Book review – Treats by Lara Williams

Book Review

Treats by Lara Williams

Over the course of 21 short stories, Lara Williams introduces us to a number of different characters, all at moments of crisis, or in the developments of crisis, or whole lives are revealed in the space of a few pages.

We have the post university come-down, of no jobs, or unrewarding jobs, of partners who are never what you hoped that they might be, of taxidermy, of sly humour, of the blackness of the human heart.

With an eye on both surprise, and comfort, on the familiar, and the unknown Williams sets out to expose 21st century life, morals, ethics and mores in a way that is both realistic, and startling. We see in It Begins the post university job interviews, that lead to jobs, and the people you meet along the way, the broken relationships, knowing that you are worth more than a very bad first date.

In A Lover’s Guide to Meeting Shy Girls or Break Up Record we meet heart-breaker in chief Devon, and his girl-friend Emily, and their break-up whilst watching Annie Hall, or in Both Boys, were two a girl meets two boys on the same night, and the story that unfolds for all three of them.

It’s a Shame about Ray covers the life of Ray, and the decisions that he makes, and in avoiding becoming the very thing that he hates, he becomes something else entirely. Dates looks at all of the rituals that we go through when first dating someone new, the questions to avoid, and the questions to avoid answering.

Taxidermy is the story of Neala, who in less than three years loses her boyfriend, her job, and her hair, and finds solace in stuffing animals, whilst Penguins looks at how the older we get, our friends seem to get busier and busier.

At 125 pages we are only shown a small snapshot of the interior lives of these characters. Some of the tales are sketches rather than full blown stories, but the all add up to something special within the pages of this very unique collection of short stories.

 

 

 

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Book review – The Not Knowing by Cath Unsworth

The story starts with murder. Jon Jackson, a famed, and controversial film director is found gruesomely murdered, in a copycat fashion in his most famous film.

Film journalists Barry Hudson and Diana Kemp knew Jackson, Diana biblically, and their interview was the last one he ever gave. The editor of their new magazine, Lux, believes that the interview is the golden ticket that will gain the magazine readers, and a lot of money, but as the police, and the tabloids become increasingly interested in solving the case, things start to become more and more dangerous. Diana is now also seeing an up and coming writer, Simon Everill, but he is not all that he seems on the surface.

This novel has strong characters, a believable narrative drive, and details that place their stories, situations and characters into a definite time and space. The weather is evoked, becoming a character in its own right, as are locations, and secondary characters who provide the gritty underbelly to a film industry that is too often seen to be glamourous.

The twists and turns in the narrative are well drawn and developed, with the reader at times being concerned for the safety of Diana and Barry who provide the humanity in this crime novel, and gave two very compelling reasons to see the story through until its somewhat gruesome conclusion.

 

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Book Review – The Mistake I Made by Paula Daly

Book Review

The Mistake I Made by Paula Daly

3 out of 5 stars

Transworld Publications

9780552 171304

At the beginning of this novel, Roz Toovey is at a low ebb. Her business has gone to the wall, she is crippled by rising debt, and her young son is soon to learn what bailiffs do for a living, but into this, there is a stranger, Scott with an indecent proposal.

So far, so Hollywood. Roz is a single mother, a sister, a friend, and a physiotherapist, used to dealing with living bodies, helping people to feel better. Told in the first person, we see Roz’s struggles with her business, as things begin to tighten, the economic climate causing more distress, her once comfortable home becoming something of a shrine to her past. Her son does not understand what is happening, and as things take unexpected turns, we feel the full consequences of Roz’s decision, as Scott becomes increasingly involved in her life, his one-of deal not what it appears to be.

Set in Cumbria, and the Hawkshead region, the book is very well grounded in fact and reality, although the story seems a lot more suited to a cliched metropolitan area, whilst the characters are all well drawn, as a police investigation and insurance investigation push Roz’s life into unexpected areas, but which all make thematic and logical sense.

The book is a fast read, although at more than four hundred it could have done with a tighter edit. At times it seems a little convoluted with characters bought in for expositional, rather than narrative purposes, but the desperate straits that Roz finds herself in, the monumental mistake she made in accepting Scott’s money for an easy way out of debt, and the impact that that decision has over the novel’s secondary characters are very well thought out, and the amount of research that by necessity has to hold up a story like this one is very impressive indeed.

 

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Concert Review – Different Trains

Lichfield Festival Concert Review

Different Trains –

Mr McFall’s Chamber with Luxmuralis

Two leading practitioners of widely divergent artistic practices collaborated on a new project as part of Lichfield Festival, when the leading String ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber and local multi-disciplinary arts organisation Luxmuralis presented Different Trains.

Playing music by two leading American composers from the Minimalist tradition, Steve Reich, and John Adams, it was Samuel Barber’s String Quartet opus 11 in B Minor which opened the recital. The ensemble, which featured violinists Robert McFall and Cyril Garac and Su-a Lee (cello) were impressive throughout, but the pathos was particularly during the slow second movement, which has featured in any number of films, and will be familiar to many through cultural osmosis, rather than a particular experience.

Three pieces from John Adam’s suite Alleged Dances featured, with the almost pop sensibility of She’s So Fine, Toot Nipple, and Habenera being particularly fine examples. Habenera, which opened the second half of the concert, featured a visual backdrop provided by Luxmuralis, it’s almost kaleidoscopic style adding an extra depth to the piece, which was fully realised during the concert’s final piece, Steve Reich’s Different Trains. Inspired by Reich’s childhood trips between his parents in 1930’s America, it also looked at the trains that operated throughout Europe at the same time, using a soundtrack of interviews, recorded train and rail sounds, as well as interviews, and different voices interpolated around and inside the music. Although musically Different Trains is not the most difficult piece, it is the added poignancy of the interviews, and sounds, and the stories that inspired the piece that make it so powerful.

A piece by Ennio Morricone, Deborah’s Theme, from Once Upon a Time In America served as a finely chosen encore.

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Theatre Review – David Garrick 300 Playwriting Competition

Theatre Review

David Garrick 300 Playwriting Competition

For one of the final shows in this year’s Lichfield Festival, the spotlight was turned on the talents of three writers, whose work was featured during an evening of script-in-hand performances.

With four talented actors playing all roles, a quick ninety minutes rehearsal period for each of the two plays, and minimal set design, this was not theatre of the highest production value, but it helped to show the strength and individual voices of Kierston Leslie, Ellie Galvin and Rory Payne.

The first play was Moving Pictures by Kiersten Leslie. Set in the tail end of the 1920’s, with a backdrop of financial collapse from Wall Street, and old certainties giving way to new possibilities,  this was a look at a fractured family, coming to terms with post-war Britain. A young son is looking to make a name for himself in the new fangled world of TV and advertising, whilst his father wishes that he stay and look after the Greengrocer’s that he has put his life into building up. Sub-plots within the story involved a lost child, and the fracturing of the family unit when big dreams fail to materialise in the way that they should have. This was play full of pathos, and a well drawn nuclear family unit, and some humour.

The second play, Paradise by Rory Payne and Ellie Galvin was a different beast entirely. Set in a dystopian future, where people can be made to disappear if their existence upsets some-one else. It looked at a post-brexit, post Trump, post truth world,  the most disturbing element of dystopia where bought to life. Frank Milton, a television celebrity has a child, but for the sake of his televisual career, the child is made to disappear. Milton finds himself in Paradise, where he finds his son, but he is not the man he would have been. He repeats the mantra of Paradise, of how nobody escapes, and as it occurs to Milton that he too is trapped, the lights fade. Although this play takes things to a logical extreme, there is still much humour within the play.

Although the running time for each play was limited to forty five minutes, there were strands within each piece that could be developed and built upon, and it would be interesting to see how these two strong plays are developed in the future.

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Book Review – Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

Book Review

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

Orion Books

7 out of 10

Knots and Crosses is the book that introduced Inspector John Rebus to the world. His world weary cynicism, and unhealthy habits forming, but still not fully developed, but right away we are introduced to Rebus’s environment of Edinburgh, its crimes, criminals, and a way of interfering in his personal life.

Two young girls have been kidnapped, murdered, and a third is missing, perhaps heading towards the same fate. Rebus’s personal life has collapsed, his marriage is over, and his daughter is down south, with her mother, and then it starts to get more and more personal.

The post arrives, knotted strings and matchstick crosses, and no indication of where they came from. Rebus delves into his own past in the army to for the answers, and doesn’t like what he finds there. As he gets closer and closer to the truth, rubbing the powerful of Edinburgh the wrong way with his blunt charm, we learn more about Rebus’s, and how his time in the army affected him, and the identity of the murderer comes as a complete shock to both Rebus, and the reader.

Knots and Crosses is where it all started for Rebus, and although originally it was only meant to be a one of, Ian Ranking soon discovered that there was a lot more to Rebus than he thought. It has the same characters we all know, but in a less formed state, this is an embryonic Rebus, but all fans of crime fiction, and Scottish fiction will find something to love within these pages.

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Francis Bacon’s Head

francis-bacons-headThe Great Artist,

rendered expensively in Gold.

Maybe the mould was broken,

Or maybe the artist was going through

his Picasso stage,

where faces don’t look like faces,

and if he tells us that it is Francis Bacon’s head

rendered in enough gold to run a hospital

or a school for a year,

then we believe him.

 

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