were breaking under the strain, some of the actors seemed to be quite self-conscious around the cameras (or that could just be my impression), and there was a sense of just general exhaustion. These are humans, with limitations, and this cast is rapidly approaching theirs.

I wrote in my original review how the cast ‘became … something more than human‘. The in-the-round stage added to that impression, especially when you are sat in the Stalls; you almost become a part of the performance. That impression was less tangible when sat in the Dress Circle, for the distance from the stage reduced that impact noticeably for me. At least this time, I was able to see more of the play as a play, which was the whole reason for returning for a second sitting.

This time, I was able to see reactions at pivotal moments in the script, rather than staring at the actors’ backs, or having to strain to see around standing bodies or props. From that distance, I could not see the micro-expressions of the actors that other attendees have seen, but I could encompass more of the action – and the acting of an ensemble – and watch Miller’s play for the masterpiece it is. Though it is arranged as in-the-round, the traditional direction of the audience was favoured in the staging, especially for these pivotal moments. The only lie of Elizabeth’s life – nearly all key players faced the traditional direction; that kiss of unconditional love and passion between Elizabeth and John – also aimed in the traditional direction. And the several new factors all had an impact on these moments. Elizabeth’s ‘no’ was nearly inaudible as Madeley’s voice showed the strain of the long run; while some could argue that this a) was a human accident or b) enhanced the performance, the reaction of the cast on-stage seemed disproportionate to her squeaked response. At the opening of the play, various cast members seemed more than aware that they were being filmed, lending a stiffness to their performance until Miller’s words took over. Some of the staging was altered to account for the cameras, which is understandable. The pace was slower than my first viewing – though the reason for that could be anything from exhaustion, unusual time for performing, to some other factor unknown to the rest of us. However, it gave me more chance to process and engage and philosophize in my head while watching, without losing the thread or the energy of the performance.

I enjoyed this second viewing for the academic experience of the play, whereas the first was about the overwhelming emotion of the cast. For those of you too far away to travel, fret not, for with the filmed version, you will get the best of both worlds – front row and dress circle distances – without paying to see it twice.

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*NB: A completely internal battle of wills, and I did not ever shout out during the performance. Just had to say, in case a rumour starts going around Twitter that I did a mad/bad thing. Which I didn’t.
** Which I don’t do, and I’m saying this to put hubby’s mind at rest – I’m actually writing and doing stuff all day!
*** The very next day, The Old Vic announced that they would be filming the play… train tickets weren’t refundable, so ‘down Sawf’ I went.

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