Book Review – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

‘Love is not breathlessness; it is not excitement; it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love”, which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.’

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a novel by Louis de Bernieres. Set in 1940s Cephalonia, the novel explores the realities of love, life and war for the people of the island. This review will have spoilers but it was published the year I was born so I think it’s been around long enough!

I’ll admit that it took me a long time to finish this book. The writing is incredibly detailed and rich, and as a result can be quite difficult to get into. It’s certainly worth the effort though, and de Bernieres’ characters are incredibly realistic and multidimensional, as is his description of the island.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is for the most part almost like a collection of short stories, as opposed to one novel – it is told through various peoples’ viewpoints, which eventually overlap and merge into one story. Although it was hard to get into, it is easier to tackle if you read it part-by-part. This method of writing is an interesting one, and certainly something de Bernieres does well. In using different viewpoints to tell the story he not only keeps the writing interesting and varied for the reader, but also adds to the effect of the story. This way of writing builds up the world in a way that simple physical description can’t –realistically we all see the world in different ways, and de Bernieres’ characters are no different. Dr Iannis, for example, sees Cephalonia in a largely intellectual way; he sees history, his pride for his home is built on hundreds of years of imperialism and rebellion, survival and victory. Captain Corelli, on the other hand, has no such connection – he simply sees it as a beautiful island. He grows a connection to it, but one completely different to anyone else’s and unaffected by the history and ancestry Dr Iannis associates with the place.

In the same way, we see many different views on life and the war. De Bernieres’ characters are all sympathetic in some way – readers even find themselves sympathising with Gunter Weber, a German soldier who follows Nazi ideology quite firmly. In fact I think while reading it I found myself sympathetic to almost all of the characters – Mussolini and Hitler being obvious exceptions.

The setting of Cephallonia itself is an interesting one, and lends itself to incredibly tragic historical context. In 1943, the island was the location of one of the biggest prisoner of war massacres of World War Two, and yet it isn’t widely known about or discussed. The Massacre of the Acqui Division saw over 5000 Italian soldiers killed. De Bernieres uses Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to give a voice, not only to the island and normal people in the war, but also to those killed in this tragic event. It seems a shame to me that events like this aren’t put into history books, and that we often only see the facts and figures, rather than real stories. De Bernieres is an advocate for social history, and this is obvious throughout Corelli.

Okay, let’s get on to the unpopular opinions. The ending. I know a lot of people who love this book, and for the most part I agree, but I found the ending largely unsatisfying. I understand what de Bernieres was trying to do in separating and later reuniting Pelagia and Corelli, and I realise the effect that leaving the novel on a hopeful note has, particularly in a social commentary like this, but I’d almost have preferred the book to end without the reader knowing what happened to Corelli. Maybe I’m just cynical but it felt like de Bernieres was told to make the ending happier by his publisher. It’s been a few weeks since I finished it, and in that time I’ve come to terms with the ending and why de Bernieres chose to end it that way, but I still can’t say I like it, personally.

All in all, this is a brilliant piece of historical fiction and portrayal of smaller social groups in a largely generalised and politically regarded historical era. Corelli is realistic, funny and surprisingly optimistic. Maybe one day I’ll learn to love the ending. Maybe.

See you soon,

Ro x


Theatre Review-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

‘The nation’s favourite Shakespeare play is performed as never before; Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman directs 18 professional actors with local amateur groups around the UK as Shakespeare’s Mechanicals.’

This year, the Royal Shakespeare Company have been touring a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ around the UK. Not only have they taken the show to 12 different venues, but have performed it in collaboration with 14 amateur groups. Although the tour has now finished, they are still performing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon until mid-July. The amateurs play “the mechanicals” – a group of workers who are themselves a kind of amateur theatre group – throughout the play they are rehearsing their play, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, to perform at Theseus’ wedding to Hippolyta. One of these workers, Bottom (the weaver) is quite a central character, and I was impressed to see at this role was also filled by amateur actors – in the performance I saw, done with The Bear Pit, the role was played by David Mears.

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The Bear Pit as “The Mechanicals”

The Bear Pit is one of two companies based in Stratford-Upon-Avon that are involved in this project – the other is a group called The Nonentities. The Bear Pit were very good and worked seamlessly with the professional cast, however it would be interesting to see what other groups brought to the production as well. The production itself certainly lived up to the RSC’s infamous high standards. Lucy Ellison’s Puck was particularly brilliant – she performed with all the mischief and sparkle expected from the character and completely stole the show. Ayesha Dharkar’s Titania was beautifully regal, while her Oberon, Chu Omambala was intense and domineering – both were incredibly captivating. The four human “lovers” all worked incredibly well together, both in more serious scenes and highly comedic moments. As I only stand at 5ft1 myself, the short jokes made at Hermia’s expense were all too familiar!

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Chu Omambala as Oberon and Lucy Ellison as Puck

The one thing about this production that I wasn’t entirely convinced by was the setting. The cast were mostly dressed in 1940s, typically British style clothing, with Titania being the main exception in a bright red sari. The music and backdrops fit, but it seemed to me that there was no real interaction between the play itself and a 1940s/world war setting. It looked good, and was more engaging than traditional Elizabethan dress, for example, but the lack of engagement with the play made this setting fall a little flat for me. The recent production of Hamlet was set in an African dictatorship, and this worked well and was blended perfectly with the plot of the play. Shakespeare has remained so popular for so long because his work can be translated to so many different situations, (particularly ‘Dream’ as ‘a play for the nation’) but the 1940s setting for this production just seemed a bit stuck-on, like they had already prepared the play and chose the set and costuming after. It was aesthetically pleasing, don’t get me wrong, especially the forest, however it didn’t feel like the aesthetics engaged with the play as well as they could’ve.

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Chu Omambala as Oberon, Ayesha Dharkar as Titania

The use of children from the local primary school as the fairies worked surprisingly well – they were focused and had clearly put a lot of work in, although their part was small. Some critics weren’t sold on the song the fairies sung to help Titania sleep, however I found it sweet and a good way to show the fairies’ relationship with their queen – Oberon has very little interaction with fairies other than Puck, and the lullaby scene just added to the contrast between the two. The use of local children also compliments the use of amateur groups, and in my opinion they seemed just as polished as if they had been professional child actors. Overall, the production was very well put together and showed a fantastic collaboration between the professionals and amateurs – and that’s what this was. If you hadn’t known amateurs were in the performance I don’t think you could’ve been able to tell. The Bear Pit did a fantastic job and helped create another fantastic performance at the RSC.

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The Lovers – Mercy Ojelade as Hermia, Jack Holden as Lysander, Chris Nayak as Demetrius and Laura Riseborough as Helena (L to R)

I am very lucky to live fairly close to Stratford and the RSC – however up until recently I’d never actually seen a Shakespeare play live on stage; ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was the second Shakespeare play I’d seen, and the first of his comedies – the other play being the recent RSC production of Hamlet. I’m hoping to see the RSC’s productions of King Lear in August/September and The Tempest in November. If ‘Dream’ is anything to go by, I can’t wait.

Images found here

Watch the trailer here.

See you soon,

Ro x


The Dadliest Day.

This is going to be a really short one as I’m away for a few days, but just thought I’d share something. Yesterday, as I’m sure you’re well aware, was Father’s Day. I’m so lucky to have a dad as selfless, caring and brilliant as mine. He may get grumpy and he constantly moans at me for the state of my room (which even I’ll admit is disgustingly messy most of the time!) but he’s fantastic. Have few mildly embarrassing pictures of him and let me hear all about your great dads (or mums/parents!) in the comments!

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Sorry dad, think I wore them better.

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One is not amused.

 

Dad2

This is the only recent picture I have of us that we don’t look miserable in – my 19th birthday (NYE 2013)

Enjoy the Toblerone & Eric Clapton album, Dad!

Love, Your Favourite x

 

 


Books on a Budget: The Miracle of The Charity Shop.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but charity shops are a beautiful thing. Not only is your money contributing to good causes, but they’re also incredibly cheap. I have a lot of love for the charity shop. I just finished my book (review in two weeks – you’ll see why on Wednesday!) and although I have another on the go, I’m not quite in the right mood for the style of writing it’s in – it’s not an easy one to get into, and the language can be difficult to tackle. Having only just finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, another one with rich and heavy language, I need a break.

I’m travelling to London for a few days on Monday, so I need plenty to read for the train journeys as well, but don’t have a lot of funds – here’s where the charity shop comes in. I bought 3 brand-new books for 49p apiece at Barnardo’s, a children’s charity. All 3 have prices printed on them, and should’ve cost £22 at retail value – not a bad discount!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my Kindle – I’m not a snob when it comes to paper vs electronic – and I love a brand new book, but charity shopping for books is generally speaking cheaper, and works much better than Kindle when you don’t know what you want exactly. Of course, you’re less likely to find independent authors or self published works, but they tend to be fairly cheap on Kindle anyway. The main problem I have with charity shopping for books that you don’t get with eBooks is that I never get rid of any – while I should donate my existing books before I buy any new ones, it never happens and the mountain of books I need to sort through just gets bigger and bigger!

I had the added benefit last summer of working at a charity shop, and intend to return once I’m settled in a paying job. I worked at a Cats Protection shop, and not only was the experience incredibly rewarding and something I thoroughly enjoyed, I also often got first look in with the books! I used to sort donations, particularly gift aided ones, so I was often the first person to look at the stock. Clothes go through the process of being steamed, tagged and priced before being ready to be sold, which could take a while if we had a backlog, but books could be put out straight away – meaning I could hoard any I wanted and buy them at the end of the day. This was not a healthy environment for my purse to be in.

Even if you don’t have the time to volunteer, I would definitely recommend going into charity shops for books, especially if you’re on a tight budget or looking for something different and unexpected – you never know what you’ll pick up!

See you soon,

Ro x


It’s Not The Time.

I know I’m supposed to be posting a creative piece today, but this is just so much more important. I’m so saddened by the attack in Orlando and confused by some reactions to this that I couldn’t just carry on like normal today – creative piece will happen later on in the week.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, last night 50 people were killed and 53 injured in a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando. A place that was considered “safe” for LGBT+ people to embrace and celebrate who they are was attacked. My heart is so heavy and while I started writing this angrily, it’s just turned into more sadness over the loss of life.

In a situation like this, you expect people to mourn. You expect Facebook news feeds, Twitter feeds, WordPress readers to be full of people paying their respects. Of course I saw many of these sorts of posts – there’s an awful lot of sadness and an awful lot of anger, as there should be. I also unfortunately keep seeing people making the comment that it “doesn’t matter” that these people were LGBT+, and that “all lives matter”. A lot of people are comparing it to the Paris shootings.

This attack was not just a terror attack. This was a hate crime – as Owen Jones so rightfully put it, it’s comparable to someone walking into a religious building and open firing. This wasn’t an attack on anyone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as in the Paris shootings. The victims of this attack didn’t happen to be LGBT+. The attacker knew most if not all people in there would be LGBT+. It cannot be denied that this was a homophobic attack.

It matters that the attacker targeted a certain group of people. It should be a no-brainer that this matters. It doesn’t mean that these peoples’ lives are any more or less important than any others, nor does it mean that the Paris shootings are any more or less tragic. It matters because the LGBT+ community have fought for so long just for the right to exist, and this has been taken away by one man with a gun. It matters because no one should have to fight for the right to stay alive and safe, especially in their own communities.

I could go on and on about how oppression works and what the impact of this attack will be etc, etc, but this isn’t the time. This isn’t the time to tell people to calm down. This isn’t the time to pick fights. This is the time to support the LGBT community and appreciate that people all over the world are grieving. Don’t make it worse.

Ro x

 


Writing About Writing: Who Should We Write For?

Since starting university three years ago, I’ve met a lot of writers – most in the same position as me, at university learning to hone their skills and now many of us are graduating and being thrown into the big wide world. In these three years, the same topic of conversation to do with writing has come around a lot; who should we write for?

The question is one that I struggle with personally a lot more now that I have this blog. I created it for myself, as a way to keep myself reading and writing, and so far that has also happened to be quite successful with readers; by no means is the blog popular as such, and I’m certainly not going to become a full-time, professional blogger any time soon, but my audience is steadily increasing and I think I’m doing fairly well considering it’s only been about a month. In posting what I write online, although it is from and for myself first and foremost, the reader becomes a part of the reason for writing.

I think it’s quite common with things like blogs to become easily discouraged, and for me I think writing solely for readers will do that to me; I need a schedule and I need to make myself write things on time, simply to keep me motivated, but pushing myself to write things that readers will want to see all the time will just make me tire of it. I’m currently tackling this attitude quite well; I’m not letting it bother me if my posts aren’t very successful, and instead focusing on writing the next one. This is often easier said than done, but making a conscious effort to do so is helping massively. Writing for me means writing things that interest me – and if other people aren’t interested by that thing, I have a million other things to write/review/discuss.

A friend of mine recently admitted that she was scared to set up a dedicated place on the internet for her creative writing, in case no one read it. My response to this, and I know it’s a hypocritical one, was this – who cares? It’s really scary to put your work out there, and I certainly worry that no one will read or like my creative stuff, but it’s better to have it out where someone can read it than leaving things gather dust in a 5 year old folder with an embarrassing title buried deep in your laptop.

On the topic of creative writing, we must discuss books and publishing works on paper. Historically speaking, many writers wrote for the money; Dickens was often paid by the word to write his serials, which we now of course read in the form of huge novels. It would be naive to say that many popular authors today write without money in mind, however for the majority of writers nowadays this isn’t a lucrative business; only the very bestselling authors earn enough money to live on, much less the fortunes earned by the likes of JK Rowling. Going into writing with the sole purpose of making money would be largely disappointing.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that people don’t write with the intention of getting published – there would be little point in spending all that time creating something to then not show anyone­, whether we publish for free or for profit.

So, who (or what) should we write for? Ourselves? Our audience? Money? Personally, I believe a mix is probably the best bet for success, but that’s just my personal opinion – I’ll get back to you when I’m a bestselling author!

See you soon,

Ro x


Review: Welcome to Night Vale

Before we get into today’s post, a quick announcement: Always in the Write has Facebook and Goodreads! Like us on Facebook here and follow us on Goodreads here. Now back  to our usual scheduling! Ro x 

‘And now a brief public service announcement. Alligators: can they kill your children? Yes.’ – Welcome to Night Vale, Episode 1 ‘Pilot’

Welcome to Night Vale is fortnightly podcast. It is in the format of a community radio for the fictional American town of Night Vale, hosted by Cecil Gershwin Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin). There are currently 89 episodes as I’m writing this, along with 7 bonus episodes and separate live performances that are available to purchase separately.

The podcast is free to listen to and ad-free. It usually starts with co-creator Joseph Fink discussing tour dates, merchandise and other Night Vale related updates, and ends with a brief message and proverb from Meg Bashwiner. There are many guest voices, including Wil Wheaton as Earl Harlan, Mara Wilson as The Faceless Old Woman and Retta as Old Woman Josie. It is available on iTunes, via their website or YouTube channel, on most podcast apps and more (see their website).

I must admit, I’m not actually up to date on the show. I started listening when there were about 25/30 episodes and unfortunately didn’t have time to catch up and keep up to date with them. I pick it up every few months or so but I’m yet to catch up. This past week however I’ve been listening to it a lot – I’ve had a lot of packing/tidying/unpacking/tidying to do, and it makes a nice change from listening to the same playlist over and over again, as I’m prone to do. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to episode 76. Each episode is around 25-30 minutes long, including the introductions and proverbs.

When listening to previous episodes of the show, especially if you’re binging as I tend to do, the introductions do get boring – the announcements are out of date and same-y, but you have to remember that the show is only released every two weeks and wasn’t really meant to be binged. The introductions aren’t very long, however, and break up listening quite nicely; so it’s not all bad.

I realise I’ve written 300 words of this review without actually reviewing anything! So, here goes. The show is darkly funny, which suits my sense of humour perfectly. Science fiction is quite hit and miss for me, however Night Vale seems to get it just right. It isn’t too complicated, and yet paints a picture of the town brilliantly. Despite the plots and events being told mostly retrospectively by our host, Cecil, Welcome to Night Vale manages to find the balance between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ the audience well. The show aims to mix the supernatural, horrific and down-right weird with everyday life, and does so in a charmingly amusing way. It dips into the serious and profoundly philosophical matters of the meaning of life, humanity’s place in the universe and other such topics, but never for too long without returning to light-hearted comedy. For me, Welcome to Night Vale is reminiscent of the original radio performances of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and is following a similar path in the publication of the Night Vale novel last October.

The format of a podcast is a really interesting one for storytelling, and Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor use it incredibly well. Using the premise of a radio show is a convenient and effective way to use podcasting. The different segments keep it organised but interesting, and add separate aspects to the podcast as well as the main plotline for the episode. Episodes often revolve around a certain event, for example, but this is broken up by segments such as horoscopes, sponsor messages, an advice section, traffic updates and of course, the weather.

The weather segment is a song performed by a different independent artist every episode, providing exposure for new and budding artists from many different genres – even though the show revolves around similar plots and the same characters, you never know what you’re going to get with the weather. Although they are currently fully booked for the next year, they do take music submissions when they can; listeners are able to contribute to the show and get exposure for their work. Fink and Cranor truly go out of their way to support fellow independent creators in everything they do, Night Vale related and otherwise. This year saw the creation of Night Vale Presents, described on their website as;

The Night Vale Presents network continues Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink’s mission to encourage new, independent podcasting from writers and artists who haven’t worked in the format before. More podcasts will follow under the Night Vale Presents network in 2016 and 2017, both from the Night Vale artistic team and from other artists with a similar vision for independent, original podcasting.’

Not only is Welcome to Night Vale a great show that supports independent artists, but is also very diverse and inclusive. Cecil Baldwin, our host, is openly gay, and the cast and characters are diverse in age, race, gender and sexuality. In a town where a five-headed dragon runs for mayor and a Glow Cloud (allll haillll) is the head of the PTA, it’s difficult to be prejudiced. Unless you’re from rival town Desert Bluffs, no one really cares who you are.

Welcome to Night Vale is a well-established podcast now, and so may be difficult to catch up on, but I’d definitely recommend giving it a go, for several reasons. It is a brilliant show and a fantastic success story for independent creators, which is giving back to the independent arts community in many ways. If you do want to listen but are behind, don’t panic! Most episodes can be listened to as stand-alone plots, and they recently released a catch-up episode for the last few episodes. There are long-standing jokes and mentions of previous plotlines, however these are largely explained enough for new listeners to understand as well.

In the words of the Night Vale website: Turn on your radio and hide.

See you soon,

Ro x


Ten Minutes.

Ten minutes left. The man sighed, putting his book down. He’d been checking the clock every thirty seconds anyway; whatever he’d actually read had already been forgotten. The ticking seemed to get louder and louder, a harsh reminder of how long he’d been waiting and how slowly time seemed to be moving.

He got up and went to the kitchen – there was no clock in there. The silence was a welcome break, but he was still itching to check the time. He flicked the kettle on and sat at the small table, simultaneously trying to remember when he’d last sat there and wondering when he’d sit there again. He pulled the crumpled kit list out of his trouser pocket and went through it, picturing each item in his bag.

Seven minutes left. He sat back in his armchair with his tea and opened his book again, determined to forget about the time and focus on the story.

Reader, have you ever had to wait for something? Have you ever felt like time slowed down, just so you’d have to wait longer?

Yes, he thought. Spooky.

Janice Willow is the type of person this happens to a lot. Purely by chance, I suppose – it’s just her luck. Janice is our protagonist, you see – hence my asking. It helps for the reader to relate to a protagonist; or so they tell me.

He put the book down. Five minutes. He’d tried, at least. Never could get on board with this meta-fiction lark; it always just seemed pretentious and complicated to him. He sipped his tea and, upon realising that it was the perfect temperature, subsequently drank the whole thing in a few large gulps.

Three minutes. He read the blurb of the book, rolling his eyes and tossing it onto the coffee table. His daughter had recommended it, said he should get back into reading more literary texts. Personally, he was quite happy with his detective novels; and who said Agatha Christie wasn’t literary, anyway?

He got up again and went to the toilet, picking up his shoes from by the front door on his way back to the armchair. Somehow only a minute had passed. He rolled his eyes, tying his shoelaces up slowly.

One minute left. He washed his mug up and left it on the draining board – future him would probably be annoyed, but that wasn’t his problem.

He hoped his companion would be on time. He didn’t like lateness as it was, but this was especially important. He’d been waiting for this moment for years; ever since Esther died, or so he told himself. In reality, he’d wanted to escape long before that day. She’d been so ill, and he’d worked so hard to give her everything. He’d never want her to think she was a burden; the day she passed was the first break he’d had in two years, but he’d have given anything to have her back. Thirty seconds.

There was a knock at the door and his heart leaped – time to go.


Book Review: Dart – Alice Oswald

when the lithe water turns
and its tongue flatters the ferns
do you speak this kind of sound:
whirlpool whisking round?

Dart is a 48 page long poem, based around the River Dart in Devon. The poem explores many different voices, marked in the margins along with a few brief notes. The piece won the 2002 T.S Eliot Prize, and it is easy to see why.

I usually struggle to read long pieces of poetry, and so I was surprised to find that I enjoyed this so much. Again, this came from my boyfriend – he had to read it for a module of his, and started reading it aloud while I was there. I think this approach was what kept me interested; I didn’t read it all aloud, but if I found myself getting tired it helped to imagine it being read out in my head, rather than just reading it. Focusing on the rhythms and beat of the piece not only helped me read it but I think it also adds to the feel of it – there are places with little rhythm and places with a clear beat; this is obviously intentional, and should be read as such.

The River Dart (not my photo)

The narrative itself is a really interesting one. We aren’t physically transported along the river – that is to say, the reader is taken on the journey through the river by the different voices, going from walkers at the source of the river to crabbers and salmon fishers at the estuary, rather than the poem focusing on physical descriptions to show the river’s progression. The only real complaint I have here is that I’d have liked to hear more of many of the voices; we only get snapshots of stories, many even cut off mid-sentence just as you get hooked – but I suppose the river flows through fast, and cutting stories off before they’re finished is one of the ways Oswald reflects this. The voices cut off and overlap, which can be jarring but is also incredibly effective.

As a result of this cutting off and changing of rhythms, Oswald’s pacing is interesting and well done. Again, this reflects the river; some parts as slower, as the river may slow down, others fast paced, like rapids. The way she uses language and formats the poem also adds to this in an unexpected way – this isn’t set out in one way. Like the changes in voice and rhythm, the formatting of the poem changes regularly and in different ways; sometimes it changes suddenly, others it transitions smoothly.


Oswald’s own words on the piece explain what she is trying to achieve  incredibly well, and I would definitely suggest keeping them in mind if you decide to read this;

‘This poem is made from the language of people who live and work on the Dart. Over the past two years I’ve been recording conversations with people who know the river. I’ve used these records as life-models from which to sketch out a series of characters – linking their voices into a sound-map of the river, a songline from the source to the sea. There are indications in the margin where one voice changes to another. These do not refer to real people or even fixed fictions. All voices should be read as the river’s mutterings.’

I know poetry often seems daunting, especially when it’s this long, but it doesn’t have to be as difficult as all that and Oswald proves this – she’s telling a story, just in a slightly different format. Try it, you’d be surprised.

See you soon,

Ro x