The artist in me

The artist in me needs an easel.

But is this easel-y achieved? It took a lot of swearing, a whole Archers Omnibus (combat pain with pain) and half a bottle of red wine. And two metal bits left over.

Now starting on the Fibonacci project. Now this may not look like it –

…and it may never look like it. But it has to begin somewhere.

Meanwhile, JIGSAW ISLAND calls. Both Dawlish and Teignmouth libraries would like a talk. My pleasure. In the interim, back to the rewrites, back to my Syrian friend and – tonight – LINE OF DUTY. Much debate at The Cliffs as to whether H really is the main culprit. I have a theory…

I remember my dear (Irish) Dad watching a much younger Adrian Dunbar in THE COMMITMENTS and laughing himself to a standstill at the line “Stick with me and you’ll be farting through silk”. At least, I think it was THE COMMITMENTS. Maybe it was another Irish gem. The line still works, though. At least, it does for me.

Adrian – no matter the movie and whatever  the outcome – you have been a naughty boy. In your Line of Duty, though, it’s easel-y done.

No apology.

Posted in Art, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Design, Fiction, Greek Islands, new writing, Personal, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I used to hate jigsaw puzzles…

I used to hate jigsaw puzzles… I could say – “Until I discovered Smirnoff” – but that would date me and anyone who remembers the ad campaign (and the awful jokes*) and baffle anyone who wasn’t in Britain in the nineteen seventies – so I won’t. Suffice to say, I loathed jigsaw puzzles as a kid and got into big trouble with my parents one year when, at the children’s Christmas party given by my Dad’s firm, Santa pulled a jigsaw puzzle out of his sack as my Christmas gift – and I made a face and said I didn’t want it. I think I got a smack back at home. In those days, smacking vigorously and often was de rigueur (and rigorous) in most households.

Jigsaws – yes. Well, time to own up that ‘Jigsaw’ has become an oft used word in my current household (where, thankfully, smacking is confined to the lips over a glass of Rioja). ‘Oft used word’ because of the project, JIGSAW ISLAND, which is my second novel after the publication of TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS in 2013.

In April of last year, I attended an Arvon course on editing a novel and met Rachael Kerr from Unbound publishing. Rachael liked the synopsis of the first draft of my novel and asked to read it. As a result of which, it’s up there on the Unbound Website being crowdfunded. Hoping to publish in late July. It is daunting, embarrassing, challenging and heart-stoppingly scary persuading people to buy an advance copy of an unpublished book. But I have lost all shame, become a marketeer, and in under three weeks, it’s at 24%. So not doing too badly…

And why is it called JIGSAW ISLAND? Well, the major part of the novel is set on the island of Leros which looks like this:

Jigsaw Island

LEROS

The sunset islet heading up my website is Aghia Kyriaki in Pandeli Bay – which is about halfway up on the right of the map. Needless to say, Leros is somewhere that holds a very special place in my heart, despite its shape.

To find out more about the novel – see the synopsis, an excerpt and maybe have a laugh at my video – please go to the Unbound JIGSAW ISLAND page HERE.

Pledge if you will (and I’d be delighted if you did) – and whether or not you do, perhaps you’d click on the Share button at the top right of the page? Parakolo? Every little helps.

Efharisto poli.

* Can’t finish without a Smirnoff joke:
“I thought innuendo was an Italian suppository until I discovered Smirnoff.”
(There were definitely better – but inevitably much filthier ones.)

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, European Union, Greek Islands, Humour, new writing, Personal, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teacher gets it right

Or ‘Teacher puts it right’. An unpleasant comment from an – older than me ha ha! – ex-fellow student, a postponed NHS appointment and a worrying email from an actor’s agent all conspired to dampen my spirits today. Then a wonderful young student arrived and the world brightened.

I love teaching – not so much dinning in information as drawing it out. As we grow older, we forget how voracious for knowledge young people are. Today’s student astounded me by what he knows at sixteen.

Then I went and astounded myself by realising how much I’ve learned and done. We were studying J B Priestley’s AN INSPECTOR CALLS. I hadn’t forgotten what a brilliant play it is, just mislaid memories somewhere along the line. Then I remembered a stunning production of it at Birmingham Rep where the set started cracking open as the play went on – deliberately, you understand – symbolising the cracks in our society and what was about to happen after the action takes place – 1912 – Titanic sinks, First World War – and how hypocrisy and self-interest played their roles in bringing them about. So astute. And just what is happening to us all now – possibly on an even grander scale.

To lighten the mood, here comes the name drop: Dear Reader – I met J B Priestley. Briefly. He wouldn’t really have noticed me. It was a production of TIME AND THE CONWAYS at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford. I was a trainee director. He was in his nineties and looked a little like Alfred Hitchcock. I breathed the same air.

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford.

That’s how teacher puts it right, remembering some outstanding moments.

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Happy birthday, dear Will!

Dear Will – whether on not you wrote the plays, you have been a major influence on all of us who ever read painfully aloud from A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at school or scratched furiously through an essay on ‘The significance of gender and power in Othello’, or some such spurious twaddle, at university. You would probably be appalled – or amused.

Three examples from schooldays stand out in my mind. My first was the reading aloud one. The second was playing Trinculo in a snippet from THE TEMPEST at an end of year drama competition. My best friend, Lesley, played the monstrous Caliban and won the school Drama Prize because of it. It was an all girls school, so not such extraordinary casting. That said, she was an olive-skinned, half-Italian beauty which made her achievement in convincing the audience of the creature’s lumpen ugliness all the more praiseworthy. Incidentally, I was the plain, overweight best friend that such beauties always have.

The third was being bussed from school to Richmond Theatre to see a production of ROMEO AND JULIET in in 1967. Lucy MacDonald annoyed us all by singing Cilla Black’s ‘You’re My World’ in the queue to get in. Francesca Annis played Juliet. She wore a sickly yellowish green dress that we all agreed, from our vast range of sartorial knowledge – we were probably all about fifteen at the time – wasn’t right for 16th century Siena. Some eight years later, Ms Annis was to reprise the rôle of Juliet with the young Ian McKellen as her Romeo. Wish I’d seen that.

The next significant memory is that of being Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) ‘on the book’ for a production of MACBETH at The Connaught Theatre, Worthing. You will gather that ‘on the book’ means sitting at the side of the stage following the script, giving sound and lighting cues and, if necessary, leaping in vocally with a prompt should an actor be unfortunate enough to ‘dry’.

Shirley Stelfox, an actor of extraordinary talent and skill, was playing Lady M. One night, her entrance for the sleepwalking scene (carrying a battery candle, the only one the theatre fireman would allow) was accompanied by a strange shuffling sound moving away and then back. I whipped around to identify the cause of it and saw Shirley kicking off her flip-flops before re-entering the stage in sleepwalking mode. A reminder of this came in the saddest of ways some forty years later. It was at Shirley’s memorial service in Leeds. During her eulogy, Frances Tomelty related – as told to her by Shirley – the same story to we gathered mourners. Afterwards, I approached Frances and told her “I was that DSM” after which we talked of the kindness Shirley had shown both of us. Shirley deserves more than this brief mention and will, indeed, feature in another post that records some of her brilliance plus my admiration and profound thanks. This is her on IMDB

Another noteworthy encounter took place in 1987; I had been appointed to the lowly post of Staff Director with Mike Alfreds’ company at the National Theatre. Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins led the cast of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA which was playing there at the time. One day, whilst trying to extricate myself from the labyrinth of backstage passages linking the three stages, I turned a corner only to face Anthony Hopkins clad in Roman military tunic, bare legs, sexy blue eyes and all. Never one for being cool, I stood transfixed. “Hello,” he said, cheerily, then continued talking to a companion. I remained, rooted, unable to move – probably gaping, too, for what felt like several millennia.

My cousin, Andrew, remarked drily when I admitted my gaffe to the family: “You really should stop taking your autograph book to work, Lynne”.

Just as a slight detour to the theme, while at the National – until the entire company was sacked for not getting enough bums on seats – I worked on two five-hour plays (therein lies the clue – bums can get very numb over that period of time) – THE WANDERING JEW and COUNTRYMANIA. It was an ensemble company that included Mark Rylance – who was, later, to become Artistic Director of The Globe Theatre. Advisor to The Globe was Professor Andrew Gurr, my Drama and Shakespeare tutor at the University of Reading.

I have directed Shakespeare, too. One infamous production – professional but really shouldn’t have been – was another MACBETH. There are many reasons the play is regarded as a ‘bad luck’ play, from the Witches’ spells and chants (superstitious companies usually cut a few lines) to the multiple sword fights that imperil unwary actors. My production, however, suffered from another setback. The wife of the actor playing Macbeth forbade him from kissing the actor (actress in those days) playing Lady Macbeth – on stage! The wife was Malaysian and I assumed that, perhaps, her culture did not encompass European theatrical practices – or detachment. I spent a trying hour or so with the feisty little woman in the theatre coffee bar, trying to explain rôle play and the dramatic necessity for some affection between the Macbeths. She grudgingly agreed to allow the stage relationship to go ahead, but attended every performance thereafter to ensure nothing funny went on in Cawdor or Glamis. It certainly didn’t.

Some months later, real-life wife rang from Malaysia to ask for reassurance that her (probably infuriated) husband hadn’t had an affair with Lady Macduff. He must have given up acting. I never heard of him again.

The dreaded schools tour meant adapting and presenting ‘gobbets’ (as another favourite university tutor would say) of two further Shakespeare plays, Henry IV part one (Connaught Theatre, Worthing) and Twelfth Night (Young Vic Studio Theatre). I have also designed and taught introductions to Shakespeare at the Webber Douglas School of Drama and The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. TWELFTH NIGHT provides some opportunity for very broad humour. After working on ‘the letter scene’ where Malvolio believes, absurdly, that a letter he finds has been written by his employer, Olivia, one of the drama students threw a major tantrum – this was being disrespectful, he ranted, “Shakespeare isn’t supposed to be funny!”. I blame the secondary schools.

And – I almost forgot  – I adapted MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING for the BBC World Service, directed by Gordon House. 1986, I think…

I just couldn’t list the numerous performances I have seen and enjoyed – or not. But sitting under umbrellas in a downpour watching A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM – to the bemusement of a Texan cousin – stands out, as do several absolutely stunning productions by CHEEK BY JOWL theatre company.

And linking back to one of my featured writers, Madalyn Morgan, I remember well her playing minor roles in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW and Iras in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA in a season headed by Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Dalton at The Haymarket Theatre. Maddie was also understudying Ms Redgrave and – at very short notice – had to go on as Cleopatra. The mere thought of undertaking that makes me quake with terror. What a star!

‘The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together…’ (ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL). Yours and mine both, Will. Many Happy Returns! 

 

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Aah, Cornwall…

It has been beautifully sunny here in Devon over Easter, even though a bit of a sea har invaded yesterday. Realised I reported on the day out in Looe but didn’t mention gorgeous Portwrinkle (wonderfully quaint name) where we dropped in on the way back home. What a happy decision that was. It is largely a residential area with a small shop above the beach. But the view – the view – is just heart-stoppingly beautiful. Only just into Cornwall and yet the change in land/seascape is significantly different. Or maybe it’s me loving Cornwall. Lucky residents…

“Rubbish signal, though,” remarked Martyn, staring at his phone. I wondered, seriously, how well I would cope with a minimal wifi signal, given the amount of research I do online? Maybe it’s better up the hill. But Jigsaw Island is already written – and I could live with it, anyway.

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Traditional Easter in Greece and – well – other aspects in Britain

Greek Orthodox Easter isn’t always at the same time as the Anglican, Protestant and Catholic festivals. This year it falls a week later, with Easter Sunday being on 28 April.

In Symi, the sombre observations of the preceding Holy Week are marked by the tolling of church bells. By contrast, the delicious aroma of Easter buns baking in almost every homes tantalises the olfactory senses.

On Good Friday, there is a solemn march through the streets to churches, carrying decorated icons. The mood lightens on Holy Saturday when the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated with fireworks – to the delight of most observers excepting wildlife, strays and pets. Local Easter dishes include soup, shortbread, pies and to red-dyed eggs.

Easter day is crowned by music, traditional dance, more fireworks and  the burning of Judas in Yialos Square, down by the harbour. Why do we still love perching effigies atop a bonfire? Judas in Greece, Guy Fawkes in much of the UK and, notably, The Pope in the normally civilised town of Lewes in Sussex.

During the Easter week on Leros, houses become one big kitchen as families start to prepare all the traditional food which is eaten after the 40 days of lent.  On Good Friday, children collect lavender which they  spread over the streets and at the main square of Platanos, where later on, the shrine with the sacred icon will pass.

 

Saturday at Midnight the whole island meets in the churches to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. At the end of the service the congregation will light a candle each from that of the priest, the light which was brought from Jerusalem, and take it home to their own altar. A sort of Olympic flame in reverse.

On Easter Sunday all of Greece is celebrating. Almost every household dines on roast lamb. This is hard for a vegan to record or admire…

Celebratory fireworks on Leros are a whole different event. Yes, there are the regular fireworks, starbursts, rockets, Roman Candles etc.  But there is an added ingredient, diminishing over the years, that makes Lerian firework displays startling and, sometimes, lethal. This is due to the intense fighting on Leros during World War II when German forces were anchored in Lakki, the deepest harbour in the Eastern Mediterranean. Ordnance, both used and unexploded littered the island. In later years, it became a matter of pride for young men undergoing a rite of passage endurance test to acquire and detonate such trophies – and one of unending anxiety for their parents. Other Lerians have utilised the weaponry for for more imaginative purposes than a measure of testosterone levels. Take a close look at the gateposts…

Sadly, miles from the cloudless skies and wine-dark seas of the Greek Islands, we spent Easter Saturday on a jaunt to Looe in Cornwall. I had forgotten how commercialised the town was. It was heaving. Far from displays of traditional dance and a selection of Easter fare, there were packed pubs and acres of pallid flesh on display for the first time this year. And, oh dear, the British were not at their best.

Happy Easter.

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Pre-Easter test of ingenuity…

Clue – 3rd and 4th course on the menu…

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