Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

There are numerous books out there that tell us how to be a writer and these range from reference books listing magazine titles to books on how to sell short stories, but Stephen King’s On Writing appears to offer something different. Subtitled A Memoir of the Craft that is essentially what it is, combining an autobiography with the lessons of being a writer.

The first part of the book is entitled ‘CV’ and this is a short memoir about Stephen King. Even if you’re not a fan you can’t help but find this part of the book entertaining. King reveals how he found an interest in horror stories and came to have an interest in writing, eventually selling his first short story to a magazine.

Alongside this are the childhood tales of his exploits with his older brother Dave that made me wonder how King survived his childhood years at all, with the stories of poison ivy and Dave’s Super Duper Electromagnet: “We each had our part to play in creating the Super Duper Electromagnet. Dave’s part was to build it. My part would be to test it.”

Read the full review at Essential Writers.com.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Book Review: Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

Summertime was on the shortlist for the 2009 Booker Prize and follows the interviews of a young English biographer with the deceased J.M. Coetzee. Mr Vincent is researching the life of Coetzee between the years of 1972 and 1977, which he believes were a key period in the life of the writer.

The book starts with several seemingly random dated passages and italic notes such as ‘to be expanded on'. The relevance of these passages becomes clear in the following interview with Julia. It appears a curious method by which to start a book but it gives the reader an insight into the setting and period.

Strangely, throughout the book, Coetzee appears to be self critical in how he allows other people to describe him as cold, anti-social and even as a bad lover.

Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

To view the full review visit EssentialWriters.com

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Book Review: The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

Adam Foulds’ most recent novel The Quickening Maze has received critical acclaim and was a surprise amongst the shortlist of this year’s Man Booker Prize. The book revolves around real events in Epping Forest in 1840, which Foulds manages to combine cleverly with his own imaginings.

Described as a ‘lyrical novel’, the story centres on the poet John Clare who is coming to the end of his career with his poetry now considered not to be ‘in fashion’. As an inpatient at High Beach Private Asylum we see Clare alongside other patients early in the book, such as the religiously fanatic Margaret, and in these surroundings Clare appears comparatively sane.

Read the full review at: Essential Writers

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Anticipating a Backlash for the X Factor

X Factor has been all the talk on Twitter tonight and it quickly turned from being about the singing with the controversial comments made by Dannii Minogue.

Danyl Johnson, one of the favourites on the show and named by Simon Cowell as having the best first audition in the history of the show, sadly had attention detracted from his performance when Dannii made comments that hinted towards his sexual orientation.

The song that Danyl had chosen to sing was 'And I am Telling You', which has been a popular choice throughout the series so far. Sang normally be a female vocalist Danyl changed the gender reference in the song for his performance.

Following the performance Dannii remarked 'if we're to believe the rumours in the paper you didn't need to change the gender reference'. This was said with a smile but met with a shocked response. Simon was confused by the comment and Dannii repeated that 'he did not need to change the gender reference'.

Tonight this has been met with comments that Dannii was out of order in her comments and that Danyl did look visibly upset with what some are considering to be a public 'outing'.

X Factor is for many viewers a great source of entertainment and for the contestants a lifetime opportunity but tonight much of the show has revolved around the judges. Besides Dannii's comments there was visible rivalry between Cheryl and Simon and this became heated on disagreement about Kandy Rain.

There is no doubt that there will be some backlash regarding tonight's show. My hopes are that the rivalry between the judges and the comments made tonight will not have a detrimental effect on the contestants who are of course the ones that make the show, not the judges.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Film Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

Over recent months we seem to be inundated with films based on books. Not that I'm complaining, I thoroughly enjoyed My Sister's Keeper and look forward to Peter Jackson's production of The Lovely Bones and both of these books I have read and loved.

On Saturday I went to see The Time Traveler's Wife, the latest cinematic release based on a book. The book is a first time novel by Audrey Niffenegger and featured in Richard and Judy's 2005 Book Club. On its release in the US it spent over 20 weeks in the New York Times bestseller list.

Somehow, despite the book's overwhelming success and critical acclaim I never got round to reading it, so when the film was released I was in a moral dilemma. I usually hate to see a film before reading the book but then did I really want to miss this film I was desperate to see?

The poster displayed outside my local supermarket showed Rachel McAdams, who played a similarly heartfelt role in The Notebook, looking irresistible with a far away look in her eyes and Eric Bana holding on to her. Everything about the poster tells you it will be a Titanic-style love story - a perfect date for the other half and I, so I figured I could read the book at a later date.

Early on in the film we realise that Henry (Eric Bana) has some sort of disorder that causes him to time travel and when he meets Clare (Rachel McAdams) for the first time it appears she has already met him. Henry, an older Henry, visited Clare as a child so obviously their love is destined.

Everything in the story is set up smoothly and the relationship between the pair quickly develops but already I am wondering when I will be pulled in to actually care about what happens to them? There needs to be a key point at which the audience must 'feel' for the characters or everything that happens is inconsequential.

Life is not happily ever after for Clare and Henry and I think this is what makes the story so emotionally accessible. Although we do not all have a time travelling, disappearing lover we can relate to sometimes feeling abandoned and wanting more from a relationship. Essentially it is not a film about time travel but about relationships and separation.

Despite my innate tendency to be critical I found by the end I was in an absolute wreck of tears. The film had drew me in emotionally and then played with my emotions as all the best romances do. It is certainly worth my recommendation to others but I cannot comment as to how true to the book it is, not yet anyway.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Book Review: Mr Toppit by Charlies Elton

Charles Elton’s ‘Mr Toppit’ centres on the The Hayseed Chronicles, a series of Children’s books written by Arthur Hayman. Following the death of Arthur Hayman and a series of strange events the books become world famous.

The book is mainly shown from the view of Luke, Arthur’s son, who has been immortalized by the books, something he seems unable to understand especially as his sister is not in the books.

Sadly, although the characters have been given an extensive background and several levels of their personality they appear too much like stereotypes, like Laurie the overweight American with a difficult mother and Martha, the widow who struggles to associate with her children and becomes reclusive.

Incidentally the only character that appears to be lacking depth is Luke. He appears to have several viewpoints on his father’s books and his place in them but they are never really voiced nor are we given enough insight into Luke’s motivations for his view.

The opening of the book and the introduction of the mysterious Mr Toppit drew me into the story and the lives of the Hayman family. Early on in the book the reader is presented with several questions about the lives of the characters such as the details of Laurie’s relationship with her father, the reasons for her fascination with Arthur and the questions of Hayman family history, not to mention the central question of the book: who is Mr Toppit?

What kept the book going for me were these question but it was also these questions that ultimately failed the book for me because I never found a satisfactory answer to them. Various details of history were revealed but there was still a lot left unanswered which ultimately left me disappointed.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Whitehaven Food Festival

The 2009 Whitehaven Food Festival marked 10 years of events from the Whitehaven Festival Company. This year there was enough of the familiarity from previous Maritime Festivals, with air displays, fireworks and of course the tall ships, but also a strong focus on food.

One of the main sponsors of the event was ‘Made in Cumbria’ and it demonstrated a lot of the local goods that we have to offer. The continental market was also in town for the festival, offering a wide scope of produce including French cheese, German Wurst, Dutch pancakes and paella.

Although there were several events during the weekend, much of the festival’s focus was on Celebrity Chefs Ainsley Harriot and Jean-Christophe Novelli who were demonstrating at the event.

On the Saturday Ainsley Harriot held two demonstrations at a marquee behind St Nicholas’ church. He was introduced by local chef and restaurateur Rick Andalcio who owns the popular Zest Restaurant and Zest Harbourside.

Ainsley demonstrated several dishes from his new book ‘Just Five Ingredients’. As the title suggests the dishes were made from only five ingredients. The first was a grapefruit salad with locally sourced rocket. Next, was chicken rolled in Parma ham with a gorgonzola filling. He also did a chickpea and chorizo dish. This all smelt amazing, which is something you forget you miss with a television cookery programme.

With the dessert, which was a pineapple-style fruit salad, the tip Ainsley gave was that when you buy a fresh pineapple always store it upside down because until then it will have been upright and all the juice will have ran to the base. Getting the cooking tips was one of the best things about the demonstrations and it was something that I could go away with and use at home.

During the demonstration Ainsley had a member of the audience assist him both with the cooking and a rendition of ‘It Takes Two’. I was immediately reminded of watching him on ‘Ready Steady Cook’ and of course he still does the roll of the hips when adding any ingredient to a dish.

Having performed at The Sugar Tongue on the Saturday, Jean-Christophe Novelli, held a demonstration in the marquee on the Sunday. Novelli began the demonstration by explaining the importance of good ingredients. He went through with great detail how to prepare a chicken and how to avoid the problems you get with turkey with the breast being ready before the legs.
Novelli’s first dish was barbecue chicken with chocolate which did sound dubious but when he explained how the cocoa worked as a spice and infused with the onions it made sense. He also made a seafood dish with a tomato base.

During his demonstration Novelli kept to what he had said he likes to do for the audience, which is to teach them techniques that they can apply to different recipes. I think everyone could leave the demonstration having learnt something new, like how to aid cooking with humidity and how an aubergine can be cooked in ten minutes instead of forty.

The festival really had a passion within it about food and especially the importance of good ingredients and local produce. Both Ainsley and Novelli made it clear that the ingredients they had used in their demonstrations were purchased locally and Ricky Andalcio makes a point of serving local food at his restaurant and bistro. Although it is only food, in a lot of senses, when you can make something so amazing with it perhaps needs to be seen as more important.

Once again Whitehaven has put on a superb festival and has kept it fresh and vibrant with new ideas and new focus. The festival attracts thousands of tourists to the area and does the town proud in producing a well organised and exciting event. I, of course, look forward to the next, which no doubt will be even better.
Photography supplied by Ian Pinches