Tag Archives: loonyliterature

Writing – How do you choose a setting?

On our sister site willblyton.com, we’re looking at choosing a setting – any opinions would be appreciated.

Will Blyton - The Alternative Detective

 

 

 

At the moment, I am writing a free in between story for our willblyton.com website.  It is called” Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys” and I’m being either brave or stupid as the work in progress is being posted.  The Will Blyton books are aimed at 9-12 year olds and explore time travel and will be introducing William Shakespeare and his plays in the books and free stories.

 

The setting for Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys is a children’s literary festival in 2006.  This probably seems like a strange place to set a children’s story but around that time my family were going to a lot of children’s literary festivals and seeing a very mixed bag of children’s writers. This was one of the reasons I felt the urge to set a children’s story at a fictional festival.  Seeing such a range of different…

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A Summer’s Night Shakespearean Dream.

Dogberry painted by Marks

Do events ever happen to you and you feel as if you’ve dreamed it?  Well, that happened to me the other night.  Will (the fourteen year old) and I are doing an exploration of Shakespeare and comedy this summer.  Firstly, we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing” to compare and contrast them.  We have watched David Tennant and Catherine Tate at the Wyndham Theatre  ( Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare) and also watched Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in Kenneth Branagh’s film version. (Shakespeare – Sexy Or Strangely Funny?)  The other night we went to see an outdoor professional production – or so we thought before we went.

Beatrice

Over the years, I have been to many glorious outdoor theatre productions.  I thought I was going to something similar.  At this point I must say that I think there are times when I am a bit dense.  In the past, all the ones I have been to have been in the grounds of stately homes.  This one was in the grounds of a school but me being me; I simply thought that it was a way of getting people to watch more  theatre.

I had bought my tickets over the internet not chancing buying at the gate, in case of large crowds and a sell out.  My suspicion was aroused when I was given the shooting arrow eyeball look for buying tickets over the internet.  Four ladies, positioned like sentries, guarded the table that held the cash box.  There was a certain amount of disdain in the chief’s voice as she said “so you’ve been on the internet for your tickets.”  All their eyes were on us and I began to feel like a pervert to say the least for buying my tickets in that manner.

Benedick played by Garrick

Once we were inside and passed the bouncers, I was beginning to see what we had actually come to.  We were on a school playing field, the stage was a small platform which resembled a sheep pen but could have been set up for a hanging gallows and there were about sixty people sitting around it eating from their Tupperware boxes.  We set up our chairs and Will mentioned that this really was like going to a performance from the past.

Claudio accuses Hero of being unfaithful to him at their wedding.

I bought a programme from one of the actors and Will and I settled down to look at it.  Instantly, we were approached by a white haired, extremely well spoken lady.  She asked me if she might look at my programme.  So I handed it to her.  She then says “You don’t mind if I go off with it, do you?”  Will and I stared open mouthed as she sauntered off to her seat and started reading our programme.

Ellen Terry’s Beatrice will never be forgotten.

In front of us was an elderly man and his wife tucking into their picnic.  A hairy, round man in an Hawaiian shirt approached the elderly couple.  “George, you need to go up there and thank the town council, the Lions and the Ladies Guild.  Oh and tell them where the toilets are.”  George put his sandwich quickly into his Tupperware box and shouted “What?”  Hawaiian shirt then replied, “You’re the chairman – you have to go up and make a speech.”  George shouted “What do I have to say?”  After a lot of whating and  whoing – it was then suggested that George wrote his speech down.  At this point, I was beginning to wonder if that was part of the entertainment.  George frantically scribbled on his scrap of paper and Hawaiian shirt kept repeating town council, The Lions and toilets.

The actors announced that the play was about to start and Hawaiian shirt bustled back to his seat.  George looked flummoxed, he half stood up, hesitated and then landed heavily back into his seat.  I wondered if his moment of glory had passed.  White haired lady rushed over and handed me back my programme.

This version of the play was set in World War II with Beatrice and Hero as land girls and Dogberry and Verges as the Home Watch.  Incidentally, Beatrice and Hero doubled up as Dogberry and Verges with strong Welsh accents.  The play started and the audience had to sing “We’ll Meet Again.”  Well actually, “Much Ado About Nothing” didn’t start, it was a sub play which was about Land Girls waiting for Harold to come home from the war.  The sub play was performed intermittently in “Much Ado About Nothing” to give the actors time to change as there was a lot of doubling up going on.  It was a bit like having advertisements whilst watching the television.

Dogberry and Verges.

“Much Ado About Nothing” began and my heart sank as I watched Beatrice and Benedick in their movements.  For those who don’t know, to get a play ready for performance, the movements of the actors have to be worked out.  This is called “blocking”.  There was an obvious choreographed blocking sequence which was meant to look comical but it simply wasn’t rehearsed enough and it looked like a clumsy rehearsal.  Other times, actors were standing like spare parts waiting for their turn to speak.  Beatrice is one of my favourite Shakespearean characters but this one thought she was playing a principal boy in a pantomime.  All the way through the play, I expected her to heartily slap her thigh.

The interval arrived and the white haired lady rushed up to my seat and asked “You don’t mind if I take your programme again, do you?” and off she went with it.  This time she was standing behind the audience talking to another elderly lady and wafting my programme about proprietorially.

George rushed for the stage and very politely asked the audience not to use the trees or the grass as there were toilets in the school.  I think that was meant to be a joke.

In the past, I had always sought out very good productions for us to watch.  However, to help Will’s critical skills, I had told him that we will be going to all sorts of productions as I feel that it is as helpful to see bad productions as it is good ones.  I always feel it is helpful for children to go to live theatre if it is at all possible.  They have to study plays at school and it is a whole lot easier to write critical essays about drama if the teenager has been to quite a few performances to make it real for them.

Will’s eyes were wide during the performance.  He is very serious about both Shakespeare and acting.  His first words when we came out were “I thought we were going to a professional performance.”  It wasn’t irony; he thought that I had forgotten to tell him that we were going to an amateur performance.  He was happy to be there because he said that he had learned something very important.  He is appearing in a comedy on Saturday night and had been worrying about his comic timing.  He could see how off the actors were in their timing and that made him realise that he doesn’t need to worry about his comic timing because he obviously understands it.

Beatrice and Benedick from yesteryear.

The play did not get any better in the second half but I am glad I went.  There was a certain charm to sitting in the field watching the actors in the play and the people in the audience.  I never did discover what George was chairman of, but to be honest, none of it seemed real – it was more like a dream.  Maybe I went to see the wrong play.

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Shakespeare, Sexy Or Strangely Funny?

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

 

Shakespeare – Sexy or Strangely Funny?

 

This summer Will (the teenager) and I are exploring Shakespeare and comedy.  Initially, we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing” to discover how widely interpreted the comedy can be by the director and actors.  Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed not read.   The audiences were  the ordinary folks of the day, mostly.  I often think that objective has been lost.  I think all too often now, Shakespeare’s plays, for many people, are thought of as something which the kids do at school. Unfortunately, if we don’t demonstrate to teenagers and children that this is not so, that they are to be performed and watched with pleasure, even if we don’t have to, this notion will be perpetual.  (For those of you who are not fans of Shakespeare, I am not only referring to his plays, I also include plays by Marlowe,  Johnson, Aphra Behn and all the other wonderful playwrights from around the world of yesteryear.  It is our heritage.)

 

The first viewing was of a filmed version of a performance at the Wyndham Theatre starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate.  This version was hilariously funny using visual action to elevate the humour in the text.  For more on that read “Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare – David Tennant and Catherine Tate”, under “Shakespeare Diary on this site.

 

The second version is the film starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.  This is made as a film in that the setting is an integral part of the whole performance.  Branagh’s version is mainly a love story as opposed to the one starring Tennant which is mainly a comedy.  Comedy in Branagh’s version is kept to Dogberry and Verges – the constable in charge of the watch and his deputy.  It is in keeping with much of Shakespearean comedythat the laughs come from the lower classes.  Well, that is how it is supposed to work out.Cover of "Much Ado About Nothing (1993) (...

 

I have seen Branagh’s version four times before I watched it with Will.  It is set in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany, Italy.  We see a large Tuscan home surrounded by lush gardens.  Girls in long, white, floating dresses languish around the garden and there is Tudor music playing accompanied by the sound of Hey Nonny Nonny.  The setting is a typical pastoral idyll.  It is a spectacle – there can be no other word for it.  Next, the men arrive.  We see young, handsome soldiers all in smart uniforms arriving in a perfect line on their horses.  They have got long boots on with tight trousers and buttoned jackets.  The whole scene is one of distinction between the sexes.  The ladies are at home waiting for the men to return and looking soft, gentle and dreamy.  The men ride in and look masculine and sexy.  Before I continue, I have to say that I have never been a floating, feminine, dreamy sort of girl.  My grandfather taught me to get a sneaky left hook in at the age of five and I can write feminist essays which will make the eyes run.  However, I have always thought that those men riding on their horses looked deliciously sexy and have always been transported by the whole scene.

I relished being transported to 16th century Tuscany and waited eagerly for the men to arrive on their horses.  They arrived, dismounted and marched up to the house in a line.  Will hooted with laughter.  He stood up and puts his hands on his hips imitating them.  He said “we are devilishly manly with our tight trousers and long boots.”   I wanted to shove the Crunchie I was eating up his left nostril.  I could see exactly what he meant but didn’t really want to.

 

His main criticism however, was the way Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro was depicted.  (Don John is the villain behind the plot when Hero is set up to look as though she is unfaithful to Claudio before their wedding.)  Will, rightly felt that the depiction was too much of a stereotypical villain to be believed.  We had a strike of lightening at one point before he entered a room.  Will was waiting for his villainess laugh – it came, although it wasn’t too cackling.  He felt as if the Don John in the performance at the Wyndham theatre was far superior.  He was slightly camp and not too obvious.  Villains of that nature work far better as they are far more likely to fool us.

DOHN JOHN

DOHN JOHN (Photo credit: URBAN ARTefakte)

If any readers of this have got teenagers, I would recommend that you try doing this yourself as an experiment.  It doesn’t have to be this particular play – it could be any.  Get your teenager to watch two or three different versions.  You will be amazed at how it helps their critical skills.  It is far easier to form a critical opinion of something if you have something else to compare it with.

 

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Filed under Education, For Teens, Literary Criticism, Parenting, Shakespeare Diary

Six Great Reasons To Do Family History With Kids.

I love family history, I get to be the detective, I couldn’t be in reality.  I have been doing it with my son since he was about nine.  He is now a grown up and does it without me as he is crazy about history and has got a deep interest in particular families he has discovered we are descended from.  This isn’t a post about how to do family history – there are many great books and articles out there to help.  This is a post which explains a few of the reasons why it is good to share it with our children.

My great grandmother, Alice Escritt.

History becomes a reality.  When our children do history at school, it is always other people’s history.  It might be about monarchy, political leaders or wars.  It is nearly always about the folks who are known by many but actually connected to a few.  When anything is covered about the ordinary folks it can seem as bland as my cooking.  Growing up in Lancashire, we covered the cotton industry in history at school.  I remember wishing aliens would come and cause chaos as Mr Hall droned on about the warp and the weft.  Oh how that man knew how to kill any interest in The Industrial Revolution –  that in itself was a talent.  However, much as I would love to indulge myself in remembering Mr Hall’s secret educational weapons, I won’t.  When we look at our ancestor’s lives during these periods, we truly get a sense of reality, especially in periods which cover the censuses.  For instance, finding out that your great grandmother shared one room with ten other people and had to go into the street to get drinking water, really makes us think about the reality and hardships of their lives.  Family history brings history to life for children because it is about folks they are directly connected to, people whom they share DNA with.  It doesn’t get more personal than that.

Family History Mormons

Family History Mormons (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

Research skills.  Whilst having lunch with a teacher friend of mine, we decided that one of the most important skills a child can learn is to be able to research well.  Family history is a  productive way of doing this.  Children love to discover something about their ancestors and then grandly announce it to their parents.  When my son discovered that he had a 10X great grandmother called Frances Poo, he adored breaking the news.  Of course, I thought he was joking and had to check it.  He was right, of course.  The point is that family history makes children feel like real live detectives.  The more they find, the deeper they wish to go.  It is amazing how much this aids their research skills whilst having fun.

Francis Poo

England, Marriages, 1538–1973

marriage: 24 Jan 1598 Pocklington, York, England
spouse: William Fallowfyeld

Bonding process.  In this day and age, it is all too easy for families to be in the same house and yet not really be connecting with each other.  A lot of the time, families are all doing their own thing, even watching television programmes is done in separate rooms these days.  This is where family history really helps us bond with our children.  There is something really powerful about the moment your child and yourself discover something fantastic or heart breaking about a shared relative.  It is potent and strange and something which they could not get with friends, neighbours or anyone except the family.  When I first discovered that a great grandfather of mine had spent the last twenty years of his life in a lunatic asylum –I was totally shocked.  I was new to family history and it was the first of many sad or brilliant shocks which were to come.  The only people I could share it with, initially, were my son and my mother – both of whom were from the same ancestor.

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Days Out.  Sometimes, it is hard to think of something new to do with our kids or even somewhere different to go.  We often seem to do the same activities and visit the same places.  We’ve had some great days out though visiting the places where our ancestors lived.  It can be good fun to take photos of the children in front of the church where their ancestors got married two hundred years earlier or even just discovering a market town which your ancestors lived in but you haven’t been to before.  I found a fabulous pair of Punch and Judy doorstops for £5 in an antique shop whilst visiting one of the market towns my ancestors once lived. in  Although saying that, it can sometimes backfire.  We visited some record offices in Ashton Under Lyne in Lancashire – that was fine.  We then planned to find an address where some of our ancestors had lived in the early 1800s.  It had turned into a monstrously busy road with huge trucks zooming up and down it. It made me totally stressed so I really do not know what my 4X great grandfather and grandmother would have made of it if they had travelled forward in time.

Meeting Wonderful New Relatives.  We all have an amazing number of ancestors, so logically that means we are related to an amazing number of people whom we have never met.  We were lucky enough to be found by a wonderful Australian lady whose great grandmother was sister to my great grandmother.  When she came to England, she brought her husband and children to meet us and we all had a rare old knees up together.  My son found lovely new cousins whom he bonded with immediately.  It makes family history become real for children when they get to meet the descendants of people who are simply names and numbers on family trees.

Lancashire

Lancashire (Photo credit: Neil T)

Logic and Maths. When children do family history, they have to do lots of mathematical calculations and estimates.  It isn’t the hardest maths in the world but it means lots of practise with basic maths in a productive way instead of filling in one maths worksheet after another.  In the same way, they have to work in a logical manner.  Finding out about our ancestors means working methodically backwards and making sure all the facts fit.  We cannot start in the middle, we have to be systematic and it becomes a habit.  Children who take part in family history projects become adept at careful note-taking and fact checking.  They have to do the maths to make sure that what they have discovered is both logical and correct.

Happy hunting!

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Inspiration and Us – Literature – Your Challenge.

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a...

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a year before his death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As humans, we constantly seek connections with other humans and we have always told stories to each other, sometimes simply to make sense of the world around us.  Over the thousands of years, we see the same images emerging again and again.  It is almost as if they are branded in our collective consciousness.  Often, one particular author, artist, actor, composer or film maker does something so spectacular with one of these images that it haunts us until we are creative with it ourselves.  Look into your own creativity and see if you can spot when this has happened to you.

 

Edgar Allan Poe Museum (Richmond, Virginia)

Edgar Allan Poe Museum (Richmond, Virginia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my children’s book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, I have an evil shapeshifter called Ravensmite.  He changes from a huge raven into a gothic looking teenage boy at will.  I discussed the use of the raven with a wonderful person and writer, Maria Thermann who also uses ravens in Willow the Vampire and The Sacred Grove.  Maria suggested that we had probably been subconsciously inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”.  She was absolutely correct.  Edgar Allan Poe had inspired me to create a character, although I had not realised it until Maria pointed it out to me.

Cover for "The Raven" by Edgar Allan...

Cover for “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe as illustrated by Gustave Dore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Raven is a narrative poem which has a gothic atmosphere.  A talking raven makes a midnight visit to a mourning lover.   Here is a marvellous video of an animated Poe reciting “The Raven.”  It is done by the very talented poetryreincarnations .

 

Here’s your challenge – watch the video and use it as a springboard to create something yourself.  Happy writing, acting, painting, composing or filming.

 

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