Friday, 30 September 2011

Words and music - again

Spent two hours in a darkened theatre on one of the hottest days of the year on Wednesday.  It was in a good cause though to see the dynamic duo of Claire Martin, jazz singer supreme, and Richard Rodney Bennett, 75 this year and still pouring out his love of the standard songbook.

Songs he learned as a boy listening to the radio; for him the music came first the words later. This is their seventh year of touring, featuring in particular the songs of Irving Berlin.  Who apparently wasn't too keen on other songwriters, and wondered why it took two people to compose words and lyrics.

In his lifetime he composed 15,000 songs - yes I know that seems a staggering amount.  He set himself to compose a song a day(words and music).  So no waiting around for the muse to visit him; instead it was discipline and steady work that produced the phenomenal results.(and the fortune)

The duo treated the songs with the respect they deserved without behaving as if they were museum pieces.  Despite the soaring temperatures we spent an afternoon in the coolly swinging world of classic songs. I love the sheer audacity of some of the rhymes all the lyricists of this period choose.  Such elegance and off the wall wit.

Co-incidentally just before I wrote this entry, I read about Colin Dexter whose birthday is this week.  Same message from him.  Even if he thought the words were dreadful, he still wrote every day.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Scarborough words and music

As usual a packed weekend programme.  Highlights:

Thursday night; Neighbourhood Watch by Alan Ayckbourn.  I need to see it a few more times to unpack everything he crammed in.  Acerbic wit about our fears of difference, change and security.  Stunning ensenble work.  No 'star names' but tight co-operation produced first class performances from all the actors.  Not a wasted word.

Friday - a trip to York with my long rusty Latin pressed into use to decipher some writing on stone coffins.  Ate at Plunkets surrounded by pictures of \Hollywood legends.

Friday to Sunday evening.

Mike Gordon of Scarborough Jazz provided enough variety to satisfy everyone except those wedded to only one style of jazz.  Starred perfomances for me were:

  1. Trio Hadouk, a French trio with a range of instruments, two musicians who looked straight off the 1960s hippy trail and a mesmerising drummer.  Literally mesmerising because from our seats in the third row from the front, at one point his hands seemed to dissolve into vapour trails as he played the tabla.
  2. Mina Agossi, again French with origins in Benin.  Beguiling, bewitching with a voice that soared and swooped across a wide octave range.  What fascinated as well was the level of involvement with her musicians, some of whom looked as bemused as us by the end.
  3. David Rees Williams Trio.  Deputising last minute for the Jacques Loussier Trio because of his illness, they did the same style of jazz but across a wider range of composers and with more of a hard edge sometimes, courtesy of an organ.  They played last on Saturday evening and the encore included a clarinet solo from Alan Barnes on the theme of Purcell's When I am laid...  Stunning, haunting and a wonderful end to the evening.
What interested me this year was the inclusion of three suites, two from local Yorkshire talent, which is always a feature of the programme.  I hated one, liked bits of the others but would have welcomed more information about all three though we had notes about The Green Seagull by the Tommy Evans Orchestra.

Work like this always divides the audience but to me it's a strength of the festival.  In nine years I think I've only walked out of seven sets, one of which was this year.  Testament to finding interesting music.  And it's important for me to remember that all the music I like now, was new to me at one time and I had to expend energy and time in getting to know it. 

Having the sets at an hour and fifteen minutes length is perfect.  You can endure most things for that time. 

Next year is the tenth event and Mike's obviously going to make it the best ever.  I hope so.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

It's never too late to write

Catching up with my emails after my weekend in Scarborough I came across an entry in a Writers Almanac newsletter.  If like me you're on the mature side of life then it's encouraging.

Rosamund Pilcher's most recent book was Winter Solstice, published in 2000. She told the trade publication Book Reporter then that she was unlikely to write another book, adding, "But we shall see." Pilcher turned 87 on 22nd September.

She said, "Budding authors, be self-disciplined. It is a lonely job. And LISTEN to experts."

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hilary Mantel

Watched the interview with Hilary Mantel on Saturday evening.  I have heard her speak before but not at such length.  What interested me most was seeing how she works.  Not so much where she gets her ideas from, but how she goes about dealing with them.  The mechanics of writing I suppose.

I've always had an interest in how things are organised.  Don't get bored waiting in queues because I'm always looking round me.  If not at the people and wondering about their lives, it's the way people are working that fascinates me.

When I was a little girl going to the library, of course I loved choosing the books, but I was mesmerised by the stamping out process and all those small brown cards to prove who had which book.  So wanting to know how writers work is part of my whole outlook on life.

The more writers I listen to the more relief I get.  Because there isn't a right or wrong way.  It's not like if you don't do all your research up front you can't write.  But if the story takes off in a direction you hadn't considered, what then?

One of the business writers I follow sent out his latest newsletter which contained a whole article about 'What if'  and how it could transform the selling process via a letter.  It's no different writing fiction is it?  It's all about thinking the unthinkable about choices a character might make. 

What if they did something as simple as going down a different street on their way to work? 

Wonderful.  Endless possibilities.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Persistence ; the necessary writing attribute

For those of us inclined to give up.  William Golding submitted his manuscript of Lord of the Flies twenty one times before it was accepted for publication. (Read in today's Writers Almanac.)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Jane Eyre - the new movie

Went on Wednesday to see the movie.  Before I give you my thoughts I have to admit to a prejudice in favour of the book.  At age 13 I won a prize at Sunday school; for attendance I think because I can't see me winning it for anything else.  They told me I could have a book and I asked for Jane Eyre.

Maybe they hadn't read the book or thought because it was 'classic' it was okay.  But on the edge of puberty and of emotional character, I found this a dangerous book.  I've reread it many times and of course there's plenty of moralising, which I probably skipped on first reading, but the story aroused all the 'I'll meet my prince someday' hopes even if in this case he was more fallen angel than fair haired hero.

If I put away all thoughts of the book and view it as a new story from a script then it worked.  Beautifully shot with Derbyshire looking magnificent in all weathers.  I liked the darkness of the interiors, as they would have been and Mia Wasikowska, though a beautiful woman didn't distract with her beauty.  I'd never seen Michael Fassbender in anything so approached his performance with no expectations. 

If I think of it against the book then there was the inevitable compression and choice of events.  Some seeemed to work and other choices baffled me, in particular at the end.  However, all in all I enjoyed it.

My favourite adaptationis the BBC TV with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. But they had the luxury of letting the story develope as it should.  Oh and though the film has Judi Dench I think Lorraine Ashbourne made as good a job as the housekeeper in the TV adaptation.

I'll have to reread the book though!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Right side, left side. Brain balance

This week I've started an art class.  Now I have to alert you to the significance of this by confessing my ineptness in art lessons at school.  And to make up my lack of a third A level I was forced into Arts and Craft lessons in my sixth form.  The result was to put me off any attempts at art again until my forties.

So I have to admit to trying before, but with few dents to my belief that I can't draw.  Now I'm taking a four week course on Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain.  Based on Betty Edwards work with non- artistic people it tries to fool the logical side of the brain into letting go of its need to label things.

Yesterday therefore we sat and copied a line drawing of Stravinsky the composer.  But the drawing was upside down.  Which tricks the logical left side into seeing it as merely lines not a picture it recognises.  This worked until we reached part of the drawing which even upside down we could recognise as hands.  Then we went wrong.  And with the face.  Apart from that we were pretty good.

The reason I'm mentioning it though is because the tutor said that doing this kind of drawing, had other beneficial results on the brain, stimulating imagination and visual capacity.

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Crime genre - the new serious literature?

Enjoyed an author event at Waterstones in Nottingham last Thursday.  Great double act of Mark Billingham and Peter Robinson.  As well as readings from their newly published books, they talked about life as writers and something of their practical routines.

What I picked up on though was the comment from both of them about how irritated they become when people tell them they enjoy their books, then add, 'When are you going to write a proper novel'.

It's something that came up when I attended the event with Roger Ellroy in Derby.  People were asking what settings and topics they should use for their books.  He told the story of going into a bookshop in the US, where a whole floor was devoted to crime fiction.  And he said it was subdivided into so many different interests, like gardening, stamp collecting and walking that it didn't matter what interests you.  There are likely to be other people interested too.

In short, the whole of life can be encompassed in a crime novel.  I was walking past a man yesterday on his mobile and the split second excerpt I heard had my mind buzzing.  'You could always bury it in the garden.'

That's what I heard and I was off.  For the rest of my walk home, my mind was spinning with so many ideas about what 'it' was and why burying it in the garden might be the solution.

I get irritated sometimes that the crime fiction section of the Guardian Review is so short when there are so many great writers, and I use that adjective deliberately, at work today. 

Going back to Peter Robinson.  The book I liked best of his work is Friend of the Devil because he draws together threads from two previous books and creates a seamless masterpiece about revenge, penance and absolution.  Masterly.


Monday, 5 September 2011

Csmbridge Treat

We had a wonderful day out on Saturday.  Off to Cambridge on a bus trip; no having to plan, struggle with traffic or parking.

What can you say about Cambridge other than that on a warm September day, it was a joy.  It must be fifteen years since my last visit and it took me a little while to reorirent myself.  Even full of tourists there's a  pleasure walking in a place where every corner can bring you a great view, a piece of history or something just whimsical.

 I'd have loved to spend time trawling through the bookshops; I did pop my nose in Heffers but you need more time.  My niece ventured into the Haunted Bookshop but in the minutes she was there sensed nothing strange.

We went into Kings College Chapel, through Magdalen College gardens where wedding preparations were in progress and of course watched people in punts.  'A bit like Venice,' said my niece.  Well maybe a tiny bit.

Cambridge is a byword for power and influence; it's also a place of beauty and unexpected pleasures.  Walking back past a small church, on a whim we went to have a look and found Trinity College choir rehearsing for a concert.  Within minutes the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck from the sound.they produced.  Tallis or Byrd it might have been.

Then back home, we rounded off the day watching the Hooray for Hollywood prom. 

What a treat of a day.