July 2010


Crime writers to watch for

Check out the winners of this year’s Debut Dagger Award.
www.thecwa.co.uk

Warhorse sequel

A double-whammy winner for Michael Morpurgo, creator of the magical Warhorse, reviewed here in an earlier post. His book/play script has been acquired by Steven Spielberg and casting has already begun, which includes live horses to replace the awesome life-size puppets that thrill on stage.
Morpurgo has also written a much-demanded sequel, Farm Boy. This follows the life of Joey after the events portrayed so brilliantly in Warhorse and is getting an airing at the coming Edinburgh Festival.
The hero of the 65-minute piece is no longer a horse but an old and rusty Fordson tractor and instead of the big cast of Warhorse there are merely two characters – a boy and his grandfather.
Maybe the Victorian Arts Centre can afford this one while it rearranges its budget to finance a season of Warhorse.

Cliches alive!

I offer the following extracts from a novel I am assessing for publication:
‘Glad to meet you honey,’ he said in a distinctly southern American drawl. ‘My, but you are a good-looking babe.’
‘But look honey, if you want me for your date tonight, just let me know. I sure would like that honey.’
‘OK honey,’ Malcolm said, ‘You just put your fannies over there, and what will it be?’

The would-be author seemingly thinks this is a faithful rendition of how Americans speak. Please say it ain’t so.
On the other hand, Americans do tend to think Crocodile Dundee is truly representative of the average Australian. Ah, national stereotypes; you’ve gotta love ’em.

Twitter terrorists

Brevity may, as Shakespeare wrote, be the soul of wit but it can have its pitfalls in this age of texting, Twitter, Facebook and say what you mean in no more than 100 words. Witness the text received from a close relative cancelling a social engagement: “Won’t make it this eve, tho not sure we will be a great loss; broke up today and have disengaged brain.” Bear in mind she had recently started a new relationship and finished her text by saying she was disappearing into the wilds for a couple of weeks.
Saddened by the news, I replied with brief commiserations and said it sounded like she needed a drink so why not come along regardless. Which she did and, much to my surprise, with new partner still in tow – which was cause for a fresh outburst of congratulations that puzzled them greatly.
Yes, they had broken up that very same day. But only because they are both schoolteachers and this was the end of term!
Such is the risk for misundertanding in a world where brevity rules and all explanations, clarifications and those subtle nuances of true correspondence have been obliterated. The shoot-from-the-hip Twitterers have become the trigger- happy language terrorists of the iPod age, killing the niceties of the written word at random.

A rich and ripe tongue

The political scene in the UK continues to provide hope for the survival of English as it should be used – rich, varied and colourful in all its many shades of use and meaning.
Here’s one recent sample, written in the Daily Telegraph by commentator Simon Heffer. He described ex-PM Gordon Brown as ‘a megalomaniacal sociopath with the charm of a septic tank and the communication skills of a stoat’.
Can hardly wait for him to say what he really thinks.

Literacy lunacy

Why do we pander to the dumbed-down generation of Twitterers and texters? They are illiterate enough without encouraging them any further. But author and literary researcher (whatever that might be) Masha Bell now wants reforms made to the spelling of English because of the high level of under-achievement among young people.
She reckons the difficulty of learning their native tongue is the reason so many end up in jail and are classified as Neets, which apparently stands for Not in Education Employment or Training.
The more likely reason is that it has somehow become acceptable when sending text messages, Tweets, Facebook and YouTube postings and blogging to mis-spell, abbreviate and totally disregard punctuation and grammar. And underlying this is a lack of rigorous and sustained education in the use of English.
To reform spelling on these grounds is like making sure every jailbird has a passkey to the outside world.

Pensioner plotter

Another old-stager has sounded notes of cheer and encouragement for budding senior writers. Dame Joan Bakewell told the Way With Words Festival in Devon (UK) she was deterred for more than 50 years from engaging in the creative writing she so wished to do.
She started writing her novel All The Nice Girls when she was 75 as a very belated riposte to her high school English teacher who told her she wasn’t good enough to continue on to the sixth form.
Dame Joan, now 77 and long known as “the thinking man’s crumpet”, went on to study economics but always yearned “to be part of the literary crowd”.
Another pensioner scribbler who has achieved late-life success. Never give up ….

Puppetry perfection

A million horses were taken from Britain to France to “fight” in the First World War; only 62,000 returned. Their treatment and the horrors they endured matched those of the soldiers who rode and led them.
The story of these loyal and willing animals is brilliantly brought to life in Warhorse, which has been on and off the London stage since October 2007 and has been running at the New London Theatre since March 2009. This is puppetry at its highest and most magical level. The technical brilliance of the Handspring Puppet Company dazzles the audience into soon believing the life-size animals rearing up before them are the real deal. Every twitch and flicker and heartbeat is magically conveyed by a cast of five horses manipulated by twelve puppeteers blended into the animals’ fabric.
Based on the book by Michael Morpurgo, Warhorse is far from a simple children’s tale. It is hard-edged, ripe with barrack room language and scenes that jolt and shock. It follows the tale of a pony, bought at a bitterly fought auction between rival farmer brothers, that is tamed and befriended by the farmer’s son before being sold to the army for service in France. It is wounded, captured by the Germans and rescued by the French in scenes that mirror the brutally shattering war experiences of troops on both sides of the conflict.
Set against a simple backdrop of battlefield visuals and with occasional outbursts of mournfully lyrical songs, the action flows across the stage and into the auditorium to become totally involving. It’s absorbing, often moving and continually exciting theatre with a difference. Punch & Judy was never like this.

A ticket to ride

What a sad lot we are in Melbourne with our woeful public transport ticketing system and the disastrous myki debacle.
Here in London (and the UK general), ticketing simply works! No doubts, no hassles, no problems. Consumers have all manner of choice of payment. They use machines that spew out tickets to order – and quickly.
If we are so bloody good as our various governments would have us believe, why are we fifty years behind the rest of the world?

Interval chaos

When is the Arts Centre going to install a far more civilised system for ordering and enjoying interval drinks than the present chaotic bunfight?
Having recently enjoyed a most refined and unhurried intermission at the New London Theatre (which is actually 37 years old) I remain puzzled over the archaic frenzy that has to be endured by all who gather at any of the centre’s theatres and halls.
The New London has dedicated staff to greet audience members and take interval drink orders, which are set out on a number of tables around the various gathering points. At the Arts Centre, one person ordering interval drinks can hold up a whole pre-show queue of people while the order is processed and paid for at the bar. Crazy!
Why do we tolerate those vast interval queues? Many Arts Centre patrons get their drinks as the bells are sounding to resume our seats. At the New London everything is unrushed, unhurried and with space to commune and socialise.
It’s time to free us of this chaos and introduce a touch of sophistication into our evenings of culture.