Gig Review: #Cornerstone2020 New Writing Showcase in Bristol

On Thursday of last week I travelled to The Tobacco Factory in Bristol for Penguin’s #Cornerstone2020 new writing showcase. The Snug was packed with booksellers, bloggers, authors and publicists all eager to mingle and enjoy the generous hospitality. Drinks and snacks were provided; and then there were the books. By the end of the evening the overflowing table above was bare and emails were being exchanged to ensure that eager early readers could be provided with copies direct from London on the organiser’s return.

I am always delighted when book people leave their bases to tour other parts of the country. Prior to the Bristol event, much of this group had been to Edinburgh and Manchester. I had read on Twitter that these events were enjoyed by bloggers who attended.

So, what was the format of the evening?

To enable everyone to settle in and imbibe there was a chance to chat amongst ourselves. I honed in on Eley Williams who was deep in conversation with Matt, a bookseller I had met previously from Toppings Bookshop in Bath. I also chose to join a circle as a young lady there was carrying the Girly Swot tote from Galley Beggars so I thought they would be my sort of people. They turned out to be fellow book bloggers and we traded reading recommendations.

Susan Sandon, Managing Director of Cornerstone (a Penguin imprint), then brought the room to order and introduced the six authors who each gave a three minute pitch for their book.

Neil Blackmore introduced The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle as a seductive, sensuous novel. In it, two brothers embark on a Grand Tour of Europe where they plan to make connections and establish themselves in high society. Then they meet the beautiful and charismatic Edward Lavelle. The direction their lives are taking alters inexorably. The book will be published on 30 April.

Abbie Greaves introduced The Silent Treatment as a story inspired by a true situation she read about where a married couple hadn’t spoken for decades. In her tale, the couple live and sleep together but haven’t spoken for six months. Another blogger at the event had read an early proof and assured me it was brilliant and I must read it. The book will be published on 2 April.

Will MacLean introduced The Apparition Phase as a ghost story. Two children fake a photo to try to frighten an unpopular pupil at their school triggering a deadly chain of events. As a television scriptwriter, the author has focused on comedy and assured us that the book also has lighter elements, but it is what is lurking in the shadows that has always fascinated him. The book will be published on 15 October.

Andrew Hunter Murray’s The Last Day is a dystopian thriller based on the premise that the world has stopped turning. Parts of the planet are parched by constant sunlight while on the other side never ending darkness engulfs those who remain. Only certain areas remain habitable – including Britain – and are fiercely guarded. The book will be launched this coming week, on 6 February.

Nick Pettigrew has only just been outed as the author of Anti-Social, the single non fiction title in the showcase. He has written a year long diary detailing cases he dealt with as an Anti-Social Behaviour officer – a job he has recently left. Described as wickedly funny it touches on many of contemporary society’s urgent yet neglected and widely ignored issues. The book will be published on 25 June.

Eley Williams was the hook that initially persuaded me to attend the evening. Her short story collection, Attrib., won the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Influx Press in the year that I (and Matt from Toppings) was on the judging panel. The Liar’s Dictionary is her first novel and explores the world of the  lexicographer and their mountweazels – false entries inserted within dictionaries and other works of reference. In the present day, a young intern is required to weed these out. In Victorian times, a disaffected employee inserts them. I find this premise delicious and can’t wait to read Eley’s creative celebration of the rigidity and absurdity of language.

Having heard from each of the authors about their books there was then time to mingle once again. Guests were eager to chat further and some wished to have their proofs signed which somewhat disrupted certain conversations. I managed to chat to four of the six authors before it was time for me to leave to catch my train home. I had made sure early on to pick up proofs and was pleased to find a tote provided.

Thank you to Lydia at Penguin for my invitation. I am delighted with my generous goody bag and look forward to some quality reading. The event was indeed enjoyable and well worth attending.

As an aside, the Tobacco Factory has a book swap corner and I now think this should be de rigueur in all pubs and cafés. From the reaction to my photo on Twitter, many readers agree.

Independent Bookshop Week 2019 – featuring #TheBristolBag

A number of weeks ago I was sent a tote bag depicting iconic Bristol landmarks in colourful artwork. Doesn’t it look gorgeous? In exchange I was asked to write about its design and functionality. I decided that, in order to do this, I needed to travel to the city and test it on location. The best way to test a tote bag is to fill it with books.

This week is Independent Bookshop Week – what better time to carry out my plan. On Wednesday afternoon I caught the train to Bristol intending to explore some of the city’s independent bookshops – previously I had only visited Waterstones and Foyles. A quick search in Google showed that other bookshops existed, although some were a little too far from the centre and spread out from each other for me to visit on foot in the time available.

Walking from Temple Meads Station to the harbour and then through Queen Square, I made my way up Park Street where I hoped to find the Last Bookshop. What a treasure trove it turned out to be.

 

Having browsed the shelves I struggled to limit my purchases – I will definitely be returning to this bookshop. My tote bag was now being put to good use and coping well with the added weight. It is constructed from good quality cotton canvas and has comfortable shoulder straps, easily taking my raincoat and new books.

I checked my phone for directions before making my way to the next independent bookshop Google had located.

 

Bloom and Curll is a small and eclectic bookshop featuring packed shelves, double packed in places, and tottering piles of both old and new titles. There was plenty to tempt me. I was even offered Jaffa cakes by the proprietor to keep me going while I made my selections.

 

What books did I buy on my day out, I hear you ask.

The top four are for myself and the bottom for my daughter – her reward for accompanying me. I did not come across any titles from my beloved independent publishers, but each of my purchases have been on my radar for quite a while.

Now I just have to find time to read them before my ever growing TBR pile falls over and inflicts serious damage.

 

The Bristol Bag was designed by a Bradford on Avon based company, Overt Design, who have created colourful tote bags featuring iconic landmarks for five local locations.

Gig Review: Novel Nights in Bristol, with guest speaker Nikesh Shukla

Novel Nights is a monthly literary meetup with branches in Bristol and Bath. The aim is to showcase and support excellent writing and writers at all stages of their careers. Last Wednesday evening I travelled to The Square Club in Bristol to listen to four authors read from their work and discuss Writing and Persistence. The event was part of the Bristol Festival of Literature and featured Nikesh Shukla, as headline speaker.

Grace Palmer, who set up Novel Nights five years ago and continues to run it along with a supportive team, opened proceedings by welcoming the audience and introducing Jari Moate, from the festival, as host. Jari told us that the Bristol Festival of Literature is now in its eighth year and receives no outside funding, relying on donations and ticket sales. It is run by volunteers, and it was following one of its events that Grace felt inspired to set up Novel Nights.

Jari then introduced the first reader, Anesu Pswarazayi, who read an extract from his debut story collection The Nomadic Slave. This is a memoir of growing up straddling three continents – Asia, Africa and Europe – and how perspectives are influenced by race, citizenship, and ascribed identity.

  

The second reader was Mike Manson (a last minute replacement for Karla Neblett) who read an excerpt from his latest work, Down in Demerera, which completes a trilogy of humorous novels. Mike also writes history books but likes to think he will return to fiction in the future.

  

The third reader was Sabrin Hasbun who describes herself as an Italian-Palestinian transnational writer. In the last few years she has lived in France, Japan, and the UK. She is currently doing her PhD in Creative Writing – focusing on memory and memoirs – at Bath Spa University. She talked about feeling Arabic in the West and Western when in Arabia. She read from her current work in progress which is based around a family from mixed backgrounds. The excerpt was a fictionalised account of her father’s childhood, exploring the subtle differences in treatment of Christians and Muslims. The religion marked on ID cards creates an invisible border between people who live side by side.

  

Pete from Foyles then drew the first half of the evening to a close by talking about the local branch’s plans for the festive season, their last before being taken over by Waterstones. He spoke of the effect of negative reviews on book sales, such as he has observed with the new Murakami. He also mentioned the recent Booker winner, Milkman, and how it was good to see a paperback scoop the prize as this will be affordable for more readers. He urged the audience to buy the books he had brought along and support our bookshops.

After a short break Grace sat down with Nikesh Shukla and asked him to introduce his work. As well as publishing four novels, Nikesh is: editor of The Good Immigrant, has written regularly for national newspapers, and co-founded The Good Literary Agency. The following is taken from notes I scribbled down during his discussion with Grace.

Nikesh spoke of his journey as a writer, how he started what eventually became The One Who Wrote Destiny when he was nineteen years old as he wanted to tell the story of a court case involving his uncle. Uncle came to the UK in the 1960s to join a friend who had been offered a job juggling in London clubs. Not knowing the UK, Uncle ended up taking digs in Keighley where he met the young girl he would marry. As other family members joined him he tried to buy a house in Huddersfield but was informed by the estate agent that company policy was not to sell to people of colour as they ‘would devalue the area’. This was in 1968 and the Race Relations Act had just been passed. Uncle took the company to court, the first person to do so under the Act. It was clearly discrimination yet he lost the case on a technicality.

Nikesh wished to write this family history into a sort of legal thriller but couldn’t make it work so set it aside, going on to write his first and second novels. Periodically he would retrieve the manuscript and rewrite it. When he showed it to his agent it was still a mess. The structure of the story was unlocked when he realised it could be a humorous family tale – matriarch and patriarch. Sometimes an author’s work is best left to cook for years.

The One Who Wrote Destiny was eventually written from four perspectives, set in different time-frames. It explores: race relations, immigration, illness and grief, destiny, fate, science.

  

Nikesh wants to understand people – his characters and their interior lives. He wrote Destiny in the first person as he felt comfortable with this – earlier versions had been written in the third person but felt messy. He also aimed to provide a positive representation of South Asian women.

Grace asked about rejection and Nikesh explained why he believes this can be healthy if based on writing – not if based on race. He has had work rejected because the submissions reader did not believe it was authentically Asian (from a British perspective) and because the publisher is ‘already publishing an Asian writer this year’.

Nikesh regards ‘literary merit’ as bullshit. He believes rejection is about the tastes of the person reading submissions. Authors may not want to rewrite to suit an editor but can still pick up hints as to what may not be quite working. An editor needs to recognise potential and be passionate about a book. It took him years to realise that rejection wasn’t about him but about whoever was reading. He advised the audience to do their research and seek out that person who will love your work, to submit it to the correct person in an agency who will be hungry to build their lists. This requires persistence – and rejection still stings.

Asked how to know when a book is ready for submission the advice was to take as much time as was needed, to make the manuscript bullet proof, the best it can be (time is available before first book is published that will no longer exist once under contract). Nikesh suggested sharing work with trusted readers who would be honest in their feedback, then to set it aside before rereading.

Seek out agents who publish the sort of work written. Submit to multiple agents and inform all if full manuscript called in (although don’t say by who). This introduces an element of competition. When your published work appears in a bookshop rejections will be forgotten. Nikesh’s aim was to publish a book, anything after being a bonus. He sometimes needs to remind himself of this.

There must be an element of trust between author, agent and editor – an ability to talk through any issues or concerns. Nikesh was not impressed with the recent comments made by Booker judges about the standard of editing. His experiences have mostly been positive.

Asked about The Good Literary Agency, Nikesh told us they are now signing up writers and have a huge submissions pile. They have just completed their first six figure deal with Transworld, for an author who had spent twenty years on her book.

Not all writers have the time or ability to enroll on creative writing courses, MAs or retreats. The Good Literary Agency aims to offer mentoring and to to nurture its authors.

A member of the audience asked Nikesh about the emotional impact on him as a writer when writing his characters’ emotions. He told us that he has never made himself cry but he has laughed. Destiny did not affect him in this way, perhaps because it was reworked significantly. Nikesh regards writing as therapy so his emotional response is more often one of relief. He spends so long with his characters he comes to know what to expect from them.

Nikesh was asked  how he engages with those who may not see writing as for them, perhaps due to their socio-economic upbringing. He suggested school visits and engaging with whatever makes an author appear accessible to the children. He mentioned one boy who asked him about the hair gel he wore. The teacher was not impressed but Nikesh understood that this was a potential connection that could be built on.

He considers the discussion around Booker winner Anna Burns interesting. She was on benefits because she needed the benefits. The fact that she used some of her time to write was her choice. Making money from writing is a challenge. Nikesh can spend longer each week doing events.

Another question was asked about emotions. Nikesh talked about the importance of keeping the author’s voice off the page – of reactions remaining the characters’. Authorial distance matters.

Asked about what compromises should be made for the reader who may not understand the reality of a culture Nikesh expressed a need to push back against certain attitudes, to use authentic names even if these are not familiar or some may find them hard to remember.

Asked if he had any interest in collaborating, perhaps writing a graphic novel, Nikesh was enthusiastic. He would love to write a Spiderman novel. He reads graphic novels and has recently enjoyed Booker longlisted Sabrina.

As Grace said in her summing up:

“we learned such a lot from Nikesh tonight – about persistence as a writer, the importance of a good editor, ideas on when to push back with an editor, advice on choosing agents”

I enjoy the discussions at Novel Nights for their candid content. The evening was well worth attending.

As an aside, I appreciated the value of having a professional photographer to hand. Compare the somewhat dark and blurry photos above, snapped on my phone throughout the evening, with these taken by Tom Shot Photography, who gave me permission to include a few of his – taken along with several other images that you may wish to check out shared by Grace on the Novel Nights Facebook page.

  

  

The One Who Wrote Destiny is published by Atlantic Books.

You may read my review here.

Gig Review: Adam Kay in Bristol

Last Thursday evening my husband and I set off, through chaotic travel conditions that had emptied motorway traffic onto every other route toward Bristol, to attend a sold out show I had booked tickets for in the spring. It was touch and go whether we would get there on time but we made it – just! Judging from the empty seats in the auditorium a fair few didn’t.

We were there to see Dr Adam Kay on his comedy tour based around his best selling book, This Is Going To Hurt. Much of his material was taken from the published diary entries. Added to these readings were songs in a similar vein.

The show is very funny. I did feel a tad sorry for the doctor seated near the front who Adam kept referring to for laughs. Hopefully he took it in good spirits.

There was further audience participation in a sing along quiz. This worked better than it may sound – Adam had most of the audience in the palm of his hand.

My husband, who hasn’t read the book, was laughing more than I have seen in years throughout the evening. He wasn’t, however, impressed by the way the show was concluded. Having shared the very moving reason for resigning as a doctor, Adam gave his views on health secretaries and the way governments blame staff for problems in the NHS, which the media duly reports thereby influencing the general public’s perceptions. He asked that we consider the challenges of being a medical practitioner where, despite best endeavours, patients may die. Doctors are human. They sometimes make mistakes. The job is stressful enough without having to face accusations of greed when ninety hour weeks are being worked to ensure patients are cared for.

On that somewhat downbeat note the show ended. Adam received rapturous applause and moved to the foyer where he signed books purchased. He had explained earlier that, on each leg of the tour, a local bookshop is invited to provide stock as some tax may thereby be paid.

It was an enjoyable evening. Fairly short – for a show at that price, not a book event – at around an hour but was packed with laugh out loud anecdotes and irreverent banter. If you haven’t read it already, I recommend the book.

Book Review: Bristol

Bristol is an anthology of experimental prose poetry from the wonderfully subversive publisher, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, under their DW Cities imprint. Created in collaboration with an array of literary groups, each book in the series is accompanied by a local event held in the city featured. Like the writing, the idea may be innovative but it is satisfying that such a venture is made possible by supporters and contributors. The literary world benefits from original thinking.

This slim title contains diverse work from six writers. It opens with a concept piece from Sarer Scotthorne which I interpreted as a commentary on the effects of zero hours contract relationships. There is a feeling of risk and disconnection – of those who sign up being expendable. Hours are described as ‘missing’, method as ‘island gropes’ or ‘into a kind of abyss’. It is strangely disconcerting.

Vik Shirley offers a series of poems on celebrity (Betsy) and their varied acolytes (vigilantes). Betsy is a has been whose continued fame relies on her intense following. They demand certain standards for inclusion and have become a power in themselves. The real Betsy is no longer needed for the vigilantes to continue as influencers.

David Turner sets his pieces in the Tate Modern and provides an entertaining alternative commentary on famous art installations. They are playful in their treatment of the conceits and rage of well known artists and their work.

Paul Hawkins’ contribution is more opaque. I took from it a cynical despair at continuing demand for vanilla living and writing.

“the world is full of climbers
putting the win on instagram

hucksters pumping sherbet after sherbet
of effects into the stratosphere

balm ready
going super soft option for the whining win”

Lizzy Turner opens with a quartet of diary entries highlighting the problems of living with anxiety. She then blacks out increasing sections, thus bringing to the fore the ongoing darkness of such a condition. It is a powerful evocation.

The final contributor is Clive Birnie whose bio explains he works with appropriated text. His six interrelated poems are about deals and money-making. Their protagonist, The Lemon Squeezer, is a ‘cease and desist investor’. There is mention of disgrace and deteriorating conditions, of catastrophe ‘becoming commoditised’ – advise given:

“A fool should sell himself, while
he still has something left to sell.”

One of the difficulties of reviewing experimental writing is a concern that my interpretations may be wide of the mark intended. Such is the risk taken by any writer publishing their work. As a reader I enjoyed unpacking this collection. It benefits from rereads and offers much to consider.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the editor, Paul Hawkins.

Gig Review: Novel Nights in Bristol, with guest speaker Jon Woolcott

“Novel Nights is a monthly literary event in Bristol and Bath showcasing and supporting excellent writing and writers at all stages of their career.”

I am a fan of independent publisher Little Toller which publishes books about nature, rural life, and local history, mainly in the British Isles. As well as being informative and engaging, their books are beautifully presented – high quality and aesthetically pleasing. I am always happy to receive one to review. When I spotted on Twitter that Jon Woolcott was to speak at a writers’ group in Bristol, and that all were welcome, I decided to go along. What an enjoyable evening it turned out to be.

Held in The Square Club, Clifton, this well attended and welcoming group offers creative writers the opportunity to read from their work prior to a talk from an invited guest. Last week we were treated to three excerpts from as yet unpublished novels, all with a nature theme.

Polly Roberts read from the novel she wrote as part of her Creative Writing MA, provisionally titled ‘Animals’ and currently looking for a home. This is a work of fiction and, in the excerpt read, the prose had a poetic quality. It described relationships between otters – the book is set in the English countryside.

Andy Morgan is a writer and journalist. He read from his non fiction work, ‘Sahara Soul Rebels’.

“Self, desert and nature are one and nature is beautiful”

Despite conflicts in the area there is a deep love for the land.

“I’m free in my country”

Grace Palmer, the founder of Novel Nights, read from ‘Cathy’s Field’. The excerpt centred around memories – an attachment to land that was to be sold.

“Time to let it all go”

Although based on a particular landscape on the Staffordshire / Shropshire border, the world and characters are fictional. This was the first chapter in a book Grace is working on.

There followed a short break allowing drinks to be purchased and conversations with other attendees to be enjoyed before Jon took his seat to give his talk on The Business of Books.

Jon has, over the course of his career to date, worked for Waterstones, Ottakars and Stanfords booksellers. He is aware that there can be a disconnect between author, publisher and retailer. In an industry that loves to gossip, where a plethora of information exists, rumours are rife. Jon gave is some facts.

In 2016 (the last year for which figures are available), the total sales from all publishers in the UK amounted to some £3.5 billion, £1.5 billion of which was exported. Around 160,000 individual titles were published. These included technical, academic, self-published and reprints of older books. There were around 60,000 ebooks published, many as co-editions of physical titles. How, in a market awash with books, does a bookseller decide what to stock?

Bookshops are businesses. Their primary priority is to remain solvent. They will therefore stock what sells, including cookbooks, celebrity memoirs and best-selling authors. Deciding what units of stock will shift can be tricky and there have been some notable disasters in the past twenty or so years.

The first of these was the end of the net book agreement. This led to retailers offering discounts on premium authors, the very titles that would sell anyway, to get customers through the door. Supermarkets wanted a slice of the action – Asda offered one of the new Harry Potter titles for a fiver. Waterstones introduced its 3 for 2 multibuys.

Then there was Amazon. The use of the ISBN enabled the online retailer to easily catalogue available books. In response to Amazon’s success several bricks and mortar chains abandoned their ecommerce operations, although many of these have since been reinstated. Amazon was accepted as the go to on line shop.

Next came the Richard and Judy Book Club. Their first title was expected to sell perhaps twenty thousand units. It sold ten times this amount. In response, publishing focused on that market. It influenced commissioning decisions, packaging and price. Publishers tried to produce books more cheaply, affecting quality and creating generic designs.

Soon after came ebooks. For certain genres this caused a 20% drop in sales, badly affecting bookshops. Books are, after all, discretionary purchases. Attempts to copy the success of the Kindle failed.

Then, in 2011 the Booker Prize winner, Julian Barnes, praised the design of his novel. He stated that if physical books were to have a life in the world of ebooks they must be beautiful, that the product must be created to gain attention. Jon equated this to the plumage on birds.

The race to the bottom ceased.

Around the same time Waterstones was sold to a Russian billionaire who simplified the business. A centralised buying structure was introduced, stores were refurbished and many of the price promotions removed. As a result sales fell but so did returns. Publishers grew used to selling books over a longer period rather than simply around initial publication.

Book tables are now less likely to hold only the latest best sellers. Curation has grown in importance. The shortcomings of the Kindle have been recognised – they have a place but not a monopoly. The landscape of bookselling is as stable today as it has been for some time.

The invisible giant, Amazon, remains with its poor pay and ability to avoid tax. However, readers are aware of this and can make informed choices. Many bookshops, including the independents, will take on line orders and post direct to readers.

Although the big publishers are still mainly London based there has been a notable growth in the small presses. They are willing to take risks on what they believe in, and most bookshops are willing to stock their titles. Social media offers access to readers. Although still tiny, managing to survive month by month, they offer authors greater flexibility and a beautiful end product.

So, how does this affect writers?

Firstly, bookshops matter. Forge relationships with booksellers early on. Seek advice on what sells. Make friends but don’t make it all about your book. Be realistic in expectations – bookshops are commercial enterprises. Offer to sign books (there is no truth in the rumour that signed books cannot be returned). Offer to do events, then provide the audience by inviting friends. Generate interest by joining up with another writer to offer a Q&A and help sell their books as well as your own.

Other aspects that matter are a good AI sheet – offer to meet the publisher’s sales rep. Use social media – The Big Green Bookshop is a fine example of how this can work. Provide content for the local newspaper, perhaps the story behind the book. Invest time in creating an author website or blog – and sing the praises of your local bookshop. Encourage readers to use their library too.

Jon was asked about the recent growth of interest in nature writing. He suggested this could be partly nostalgia but also an increase in awareness of the planet. Little Toller started out republishing nature classics but now publishes more contemporary works, some from commissions and others from submissions. It remains small, operating out of a converted cow byre on its founders’ farm.

With that the evening was drawn to a close and the audience were able to browse and buy from a tempting range of Little Toller books. As anticipated, this had proved a truly fascinating evening.

Little Toller Books will publish the latest in their Monograph Series, Eagle Country by Seán Lysaght, in April 2018. It is available to buy now if ordered direct – click on the cover below.

You may keep up with events organised by Novel Nights on their website and by following them on Twitter: NovelNights (@novelnightsuk)

You may follow Jon Woolcott on Twitter (@jonwoolcott) and also Little Toller Books (@LittleToller)

Gig Review: How to Build a Girl

Caitlin-Tour_wide_320

So, yesterday evening my daughter and I jumped on a train to Bristol for a girls night out. I say jumped on a train. Husband actually drove us to the station and came inside to buy our tickets, because manned ticket offices are just so last year and I am utterly inept when it comes to machines. If I ever have to face a cyber army that demands I remember any sort of number or password under pressure then I am doomed.

Prior to setting off on this latest adventure I had Googled the hell out of Bristol centre, plotting and memorising our journey from station to venue. Wonder of wonders, I broke the habit of a lifetime and did not get lost. We traversed that mile across the city like pros. Can I say that? Do you now have a picture in your head of a different type of street walker? Moving swiftly on…

I had promised daughter food, but when it came down to it was rendered useless in the face of vast quantities of people, buildings and traffic. Realising that there was a risk she may not be fed, daughter took me in hand and marched me across streets filled with street art and and an eclectic mix of people such as would never make an appearance in our sheltered little corner of Wiltshire. It was fabulous. We found a supermarket, stocked up on picnic items, and went to sit, eat and watch the world go by. I had never before realised that, just as London has its black taxi cabs, Bristol has blue. Simple pleasures.

Suitably sustained for the evening ahead we made our way to the venue, Colston Hall, where Caitlin Moran was due to take to the stage to tell us How To Build a Girl.

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What can I say about Caitlin Moran? She comes across as outrageous, irrepressible, hilarious, rude and slightly bonkers. She is also as real and inspiring as any entertainer I have had the pleasure to go see live. Within the first half hour she had the 1769 women and 53 men in the sold out venue standing on their chairs shouting “I AM A FEMINIST!” My daughter and I were right there, seven rows back. The only members of the audience who didn’t join in were the ones who fell off their flip up chairs, victims perhaps of the lure of the bars on such a hot, summer’s night.

colstoncaitlin

The evening was such fun. I loved the fact that the audience, although mainly women, were of all shapes, sizes and styles. Theatre attracts the affluent, music gigs the fans, Caitlin attracted women in all their incarnations. It was refreshing to feel at home, not to have to even think about what I looked like despite being out in public. It was a rare and thought provoking experience.

And my daughter loved it too, she even thanked me for taking her. At seventeen she was amongst the youngest in the audience, which I thought a shame. Young women would benefit from hearing this message presented in such an amusing and irreverent way. Woman are normal even though we are not men, we should not allow ourselves to be conditioned to feel shame.

A great night out was completed with a slow exit from the hall during which we saw Caitlin taking more photographs of the crowd with her phone. I loved the thought that she was as blown away by the camaraderie as the rest of us. Daughter and I made our way back through the buzzing city streets of Bristol, avoiding the leers of passing men, to catch our train home.

Thank you to My Independent Bookshop for providing us with tickets to this event. Daughter was most impressed that I was on a gig guest list, and very much enjoyed being my plus 1.

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Film Review: The Silent Waiting Room

Yesterday I was offered the opportunity to review a newly released, independent, short film. As I watched a run-through to see if I would be interested, it quickly became clear that this was not just a film but a work of art. Yes, I wanted to review it. My concern was that I should do such a creation justice.

‘The Silent Waiting Room’ was conceived, written and directed by Jack Ralls, who was also largely responsible for the editing. This talented young actor has appeared alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC’s crime drama, ‘Sherlock’. He has also been a knight in ‘Merlin’ and has had roles in ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Casualty’.

In this short film he plays Jerry, one of four friends living out their afterlife through silent movies which allow them to to re live their golden years as actors. Jerry, however is drawn to his wife, Grace, still in the living world, thus breaking the facade of the romantic play in which they try to continue.

The film is presented in black and white with an accompanying, hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. It makes use of techniques from the hey day of silent films, with clever use of light, shadow, flickering celluloid and stills, artfully employed to evoke the appropriate atmosphere and emotion.

A chase scene makes use of classic, humorous techniques, with protagonists running through a variety of settings including fields, parks, streets, and steps; going unseen when a back is turned, hiding an implausible number of people in a basket. The locations, which are all in and around Bristol, are cleverly juxtaposed to facilitate flow and variety, with characters moving too and fro seamlessly.

In such a short space of time the film offers menace, threat, humour and pathos. The most moving scenes are when those in the afterlife visit the still living, their now elderly partners who are still to join them. The juddering, merging of black and white with colour works perfectly, treasured photographs explaining who is who.

Although I guess I could see it coming, the denouement still had me in tears, not something that I succumb to easily. What a lovely thought that the frail and elderly may return to their prime and join those they love, that death is another beginning.

The whole idea behind this film appealed, that there is an afterlife where we may meet up with friends and loved ones to have some fun. In this life we are well aware of the feelings of loss that a death produces, it was interesting to consider that those who go before us may also feel bereft until we join them.

Jack Ralls was obviously key in the making of this film, but there were many others who provided the talent required to bring this project to life. None of the actors, artists, musicians or supporting crew should be overlooked. When a work that is so aesthetically pleasing is brought to my attention I realise how much I take for granted when being entertained. Art such as this deserves wider recognition and appreciation.

Have I piqued your interest? If so then get yourself a cup or glass of your favourite beverage, settle yourself on a comfy chair, and indulge in fifteen minutes of pleasure. This sublime film should be seen and shared, enjoy.