On Strictly and it’s “razzamatazz”

So it is that time of the year, strictly fever has hit the nation. We all tuned in on Saturday night to watch the partnering of the 15 celebrities participating in the 11th series. The beginners to the professionals. The infamous group dance at the end of the show is what most of us held out for. The endless videos and biographies from each of the celebrities, not to mention the new professionals that have joined does become fairly tedious after a while. I was quite thankful that I had recorded the program, as there were some moments when I really did have to fast-forward.

Yes, I know! Slightly sacrilegious. For a humongous dance fan to want to miss out on all the minor details seems so entirely wrong. Well on some level I agree with you. BUT it is a dancing show after all. I watch it for the dance. The performance. The glitz and glamour. They are strictly the reasons why I watch the show.

The line up.

The line up.

Despite some of the criticism the show received, one articular review on the daily mail website by Jim Shelley, I believe that the red carpet opening was totally in-keeping with the show. It was an elaborate performance, decorative, mesmerising, chaotic: all the things that performance and musical theatre are known for. Criticising that the show was just too “razzamatazz” seems completely idiotic in my opinion and almost as if Shelley has completely missed the point of the show.

I think the partnering of the contestants works fairly well. There are many couples that definitely have brilliant potential just from what was apparent in the group dance. Also considering that Natalie Gumede trained as a dancer until she received an injury at 19, seems like there will be some good performances in store for us. The 10th series was the best to date (another cliché that is mentioned each year, that the talent is the best they have seen, that time it really was) and so there is a lot riding on the celebrities. Can they beat the brilliance that was broadcasted every Saturday across the nation? I hope so.

Plus, the competition was only made more apparent when last years champions Louis and Flavia performed their brilliant Charleston “Dr. Wanna do.” No pressure guys, but that is really is awesome. Yes he has his flashy gymnastic tricks thrown into the choreography to add a little bit of that “razzmatazz” but the dancing too is fantastic.

Reining Champs.

Reining Champs.

I am so excited, and I really can’t hide it. Strictly fever has well and truly set in for me and my household. Saturday nights have a new priority and with it probably goes my social life as I start University again. Well worth the sacrifice. I know that many people are not attracted by the dancing, the glitz and the razzle dazzle of showbiz. But this really is all rolled up into a neat little ball. Yes I have danced all my life. Yes I can probably sing most of the lyrics to A West Side Story. Yes I dance instead of walking down the street. But I have no way of waiting another 3 weeks calmly until the show really gets under way.

For those new to the show, take Bruce and his presenting with a pinch of salt (or fast-forward like I do). Take the sequins and spray tanned waxed chests as what they are and embrace your inner goddess; because strictly speaking, we are all diva’s deep down.

On fantasy and my love of it

I have yet to post about one of my favourite genres of book: fantasy. Yes I did recently write about Game Of Thrones but it is surprising that it has taken me such a long time to get around to this hugely incorporating genre. I read the Riftwar saga by Raymond E. Feist a few years ago now, but I have been thinking about it a lot recently and so here it belongs.

For those of you that are not into the dragons and chivalry, swordsmen and ogres, dwarves and elves then honestly I don’t know what to say. In my opinion reading is a method of escapism, whether you read a book set in Afghanistan or one set in an invented world full of mythical creatures they both fulfil their purpose: to escape. Fantasy is a realm of fiction that really grabs escapism by the reins and throws them out the window. I hear many people justify their dislike of fantasy with “there is too much unnecessary description, to the point where it is just no longer believable.” But can this not also be said for any classic? The older you get, the more descriptive you get; and in a round about way, fantasy is often set in a world comparable to the middle ages.

magician

This particular saga really is brilliant. The first in the opening trilogy is Magician and although a lengthy volume, is thoroughly enjoyable and fled by in no time at all. I remember feeling almost cheated by Feist after I saw that the second and third books were a third of the size. It can be incredibly difficult to create a setting for your story, let alone a whole world. It is very easy to write too much, use too many of those things we call adjectives and really force those sceptics to jump for joy at yet another failure. Or go the other way and fail at any description of any sort, no character depth or believability. But Feist got the balance perfect I felt. The various cities in Midkemia (the main invented world) in the novel felt so real that I wanted to dive into the page and join the fight. What I liked most was that because it was the Riftwar saga, it not only held one world but to joined by this rift. It really was a brilliant twist to a fantasy novel – a little bit of sci-fi to get everything going.

Yes there is a very heavy male presence throughout the books, but that is expected of these novels. I am not condemning them, or even agreeing that this is right, just that it was what was thought necessary for the book to be successful. There are some brilliant female characters in the novel, very powerful and fiery young women who are determined to get their own way. The male characters are just as excptional, and they range from all different walks of life. They don’t just focus on a poor orphan boy who raises to power like the majority of novels, but we also discover plot from those of wealth, nobility, power and the humble. Martin Longbow particularly tugged at my heart strings, he was such a believable character and I really felt myself spurring him on and happy when he finally found happiness.

But the best character has to be Jimmy the Hand. He is so brilliant in fact, that Raymond E. Feist even wrote a separate book just about him to accompany the saga. He is nothing more than flea-ridden gutter rat, scuttering along and stealing where he can to get by. But he becomes so much more than that as the story develops.

The stories are written through the eyes of various characters and so as the plot progresses the characters change and alter depending on the circumstances. So for those of you who are new to fantasy, a bit reluctant after watching Lord of the Rings and not particularly enjoying it, in my opinion you cannot make a judgement about fantasy as a whole until you have read one of the books. Give it a go. The dragons aren’t real so there is nothing to fear!

On arranging a dinner party with my favourite characters

Have you ever had that feeling where you see something so exciting, so interesting, so fascinating that you cannot physically make yourself think about anything else? Your brain is trapped, unable to remain focused on anything else for long before it wanders back off to this new wonder. Yet you can’t work out the entire reason why you have become so transfixed on this object. It is just another image or thing, there are probably another million of them available. Other people have seen it too, it is not like you have a premium and have been granted sole access to this magnificent creation.

This happened to me yesterday. I was sifting through my facebook newsfeed, with no major expectations. I wasn’t on the search for a new blog topic, I was just wasting a bit of time. Then I saw it. Wham bam thank you m’am.

It changed my thought process.

It changed my thought process.

You see, the thing is, I know it is just an imagine of a round table. I know that it is a pretty badly taken image. I get that. But I just can’t shake the endless possibilities and the worlds of characters and people who I have grown to love and that have grown up with me all sat around one table. One of the other reasons why this image has changed my life is because I cannot, for the life of me, make a final decision on who the 7 characters would be. More importantly, sorting out the seating arrangement would most definitely be a nightmare.

So I decided to have a look at the comments. That was an even worse mistake. There were already some truly brilliant seating arrangements out there that it made my task even more daunting. The subscribers to the Nerds do it better site really had made great choices. But then I realised that I am at the cross over point. I have so many favourite tv and film characters that it would be difficult for me to choose only 7 of them just from the fantasy and science fiction genre; but I have so many other characters outside these genres that I love that the weight of the task seems to be increasing exponentially.

So I began the task. “The task has been appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will” Galadriel kept whispering at the back of my mind. So I started with the women, the most inspirational, important, fabulous, sassy, beautiful, intelligent, passionate, wise and just damn-right-ass-kickingly-awesome women I could think of. Once I had them in mind it was just a simple matter of deciding where they would sit at the table. I mean they would need to be able to hold a conversation with the people I placed beside them – much easier said than done I have to admit.

I knew that there were some people who would be definite. The other guests would have to be arranged around them. Yes that is favouritism, but this is my fantasy dinner party after all. So here it is. My dream dinner party.

1. 10th Doctor  2. Gandalf the Grey 3. Danaerys Targarean 4. Lara Croft (from the game, not Angelina Jolie) 5. Colin Morgan as Merlin 6. Jane Eyre  7. Mr Darcy

1. 10th Doctor played by David Tennant
2. Gandalf the White
3. Daenerys Targaryen
4. Lara Croft (from the game, not Angelina Jolie)
5. Merlin played by Colin Morgan
6. Jane Eyre
7. Mr Darcy

 

I don’t really feel like I need to justify myself in my choice of guests because they are truly awesome in their own way. However I will explain why I have positioned them where I have. David Tennant is to my right because I love him as the Doctor. He is my favourite Doctor and it would just be amazing to have him sit next to me and tell me stories of all the places in the universe he has visited, if he does run out of topics he is pretty dreamy. Gandalf and the Doctor would get on like a house on fire as they would both wish to learn what the other has to say. They are both wise men with long pasts, but more importantly, they can both regenerate! Dani would feel at home with a wizard like Gandalf and they could converse about her dragons and the magic that they possess. I believe that both Lara and Dani are the same woman just living in different worlds. Lara is an adventurer/explorer who like Dani has her own mission. They are also extremely powerful women and I have no doubt that they would not enjoy each other’s company. Merlin as a historical fictional character would be able to reveal all the mysteries of old England to Lara and help her with her research. Finally Jane Eyre and Mr Darcy are both characters from two of my favourite books, but more importantly the same era, written by women and I believe they would get on well. Having Mr Darcy on my left could potentially divert some of my attention from David Tennant long enough for him to speak with Gandalf.

The more I look at my seating arrangement, the more I wonder if I have made the right decision. I have so many favourite characters that have been axed from the dream team and I only wish that I could have more up there. But I guess I will need reserves, because they might not all accept my invitation! Who would you choose?

 

On catching up and feeling guilty about George Martin

I love going on holiday, I really do. I am sure most people will agree with me on this one, especially if you jet-setting off to an unknown place, full of places to explore and people to meet. The thrill and adrenaline you get from just not working, lounging around all day doing nothing. Visiting places of wonder and snapping them all so they can be shared on facebook the moment your hand touches your laptop once you arrive home.

The only problem I have is that there is an awful lot of catching up to do when you get back; especially if you completely switched off from the outer world on your holiday. All those episodes of the white queen I missed had to be watched straight away so I had enough time to catch the most recent one later that day.

I am also a big believer in reading before watching, but sometimes life just doesn’t work like that. You run out of time, work piles up, you have other things that have a higher priority, or you simply just can’t get hold of the text quick enough. Now I have to admit, I hadn’t read George R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones before I started watching the show last year. Yes I was even a late comer to the show too. I do feel bad that I put so much emphasis on the importance of appreciating the literature before the video, but that is just the way my preferences work. Book before look.

The book.

The book.

However this holiday gave me the leisure I needed to do some very serious catching up and the ability to remove some of the serious guilt that has been weighing me down for the last few months. Luckily my dad was a proud of owner of the set to date so I didn’t even have to splash the cash (something that also made me feel incredibly guilty about not having read them yet) before the trip abroad. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I knew the book would be, there can only be so much elaboration and dramatic enhancement to the original text to make it appealing to a wider audience. In my opinion the original is always the better version. I was proved correct once again.

The depth of character development, description and imagination involved throughout the whole of the first of the series of A Song of Fire and Ice was amazing. Although I already knew the story line and so I guess reading the books condensed my understanding of the story. I think that in fact, I am going to eat my own words right now, but perhaps watching the HBO show before reading the books was a good way to do it. There are so many characters and relationships, not to mention the characters that are never alive in the text and are mentioned to help us understand the history of the people; that watching them on a screen makes them more prevalent in our minds.

Aside from the potential to confuse, which I think is a necessary element of all fantasy writing because the history needs to be well-developed and believable; but the 800 plus pages disappeared like a flash. I have always loved a fantasy novel, trilogy, saga and have never really struggled with any of them, but A Game of Thrones was entirely different. The characters jumped off the page to me, I warmed to even some of the most venomous characters that in the tv show I could have easily burnt at the stake for their crimes. I even found myself disliking characters that I had originally admired and honoured (yes, I am talking about you Eddard Stark).

The show.

The show.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that I am well and truly dumbfounded. I still stick to my opinion that you should read the original before you watch the adaptations, but this one has been different. The guilt will be carried with me for life, until i catch up and read book four that has yet to be adapted. But even so, the book and the HBO series evoked different emotions and pulled at different heart stings, even though the events were the same in each more or less. Unfortunately this seems a bit inconclusive, but I guess you will have to find out for yourselves and let me know if you have ever been a similar predicament.

On pushing North and South up to first place

I apologise for my absence recently on here but I have been away from my laptop and more detrimentally, without any means of the nets so I haven’t been able to publish my reviews. However because I have been sunning on the beaches for the last couple of weeks I really managed to crack down on my reading list, which means – hooray! Review material galore!!!

One of the books was Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and this was part of my second year reading list, rather unheard of before I bought it. But I can honestly say that I think I have potentially found a front runner for top prize. This was fantastic. If you were born in the wrong century like I was, then I really believe you will enjoy this. It possessed everything that my love Pride and Prejudice didn’t – I know I am slighting Austen and by effect Mr Darcy himself by saying this, but North and South seemed to be completely soaked in British history that it seemed far more believable.

Mr Thornton or Mr Darcy?

Mr Thornton or Mr Darcy?

To summarise as briefly as I possibly can (which I have to admit, is a challenge within itself!) the novel follows the life of Margaret and her family as they relocate to the manufacturing town of Milton in the North, and it deals with the prejudices of their lives. Now what Gaskell provided for me that I found lacking in Austen was substance, I mean that in the broadest sense, but the industrial revolution is at the very crux of this novel: the changing economies, people, families, neighbourhoods; everything is new and different.

Yes I am a lover of history and in particular all things British, but these are not the only strong points. The characters themselves are remarkable, they adapt to the incidents that befall them, sometimes tragic ones, but they grow and change. The greatest stories are the ones that you already know the ending too and so they don’t have to keep you guessing, and to an extent this novel is the same. The conclusion is a given from at least a third of the way through, and sometimes I did find it entirely frustrating that I almost threw the book to the floor out of the sheer amount of pride Margaret had. But I loved it nonetheless. The story drew me in, kept me there, not guessing, but waiting and biding my time until Gaskell graced us with the information and knowledge that we had wanted from the very beginning – in fact she even made us wait till the last page!

For those of you that are remotely interested in the classics, or love stories or historical novels or anything Victorian I have found your new baby. This is it.

 

On book abandonment

On book abandonment

Now I wholeheartedly believe in finishing what you started, but sometimes there have to be exceptions. I mean if you get the sun lounger and a cold drink out and the thought of reading more of the book turns you cold – I think you should stop. If you are not enjoying it put it back on the shelf, or give it to someone who will enjoy it. Books are there for your enjoyment, they shouldn’t be a chore.

However saying that and going back to my original point, if you have only a couple of chapters left, get rid of that apathy and man-up. The satisfaction of completing a book that was challenging will be greater than if you cave. In the end I guess it all comes down to you.

On fame and pseudonyms and the influence they provide

I am sure you have heard by now that J. K. Rowling successfully published another novel The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I think that is amazing. I really do. Publishing a book because you want people who it attracts from the reviews and the blurb to read, not because it has been written by one of the most influential authors of the last decade.

Before Rowling was acknowledged as the author it had reached 1500 sales and since the knowledge was revealed yesterday she has already sold over 5000 copies and hit the top of the amazon best selling charts. One editor has admitted to turning Rowling down stating that it “was perfectly decent, but quiet”.

Image

No hint of Hogwarts

What really gets me is Rowling herself wanted to keep it a secret. She wanted the pseudonym to remain in tact for longer than it did. She is not trying to sell more books just off the back of the image she has created for herself through the world of Harry and Hogwarts. This is a woman who is so passionate about writing that she would rather publish a book in secret than through her fame and influence.

It is interesting to think that if we go back 200 years to when female authors like Jane Austen and a bit later the Bronte sisters were trying to publish their works they had no choice but to publish under a pseudonym. Curer Bell was an easy enough way to get your work out to the public without any of the stigma attached to being an author making its way back into your public life. How times have changed!

I am sure that the influential authors using pseudonyms to hide their gender would approve of Rowling’s use of Robert Galbraith in order to make her work available to those who would chose it.

On paleness and the desire to tan.

It is that time of year again. The magazines are throwing out as many free summer goodies as they can possibly afford. Shorts and sandals galore. Paperbacks stacked by the garden loungers (unless you have a dog that is inclined to biting and hunting inanimate objects like mine, then I highly recommend stacking at a height). Not to forget the endless number of burnt faces, shoulders, backs and tops of feet.

We Brits spend all year praying to have a good summer: hot weather so we can go outside and roast ourselves in the sun, glass of Pimm’s in the hand while we lovingly burn meat on the barbecue. Yet when it finally arrives nobody seems to be able to do anything other than moan about the weather. “Oh it is so unbelievably hot today!” “I can’t cope with this weather” “I am wearing way too many clothes for this weather”

When a glass is just not big enough.

When a glass is just not big enough.

Make your minds up! I am far from exempt from this. I find myself struggling to pick clothes out of my wardrobe that will do all the things I require of them: leave enough skin on show so as to allow for maximum pre-holiday tannage, cover me up enough so I don’t burn/get sun stroke and also feel comfortable and cool enough simultaneously. Today for example I chose a pair of denim shorts and a baggy white cotton blouse. Actually not a bad decision for a heat wave day.

Perhaps it is just me. For those sun worshippers out there who can happily bask in the sun all day and night I am sure you are in your element. But then I also assume that when you look at the sun you don’t burn. Being a pale skinned being I am doomed to the curse of the burn-white cycle. I sit in the sun, I burn, the burn fades and returns back to its original shade of luminous whiteness. My skin never seems to remember how to progress. Wearing white does help to create the illusion that I have a slight tan.

Perhaps this year is the year. I have been off from uni for a few months now, reading in the sun, working in the sun, I have managed a healthy glow. My body is acclimatising to the heat slowly, but surely. Two weeks in Skiathos in 9 days time may allow for an actual tan. Could that be possible? Has my time finally arrived? I guess considering a couple of years ago I made it no further than I am now despite having 2 weeks in India, 10 days in France and 1 week in Cornwall maybe I shouldn’t get my hopes up.

I guess I should be used to paleness now. I have embraced it wholeheartedly, I really have. I am not in denial. I know that the chances of me walking down the streets with a perfectly even golden tan are slimmer than my chance of winning the lottery. But hope is always on the agenda. So for those of you pale and desperate for warm weather but unable to cope with it I hear you. Hang in there and I wouldn’t worry because winter is coming.

Birdsong – an epic?

I apologise for my lack of posts recently, but I was working at the Wimbledon Championships which was an amazing experience, especially with Murray winning! I feel unbelievably proud to have been part of such an historic event and so I hope you can forgive me for not keeping up to date with my blog. The good news is however that I was able to do a large amount of reading across the fortnight – there was rather a lot of travel involved as well as waiting around in queues for various things.

I managed to tackle a rather voluminous work: Birdsong. This is one of those everyone-must-read-before-they-die books or everyone-must-read-in-order-to-know-our-past-better books. Truly amazing. The first world war is often a very difficult subject to talk about, with the vast amount of lives lost, and the destruction it caused not to just to humanity but to the countries involved, the world economy and international relations. Sebastian Faulks has very cleverly built up characters that we not only sympathise with and back to survive through the war, but we are also able to see them change.

The non-linear narrative enables Faulks to jump around with the plot, revealing sections about Wraysford’s life before the war, then during, then skipping ahead to his granddaughter’s path of historical discovery – which moments before we had been living through his eyes. This style effectively reveals subtle layers of the characters’ personalities and histories without being blunt and direct. It gives depth. They become real characters, with lineages with future possibilities. It also allows the reader to subconsciously compare the decisions of Isabelle and Elizabeth, who live extremely different lifestyles, France 1910 and then England 1978 both find themselves unmarried and pregnant.

Men at war.

Men at war.

This really is not just a love story. It is an epic love story. It is in itself and epic. The novel covers such a vast period of time and lives and people that it isn’t really a novel. It has the important historical element to it too, the war is the crux of the plot, it holds the story all together. The opening in 1910 is foreshadowed by the readers knowledge that the war will follow four years later and then all the characters are directly affected by it. As I have said it is an epic, but sometimes it does go on and drag a little. The descriptions of the war scenes and the life of the men in the trenches is often times repetitive and full of similarities – but I guess trench life was mundane and repetitive.

I cannot recommend this more highly, for those who dislike historical fiction, this is also a romance and for those of you who don’t like romance, there is so much death, destruction and loss that it counterbalances any love affairs early on. And for those of you who like the sound of it but don’t like the length, I really recommend the BBC adaptation that came out last year with Eddie Redmayne. Amazing.