Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans

I picked up this little treat when it was the Waterstones Book of the Month for Children. I was got by those wonderful words ‘half price.’ The book had caught my eye every visit, as it is has the most fabulous orange-edged pages with a lighting bolt in white, and there is something very cool about the sophisticated cartoon style of the characters on the cover. Once you open the book, the little Pegasus that runs along the bottom of the page to form a little flip book illustration is good fun.

The story is a great little adventure with a colourful collection of characters inspired by the gods and beliefs of Ancient Greece. They may not be as you expect, though: Zeus the ladies man with a penchant for crazy shirts, and Aphrodite and her dating agency are just two of the larger-than-life figures that help Elliot keep his family home from the grasp of the local ‘lady of the manor’ figure.

The themes of the book are certainly adventure and friendship, and it makes you realise that sometimes both of these can exist in the most unlikely of places – and you have to put your faith in the most unusual people. You can certainly warm to the characters and hope for good to rule in the end.

The conclusion of the story has been left open for the adventure to continue, and it would be interesting to see what happens next.

 

Creative Calligraphy

As a lover of words, it is only natural to be a lover of lovely writing too. With that in mind, my dear friend Miss W and I decided to give a calligraphy class a go.

We attended one run by Feather and Flourish – a creator of stationery for special occasions. The class was in Birmingham city centre at the rather cool Lost and Found. You arrive to a beautifully laid-out table with lovely place settings. There is a lovely pack of goodies, with everything that you need to have a go at calligraphy: ink, nib, pen, paper and a handy set of help sheets.

After a brief introduction of handy hints, you are able to get stuck right in and have a go. This does take the fear out of the situation, as everyone is so absorbed that you know nobody is going to notice if you actually have any talent for the creative…

You start by practising the common strokes and getting the lines you want, either thick or thin. Letters are a little more of a challenge but there is something very therapeutic about the flow of calligraphy. Capital letters are really fun topractice and it is great to develop your individual style; lower case is a little harder,as some do not seem to be the letter, but do make a lot of sense once you attempt words. It is great fun to develop your own individual style and Heather is always on hand to offer helpful hints – but it is nice to not feel pressured as you practice.

The giggles for myself and Miss W certainly came with the practice of words. The confidence you have built on the individual letters does need a little rebuilding as you try to form words. The key seems to be to remember to flourish (and not miss out letters…oops).

We both really enjoyed the workshop and feel that we have learnt a new skill we can not wait to practice. It is also fantastic that the little batch of goodies is yours to keep and continue your adventures in letters and words.

Fancy learning a new skill? Check out Feather and Flourish for all the information on upcoming workshops.

Five Fabulous Females in Fiction

International Women’s Day first really came to my attention when I was living in Italy, as they celebrate Women’s Day every year. Beautiful yellow flowers are handed out to the women and families celebrate the women in their lives. It was such a lovely tradition.

As I have thought back and remembered that day, I have decided to think about the females in fiction that I have loved, as I have grown up reading so many wonderful books. They need a little bit of celebrating too.

  1. Matilda (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

I was an enormous Roald Dahl fan as a child and, to be honest, I still am. I do not believe that he wrote books that were only to be enjoyed by children. I can remember the birthday that I was given three Roald Dahl titles as a gift and Matilda was in the collection. She is already ideal to me because she loves books and she does not let being a little girl stop her from achieving exactly what she wants. She may not feel that she always fits in, but she has so much character and is a great role model for fans of her story.

2. Beatrice (Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing)

I first met Beatrice as I studied A-Level English Language and Literature. She is someone who appealed to me straight away, as she is not your typical heroine. Beatrice is a witty and independent figure, and seems very different to many characters of the time – she may appear cynical about happy endings but, in fact, desires them more than most. She is someone that I would love to have as a friend; she would cheer up any situation and would certainly tell you to ‘get over it’.

3. Emma Woodhouse (Emma by Jane Austen)

Now, let us all be honest: there could have been any number of characters that could have been plucked from the pages of Austen’s works; however, for me it has always been Emma. I am not entirely sure what appeals so much about Emma, as I can totally recognise that to some she may be a little irritating and misguided. Yet, when I first met Emma on the pages of Jane Austen’s novel, there was something that I found charming. She wears her heart on her sleeve and all her actions are, she believes (most of the time), to benefit others. Emma may get a bit carried away and does not always go about things in the right way, but she still is a lovely heroine and learns her lesson. Even reimagined in the recent retelling by Alexandar McCall Smith, I thought Emma was great!

4. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling)

Hermione may be one that many of you expect but she has been a female character that I have learnt to love as my love for these books has increased. I am not going to lie – at the start, I had a similar reaction to her Ron Weasley but, as he did, I learned to love her. Hermione is a strong, independent young woman who (very much like Matilda) does not let anything stand in her way. She is one of the bravest female characters I think you can find in fiction, and the most fiercely loyal. The friendship between her, Ron and Harry is inspiring and shows that gender should never stand in the way of true friendship and adventure.

5. Mrs Hudson (The Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Great female characters don’t always have to be central to the stories they appear in. In fact, many have an important supporting role too, and Mrs Hudson is one of those characters. As the long-suffering landlady of Mr Holmes, she must have seen all sorts treading the famous stairs of 221b Baker Street. Mrs Hudson may not always have a voice, but she has nothing but affection for Holmes and Watson, and offers them great support – even if it is as simple as a cup of tea.

Who are your favourite females in fiction?

Happy International Women’s Day!

Julius Caesar (or #TeamCaesar)

Thanks to the social media world, the excitement levels for seeing Julius Caesar were a little off the scale. Even as you walk towards the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, you begin to feel the excitement and anticipation rise up in you.

The setting of this production is Ancient Rome and, as always, the set is simple but perfect. There is certainly the vibe of two teams going to war, as even the colours chosen as cloaks for the characters are blue and white. The lighting is also similar to that you would find at a sports stadium.

However, I am ahead of myself. You are drawn into the bright, bustling city of Rome from the moment the actors appear on the stage. Of course, there is a moment where the Ides of March is mentioned but that does not end the celebrations for those involved…

The production gives a lot of weight to the manipulation of Brutus by Cassius. Although, Caesar lets power and success go to his head, you feel that Brutus is far too easily influenced into extreme actions. Mark Antony avenges Caesar with great skill and therefore I left the production on #TeamCaesar (he did have an impressive team of groupies).

As always at the RSC, the production is beautifully acted by the strong ensemble. It reminded me of the ensemble of 2009. Caesar showed domination, Cassius showed manipulation, Brutus showed too much trust and Mark Antony showed loyalty. The set was a piece of artwork (in both halves) and the musical production brought the whole piece together.

If all the Rome Season 2017 is as slick and inspired as this play, it will be a hard season to beat.

Do you fancy trying to catch Caesar and picking your team?

Hidden by Emma Kavanagh

Someone recommending a book is always a joy. So, when a friend of mine suggested the book ‘Hidden’, it seemed worth a read.

A nice easy read told in short, sharp chapters from the point of view of the key characters. It introduces the story at the point of a tragedy and you then go back to follow the characters through the story to find out why they have faced such an event. These people are all already connected by the tragic shooting of Dylan Lowe about a year before, and their lives continue to cross paths – until they are brought together again as witnesses or victims of ‘The Shooter’: the mysterious character of the novel who has been watching the hospital where Dylan Lowe is in a coma.

The plot does not need spoiling (which, therefore, makes it hard to summarise) but is well constructed. There are a number of occasions you feel that you may know the identity of ‘The Shooter’, only to be thrown by a plot twist. I was as surprised as the characters in the book when their identity was revealed, and this does lead to you having some sympathy for the character. If you are fan of modern thrillers this will be a definite read for you.

The honour of Book 8 in my year of books goes to this title…now what to read next?

Why World Book Day is a great idea – even after 20 years!

I realise that there may be many people in the panic of creating a costume for tomorrow, as it is World Book Day and the tradition seems to have developed that this must mean we must dress as our favourite character to show we have read a book. However, I do think that it is more than that – and maybe we need to see past that.

A celebration of books and reading can surely only be a good thing. Anything that encourages people to read is a fabulous idea. Even if it is one of the only times of year people really think about books, at least they are. For me, it was always more a struggle of who is your favourite character; for my sister, it always seemed to be who is the most unusual character that she could go as (one year it was a skunk…), but what mattered was that we were thinking and talking about books.

There was always the eager anticipation of what we would spend our World Book Day book token on – never an easy decision, as we were all bookworms, but I take joy in thinking that token was like the golden ticket for Charlie Bucket, and it introduces children to a whole new world that can bring them happiness.

Of course, it’s not just about children. Quick Reads appear at this time of year by many of our bestselling authors, and this often encourages adults to read and try something new too – and one of the biggest adventures anyone can ever have is finding a new story to enjoy.

So, as the fancy dress panic begins to fade (for adults and children) and World Book Day leaves us for another year, think about the key message – how important it is that we all have an adventure in words!

Why I love the Royal Shakespeare Company

One evening in 2009, I walked into the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre with my parents. We had arrived to see Julius Caesar. This was not my first experience of Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon but it was the first that did not result in me returning to a classroom to write an essay.

I had read Self Made Hero’s Shakespeare Manga Julius Caesar in preparation, but nothing can really prepare you for the experience. I was hooked from the moment that the cast took to the stage. The RSC Ensemble were, on this occasion, led by Greg Hicks in the role of Julius Caesar, but a huge part of the charm was that there was not a ‘star’, but an ensemble of very talented actors telling the story of the Emperor of Rome. I left that evening exhilarated with a new appreciation of the Bard (I already loved Romeo and Juliet but that was probably thanks to Baz Luhrmann casting Leo in the film…). It was clear from that moment that nothing could beat seeing these plays on the stage. I was lucky enough to see a number of the plays at the Courtyard with the RSC Ensemble and have never looked back since and now visit the beautiful RSC Theatre.

Over the years, going to the RSC productions have become something of a family tradition. And, if we have not had the same desire to see some of the productions, then I have gone with friends who have a similar passion for the theatre. However, none of us restrict ourselves to the tales of Shakespeare. The wonderful musical ‘Matilda‘ started at the Courtyard and ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ was a fabulous retelling of J.M Barrie’s classic.

Memories are made each time we visit this wonderful town and its theatre, and I can not wait for the fast-approaching Rome Season and making many more memories.

Top 10 memories (in no particular order – and I have probably still missed something):

  1. Matilda on a very snowy December day.
  2. Othello with Hugh Quarshie in the title role and Lucian Msamati as Iago.
  3. Richard II with David Tennant (and spotting him in the street on the morning of the play).
  4. Wendy and Peter Pan (on both occasions).
  5. Love’s Labours Lost, sitting on the same row as Prince Charles.
  6. Julius Caesar – that first grown-up RSC experience.
  7. The Merchant of Venice with Sir Patrick Stewart as Shylock.
  8. Twelfth Night with the very funny Richard Wilson as Malvolio.
  9. Much Ado About Nothing with Meera Syal and a truly exotic setting.
  10. The wonderful Hamlet with the award-winning Paapa Essideu in the lead role.

Cinderella certainly goes to the ball!

For 10 wonderful days, Birmingham Royal Ballet transported their audiences, at Birmingham Hippodrome, to the most fabulous fairy tale world of Cinderella.

Ballet appears to be becoming a bit of a little tradition for this time of year. Last year, Mum and I went to Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty (stunning) and, this year, we continued the fairy tale theme with Cinderella. I am not going to claim to be a expert in dance – I did ballet when I was younger, but the skill of these dancers was unbelievable. As beautiful as the costumes are (and they were) and as majestic as the sets are (and they really were), it was down to the dancers and the wonderful choreography to tell the story. The music offers a beautiful narration, but it really is the elegant movements of the those on the stage that truly brings the story to life.

You feel every emotion that Cinderella portrays, from her early tragic story to her happy ending. The ‘Ugly Sisters’ make you love them with the ‘elegant’ comedy they portray (I did wonder if it is harder for one to keep up the flat-footed movements of her character when she must be so used to being completely elegant and delicate). And Prince Charming, well, the strength in his dancing was amazing. When he lifted Cinderella with a stunning one-arm lift, the audience went wild (or as wild as an audience at the ballet dares to be).

However, despite the character name checks, the production would not have been as amazing as it was without the whole company. Every dancer on the stage made ‘Cinderella’ the stunning production that it was. As did the orchestra (I have always slightly envied those who play an instrument) who performed with such skill.

This production simply left me wishing that I could go to the ballet every week. It was beautiful!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The title of this book was the reason it was chosen as the next read (as well as the rather pretty cover). Who can resist being transported to Paris and, more importantly, a bookshop in the stunning city?

The bookshop gets even better when you realise that it is a ‘book barge’ run by a bookseller who really believes in the power of books. You can not help but admire how direct Monsieur Perdu is with his customers, but they always thank him in the end – even if it takes a little time.

The benefit of a ‘book barge’ is that it is the perfect vessel for a journey of self-discovery after a very long time of living in the shadows. (The prompt for the journey was an interesting twist that you all need to discover for yourselves.) There is a variety of fascinating characters to be met as the journey through France unfolds, who all help and learn from each other in their own way. The relationship that occurs between three of the central characters reminds me of a modern-day ‘three men in a boat’ of Jerome K Jerome fame.

As you reach the conclusion and the pieces fall into place, you do celebrate the happiness you hope continues when you close the pages – and you realise that, sometimes, you should not make snap judgments but be aware of what could really have taken place.

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

This choice was made thanks to the world of Twitter. #BookClub140 from ‘Parker and Me’ (which was introduced to me by the lovely ‘Hayley From Home’) selected this as the February title ahead of a Twitter chat at the end of the month. Therefore, it grabbed the accolade of Book 6 in A Year of Books 2017.

‘A Boy Made of Blocks’ was a touching tale with a colourful collection of characters. They are all instantly likable and are all facing different adventures in life.  At times each is facing a challenge, but as they do so it is also a journey of self-discovery. You root for each and every one of them as you follow them on their adventures, even if you do not always agree with the choices that they make. It is a real page-turner that can cause a roller coaster of emotions and occasionally catches you off-guard, as you realise that you may be shedding a tear or two. (Always a good look on a busy train on a Sunday afternoon).

The relationship between Alex and his son Sam (a boy made of blocks) blossoms beautifully throughout the book and shows that sometimes you have to be willing to embrace an adventure whatever form it may take. You may even make it through successfully and realise that you are braver and stronger than you think you are. It is a tale that really does make you hope for a happy ending (although you will have to read it yourself to see if that wish comes true).

If you enjoy titles like ‘About a Boy’ by Nick Hornby and ‘Man and Boy’ by Tony Parsons, then this is a book for you.