Craig Taylor is a Canadian journalist and writer who has been living in London for at least a decade. He claims to love London (he has chosen to live here above Canada, after all) but I wouldn’t have guessed that he did from this book.
The book was Radio 4′s Book Of The Week last year, and has received much critical acclaim. I decided to give it a go as an audiobook – especially as I have been doing a lot of walking recently, and obviously that is almost always on the streets of London.
Around 80 people were interviewed for the book, and this is more an exercise in editing on the author’s behalf.
I was looking forward to hearing from people that keep London ticking, the unseen perhaps – the ones who see a different London to the one that I do. I felt that they would be the stories to really make the book ‘pop’. The ones where readers are forced to see the city in a different way.
The book was divided into sections (eg arriving, living, working, departing, dying etc) although these seemed a bit of a flimsy way to bunch the stories, as invariably people’s experiences tended to go beyond the boundaries of that particular aspect.
Now, as you may realise, I LOVE this ever-changing city that I live in. I defintiely choose to be here, and although I sometimes entertain the thought of leaving and moving somewhere more rural (as I did growing up), when I give it a little more thought, I realise that I am in no way ready for that. I would miss SO much about London. To be entirely honest, I don’t think I’m old enough to leave yet. There is still so much to experience!
Although I have a deep-set love for London, I am also aware of its faults. I can’t have lived here most of my life without acknowledging them, after all. I’m not blind to them, but I am accepting of them as there are so many positives.
With that in mind, I have to say I wanted to love this book so much, and I ended up hating it.
It felt so biased. There seemed to be a huge bias towards people complaining bitterly about London – in some ways that I agreed with, but often in ways that I didn’t. The times that the peopel were upbeat and positive, they were mainly just talking about their very interesting jobs (eg bus control room operators, Spitalfields market trader, stock-broker turned cabbie, funeral director, the actress who is the voice of London Underground), and they didn’t tend to offer an opinion on London itself – so the only opinions seemed to be extremely negative.
I don’t think that it helped that not very far into the book at all, a South African that lived here for a while describes London as “…a city full of Asperger’s people…” How rude! It’s funny how London is possibly one of the most multiculturally diverse places in the world, and yet people always refer to ‘Londoners’ as being a certain way.
The only people that seemed to be very positive and confess their love for London were people that lived in the East End or Essex borders. The stockbroker turned cabbie, the market trader, and the old lady whose daughter keeps wanting to get her a nice flat in Broxbourne, but who says “London gets to you. I can’t leave it. There’s too much quiet in the countryside.”
There seemed to be so much missed out from what makes London great, and different to other place in Britain. However, this in itself cemented my love for London, and made me see it through different eyes yet again. I feel that there was so much unexplored – but so much that I haven’t explored myself.
And I have to say, the disappointment in this book has inspired me, and given me an idea to do something myself. Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!)
It’s been a few weeks since I went to see Before The Party at the Almeida, but I just haven’t got around to posting a review (in fact there are a few that I have meant to get around to posting that I haven’t yet. I’ve been too busy ‘going out’ to blog recently!)
Before The Party was written by Rodney Ackland and originally showed at the St Martin’s Theatre in 1949, starring Constance Cummings as Laura.
In the Almeida production, Katherine Parkinson played Laura. I have to admit that it was this casting that originally caught my eye, as we had recently seen her in Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends, and she had been fantastic.
Her mother was played by Stella Gonet, who I only know from being Beatrice in The House of Elliot (you know, the older, blonde sister who wasn’t the elegant dark-bobbed one that we all wanted to be at the time!)
The reast of the cast were great too, but I have to admit, I didn’t recognise any of the names (although I am sure I probably should have done!).
Before The Party is set in two halves, before two parties on the same day. The only location is Laura’s bedroom, that the whole family tends to come together in whilst they are getting ready for firstly a garden party at a local family home where ‘anyone who’s anyone’ is going to be. The second the family themselves are hosting as an impromptu supper party as the garden party suffers from a proper English downpour.
And ‘proper English’ is what it’s all about. It’s all about society, etiquette and the false veneer of morailty that those of a certain class felt they needed to hide behind at that time.
Laura’s shocking secrets about her marriage and the death of her husband that she has hid from everyone including her family are forced into the open – and the family have to decide how to act both on this, and the fact that she has become romantically involved with an apparent nobody.
The tension on the stage between the characters was very well written, and the claustraphobia of the one location was often felt, especially by Laura who was constantly asking people to leave her alone in her own room.
Fantastic costumes, a brilliant set – the staircase just outside the door was a particularly good touch, and well-written, believable, although not particulalrly likeable characters. A wonderful (but occasionally uncomfortable) snippet of middle-class English family life in the late 40s.
King’s Place has become quite a favourite venue of mine. Not only is it very easy for me to get to both from work and to/from home, their two halls aren’t VERY big, and therefore all seats get a good view…and if you book online and are happy to be allocated a seat on the day ALL performances are just £9.50!
Due to this, I’ve already tried a couple of new things that I may not necessarily have come across – the D’arcylicious Austentatious (who we have since seen again elsewhere) and the excellent Storytellers’ Club. I have also been regularly going to the amazing Not So Silent Movies on a Sunday afternoon – but more on that another time.
it seems to be a place to discover great improv comedy, as we found last week when we went along to enjoy The Maydays and their ‘Confessions’ show.
Audience members are invited to write down a confession which are then all placed in a pot on the stage. Confessions can be anything – from stealing a penny sweet when you were six to cheating with your sister’s boyfriend (I think that did actually come up as a ‘what you could have had’ at the end.)
The troupe (ably assisted by not-Richard Vranch at the piano – I think his name was Joe) then improvise either a sketch, song or combination of both ON THE SPOT! WITH HARMONIES AND EVERYTHING!!
Some confessions are naturally more comedic than others, but it’s not necessarily the confession that secures the laughter. One person on our night had written a confession that contained exstensive emoticons and exclamation marks etc and instead of concentrating just on the confession, they wove using emoticons verbally with other expressive noises into a sketch. and it was good. and we all laughed heartily!
In the final half, they invite someone to ‘confess’ in front of the audience, giving a bit more meat and background to their confession, and they then performed a series of sketches and songs based on that one confession. I think we were particularly lucky to have a meaty confession concerning drugs being brought back through border control on a coach after working in Holland for a few months.
There was a lot of mileage in that one – but, The Maydays didn’t actually just go for all the obvious ones, and sometimes they went off at such a tangent, you could see the troupe members who weren’t performing cracking up at what was going on at some points.
And I think that summed it up – they obviously know each other well, can read each other, love what they do and are bloody good at it!
They usually appear at the Leicester Square Theatre (same as Austentatious!) but will also be at the Brighton Fringe (as that’s where they’re based). And they run Improv Comedy Classes too – how tempting is that!?
I received this as an ARC, but due to some family issues, I haven’t been able to get in as much reading time as usual lately, so it did actually get published on 30th April (but that’s great as it means that it’s already available to buy now!)
Roen Tan is your normal twenty-something Average Joe. He shares a flat with his friend (who has just become a Doctor, so lording it over him), hates his tedious office job, wishes he could have more success with women and is sure that it’s down to him being not just short, but overweight and lacking confidence. However, instead of doing anything about it, he (like millions of others) just complains and seeks solace in more junk food.
He soon gets the break that he needs though, but with far more consequences than he could have even started dreaming of!
Somewhere nearby, secret agent Edward Blair is betrayed and compromised. He sacrifices himself as a means of saving Tao, who has existed inside him for years. Tao is a Quasing, an alien who can only survive on earth within another lifeform, is unable to exist outside of a host for more than a couple of minutes, and once joined, is unable to exit the host until it has died.
Upon his release following Edward’s death, Tao is forced to seek refuge in Roen Tan’s body – not the highly trained soldier that he would have chosen to co-exist with, although not a challenge that he is unfamiliar with.
The Quasing have been on Earth since the Jurassic period when their ship crashed. In their effort to find a way home, they have been inhabiting creatures to survive, eventually choosing humans over other species. At some stage, the Quasing split into two factions, Prophus and Genjix that have ended up warring for thousands of years in their race to find a way back to their own planet. Both sides have spent much of their time in hosts that have become powerful or noteworthy – which is understandable, if you had a highly-evolved alien mentoring you, you’d probably make a mark on history, wouldn’t you?
With their war at a critical point, and Tao a crucial part of the war – does Tao have time to train Roen Tan for his new role? Will Roen have to give up every aspect of his life? Can he just ignore Tao’s voice in his head? Would he rather just carry on with his boring existence?
I loved this book. Roen Tan is such an ordinary, average kind of guy. All the normal complaints and pretty sedentary lifestyle. Never realising that he always has had it within him to do something about it – with the right motivation.
Tao is like a hugely committed personal trainer and motivational speaker. Tao tells Roen his history, giving different insights into some of the better-known figures that he has co-existed with. But it’s not just about trying to retell history with a different slant, it’s more about one man’s journey to finding himself. It’s a little like a reversal of The Host by Stephanie Meyers (which my 13 year old dragged me to see the film) but without all the insufferable teenage angst!
There are comic moments, there are tender moments and there are moments where I wondered what I would do if I had an alien inside me, and moments where I wished I did as it might push me into doing stuff!
The climax was especially strong, and somewhat unexpected. And it has left me wanting more Roen & Tao.
This shocking story is told by Skunk Cunningham (so named because her mum liked the group), who is 11 years old and in a coma.
We do not know why she is there until towards the end of the story, but she tells us of the events leading up to it, starting with the violent beating of teenage neighbour Rick Buckley by another neighbour (Bob Oswald) for something that he didn’t do.
Rick then becomes the ‘Broken’ of the title, and referred to as Broken Buckley throughout.
Bob’s life however seems to continue reasonably unchanged – father to five daughters who are just as thuggishly violent as him. Drink, drugs and sex help the days pass for the Oswald girls, and they revel in their reign of terror over everyone they know – including Skunk who is in class with one of them.
Skunk wants to enjoy just being a kid, playing too much X-Box with her older brother, forming a crush on her teacher (who also happens to be the boyfriend of their Welsh au pair – needed because their mum ran away to Spain years ago) and riding out in the sun on her bike.
But, living on this rather down-trodden square in Southampton that is lorded over by the Oswalds, Skunk is privvy to more violence, swearing, sex and criminal activity than is good for her. And yet her narration still has a naivety about it, and a poetic repetition that is somehow childlike, and lures the reader to its shocking and dramatic climax.
This isn’t like a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird, this is a contemporary realisation – evident even in the names that have been used (eg Skunk = Scout). Daniel Clay has made no secret of the fact that this was the inspiration for the story.
I listened to the audiobook, and Colin Moody’s narration was just right – a clever mixture of ‘telling’ what was coming in an ‘unaccented’ voice, and then accents used for actual speech, or when Skunk was narrating.
I usually only listen to books when I’m walking, but I found that as I came to the end of Broken, I was wandering around the flat in my headphones as I had to get to the end. I had to know what actually happened to Skunk, and whether we would ever see her come out of the coma.
An amazing, horrific, beautiful, powerful, contemporary book, I immediately thought that it would make a fantastic British film – we do gritty SO well. I looked it up and was so disappointed to see that a film HAS been made, and it should be quite good, but I had missed it being at the cinema by a matter of a couple of weeks – and so it’s not out on DVD yet either!
Gutted…but something to look forward to now!
Still holding the coveted title of ‘My Favourite Author’, if he publishes, then I will read! I received this as an ‘Uncorrected Proof’ review copy.
This is the second book featuring young Jasmine Sharp, 21 years old and working as a Private Investigator. Following the high profile Ramsay case that she solved in Where The Bodies Are Buried, Jasmine has got a bit of a name for herself.
When she is approached by a sickly older woman to find her sister who went missing without trace more than 30 years ago, Jasmine expects it to be a pretty easy case to solve.
The case has a personal pull for her tpp, the missing woman having been a promising actress. As Jasmine followed her late mother’s footsteps, training to be an actress, she finds herself pondering on the life that both herself and her mother could have had, and feels an almost kinship to the missing actress.
What she doesn’t expect is the dark and twisted path the investigation leads her down – sex, drugs, ritualism and possibly even murder?
The trail is so ancient and the ‘players’ are amongst some of the most respected in their fields – so is Jasmine ever really going to be able to find out the whole truth?
I am loving Jasmine Sharp – I was a bit concerned that I would be missing Jack Parlabane from many of Brookmyre’s previous books, but Jasmine is superceding my expectations. Her opening scene is pure genius.
She’s feisty, intelligent and razor-sharp – she may not have Parlabane’s sarcasm and cutting wit, but she has Glen Fallan once again – handy with a gun and a fist and generally a dead dodgy guy. Emphasis on the dead there as that is what he has meant to have been for the past 20 years. Fiercely protective of Jasmine, he is a formidable force to be reckoned with.
Also making a reappearance is Detective Catherine McLeod, covering a murder that Jasmine’s own investigation touches upon yet again. But will she be able to solve the case before Jasmine using good old-fashioned (and legal) police work?
I am so glad that this series isn’t disappointing me – although i would still relish a Jack Parlabane reappearance
It was very timely too that on the day of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral (when Cameron was spouting all sorts of tripe) while reading this book, I read this phrase relating to the ‘video nasty’ uproar in the 80s (does anyone remember that):
“It was a convenient distraction for the Thatcher government too,” Finnegan added. “Nothing like a moral panic to take people’s minds off mass unemployment and riots on the streets.
I am overly excited to see that the third in the series – Flesh Wounds – is due out in August!!
I picked this up on Audible as it sounded rather intriguing.
In 1941, Molly Lefebure was a newspaper reporter. While following a case at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court, she was offered a secretarial job by renowned pathologist Dr (Cedric) Keith Simpson (who she then refers to affectionately as CKS throughout the rest of the book). As she wanted to be a writer, Molly eventually decided to accept the offer as she felt it would provide good experience and knowledge.
So, while World War 2 raged on and London was living through the Blitz, Molly was travelling across London and much of the south east visiting murder scenes, helping Simpson examine bodies and going to trials.
Molly walked an average 12 miles a day, worked from 8.30am to 10.30pm, seven days a week and was paid a starting salary of £1 a week. She also had to deal with people’s perceptions of her new role. There is a fabulous passage about the difference between the reactions between male and female friends, when they are alone, or in mixed company.
Peppered amongst the quite vivd descriptions of murders and trials, there is a lot of talk of lunch, tea and sardine sandwiches. The first night after she’d started the role, her landlady served her up a pork chop, and Molly reflected that if she didn’t eat it then, she would be likely to have turned vegetarian. So she made sure she ate it!
There was so much to love about this book – not just the interesting (sometimes high profile) cases, but insight into the judicial system (murderers were still hung at this time) and a matter-of-fact account of every day life living during the war (on 23rd August 1944, Molly would have loved to have been celebrating the liberation of Paris, but found herself eating sardine sandwiches and catching a train to Ashford together with armies of families of hop-pickers – including all their belongings, screaming children and cats & dogs!).
Molly gave up the job when she became engaged and originally this book was published in 1955 entitled “Evidence for the Crown: Experiences of a Pathologist’s Secretary“. It has been reprinted this year and I seem to have recalled reading somewhere that it is planned to be turned into a dramatisation (I am thinking much like Call The Midwife).
Soon after finishing the book, I happened to watch Pierrepoint with the fantastic Timothy Spall playing the eponymous, most prolific and last hangman in Britain, and couldn’t help thinking that they would have dealt with some of the same cases.
I have no idea at all what Molly Lefebure’s voice might sound like, but I like to think that narrator Lucy Scott sounds just like her! That cut-glass ‘proper’ English accent regaling the tales of war and murder and cadavers and post mortems and courtrooms and hangings and the ever-present sardine sandwiches felt just perfect!
I received this as an Advance Review Copy but it was actually published on 2nd April.
Set in Coden, Alabama in 1974, the story is told by Mimi Bosarge. Recently graduated at 21, Mimi is happy as she has landed a job as live-in tutor to the Henderson’s. A picture perfect, happy blonde all-American family who have moved to Coden from California, restoring the great house of the town (Belle Fleur) to its former 1940s glory.
At the start of the summer, Mimi’s social worker grandmother Cora (who raised Mimi after her parents died in a fire) introduces 16 year old Annie to the Hendersons, asking whether they would be able to foster her. Annie seems both beautiful and tragic – she has amnesia, with no knowledge of any of her own history or family – and noone appears to be missing her.
Being so happy, wealthy and generous, the Henderson’s welcome Annie with open arms and hearts. All of them except oldest daughter Margo who seems both suspicious and jealous of Annie. When Margo disappears, Mimi’s suspicions of Annie are also raised and she embarks on a mission to uncover the truth of Margo’s disappearance and uncovers more about Annie than she is comfortable with.
As evil seems to descend on Belle Fleur, Mimi realises that Annie’s arrival has disturbed something old and dark, and she appears to be the only one to suspect the truth.
I like being scared. I thrive on the feeling. I love a good horror film, and I especially love a good creepy story. However, I have found that my niche for being scared is a very small one. Too many horror films these days are just gore, and not enough suspense – or are too unreal to be scared by as they could never possibly happen in real life.
I think these is why I enjoy J-horror and K-Horror so much. They are usually based around things just on the edge of reality. A lot of ‘out of the corner of your eye’ inexplicable stuff. I like that.
For something to give me the willies (ooer), it generally has to be based in reality, usually with a supernatural element, preferably around a family and occur almost entirely in their home – where they should feel the most safe. If there is a dark-haired child featured, even better! this is especially difficult to get across in a book.
The Darkling manages to tick all of those boxes.
I can imagine this being made into a very sinister film – if it didn’t get the terrible Hollywood gloss treatment. The breakdown of Mrs Henderson, the malevolent creatures, Mimi’s uncertainty of reality and fight to turn suspicions from herself, a young girl’s disappearance , the house’s disturbing history – all good, meaty horror stuff.
There were times when the story repeated itself a little – I wished that there could have been some differences on the occasions that Mimi encountered the ‘nester’, but I can forgive the occasional lapses in variety as I zoomed through the book, desperate to know the ending – even though I had an inkling of what I might find there!
R B Chesterton is apparently a pseudonym of Carolyn Haines who wrote the Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries series of books. I’m afraid that meant nothing to me, but it may well do to others!
I do love theatre, and I do love things that are a little ‘different’ – so I was looking forward to the promenade, site-responsive theatre production by DreamThinkSpeak at Somerset House recently called In The Beginning Was The End.
The blurb didn’t really say much about it to be honest: “A new large-scale, site-responsive theatre production, inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Book of Revelation and the world of Mechatronics
Take a journey through the maze-like underground passages and unseen spaces of King’s College and Somerset House into a world of calamitous accidents and divine revelations.
Mixing Leonardo-inspired hydraulics and modern mechanical engineering with dreamthinkspeak’s special blend of film, installation and live performance, it reveals a vision of the world either on the verge of collapse – or the brink of rebirth.
dreamthinkspeak return to Somerset House after the sell-out success of their 2004 show Don’t Look Back.” But hey, that’s all good, isn’t it?
I had experienced the fantastic Punch Drunk’s Black Diamond production around the streets of Shoreditch that was a completely immersive experience, and also to the amazing The New World Order by Hydrocracker – a site-responsive piece within Shoreditch Town Hall. I had also been to the Barbican’s promenade performance of Hansel & Gretel by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company which was also excellent. So I had high hopes for this, which was by comparison a lot more expensive!
We were ushered in groups of ten across a courtyard, and down some steps and through a maze of corridors to a meeting room, with a screen showing us the events in another similar meeting room.
We were joined by one of the actors and off we went – it started off very promising, complete with alarms, a bit of running, lab coats and foreign language.
And then it kind of fizzled out for quite a while. We were left to wander aimlessly around darkened labs with bleeping equipment and books of research. That was quite interesting for a while. i wondered if we were meant to be looking for clues – but nothing jumped out at me really.
I played with some of the dials and made some old-fashioned frequency waves change oscillation and felt a bit naughty for doing so, but I really didn’t know what I was meant to be doing or experiencing.
There were some models and screens with various scenarios showing, and once we got round, I realised that they had been depicting ‘scenes’ to come. There were a couple of scientists that were working at their benches too – one powering a light with lemons and another writing formulas on a wall.
They interacted with us, but in a Germanic-sounding language, which was quite amusing.
We were then ushered into a bright shiny succession of rooms that were meant to be within a company making innovative products – and we were introduced to these products, again in a mainly indecipherable language. This was by far the best part of the production.
After visiting their labs, we went to their ‘Complaints Centre’ where a team of workers sat, eventually indivdiually showing their distaste for their employees by having a mental breakdown, stripping off completely and cli,bing a spiral staircase at set intervals.
It was rather beautiful and dramatic to see this spectacle, but being British, I wasn’t quite sure where I was supposed to be looking. this wasn’t helped by one of the guys appearing to have a semi-on – especially has he kept catching my eye and grinning slightly. I did start to wonder whether he was even part of the production, or if he was an audience member who’d decided to have a go himself – he seemed totally contrasting to the rest of them. or maybe THAT was part of the show too!
Oh it’s all so confusing!
The literature that we were given only as we left mentions Da Vinci, The Koran, John the Baptist and the Bible but I found the whole thing a little dull, confusing and very much style over substance. I like surreal, but this was rather too obscure for my tastes. Far too conceptual.
Also, the literature tells me that the piece is meant to raise the question of whether we are really in a world of development or a world of collapse. That wasn’t something I had picked up on through my 70 minute aimless wandering – and perhaps I should have had some literature to go round with – some friendly signposts as to what I was meant to be thinking or feeling – or even just taking notice of!