From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Florence Bell

From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Florence Bell

This week, I “interviewed” Florence Bell, a theatre blogger and theatre kid.

I say interviewed; it was more of a chat. Florence is a good friend of mine, and a fellow English student at the University of Nottingham. She wrote her first blog post in December 2016.

Florence Screenshot 2

The first play Florence ever saw was an amateur pantomime production of A Christmas Carol. “I was around three years old, and I remember the guy who played Scrooge putting pyjamas on top of his clothes. Of course, the audience was meant to suspend their disbelief, but three-year-old me was blown away that someone could wear clothes under their pyjamas.”

Since grappling with the discovery of costume in theatre, Florence has moved on to grapple with plays at an advanced critical level.

“I had been tweeting about theatre for a while and people kept encouraging me to start a blog, or asking me if I had a blog. I had been thinking about it for a while, but a few people suggesting it was all it took.” she said.

“I had already booked to see Mary Stuart at the Almeida Theatre and I knew that I’d be able to write an in-depth and interesting review of it. I probably spent more time on that review than on anything else I’ve ever written. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to grab people’s attention. I wanted to make a splash.”

‘I wanted to grab people’s attention.’

Florence certainly did make a splash; prominent theatre critics including Andrew Haydon and Matt Trueman both praised and retweeted her first blog post.

Florence Screenshot 3

She is upfront about writing, as well as reading, honest reviews.

“I like reviews that say what they mean, because that’s what they are meant to do. Reviews that mock awful shows can be fun to read, but they’re rarely the best reviews. My favourite reviews to read are assertive, thoughtfully considered, and beautifully worded.”

“I stopped writing negative reviews because all I was doing was annoying people who might employ me when I graduate, and there’s no point in being cruel. It’s fine to be critical – sometimes even mean – but constructive criticism is always best. It’s rude to both the theatre makers and your readers to take the piss out of a show and not give a careful and considered approach to what went wrong.

‘It’s fine to be critical – sometimes even mean – but constructive criticism is always best.’

If I’m going to be really negative about a show, instead of just slating it, I’d rather engage with it on a political level. That way, I can explain why the show had issues.Florence Screenshot 1 Sometimes I am too finicky though. I went to the theatre with a friend recently and I think I weirded her out by asking: Do you think this is problematic?’ during the interval!”

However, although she’s been blogging for a few months, Florence is adamant that writing is not her end-goal.

“I don’t want to be a critic and I don’t want to be a journalist. I don’t think I have a ‘writing style’ either –  other than an overuse of parentheses and a reliance on long paragraphs.”

“I like to think that my writing isn’t dissimilar to Meg Vaughan’s, but I’m kidding myself.”

“I write blog posts for fun.” she continued, “This is something I’m doing while at university, and I’ve met lots of cool people doing it, but being a critic is just not what I want to do with my life.”

Instead, Florence wants to be a director, and theatre has always been a big part of her life.

She has seen a variety of productions, but for her, it all started with a production of Oresteia. “It’s still my favourite play. I know half of it off by heart. Most theatre fans hum along to their favourite showstoppers in the shower. I recite bits of Oresteia in the shower.”

‘I recite bits of Oresteia in the shower.’

As someone who is not so much of a theatre kid, I steered the conversation towards a common interest of ours – Shakespeare.

As part of the BA English course at the University of Nottingham, both Florence and I chose a module title Shakespeare’s Histories: Critical Approaches. The texts we looked at were Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V.  Eagle-eyed followers may note this is why some of my blog posts focused on these last year.

Shakespeare’s Histories has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of studying English at Nottingham so far.” Florence said, “The plays we studied will always have a fond place in my heart; the module really got me into the degree. I think it helped me settle in. And I met you through Shakespeare’s Histories, so that’s always a plus.”

I blush.

When asked about her favourite Shakespeare productions, Florence said, “In terms of a director’s vision, Ivo van Hove’s Kings of War and Roman Tragedies, Thomas Ostermeier’s Richard III, and Icke’s Hamlet. Cheek by Jowl’s The Winter’s Tale and Deborah Warner’s King Lear were also gems.” she said.

‘There’s no such thing as a hard and fast rule to as what makes theatre good, and I’m definitely not the person to ask.’

“I find original practices productions, like Dromgoole’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe, quite hard to engage with. I’m interested in directors who are capable of cutting the text and finely tuning their stagecraft to engineer a tone and an atmosphere based on the events in the play, and actors capable of making Shakespeare’s words sound like they were written yesterday.”


Quick-fire Questions:

Favourite theatre actor?

Andrew Scott or Hans Kesting.

Favourite theatre actress?

Lia Williams, duh.

If you could be any female character in any play who would you be and why?

Most of the plays I see are far too depressing to actually want to be any of the women in them. None. Literally none.

What about a male character?

Nope.


At any rate, it’s clear Florence is a confident theatre blogger and theatre kid but, crucially, she is not a theatre critic. She has other plans for when she grows up.

‘What do you wanna like be when you grow up?’

‘I am grown up.’

(Annie Baker, The Flick at The National Theatre)
(Florence Bell, Top Ten Plays of 2016)

***

Thank you for reading! I had so much fun talking to Florence and writing this interview. Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed, and share it around.

You can find her blog at: bellflorence.wordpress.com

You can follow both of us on Twitter as well:

– Judith

 

 

 

 

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Read and Review: The Eyre Affair

Read and Review: The Eyre Affair
  • Title: The Eyre Affair
  • Author: Jasper Fforde
  • Published: 2001

The Eyre Affair draws on a mix of genres, such as humour thriller, sci-fi, detective and fantasy. It tells the story of Thursday Next, a literary detective in an alternative 1985, where everyone is obsessed with literature. The real world and the “book world” overlap, quite literally bringing citizens’ favourite book characters to life, which is all fun and games… until Jane Eyre is kidnapped.

My favourite aspect of The Eyre Affair was its witty references to “pop” literature, such as the Dickens’ books – this reminded me of Dickensian, the BBC drama set within the fictional world of Dickens – or the Shakespeare/Marlowe conspiracy theory. At times, these references seemed a little heavy-handed, but I think this excess paid off, adding to the charm of the alternative reality.

I also appreciated how Thursday’s own narrative, in some ways, mirrored the narrative of Jane Eyre. This was a clever and well-executed idea, and I enjoyed the allusion to how Thursday’s intervention and “reconstruction” of Jane Eyre resulted in the Bronte story we know and love today.

Yet despite its title, The Eyre Affair took longer than expected to focus on its main plot, the Jane Eyre kidnapping.

A lot of time was spent building the world with at times clunky or (dare I say it) cheesy sci-fi abstract descriptions, and introducing characters who, to me, held no significant role in the narrative. Although world-building is a significant part of any series, I prefer books where this description and scene-setting is done more subtly, rather than a heavy exposition.

However, the time spent in The Eyre Affair background and character descriptions may reduce the level of exposition needed further down the line, and these characters may well be more significant in future books in the Thursday Next series, so I can’t complain too much.

Overall, despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed The Eyre Affair. Although he “relies” on existing texts and authors (to an extent) to construct his own story, he blends his own ideas and style with existing characters and texts well, and it was a fun, light-hearted read.

I’d love to read the rest of the Thursday Next series, as well as more books by Jasper Fforde, an author previously unknown to me.

– Judith

[Read and Review] 12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #7: A Christmas Carol

[Read and Review] 12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #7: A Christmas Carol

Welcome to 12 Days of Blogmas Day 7! Today I’ve written another Christmas-themed book review.

  • Title: A Christmas Carol
  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Published: 1843

A Christmas Carol is, I think, well-deserving of its fame as a Christmas classic. In case you’re not familiar with the story (although I wonder how is this is possible), A Christmas Carol is about one particularly mean old man, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is notorious for hating all things associated with Christmas, until, one December, the influence of four ghosts initiates a drastic character transformation in him.

Last year, Chris Priestley wrote ‘A Christmas Carol is more than just a story. It is a tirade against greed, selfishness and neglect. It uses the story of a rich man – the startlingly nasty Scrooge – to highlight the plight of those affected by the greed and meanness he exemplifies.’*

*Chris Priestley, Ignorance and Want: why Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is as relevant today as ever (Wednesday 23 December 2015)

For Dickens, social realism and social commentary are reoccurring themes in his work; Oliver Twist focuses on the injustice cast upon the poor (for example, Oliver) by the better-off (for example, Mr Bumble) and highlights the realities of the poor – themes such as violence and crime can be seen in the lives of Fagin, Bill and Nancy. Similarly, in Great Expectations, Pip begins life in a struggling working-class family, with limited provisions, until he is provided with the means to better his chances in life.

Therefore, Christmas seems an appropriate time for Dickens to again draw attention to the impact the “Scrooges of Society” have on others, as people tend to be more charitable, kind and willing to listen around Christmas-time than other times of year.**

**Why this is, I have no idea.

I like the length of A Christmas Carol; it’s quite short compared to some of Dickens’ other books, which makes it an easy read – ideal, if you want to start reading more classic novels but don’t know where to start.

I also liked the idea of mixing Christmas, usually a cheerful occasion, with ghosts, hauntings and a foreboding sense of impending doom. This brings out my enjoyment for Gothic literature! Naturally, then, my favourite ghosts are Jacob Marley (his entrance of groaning chains is enough to spook anyone) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I feel like these are some of the best characters drawn out in the various film adaptations too – although I’m yet to find a film adaptation that completely satisfies me.

As A Christmas Carol is such a popular story, I thought I’d scour Goodreads, to find out why readers love this book so much***:

1. Claudia said: ‘I think A Christmas Carol makes us better people.’

2. Jude said: ‘It reminds us of what is truly important in a life.’

3. Walter said: ‘It showed us how the spirit of the holidays can be humanizing.’

4. Melissa said: ‘For me, it’s not so much the story–which I enjoy every Christmas, sometimes twice – as it is the writing itself. There’s a lyrical quality that hasn’t popped out at me in his longer stories.’

5. Diane said: ‘I think we love this story partly because of how well Dickens portrayed Scrooge as a complex, multi-layered character. Sure, he appears as a greedy stereotype at first, but then we are shown his backstory and how he became that way, and (gasp), suddenly we realize that any of us could become rapacious and bitter if we chose to go down that road. And that’s what raises this tale to a classic–its universality. We are also made to care so deeply about Tiny Tim & his family, who choose to be generous even through their own want, because they realize they will become like Scrooge if they don’t.’

*** If you want to see other readers’ responses, you can find the forum I used here:

Do you like A Christmas Carol?**** Why, or why not? Also, do you have a favourite film adaptation? I’m interested to hear your opinions.

**** If you like audio books, you might be interested to learn that A Christmas Carol, narrated with  Sir Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Cranham, Miriam Margolyes, Jenna Coleman, Brendan Coyle, and Roger Allam is currently available for free on Audible until January 2017! Download it here:

If you enjoyed this post, please click ‘Like’ and stay tuned for my next Blogmas post!

– Judith

12 Days of Blogmas Day #3: Top 3 Christmas Films

12 Days of Blogmas Day #3: Top 3 Christmas Films

Happy Day 3 of Blogmas!

Today I’m going to write a blog post purely focusing on my favourite Christmas films. My choices aren’t necessarily films adapted from books, which makes a nice change from my What I Watched Wednesday (film review) series, but are the films I grew up with and loved

1. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1997)

For me, The Nightmare Before Christmas is both a Halloween and a Christmas film, and it is one of my favourite films of all time. It tells the story of Jack Skellington (Danny Elfman), the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town. He gets a little bored with Halloween and stumbles across Christmas town, falls in love with the winter holiday, then thoughtfully decides to relieve the duties of “Sandy Claws”, giving a traditional Christmas a spooky twist. I think the cinematography of The Nightmare Before Christmas is beautiful, and I love the songs, characters and all its little quirks. It’s a brilliant Halloween/Christmas crossover and if you haven’t seen it, you need to.

Also, there’s now a beautiful book version of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I want it so much!

2. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Ron Howard, 2000)

This is another classic that I grew up watching, based on How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Dr. Seuss, 1956) starring Jim Carrey as The Grinch. I haven’t actually read the book (I’m sorry) but from what I gather, there had to be quite a bit of adaptation/adding in order to create a feature-length film, so if you’re a die-hard fan of the book, you might not enjoy it as much. The film is about Whoville, a town with an unrivalled obsession over Christmas, and how this antagonises The Grinch, an outsider shunned for his unusual appearance (and yet Whovians having ridiculously pointy noses is okay), so much that he decides to steal Christmas. Although it’s a silly film, I still like The Grinch because it’s funny, heart-warming and, as an older viewer, I can now #relate to some of The Grinch’s cynicism – it reminds me of Eeyore’s pessimistic outlook from the Winnie-the-Pooh series.

3. Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990)

Home Alone is a Christmas comedy film, starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, a young boy who is accidentally left at home, while his family travel to Paris for the Christmas holidays (that’s the 90s for you), and then has to single-handedly defend his home from two attempted burglars, Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci). I think I have a love-hate relationship with Home Alone; the level of suspension of disbelief you must have in order to accept the plot of this film is quite high, and I got annoyed once they started making lots of – in my opinion, unnecessary – sequels. Nonetheless, this film is good fun (if you can overlook the depressing fact that a child was literally abandoned by his parents at Christmas) and I grew up with it, so I feel a sense of nostalgia.

Honourable Mentions:

These are some Christmas films I still enjoy, but haven’t seen as many times as I’d like.

  • Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003), starring Will Ferrell
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol (Jerry Juhl, 1992), based on Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol*

*I’m yet to find a live-action film version of A Christmas Carol that fully satisfies me (Scrooge never feels “quite right”), and so The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best adaptation of the story for me.

Those are my favourite Christmas films; what are yours?

– Judith

12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #1: Christmas Cracker Book Tag

12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #1: Christmas Cracker Book Tag

Happy Blogmas! This is Day 1 of my 12 Days of Blogmas.

I decided I didn’t want to blog every single day of December because I was worried I wouldn’t get posts written in time so instead, I’ve chosen to blog continuously in the 12 days running up to Christmas.

December is essentially the month of Christmas, so what better book tag to do than a festive themed one? I found the Christmas Cracker Book Tag on Pretty Book’s blog and thought it looked fun.

Let’s get cracking (see what I did there?)!

1. Pick a book with a wintry cover

Although I don’t own this copy, I saw this beautiful cover of A Christmas Carol in Waterstones. I don’t buy books just for their covers though – as much as the idea of having shelves full of stunning books appeals to me, I just don’t have the money for that. You can find A Christmas Carol in Waterstones here:

my-photo-a-christmas-carol

2. Pick a book you’re likely to buy as a present

This really depends on who I’d be buying for. I’d be more likely to buy someone a book I know they love but their own copy has seen better days and they’re in need of a new one, or perhaps they never had a copy anyway.  For my mum*, I’d probably get her a pretty copy of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847), which I know is one of her favourite books. For my dad*, I’d probably get him something The Phantom of the Opera themed (Gaston Leroux, 1910) because he really likes the musical.

* Mum and Dad, if you’re reading this, these answers are hypothetical only 😛

3. Pick a festive themed book

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843), obviously. If I had to choose more childhood classics, I’d pick A Nightmare Before Christmas (2007), a beautiful book by Tim Burton, based on the 1993 film of the same name.

4. Pick a book you can curl up with by the fireplace

I do this with almost every book! My favourite books to curl up with are lengthy novels I can savour for longest. For length, I’d say Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869) but I don’t think I’ll ever read it again! My next instinct is probably Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007) because it’s sufficiently chunky, and is one of my favourite Harry Potter books.

5. Pick a book you want to read over the festive period

I have so many I want to read! I want to finish all the fiction books on my “currently reading” list – I measure this by how many books are on my bedside table – which are It by Stephen King (1986), The Rover by Aphra Behn (1677) and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890).

6. Pick a book so good it gives you chills

I feel like I’m repeating myself when it comes to talking about favourite books (!). I would say Sharp Objects (2006) by Gillian Flynn (I regularly cycle through her novels and love them every time) or anything written by Stephen King.

7. Pick a book going on your Christmas wishlist

I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to ask for any more books for Christmas, as I already have plenty I still haven’t got around to reading yet! However, I want to read more of C.S. Lewis’ books, and I want to collect and read more Stephen King (once I finish It, I plan on reading 11.22.63). I also want to read and watch some more Shakespeare. As you can see, I’ve made a lot of plans, but it’s finding time to carry out these plans that’s the issue!


Have you read any of the books on my list? If you enjoyed this post, please click ‘Like’ or leave a lovely comment below.

I haven’t tagged people to do book tags in ages, so I’m going to tag 5 bloggers to do the Christmas Cracker Book Tag too. They are:

  1. Cait @ bathtimereads.wordpress.com
  2. Vicki @ vickgoodwin.wordpress.com
  3. Sophie @ purrpale.wordpress.com
  4. Sasha @ downthereadingholeblog.wordpress.com
  5. Inspired Teen @ lifeofaninspiredteen.wordpress.com

Happy Blogmas!

– Judith

Monster Book Challenge Day #4: Ghosts

Monster Book Challenge Day #4: Ghosts

Hi! This is Day 4 of my Monster Book Challenge. If you’ve missed my first three posts (where have you been?) you can catch up on Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 here. Today’s chosen monster is… Ghosts!

  • Title: Northanger Abbey
  • Author: Jane Austen
  • Published: 1817

Northanger Abbey is a satirical Gothic work. The protagonist Catherine, travels to Northanger Abbey and imagines her life as parallel to the plot of a Gothic novel, although her real life brings her back down to earth.

Although Northanger Abbey isn’t strictly a Gothic novel, or in fact wholly a ghost story, I wanted to talk about some more Jane Austen, and I didn’t feel like discussing Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was entirely appropriate in the run-up to Halloween!

I’m a huge fan of the Gothic genre, and so I went into reading Northanger Abbey with great excitement, eagerly waiting for Austen to satirise the genre as much as she could.

However, I was disappointed in how long it took Austen to start talking properly about the Gothic; I was halfway through the novel and Catherine hadn’t even arrived to Northanger Abbey yet! I did appreciate the references to some more Gothic classics though, such as Matthew Lewis’ The Monk and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.

The character of Henry was also really amusing – he painted fantastic Gothic images in Catherine’s mind, images which reminded me of Brontë’s Jane Eyre, of haunted rooms, and hints at mysterious family deaths, raising the question of ghosts.

It’s particularly ironic to read Northanger Abbey as a Gothic-loving English student, because it makes me even more aware of the stereotypical Gothic conventions. I can only imagine how Austen’s readers felt at the time, when the Gothic genre was so popular.

All in all, I did enjoy Northanger Abbey but it’s definitely not my favourite Austen novel.

Do you have a favourite ghost story? What book would you have chosen? Share some thoughts in the comments!

Stay tuned for the final day of my Monster Book Challenge tomorrow!

– Judith

The Halloween Book Tag

The Halloween Book Tag

Happy Halloween!

Okay, so it might not be Halloween just yet, but there’s no reason we can’t get into the spirit of things. I found this tag on candidcover.net and I thought it was just perfect for the occasion.

1. Pumpkin Carving: Which book would you carve up and light on fire?

Hmm, a book I really dislike… I would have to say The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003). I’ve already discussed my strong dislike to The Kite Runner already on ReadandReview2016, and the idea of seeing it on fire is somewhat amusing, if not a little Hitler-ish…

*Honourable Mention: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). Another book I’d love to take apart.

2. Trick or Treat: What character is a trick? What character is a treat?

In terms of a ‘treat’, I would pick a really lovely, heartfelt character. My natural instinct is to say someone like Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, or Jane from Pride and Prejudice (1813), both of whom are brilliant women that have lots of admirable qualities.

As for a ‘trick’ character, I want to talk about someone who is misleading, evil and duplicitous. I want to say Macbeth, from Macbeth (1611) but other villains such as Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights and Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes series also spring to mind.

3. Candyfloss: Which book is always sweet?

I’m tempted to say Candyfloss by Jacqueline Wilson (2006) for fun! I think I’ll pick Anne of Green Gables though, by L.M. Montgomery (1908).

4. Ghosts: Which character would you love to have visit you as a ghost?

I’d be intrigued by any character that decided to bridge the gap between fiction and reality, as well as the gap between life and death! I like the idea of chatting with The Ghost of Christmas Past from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843).

5. Fancy Dress: Which character would you want to be for the day?

A really evil, sassy woman; I think they are so well-portrayed in literature. I think I would choose Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series. Then again, I also really liked the characterisation of Amy in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012) and I liked her sinister plotting and cleverness.

*Honourable Mention: The Evil Queen from Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm (1812).

6. Witches and Wizards: What is your favourite Harry Potter moment?

How am I supposed to choose?! I really like Harry Potter and rhe Deathly Hallows (2007) – particularly the scenes in Malfoy Manor and Hermione’s interrogation and torture. Grim, I know, but it was gripping.

7. Blood and Gore: Which book was so creepy that you had to take a break from it for a while?

The goriest book I’ve ever read so far is ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (1975), but I didn’t have to ‘take a break’ at any point. In fact, I was captivated by King’s work and could hardly put it down!

Those are my answers! Would you choose different books? I tag anyone who wants to do this tag (and I’d love to see some of your responses in the comments).

That’s all for now!

– Judith