Sunday, 24 October 2010

Rebecca In The Scout Hut

It was much as expected. A full house (we don't get much in the way of entertainment on the estate since Fiery Dave and his souped-up wheel-spinning Subaru moved, thanks to the petition and umpteen Asbos, to East Kilbride), uncomfortable chairs pinched from the Mixed Infants, intermittent lighting, and a biting wind through the window that never got mended after the Brownies had a bit of a fracas during last Easter's performance of Riverdance. Still, we were all there, in the scout hut, more in hope than expectation (as always) and we weren't disappointed.

The am-drammers had copped out (in my opinion) on the settings and used the backdrops from last year's panto (Jack and the Beanstalk). Therefore, Manderley (interior and exterior) was the giant's castle, the South of France was the market square minus The Village Children but sadly still plus the painted-on cow, and the Gothic atmosphere (such as it was) was provided by the lights being turned on and off very quickly backstage. Well, until the moment they all fused, then - until they were fixed - it was down to three people with torches aided by several rows of the audience who, remembering that ill-fated coach trip to see Barry Manilow at Blenheim Palace, held their lighters aloft.

Avis from the Co-op was The Second Mrs de Winter. As Avis is 53 and - given her build and incipient moustache - had been the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, she wasn't that convincing as a frail and nervous child-bride, but her twin-set and tweed skirt were lovely. It was slightly disturbing that Maxim was played by Larry the postman. Now, there's nothing wrong with Larry and he can act his socks off when he puts his mind to it, but Avis is his mum - so you see the problem. We all tried to suspend disbelief and any squeamishness, but it tested even the most ardent theatre-goer at times.

The am-drammers are a small group, therefore there was the usual doubling-up of roles. Mrs Danvers (played with terrifying authenticity by the vicar's wife, leading us to discuss in the intermission - egg sandwiches with concrete crusts and polystyrene beakers of tepid tea - just exactly what home-life was like in the vicarage) was also Bee and, after lots of muttering and rustling and quick-changes of jacket/hat/beard in the wings, Sid Newman from the garden centre became Jack Favell,Frank Crawley, Frith and Giles. Any scenes that involved more than one of these characters were relegated to off-stage conversations aided and abetted by Gorgeous George (a nickname given with full rustic irony) from the garage who was the narrator. A narrator, we all felt, was essential, given the gaping gaps in the script.

Jasper (Avis's elderly Jack Russell was substituted for the springer spaniel of the original) made several impromptu appearances. Usually when he wasn't required. And eventually he went to sleep in the middle of the stage, snoring loudly, and no-one could shift him so everyone just stepped round him. Except Avis during one of her most wither-wringing scenes when she tripped over him and uttered a line of such eye-watering profanity that Dame Daphne must have groaned in her grave.

We were all, it must be said, really waiting for the burning of Manderley. It was well worth the wait. As we held our collective breath in a frenzy of anticipation, noises-off provided, by way of Gorgeous George rustling aluminium foil and blowing-across-the-tops-of-bottles (we could see this operation taking place so it did somewhat dilute the artistic tension), a lot of crackling and roaring, followed by the smoke machine, which was fairly impressive. I say only fairly as unfortunately the copious billows of thick grey vapour were caught in the draught from the Brownies broken window and rolled, like a Victorian pea-souper, away from Manderley/Giant's Castle and the stage generally and wafted across the audience. As the first four rows disappeared in the murk, everyone nostalgically agreed that it was just like being in the snug of the Weasel and Bucket before the smoking ban. Happy days!

Once the fog had cleared and someone had woken Jasper, and the vicar's wife (aka Mrs Danvers at that point) had stopped screaming, the am-drammers took their bows and got three curtain-calls (there weren't any curtains but you get the idea). Then we all tidied our chairs and beakers away, and as we filed outside into night the general consensus was that Rebecca in the Scout Hut had been a resounding success.

Their next production will be the Christmas panto of course (Goldilocks this year - we're all assuming Avis will be taking the title role and stretching the imagination even further and that possibly all three bears will be played by Larry) and then, frighteningly, they're going to be tackling Ben Hur.

I will be reviewing it here. Maybe...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Bugger - I Didn't Win The Booker...

Well, not that I expected to of course, not being short-listed or even long-listed or even in contention at any stage or anything because I'm not even a smidgen literary. However, I was very chuffed when one of those intense and scary-looking telly arts' commentators said that this year's winner - Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question - was a comic novel and indicated a move away from serious to humorous, from high-brow to middle-brow. Oooh, I thought - one more brow down and there's hope for me and the rest of the Rom-Commers yet. But, sadly, it seems not...

Now, I haven't read The Finkler Question (I've never read anything either long or short listed for the Booker because I'm a pleb), but the little bit I heard being read out last night didn't make me chortle. I actually didn't really understand it... which means, I suppose, that it must be really, really good. And Howard Jacobson showed a great sense of fun (I thought) when he said he'd spend the £50,000 (gulp) prize money on a handbag for his wife with a wry "have you seen the price of handbags?".

However, while I was having a little happy moment about The Man Booker sliding ever so slowly towards people of my limited brain-power, Andrew Motion (chair of judges) sodded it up by describing The Finkler Question as "laugh-out-loud funny but so nearly adjacent to tragedy" and "very sad, melancholic, laughter in the dark..." and then Mr Jacobson himself compounded my deepest fears by saying his novel wasn't "easy-peasy and middle-brow because it's comic. It's much cleverer and more complicated and about much more difficult things..."

Ah, well - many congrats to Howard Jacobson - but I have a feeling that Brian from the kebab van and Maisie the Useless Medium won't be troubling the Booker judges for a while yet...

And - while on the subject of literary fiction - I listened to the first ever Radio 2 Book Club reviews on Monday evening. This time the book chosen was Mr Chartwell - a first-time novel about depression and Winston Churchill and a widowed librarian set over 5 days in the summer of 1964. Mr Chartwell - who has a massive viewpoint role apparently (haven't read this one either because I'm a pleb) - is a giant black dog (black dog equalling depression which is the theme of the novel)... Ooooh, I thought, how many times have I been told that having an animal narrator is a huge no-no - things must be soooo different in Lit Fic Land. The author sounded very young and very happy and has been given a very pleasing advance - which is wonderful for her - but several reviewers said while they loved her descriptions they couldn't understand some of her complex sentences and had to re-read them several times to get the gist... Now, in Commercial Fiction Land that would earn you a sharp editorial rap on the knuckles and a severe editing session...

Oh, well - it's back to the keyboard and baby-easy sentences and Brian from the kebab van and words of one syllable for me...

Oh - and while out yesterday, I saw this notice in the window of The Eight 'til Late:
"Fitzharry's Am Dram Society proudly present Rebbecca by Daphne Du Maurier, unabridged, for three nights, in the Scout Hut".

The burning of Manderley???? The scenes in the south of France??? The costume ball??? Rebecca's boat on stormy seas???? In the Scout Hut?????

I've bought tickets.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Champagne at 38,000 Feet

Last Sunday it was my birthday (I'm now VERY old) - and thank you so much to everyone who sent greetings and then obviously thought I was a mardy mare for not replying - but I was celebrating it with champagne and The Toyboy Trucker and 300+ other people somewhere dizzily high in the sky above the Alps en route to Cyprus. How decadent was that??? Actually, it was just wonderful. Perfect. I cried with happiness (I cry VERY easily) when I found out about it. Cyprus was my surprise birthday present from TTT, Elle and The Doctor and I LOVED it. Had never been before and will go back as soon as poss. We left the UK early on my birthday morning with temperatures in single figures and a cutting northerly wind howling across a bleak sky - and landed 4 hours later in 35+ degrees of non-stop sunshine. It was one of the most blissful weeks of my life...

But now I'm back, feet firmly on the ground, shivering and WORKING. Well, I'm trying. The new book (Never Can Say Goodbye) is still going okay. It seems to be like Going the Distance and Hubble Bubble in the way it's kind of unfolding itself easily as I go along. Strangely (because I still have absolutely no idea how my books ever come into being, or how I write them, or why it seems natural to me to have this entire cast of REAL people living inside my head) my books don't follow the same pattern. Some like this one (so far) sort of write themselves, others need a lot more concentration and - er - work.

My early Orion books seemed to gush out with no problems (but then I was still all starry-eyed about being published and everything was all lovely and shiny and new), then the HarperCollins ones were much bigger and more complex and layered and therefore took longer and I had to make sure that all the ends tied up and all the sub-plots reached a conclusion as well as the main story thread. And since then, the Piatkus/Little,Brown ones have been a mix of the two. Love Potions gave me all sorts of headaches (mainly because when the title was changed from Flower Power {considered too hippie} I realised I hadn't actually got any love potions in it and had to go back and slot them in); Heaven Sent was far too short but I'd told the story and anything else would have been padding; Happy Birthday was too long (in my opinion) and probably should have been two books...

And The Way To A Woman's Heart....??? Well, once I'd stopped being a diva-bitch-from-hell author and got over it no longer being called Midnight Feast, and accepted that Sunny (heroine) was now called Ella, and that it had to be a longer, meatier story (sorry, bit of a pun as it's about cookery) with a bigger cast of characters, less obvious practical magic and more grounded reality but still series-linked to the previous books - oh, and amusing, I finally knuckled down and just did it.

I suppose, as a writer, that's what it's all about really - just doing it. No-one else is going to. Sadly, it's taken me years to realise that! Much as there were many, many mornings when I'd switch on the computer and hope that the Tailor of Gloucester's mice had written several thousand words of The Way To A Woman's Heart overnight, eventually I accepted that if I didn't do it then it would never be finished. Weird though how the changing of the title and the heroine's name made it the most difficult book I've ever written. Still, it's done, I'm happy with it - and hopefully the slog/sweat/angst/difficult-author-tantrums won't show...

Never Can Say Goodbye (and that is going to be the title - they've had the discussion about maybe changing it to something else and happily decided to stick with my "let's get away from the cutesy magicky titles" title - so that's one hurdle - um - hurdled) is developing into a completely different book. The magic is slightly more - um - spooky. The characters are more eccentric (as in Brian from the kebab van and Maisie the Useless Medium). The situations more down-to-earth - well, in a sort of off-the-wall way. And much as I thought that after actually having to "work" on The Way To A Woman's Heart (I really hate work!) I'd never find my mo-jo or my writing joi-de-vivre again, so far I'm having fun with it. Which is just as well as it has to be finished by Christmas. Erk!

Blimey! This post is almost writerly. Still, the next one won't be as I've got to blog about total rubbish. Even more total rubbish than usual because our local council has just ventured into the multi-wheely-bin-refuse-disposal-system and you wouldn't believe the uproar this has caused in the terrace... FIVE wheely bins, all different colours, all for different things, all collected on different days... It's causing anarchy here, I can tell you. Anarchy.

Oh, and tonight I'm going to the theatre again with The Toyboy Trucker - but this time to see Frankie Boyle - so probably this is not going to be a repeat of the erudite cerebral Stephen Fry experience... Can't wait!