Thursday, 28 July 2016

Hands grab. Switch...flick?

This was my moment, back in 2013.


What? Hiya, hello? Who? Huh...?

'Oh yeah! Slut shorts, love it!' 

Are they talking to – or rather, yelling at – at me!? Surely not. I'm scared to look. Suddenly I can't turn around. Are they gone yet?

'Mate, green light! Go! Turn it up...'

I was taking a photo of the latest joke scrawled on the blackboard in a local cafe window. It was one a customer had sent in via Twitter, and it was hilarious. A nosy pepper gets jalapeño business! Ingenious. So imagine my surprise when I hear those green man bleeps sounding at the end of the road, then car engines slow down and pull up, and then...shouts.

It's 27 degrees. This is a pretty built up area of the tiny city. I'm wearing denim shorts. I debated it for 11 minutes this morning before I left my house, I even consulted my least horrid house mate and even she nodded her reluctant approval. Going bare-legged was a big deal, and I was braving it. I couldn't not.
Slut shorts?! What did that mean? I vaguely recall some of my friends at Reading Festival shouting it at crowds of young girls as they passed through our camping section – but that was at 4am when we were quite deaf from the music that night and had been drinking out of a bucket for the past hour or so. Nobody was responsible for what they said. Although that's what I'd said when I told that guy I loved him on one of those nights...and didn't hear it back.

I finally turn and see a red Corsa with the windows rolled right down and boys – not men, boys, my age so technically men but no, yucky immature boys – leering out the windows at me. Me. Of all people. I search the street without daring to turn my head too much, looking for their real target. It can't be me. The boys in the snap back caps and mirrored sunglasses are addressing someone, anyone, else.
I ignored it.
The lights changed.
They were gone.
I heard their laughter drive away. 

Later that same day, I'm on the train. I'm hot, sweating into my seat. My new necklace, the silver (coloured) Deathly Hallows symbol on a chain, is starting to smell and leave marks where it sits on my skin. I shift it around to avoid spots emerging where it normally falls.
'Aww mate, she has a Harry Potter necklace. I think I love her, I do.'
'Ha, you love a geeky girl, mate.'
'Do not. She's hot, too.'
'No tits, though.'
'We just can't see 'em.'
It's happening. It's happening again. Thank goodness Bournemouth is close.
I was visiting my best friend in his lovely seaside home, staying with him and his family for a night. The perfect place to spend this sunny day, this summer's eve. I stood up as I saw the tall, pretty, brick walls of the station approaching. I hadn't found the source of the voices, yet. But when I settled into the queue for the doors, which began not far from the middle of the carriage as it was so so busy; when I reached out and stabilised myself against a free seat to my left, I felt something coming from behind me. On my bare shoulders. A wet breath, and...a hand. On me. On my...there. On my shorts. Against the denim. Feeling me. On my arse. My actual arse.
Slut shorts.
Of course I cried, then. Of course I turned ever so slightly in a pathetic attempt to dislodge the hand, the touch. My face was burning on the air conditioned train. I went to hold up a hand of my own and say something. Something, anything. Nothing. It didn't happen. I just cried. When I dared lock eyes with him, he was grinning. It was sickening.

I got off the train and immediately saw a female attendant on the platform. Female. She'd get it. She'd see. A male might not. Awful thought, but...I can't take the chance. Can't give a man a chance. Women get it more, and so they get you.
'I got touched.'
'Honey, who?'
'Him—' I point, she squeezes my shoulder and sets off in impatient pursuit. I walk out the other way, I don't see if she catches him or says anything. I like to think she did.
But he might not have listened, if she did. He might have shrugged it off. He might have grabbed some other girl right away. Who knows. Who.
Same with the cat callers. Those boys. They got away, they don't see their wrongs. They carry on. They shouldn't. But they do. When will it stop?

This was my moment. I wrote an angry Facebook status and from then on I swore I'd always speak up and not let shit fly. 


Hey, Holly, this was when I decided not to flick a switch. I wish I'd had Lottie, back then. I'm so happy we all have her now. 
People, find & buy & read What's A Girl Gotta Do? - it's important. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

'The Otherlife' blog tour!

I am so honoured to be taking part in the blog tour for this new and excellent book. 'The Otherlife', by Julia Gray, was officially released into the world by Andersen on the 7th July. 

The YA book is a perfect blend of contemporary and classics - classics, as in mythology and monsters and all things fantastical! 

When troubled, quiet Ben begins at the ruthlessly competitive Cottesmore House, school to the richest, most privileged boys, he is befriended by Hobie: the wealthy class bully, product of monstrous indulgence and intense parental ambition. 
Hobie is drawn to Ben because he can see the Otherlife: a violent, mythic place where gods and monsters roam. Ben has unnerving visions of Thor and Odin, and of the giant beasts that will destroy them, as well as Loki, god of mischief. Hobie is desperate to be a part of it.
Years later, Ben discovers his beloved tutor Jason is dead. And he can’t help wondering if Hobie – wild, restless, dangerous Hobie, had something to do with it…' 

I am so excited to include in this post a piece from the awesome author. Read on for some perfect writing tips...

Four Things I Learned While Writing The Otherlife...

It’s okay not to get dressed all day if the word-count is rising like a well-executed soufflé. Going swimming is weirdly helpful when you’re stuck in a plot-snag. Coffee is crucial fuel, but breakfast is better. These are things I discovered while I was working on The Otherlife. Here are four key ‘lessons’ - I’m still working on bearing them in mind consistently. And although they seem so obvious when written down, it took time to figure out each one…

1. Be positive
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing,’ wrote Stephen King in his part-memoir, part-manual ‘On Writing’. I agree, but would add that fear is also at the root of doing no writing at all. I have a real tendency to undersell myself, to tell myself that there’s no point in continuing with things, because they probably won’t amount to much. It’s a kind of insurance: if I don’t allow myself to hope too much, I can avoid unnecessary disappointment.  (The Eeyore school of thought, if you will.) However, I have finally realised that without a starburst of starry-eyed optimism, it is pretty much impossible to sit in a chair for long enough to write an entire book, let alone a tortuous set of redrafts. One of the most surprising lessons I’ve learnt, therefore, is how to be a more positive thinker. Less like Eeyore. More like Pooh. Or Tigger.

2. Be patient
There’s the writing (and the replotting and the rewriting and the reformatting), and then there’s the waiting. Waiting for a phonecall, which is never a phonecall, because book people send emails, and if they want to call you then they email first to arrange a convenient time to call you. Pouncing on your phone anyway, whenever it rings. Waiting for an email to slide noiselessly into your inbox, all pristine and full of unopened promise, only to realise that it’s another despatch note from Amazon or an Ocado voucher for 19p. Waiting for news, because when your book has finally wobbled its way into the world, dodgy commas fixed and plot-holes plastered over, time takes on a kind of other-planetary quality. A week could be a year, or that’s how it feels. I think I spent from January to August of 2014 in the bath watching Desperate Housewives, because this compulsive pursuit made me feel as though time were being measured somehow. It was a great TV series, but I am sure there are more useful things I could have done. Note to self: next time, I will wait better. Time-wasting is pointless. Patience is good.

3. Be organised
Discovering the Scrivener software was a revelation. Available for both Mac and PC, it aims to replicate a kind of ‘writing shed’ in which you might store all your research and files and folders and hand-drawn maps and so forth. The software is very user-friendly, especially if you make time for the interactive tutorial. It’s adaptable to any kind of writing and files can be exported with ease. For me, Scrivener changed the way I think about a work-in-progress - instead of a linear, unwieldy Word document, a book becomes a living organism, constantly changing but infinitely more manageable in its complexities. Also: Kindles make excellent editing devices, especially on long bus journeys. On my beloved Kindle Fire HD I would annotate and highlight - yellow for omissions, orange for mistakes, blue for parts I needed to fact-check or come back to later. 

4. Be brave
For many reasons, The Otherlife is a book I thought I couldn’t write. Firstly: it was too dark. Secondly: I couldn’t occupy the head-space of a character (Hobie) so different to me. Thirdly: it was too complicated. It involved things I knew not enough about, like Old Norse, and required two timelines, with all the research that implied, and two voices. But despite these misgivings, I kept going. I had regular submissions for my Writing for Young Adults module at Birkbeck to complete, and the knowledge that a deadline awaited served as helpful bait. More than this, though, was a strange and subversive realisation that I wanted to keep going because I thought that I couldn’t, not in spite of this. The literary equivalent of skydiving, perhaps. Sometimes it’s essential to take risks. And maybe there’s no such thing as ‘too dark’… 


Another super cool thing to check out when reading this book is the Norse God Personality Quiz! Which god are you? Find out here! I'm rather chuffed with my result...

That's my stop done on this blog tour! Here is the exciting schedule for the rest of it...

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Being a Bookseller: What They Don't Tell You!

I have been a bookseller for approximately 3 weeks now, and already it feels like the most perfect job. The book shop is a safe haven for the bookish, and an extremely comfortable work place. I could be there forever.
Yesterday I freaked out a little because I had money in my account – money I'd been paid by Waterstones, for being in that book shop. For helping people find the perfect read, stacking the shelves and arranging the tables as I wished, making orders and checking in deliveries...doing what I love. That was pretty cool. 

I recently participated in the angelic Jasmine's new blog series, Q&A's with booksellers! I was honoured to help out and answer her awesome questions. That was early on in my new life job! 

In the past 3 weeks I have learned a lot. Discovered even more. Here are some of the things nobody tells you about being a least, the things nobody told me...

Shelving is a workout.

Moving stacks of books here and there, shuffling them around and turning the odd one to face out, lifting them from the delivery boxes and planting them wherever they belong – it aches. In a good way. It's like a quick and breezy lifting session. 'Do you even lift, bro? books??'

You get all sorts.

Yesterday I spent 20 minutes checking the balance of about 30 gift cards for one man. I ended up printing each balance out and stapling it to the gift card envelopes he'd brought along. Each gift card had approximately 38p on it. Except one, which had £4.03. Madness.
I have also, in the past week maybe, served lots of international students all of whom are aged around 13/14 and in dire need of YA, of course. I've talked them through every other book in that section and they've then bought 3 each.
At the moment a lot of parents and kids are coming in to buy GCSE study guides, or set A Level texts (all seem mega boring and British, sorry students of today! Bring back the Angela Carter and the poorly translated poetry!). I am so happy that part of my life is over...but I also miss it somewhat.

The alphabet song is always in your head.

I have actually caught myself stacking kids' books and quietly mutter-singing 'Ay bee cee dee eee eff gee...' Bloody alphabet. I sometimes wonder if the books would look better, and be easier to unload, if shelved according to colour or subject matter...

You call the shots.

You wanna rec that book? Face it out, write a little review? Go ahead. You think that one deserves a table, while that one needs to be hidden amongst the dregs on the shelf? Shoot.

In related news, yesterday the gorgeous 'Songs About A Girl' came in. The first copy. Ahead of the release next week. I freaked out and shelved it so fast, rec'd it so hard. (Read my thoughts on that beauty HERE). 

Being given access to a computer system that orders books in is dangerous.

Simple as. Same with the store email address with which I can demand proofs from every possible publisher. *head explodes*

Sometimes, people are idiots.

Oh no wait, I already knew this after working in customer service jobs for the past few years of my life. Hahahahahahahahahaaaha. 

That's all I got so far! I'm sure I still have a lot to learn, and I am excited to do so. Life as a bookseller is treating me well, and long may that continue! 

Follow me on Twitter @GracieActually AND my store on Twitter @wstoneshastings, because that's basically me being slightly more professional...maybe. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

6 Reasons Why.....You Must See 'Matilda : The Musical'.

I have seen 'Matilda: The Musical' in the West End, twice. I recently took my little sis to see it for her birthday (the full timeline of the day of surprises I arranged can be found RIGHT HERE) and I not only remembered how truly magical it was but I also got to experience her reactions as she watched it for the very first time. That was rather special. At one point the hysterical green-haired Mr Wormwood locked eyes with me (as we were in Row D, we were prey to actors' gazes and I was delighted about that) and I realised I was grinning, my mouth agape in surprised joy. I then glanced at my sis, and saw her expression of pure wide-eyed shock and amazement. It made my heart happy.

Okay right, so, I have decided to push this musical on y'all now. Here are six reasons you simply must see Matilda: The Musical! 

The Trunchbull. 
The first time I saw the show in the West End, I believe it was the beginning of Craige Els' turn as the wicked headmistress. In March I saw his understudy, Oliver Brooks, and holy effing moly he was sublime. I could hardly believe he was an understudy, to be honest. Both men took on the challenge of this hideously complicated and demanding role, and let me tell you they completely slayed. I both hated and loved Trunchbull as she marched around the stage, sneering at the kids and declaring them all 'losers' and 'vermin' time and time again. 

The Kids. 
There are children in this show, under 10 years old, who have more talent bursting from them at that tender age than I will ever in my entire life. They are goals. The lovely thing is that although I'm sure working with kiddies all day is challenging at times, you wouldn't know it. They give 110% to every performance (based on the 2 I've seen and all the times my friends have gone to watch, plus their guest appearances on TV shows), and they have fun each time. It's not a chore for them, it's not work, and yet it's the beginning of their epic careers in theatre and music. I do often think to myself 'how on earth do they remember every line and dance move?! When I was their age I couldn't even remember my PE kit twice a week for school...'

The Escapologist. 
The best sub-plot – or so it seems – a beautiful yet tragic story told by Matilda to her librarian pal Mrs Phelps (played by Sharlene Whyte in London at present, who my generation will know from 'The Story of Tracy Beaker' on CBBC – she is magical). I mustn't spoil anything, but it's a real gorgeous spectacle.

The place. 
The set and staging is unreal. All the colourful letters on blocks and the swings and the bookshelves and the phys ed equipment oh, lordy. Every scene change is so slick, too!
The Cambridge Theatre is packed with caring and excitable people on staff – all my experiences in their box office, with the ushers and the ice cream sellers and the guard-type humans standing outside, have been totally lovely. They're almost as excited about the show as we all are! Having friends who work in theatre for experience in their Drama degrees and courses, I know enthusiasm is the most important part of the job.
Oh, and I won't spoil anything, but I do not envy the cleaners after each show. Messy work! 

The messages in the music. 
I could go on and on about the delightful and important meanings behind each song – every one of them has a sweet background, a keen delivery and a heartfelt message. The main theme of the show, 'Naughty', is all about rewriting the rubbish story you've been given in life: just because you find that life's not fair it, doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it, if you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change! And: even if you're little you can do a lot you, mustn't let a little thing like little stop you! 

Then the song 'Revolting Children' is a complete and utter riot towards the end, again blessing us with ingenious words: we won't forget the day we fought for the right to be a little bit naughty // never again will the Chokey door slam, never again will we be bullied and never again will I doubt it when my mummy says I'm a miracle – never again! 

I just can't even. I've watched countless interviews with Tim Minchin when he's asked about his creative process and his desires for the show when he wrote the songs, and each time he's confirmed my suspicions that this show is for the kids – the kid in all of us – and it promotes all the good things.

The child in you. 
On that last note – come see this show for that kid you used to be, or maybe still secretly are, or now have! As a child I idolised this girl, Matilda. I watched the film on video over and over. When I last saw the show it was a Wednesday matinee and so the audience was crammed with kids in uniform, on school trips. That was the biggest treat, hearing the kids in the back whooping and applauding and giggling throughout. I also was happy to be watching it in celebration of my sister's 18th birthday. Because even though she's now technically an adult (as am I supposedly, at almost 23...) she can still be a kid with the best of 'em. 

All images (except last one), from

Thursday, 14 July 2016

'This Changes Everything', by Splendid Fred Records. A REVIEW.

All you readers will probably be familiar with Glenn Fosbraey, one of my Creative Writing lecturers at uni – I have no doubt mentioned him in previous posts, along with the words 'favourite' and 'inspiring'...
Well, this supremely creative guy has a record label set up within the University of Winchester, giving its students the opportunity they might just need to get their work out there and contribute to or begin a backlog for themselves. 

'I wanted to set up a University-specific record label in order to give a platform to the talented songwriters we have at the University, and to create a musical presence within Winchester. Created in July 2015, Splendid Fred Records works in contrast to other labels, for, as well as promoting our artists, we accept submissions from songwriters who don’t perform, and have a team of multi-instrumentalists, vocalists, and producers that are able to take a song and turn it into the finished article.
As well as students on the Creative Writing Module ‘Composing Song Lyrics’, who are consistently producing wonderfully eclectic and experimental music, the number of students that regularly busk, perform as paid acts in local pubs and bars, or participate in open mic nights across the city, means that the material we have on offer is enormous, and varied. The University also intends to launch a brand new Popular Music undergraduate degree in September 2016, where students will study practical, business, and critical aspects of popular music.
As well as offering invaluable opportunities to our musically-inclined students, Splendid Fred offers opportunities for those interested in marketing, multi-media, journalism, finance, and management, meaning that members of the team will graduate equipped with the skills and experience necessary to progress to fulfilling professional careers, entrepreneurial or creative endeavour, postgraduate study, or research.

This is all so wonderful, right? So I obviously asked what the endgame is, as it were, the label's and Glenn Fosbraey's aims...

1. Students from the label team to be engaged in a practical, outward-facing project.
2. The University to cement itself as an innovator in original popular music.

3. Song writers to be given an opportunity to reach wider audiences with their material. 

4. To create a place for original music in the city.

Rather perfect aims. And here are the projects Splendid Fred have done thus far...

The compilation album ‘A list of things I never did’ features a track from every artist currently signed to the label, and can be purchased here:

Our latest release will be an album whose songs focus exclusively on the issue of Climate Change. It is entitled 'This Changes Everything'. Available right here

Back to Gracie! I was given the opportunity to listen to this new release by the label. Basically, I was floored. Not that you should totally trust my opinion when it comes to songwriting (I wouldn't let myself take the Songwriting module at uni as I am so totally atrocious and clueless it may have cost me my overall grade...) but I know a good sound and a real voice. These various artists, and this label, have that. 

Time for a little breakdown of the album, track by track...
'Seattle' is a gentle delight, almost Southern sounding – but like a lot of the tracks on this album, listening closely to the lyrics chills you to the bone. Black hearts with disfigured skin/and the anger of youth/become teeth of civilisation/devouring roots, whoa.
'King of Horror' gets your head nodding, for several reasons. The infectious beat, and the important messages. Dead sharks/for everything is finite/they can't swim/once they've lost their appetite.
'Lost', sung in tasty female vocals, is realisation and heartache and a call to arms. And as I look up at the broken sky, with open eyes at last, I see damage now as clear as day/Hear me when I say we can't afford to look away/any more.
'Some Day' is my personal favourite. It's so light-hearted, hilariously so, stooped in denial but also horrendously does that work!? Our arrogance and haste may cause our deaths, but who's to blame?
'The Road' is bewitching, a frighteningly happy marriage of voices; Go on and on this road go on and on this road, From hills of fire, 'We are the good guys'.
'Revelation (Part 1)' is another bittersweet one, with biblical tones: I can't complain, nor will I repent, for I am the master of my own death. It's brother, 'Revelation (Part 2)' ditches the religion somewhat and tells of a country, a world, falling apart and our choice to prosper. Pass it on mothers to sons: we write the songs, taste the guilt and speak no more.
'Horizon' has a rock vibe, and an angry pace. As the Dali llama drew his last breath the terrible monkey gods laughed in their suits and ties as they were damned.
'Breed''s lyrics, sung so sweetly, voice my main concerns about the future: I don't wanna have kids if they'll end up in this, and then excites me a little later on: I am gonna have kids, just to prove I existed, I am gonna have kids irrespective of this mess.
'Waves' at first reminded me of those punk bands I listened to when I was a teen, and the deep hurt in their biggest hits, the lyrics echoing in my mind; I won't take the world from you/even if you asked me to/it's not too late to learn the truth/yet truth is just a point of view.
'Everything Ends' had me hooked from the first line: There's a fire in the fields and the moon is a scar. Pretty yummy, right?! And the song itself is a feisty fitting end for a powerful album.

The Django Black ensemble, and Hannah Jacobs, were perfect for these songs. They brought life to the ingenious, hard-hitting, words. 

Please note that I was given this album and information personally, but this in no way sways my opinion of the music or liking of the endeavours. They're honestly awesome. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Recent Reads; May - June.

I've recently had what I like to call 'a damn good reading run'. I have read several marvellous books over the course of May and June, some not so marvellous but still got me thinking and talking, which is always a plus surely...? I cannot possibly review each and every one of them as I know you readers would get sick of all the hardcore gushing, so I'll include the highlights here...

Paper Butterflies, by Lisa Heathfield. 

This book was officially born, sent out into the world, on Thursday 30th June. I read it a couple of weeks before then as the utter babes at Electric Monkey sent the proof to me. I am now reading her debut 'Seed' and loving it, of course, because her writing is just...yeah. Whoa.

June is unhappy at home. And who wouldn't be, in her situation? Her mother passed away many years ago and her dad, her best friend, is wrapped up in his new family now. June's stepmother, and her daughter. The two people who make June's life hell. She has no escape at school either, as she is a victim in the classroom as well.
One day she meets Blister, a young boy who brings light and love into her life. With his quirky habits, his sweet family and strong spirit, he saves her a little each time she sees him.
But sometimes you can't escape the bad...

This book destroyed me. Firstly I don't cry at books much these days – nothing shocks me any more, nothing saddens me all that much. When I finished this book, in under 48 hours, I sent a Snapchat to my closest friends of me holding the book and tears streaming down my face. I wasn't just crying, I was hiccuping hysterically and had the weirdest wettest laugh happening, too. I couldn't believe what I'd read. The writing was exceptional, beautiful, hurtful. It reminded me, actually, how crucial it is to have a clear character voice in a novel. It inspired me to write more, and better.
The story itself was brutal and important. Yes, this is a very important book. I'll leave it at that. Read it.

Songs About A Girl, by Chris Russell.

I must start by saying: Chris Russell is a delight. I think we bloggers all fell a little bit in love when we met him at a Books With Bite event recently – I did purely because he signed my book with some stellar Taylor Swift lyrics. You should follow him on Twitter immediately, guys. Of course this friendship in no way sways my honest review. 

Charlie Bloom keeps her head down at school and awkwardly co-exists with her dad at home, snapping photos on her ancient camera whenever possible. She is soon scouted for her talents by the majestic uber-famous boy band Fire&Lights. Her friend convinces her to do it, to go ahead and take backstage photos for the guys and stand in the wings watching this one show. Soon Charlie is immersed in their world, and caught in a triangle of sorts between two band members. But she's more confused by and concerned with the familiarities she's finding in the band's lyrics...

I didn't notice at first, but boy band literature is becoming a thing. So much so that my excellent friend Sally is hosting a new Twitter chat #boybandlit on August 3rd! I am so happy about this, and Chris is currently at the top spot for this perfect YA sub-genre. It's astounding how accurate each interaction is in this novel, how you can actually feel the fangirl energy seeping from the pages and the excitement of the concerts fills your head as you read. The story is full of twists and turns, fun little coincidences and dangerous complexes. I guarantee this will be a very popular read when it comes out on 28th July! 

Becoming : Sex, Second Chances, and Figuring Out Who the Hell I Am, by Laura Jane Williams.

I have written a very personal post recently that was oddly inspired by this read – Laura inadvertently helped me find courage and seek out something with someone! Thanks, honey.

So this is a non-fiction, a memoir of sorts, by the exceptional blogger who I know best as @superlativelyLJ. As a major fan of her blog for years now, seeing her book journey unfold and then actually holding the book in my hands on busy trains and then tucked up in bed most nights was just something else. It was special.
Laura was dumped by her long-term boyf, the one she'd spent a lot of her young life with and had hence planned a future with. She thought she'd marry him, for sure. Then not long after they break up, he gets together with one of her old friends. They then get engaged. They then get married. So Laura does what many dumpees would do in this situation: she goes a little crazy and starts shagging all over the shop. Using sex as a weapon, finding men who cannot resist her, searching for something new. Then, suddenly, she realises she needs time on her own. She takes a vow of celibacy and travels here there and everywhere in search of herself. In search of her becoming. 

Reading this, I almost couldn't believe it was...real. It actually happened. To this amazing and deliciously wacky woman. I had been keeping up to date on her life via blog posts, sure, but this book got it all in and didn't skip any of the hurt. I think women everywhere will appreciate this story – because we've all been there, in one way or another. We've all got low, we've all had knocks, we've all loved and lost and hurt for so long it felt like there was no end in sight. We've all disliked ourselves. We've all wanted a change. We've all wanted to love ourselves.
I felt like I took the journey with Laura, reading her accounts and memories of it. And for that I am thankful. I may have to hug her extra hard when I next attend an event she is at...

The Square Root of Summer, by Harriet Reuter Hapgood.

This proof was sent to me by my lovely partner in crime Amy Whitear (remember that name, folks) – I sort of wish I'd got the final edition, as it's so darn cute, and I did spill nail polish on the cover of my copy...oops.

Gottie H. Oppenheimer is finding something unusual is happening. She's losing time, falling through wormholes and revisiting the past. Her past is colliding with her present. Last summer is the focus of these wormholes. This could be because that was when a boy broke her heart; it could be because it's when her grandfather, her rock, passed away; maybe something else. Something, someone, that left and is now back. She has to face the present.

I found this book sweet and quietly moving. Definitely a decent debut. I liked the writing style, and the characters were well-established. The harder scenes and upsetting events were suitably vivid, too.
It was very cool meeting Harriet at the Waterstones Piccadilly 'This Is Who I Am' event after finishing reading!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Avenue Q UK Tour: opening night in Eastbourne!

Avenue Q is a beautifully unique concept for a musical. It tells a story of a group of misfits, some human and some of the puppet persuasion, living together in the rundown and quirky neighbourhood of Avenue Q. The characters are all searching for their way in life, or just a way to get out of the dumps. The musical is also infamously rude, controversial and above all, hilarious. 

Creator of the show Robert Lopez says he and co-creator Jeff Marx originally intended for Avenue Q to be a TV show, more of an adult version of The Muppets or Sesame Street: “we realised that every single problem in adult life could be turned into a funny, mock-educational song...we thought we could write this for the rest of our lives!”

The cast present at the Congress Theatre on the 5th July were next level hysterical – we laughed the whole way through, and when we weren't laughing we were staring, amazed, at the puppets as they interacted with one another, controlled effortlessly by the puppeteers. It struck me how easy it was to forget these creatures were accompanied on stage by actors controlling them – and it blew my mind over and over that these actors were able to concentrate on their singing, speaking and moving the puppets at the same time. 

The set is remarkable not only in its attention to detail and realistic portrayal of a rundown neighbourhood on the outskirts of a big city (New York), but also because of the many ways it can be used by the actors and adjusted to fit a certain scene. The flats have front doors, steps, second-story windows (ideal for characters to pop out during songs) and collapsible living rooms. Lights appear in various places and the top of the “buildings” can be moved or changed. For example, during a scene in which Kate Monster is standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, an additional flat is attached to the roof of the Avenue Q street and a balcony is put in place for her to stand on.
I commend the actors on their awareness of the set, not only during musical numbers but also during scenes, particularly when they walked through a door and remained in character until the door closed behind them. 

The decision to use puppets in this show brings with it the potential to overshadow the human characters, or to make them seem somewhat flat next to their furry and colourful co-stars. However, the characters of Brian, Christmas Eve and Gary Coleman were far from flat. They had just as much colour as their puppet friends, and provided the audience with just as many laughs. I also applaud the actors for their wonderfully focused interactions with the puppets; Brian’s conversation with Kate Monster in the first scene was as comfortable and convincing as an exchange between two humans (or indeed two puppets), and Gary Coleman displayed excellent focus and effortless charm when performing the duet “Schadenfreude” with Nicky. Christmas Eve showed us the finest example of acting with a puppet in her scene with Rod; she really engaged with the puppet and didn’t look once at the puppeteer. In fact, every human actor was looking intently at the puppet when speaking or singing, and because of this, so was the audience.

The puppeteers had perhaps the most difficult job of all. They spoke, danced and sang to the best of their abilities, all while controlling a puppet with both hands. What I felt was a lovely touch on their part was that despite the fact that the audience were supposed to be watching the puppets, they were never slack or lazy with their body movements or facial expressions – they were the human embodiment of their puppet characters. When Kate Monster had her mouth wide open in surprise, so did Sarah Harlington. When Trekkie monster fought to keep his filthy thoughts to himself, so did Stephen Arden. When Princeton was shy and awkward, so was Richard Lowe. Also the leads were alternating characters and thus juggling puppets throughout - totally flawlessly. 

Confession time: I was nervous about how this particular show might go down in Eastbourne. Let's just say their population is a little on the mature side...and this musical is delightfully immature! But I needn't have worried, my gosh the biggest laughs were coming from the crowd during the rudest scenes and songs! 'The Internet is For Porn' got a very nice response, and (spoiler alert) the puppet sex went down a storm. 

The show ends with the song 'For Now', which reassures everyone that whatever troubles we are facing at the moment, they will pass. I won’t lie, it gave me hope. We may be in squalor today, but tomorrow we’ll be living a life of luxury. We’re unemployed at the moment, but soon our dream job will come along. So don’t stress, relax, let life roll off your backs, except for death and paying taxes, everything in life is only For Now. 

I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to interview the show's stars recently - read that post here

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Avenue Q -- an interview!

Well friends, I achieved a major blogging goal recently - a goal I didn't even know I had. An obscure yet obvious goal; a secret aim that even I didn't know was in my sights until an exciting opportunity was presented via email and, well, I freaked out a little...a lot. Okay, you ready for this? Right then... 

As some of you will know I am a Young Ambassador for my local theatres in Eastbourne - The Congress, The Devonshire Park and Winter Gardens. I see three shows minimum in each season on the opening nights and then review them immediately afterwards so my words might be used on the website for the remainder of the show's run. It's very exciting - a combination of two passions of mine, and the two halves of my degree actually, Drama and Creative Writing.
I managed to score opening night tickets to Avenue Q, the UK tour, the absolutely hilarious and witty cracker of a show that features actors and puppets working in blissful harmony on stage, finding who they are and working out how to live the way they want to. In the seedy run-down low-budget Avenue Q, New York. The show was originally created with the vision of 'a filthy Sesame Street'. Well with characters like Rod and Nicky, plus songs like 'The Internet is for Porn' and 'Everyone's a Little Bit Racist' I'd say that vision was well and truly achieved. So yeah, I was already pumped as can be to see this musical. I couldn't wait to review it. 

And then I was asked if I fancied interviewing the stars - and by stars I of course mean the actual puppets! 

Princeton, I feel we have a similar dilemma in our young lives. I have a BA in Creative Writing. What do I do with that? What is my life going to be?

Wow, I remember those days, straight out of Uni with the world at your feet. The world is your lobster, or however the saying goes! But then you realise you have bills to pay, so you take a temp job and all of a sudden you’re stuck in the corporate machine. But fear not, you just have to find your purpose! When you find that special reason you’re on this planet, all your dreams will start to come true. I came to realise that my purpose was to star in a musical telling the world about all of life’s tribulations, and look what happened to me! 

Lucy, can you give me some fashion tips?

Darling, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, that’s my motto. Oh, and always go with zips not button-ups. Quicker to work with if you catch my meaning.

The Bad Idea Bears, what would you say is your best project to date?

Yellow Bear: Well… being on tour we have been sampling all the casinos up and down the country, and gambling our money irresponsibly! But… we’ve been banned from every casino in the country, and that makes us SO SAD!
Blue Bear: Oh why did you mention that, now I want to cry!! You see, we like a good game of poker, but when we lose we get a little cranky, and like to spin around on the roulette wheels. They don’t like that very much! Oh and remember, gambling is bad kids!

Kate Monster, what's your favourite film? And do you have a Netflix account? It's one of those sites that the internet is really good for - that isn't porn. 

My absolute favourite film is Titanic! I could watch it over and over again, I really relate to Kate Winslet’s character. And the theme song by Celine Dion makes me cry every time. And yes I have Netflix; I’m currently binge-watching House of Cards. I love Kevin Spacey, I hope we get to work together one day! 

Nicky, what is your favourite word? That isn't German!

Hmm, I think my favourite word is ‘employment’. Because when I’ve got it, things are so much better! I’ve been through some tough times recently; Rod kicked me out of his flat, I even ended up on the street! But when you’re in the gutter – literally – the only way is up, right?

Trekkie Monster, describe your ideal partner?

Me dream of meeting big voluptuous Monster for walks in the park and cosy movie nights to be the ying to my monster yang!

Rod, I heard you have a girlfriend in Canada. What's her name?

Yes I have a girlfriend! Who doesn’t!? You? Well I do! Her name is Alberta. No, Vancouver! She lives in Alberta. Go away! 

Avenue Q is at Eastbourne Congress Theatre from Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 July. For more information and tickets visit: / 
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