The Unbeatable Bard: A Review of Beth Miller’s For The Love of Shakespeare

My copy of Beth's brilliant book with fave bits post-it-ed!

My copy of Beth’s brilliant book with fave bits post-it-ed!

Prior to writing for a living, I was a professional actress so when the opportunity arose to review Beth Miller’s companion guide to the world’s most famous dramatist there was no way I was going to refuse. I adore Shakespeare, though I never did get to play one of his characters. I performed in many of his contemporaries’ works but not the great man’s. Pisht!

Like the book’s author, it wasn’t always thus. I loathed the bard at school. Along with my classmates I stared baffled and bored at a battered copy of the Dream. I fell in love during a performance of the Scottish play at Theatre Clwyd. It was the appearance of the witches that did it – mesmerising performances from the three actresses. If you’re tiring of my waffling, please do bear with. I share because Beth Miller opens her book with her ‘switched on’ moment, also during a performance: a charming, and funny, anecdote from her teenage years and it sets the tone for the book perfectly.

If you’re a fan already you’ll love this book and if you’re not it could persuade you to give old Shakie a bash. It’s wonderful.

For The Love of Shakespeare is not designed to be read cover to cover – though I did, ‘cos I’m geeky – but to be dipped in as and when. Nor is it designed for the super-serious scholar. Right up my alley then.

The first 50-odd pages are rammed with background information – gems on the man himself, the times, his world. Did you know George Bernard Shaw wasn’t a fan and would have liked to dig Will up and throw stones at him? Me neither.

After the introduction Miller divides the guide into three main sections: the Comedies, the Histories and the Tragedies; with shorter chapters on the bard’s poetry, the apocryphal plays (those whose authorship is in dispute) and his legacy.

The plot of each play is explained in conversational English, followed with the plot in a nutshell – a phrase invented by Shakespeare along with a zillion others we use today, many of which Miller shares. These nutshell plots are often hilarious. Of Antony and Cleopatra Miller writes: ‘Antony learns the hard way that mixing business with pleasure is a bad idea.’ And of Macbeth: McGame of Thrones meets The Apprentice, with knives. Plot summaries are followed by other notable characters and a body count. There are ‘Did You Know?’ sections and quotable lines, and peppered throughout are interviews with people closely associated with Shakespeare today (actors, directors, academics and the like) which are also utterly delightful.

Not only is the information that Miller has lovingly and painstakingly researched fascinating, she delivers her material in such a warm and witty style whether you’re a Will fan or not it’s an entertaining read. Perfect for a quick overview for not-too-keen young students – I’ll certainly encourage my son to read Miller’s thoughts on the plays he’s studying (Romeo & Juliet, another of my favourites, A Midsummer Night’s Dream – definitely not one of my favourites, and Macbeth. Love) – and for someone who’s perhaps being dragged to the theatre reluctantly. And for those already smitten there’s plenty of fresh material.

A witty, informed guide infused with love and a healthy dash of irreverence. Fab-u-lous.

My thanks to the publisher, Summersdale and TBC (Facebook Group); I was given a book in return for an honest review.

Good times, bad times, good memories, good lessons

This post’s title paraphrases an anonymous quote: Good times become good memories and bad times become good lessons

Across the media there’s been much talk of the terrible events of 2016 – and the terribleness of some depends upon which way you voted, though it’s fair to say most people I know, myself included, were crushed by the June result here and the November one across the pond.

Today as I dragged out my new diary – sniffed it, enjoyed the crisp, as yet unsullied pages – and transferred important information across (like all those passwords we’re not supposed to write down!) my Facebook timeline was dotted with posts celebrating Good Things of the past twelve months.

Traditionally, I have penned a review of my year here but had not felt inclined to do so for 2016 till now. The positivity on social media reminded me that I, too, have had as many good moments as difficult, if not more, and in the spirit of #lovenothate #beattheblues #hopenothate here’s my list:

Giinger2's fabulous locks

Giinger2’s fabulous locks

Ginger1 turned 18 and what a fine young man he is. Some might say my job is done, though I can’t agree. Parenting is for life.

Ginger2 turned 13 and he is shaping up nicely. And growing the finest head of hair I can think of.

I published my third novel – thanks are due to my publisher Accent Press and to all the book shops, bloggers, readers and fellow authors who supported it along its way. Bless you all.

I wrote a radio play after attending a script writing course led by Sue Teddern. It was brilliant to take on a fresh challenge and make new friends along the way. Whether or not the play is ever produced doesn’t matter (much!); the process was priceless.

I began a new novel – abandoned it and began again. Another lesson and reminder that no matter where you are in the journey there’s always something new to be learnt or discovered.Redemption Song Final

A conference I helped to organise and run – The Beach Hut Writing Academy’s From Inspiration to Publication – was a sell-out success. So much so that we’re running another in 2017.

I took part in a number of fantastic literary events – including City Reads, part of the Brighton Festival.

I was a writer-in-residence for Little Green Pig’s pop-up gallery in the summer and subsequently have been running workshops for the organisation which offers creative writing and storytelling workshops to children and young people in Brighton & Hove. A fabulous charity.

2016-08-30-09-20-40The BigFella and I made it through another year together – that’s 25 in total since we first met – and we love each other as much, perhaps more, than we ever have.

We enjoyed a great holiday in Cornwall with my lovely sister-in-law in August.

My parents are healthy and living well at a time when so many friends are facing/have faced the loss of theirs.

I witnessed friends fall in love, marry, have children, be published for the first time.

There is more love and hope in the world than hate and despair. The bad shit is given so much more air time because it is rare – at least here. We are truly blessed. Winners of the lottery of life.

Be thankful, be content. Know that every small act of compassion and kindness is meaningful. As my lovely grandma used to say: From small acorns…

Happy New Year!

 

The Joy of Creation – and the seventh day

Back in late June I had a whole bundle of good intentions for the summer. The most important of these was to complete the first draft of my WIP; I was 30k words in. Now, I have 35k. You don’t need to be good at maths (I’m rubbish) to see that I failed to meet my objective in spectacular style. 5,000 words? A figure I would commonly knock up in less than seven days.

The Family LineThings went pear-shaped from the off. The EU referendum result rocked me to an extent and depth I was utterly unprepared for. For weeks, I could think of nothing else and fed my addiction by reading everything I encountered on social media: articles, debates, the numerous passionate conversations between friends and colleagues, and, sadly, the trolls. Struggling with despair, a ‘what’s the point, we’re all going to hell in a handcart’ attitude, I did manage the edits on the revised edition of my debut, renamed The Family Line. Which was just as well: it had a July publication date.

Then Ginger1 went away. For a month. A whole month. One child lighter I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to catch up. Wrong. Instead I fretted about him constantly, using up precious emotional and mental energy. I couldn’t focus.

Late July and Ginger2 finished school for the summer. A week later and his older brother returned home safe and sound – if grubby; he’d been living in a tent for the duration. Now the long break has never been an easy time in which to write, as many mothers know, but I have plodded on in the past, albeit at a reduced pace: I worked in the mornings and we played in the afternoons. It didn’t pan out that way. I did try. Time and again I sat at my pc and typed a few measly sentences, before admitting that I wasn’t getting anywhere, fast. And for days, and weeks, one question plagued me: What on earth is going on? Have I lost my passion? Will I never complete a novel again?

In the past seven years I have written six (and a bit – there’s that third of the WIP) novels, a number of short stories, and a radio play. The shorts and five of the novels have been published – the sixth is scheduled for release in June 2017 – with all the attendant promotional activity. The radio play is almost ready for submission. Whether or not it is ever produced remains to be seen. On top of this I have continued to teach, mentor and work as an editor.

Prussia Cove, Cornwall

Prussia Cove, Cornwall

In August we went away for our family holiday. This year to Cornwall, to the most southerly point of Britain: the Lizard.  On this holiday, where we walked and sailed and mostly admired the stunning beauty of the Cornish coastline (though the Helford Passage is worth a visit too) I realised that I needed to stop beating myself up. That my sub-conscious had been at work. I’m tired. I needed to take stock, step back, refill the well.

So, aside from a stint as a writer-in-residence for Little Green Pig (that’s a story for another time…) August and this first two weeks of September has passed without writing and little social media activity and – shockingly to me – it’s been OK. Really, really OK. Great, even.

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The Little Green Pig pop-up in Brighton

I’ve read a lot – both fiction and non-fiction – rediscovering my love of writing from across the pond. American literature was a strand of my degree but in recent years I’ve read British works almost exclusively, feeling the need to keep up with trends.

I’ve swam almost every day, in the sea mostly – how lucky I am to live in Brighton; I’ve hung out with much neglected, and extremely tolerant, family and friends, realising in particular that my boys are growing up fast and it won’t be too long before they’re gone. Ten years from now, I won’t regret having written five rather than eight or nine novels, but I will regret not having spent more time with my children. A novelist friend said exactly the same thing.

At the weekend I was at a character masterclass run by The Beach Hut Writing Academy, tutored by clinical psychologist Dr Sam Fraser and thriller writer Rebecca Whitney. It was a fascinating and inspiring day. I came away buzzing with ideas and during one particular  exercise I discovered what the heart of my story was – and it wasn’t what I’d thought it was! The whole thing needs a re-write.

And here I am, ready to face the autumn, to enjoy reconnecting with my craft, a rewrite, my characters and their stories, to reconnect more fully with online friends (I am fortunate to have many astoundingly wonderful online mates) and I’ve learned the importance of taking a break, stepping away and reassessing.

A writing life is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to pace ourselves.

Creation is a marvellous thing and regardless of whether or not you believe in the Christian creation story (I don’t) the significance of the seventh day should not be underestimated.

Laura x

2015: A Writer’s Year

In a 12 month period during which I have seen no new publications of my own work, you’d be forgiven for questioning my post title. But with a new novel set for imminent release – Redemption Song on 28th January – and a new edition of my debut, Bloodmining, set for the summer, it’s been a writing year rammed with re-writing. And as we know, writing is rewriting.

Work on Redemption Song followed a traditional publishing journey with a draft submitted to my editor Greg in February, followed by substantive comments after a London Book Fair meeting in April, the copy edit in the late summer, more copy-editing in September (naughty me) and proofs in October. And a sparkly new book very soon *an excitement/fear stomach flip combo*. 2016 promises to be a year of fabulous fiction – for starters Jo Cannon’s debut The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is published on the same day as mine – and who knows if my book will be remembered in amongst so much good work? I can only keep my fingers crossed and keep on keeping on.Redemption Song Final

Alongside the work on Redemption Song I redrafted my very first novel. Me-oh-my what an interesting (ahem) experience that was. Proof positive of how much I’ve learned in the past four years. I feel extremely privileged to have had this opportunity: to put right all that was lumpy and bumpy in the first edition. It still isn’t perfect – what is? – but I am much, much happier with it. I’ll keep you posted once I have an exact publication date.

Despite the absence of a new book, 2015 was full of appearances too. So many that I had to consult my diary to recall many of them! It began in January with a talk at the University of Hertfordshire literary festival, and another at the University of Kingston. In March there was a reading with other Brighton authors at the Oxfam bookshop to celebrate International Women’s Day, and more local readings at Together the People Festival, and in the Tinker Box at the Brighton Festival in May. To top it all I was invited to two events at the Shoreham WordFest; one running a short story workshop at Ropetackle and an in-conversation with organiser Morag Charlwood and fellow author, Ed Hogan. We spoke to a packed crowd on a wet and wild Monday evening and it was such a pleasure I get a lovely warm feeling thinking about it again now – in direct contrast to the hideous weather that night.

August was spent at the glorious Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales, working on another novel with a working title of The Bad Buddhist and Me. I have blogged extensively about my time there so won’t repeat it. Suffice to say, it was a truly incredible experience. I love that place! I want to go back!

11705357_10153295090155817_6347792843615633973_nAnd then there were the talks to writers groups at libraries, and my mentoring and coaching work with emerging writers; work I enjoy enormously. It’s such a delight to journey with other writers, see their work develop. And I was lucky enough to edit some fantastic books, including Sarah Rayner’s Making Friends with the Menopause – a self-help book in the same family as her amazing bestselling Making Friends with Anxiety. I’ve read some incredible books too; you can read about my favourites here.

2015 has been a good year, for me, and right now it’s hard to believe 2016 could be better. But the great thing about the future is that we don’t know what it will bring, what plot twists, thrills and spills will be thrown our way. We can only endeavour to make the most of the ride, learn from the challenges and bad times, and appreciate the good. And remember those for whom life has not been so kind, and when possible, do something about it; extend the arm of friendship and support; money when necessary and if you can afford it. I’d love to know if 2015 has been kind or mean to you, and hear about your plans and dreams for 2016.

In the meantime: Happy New Year dear readers – journey on, loving and learning.
Laura x

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Back to school for the kids; what about you?

BHWA logo reverse outToday, my youngest, and thousands like him across the country, goes back to school. Although he says he’s not looking forward to it, I just know that once he’s there he’ll have a ball. Despite what he says he enjoys learning – most of us do.

What about you? New term, new goals? Are you looking to expand your writing skill-set, or develop new ones? If your answer is yes, then you might be as excited as me about a brand new venture launched in Brighton this week; one which I’ve the good fortune and pleasure of being involved in: The Beach Hut Writing Academy.

We’re a group of published authors, based in Brighton, who’d like to share our knowledge and experience with new and developing writers through a range of high-quality, affordable courses.

With experience across a wide range of genres in fiction – from crime to YA to short stories – non-fiction and script writing we know what it takes in the increasingly competitive world of publishing. We build confidence and writing skills, we offer support and expertise gained from professional experience. Amongst our number we boast bestselling author and all-round 5:2 guru, Kate Harrison; Richard & Judy Book Club author, Araminta Hall; acclaimed short story writers Bridget Whelan and Erinna Mettler (who is also a founding member of live lit organisation Rattle Tales) and award-winning script writers Sue Teddern and Hannah Vincent. So many talented writers at your disposal, ready to share top tips from their professional writers’ toolkits. What’s stopping you?!

Do check out our autumn programme and spread the word to writing chums in the south east and beyond.

If you live near Brighton you’ll see our leaflets all over the place and for further information please visit our Facebook page HERE. Below you’ll find images of our autumn flyer which will provide a flavour of what’s on the menu.

Our beautiful logo and the flyer were designed by children’s author and illustrator Jules Miller. Do visit her site for more examples of her fantastic work.

BHWA A5 Flyer FrontBHWA A5 Flyer Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Ten

11058666_10153295080275817_3431906838164195866_nThis is the end, the end … and I’m overwhelmed, feeling a tad emotional, sitting in the library before I say goodbye, absorbing the atmosphere.

In summary:
• Inspiring, Creative, Tranquil, Nourishing, Open-minded, Open-hearted.
• The ideas and subsequent words have come – just nudging 13,000; and as ever the story isn’t quite what I thought it might be – a good sign as far as I’m concerned
• I’ve read three smashing novels during my stay: The Island Escape, Blackmoor and Wide Sargasso Sea
• I’ve eaten delicious food, taken some beautiful walks and snapped away like mad on Instagram
• I’ve met some incredible people: authors, journalists, writers, academics, theologians, minsters, interns and other members of the staff team. Special thanks to warden Peter Francis and interns Sophie and Sian and all the cooks and cleaners

11705357_10153295090155817_6347792843615633973_nIT’S BEEN AMAZING

THANK YOU EVERYONE AT GLADSTONE’S FOR HELPING TO MAKE IT SUCH A MAGICAL COUPLE OF WEEKS

To quote Arnie, ‘I’ll be back.’

Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Eight

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St Deiniol’s Graveyard, Gladstone Estate

10,000 words in and I spent much of the morning reading through and summarising the scenes I have so far, distilling them to their essence – three or four sentences apiece.

Because I have some scenes written in the ‘now’ and some in my protagonist’s past, I then set about trying to work out if there is mileage in interlacing them throughout the narrative. Does one section throw up enough questions to be answered, or partially answered, in another and does that other scene also throw up enough questions which are subsequently answered in the next. And so on. Without questions there is no imperative, on you reader’s behalf, to turn the pages.

And the answer? I think so. Though it’s still too early to say for sure, I’m growing in confidence – this story just might have legs; the characters are interesting (and already surprising me, which I’m also taking as a positive sign) and I’m enjoying writing about them.

Much of this is thanks to the inspirational atmosphere of the library. Not only as a writing space – though it’s perfect for that – but as a space in which (open) minds can be expanded. There is a diverse and fascinating collection of individuals here, all concerned in one way or another with the importance of reflection, of our culture, politics, faiths and ideals. Last night there was a new influx of guests – Hebrew in a Week began this morning and there are more writers and academics too.

And sadly, someone leaves today and I shall miss the conversations, but know that we’ll stay in touch.
I’m in the library now and it is possibly even more magical as the light fades. Bliss.