Grand themes, and specific contexts

Having recently attended Fiona Thackeray’s workshop at Bookmark Blair on ‘Place’, I am now thinking about universal themes and specific contexts. If we look at Eight of Cups, then the grand theme might be ‘attachment’ or ‘mid life’ and the specific context is the lives of six girls who meet at University in Edinburgh in the 1970s.

Our current work-in-progress, Never Do Harm, will then be about betrayal, and the setting – the relationship between two doctors in the modern medical world in Scotland.

Talking of Place, we were delighted to be invited by Nancy Christie who had read and enjoyed our blog, to provide a stop off for her on her digital world tour. She hopes to travel through the ether to England, Scotland, Europe and the World during October!

The theme of her collection of Short Stories Travelling Left of Centre (or to be more exact ‘Traveling Left of Center!) is Fate and the context is people who are unable or unwilling to seize control over their lives, such that they allow fate to dictate the path they take—often with disastrous results.

This collection of stories includes:

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An author with “a great face for radio”!

Having worked in academia and in organisational development in all sectors of the NHS for many years I (Mirren) am very familiar with giving feedback.  There are recommended techniques and formulas. For example, Pendleton’s rules focus on the appraisee:

• ensure that she is ready to receive feedback;
• ask for her observations first before you share yours;
• focus on what has gone well;
• rather than count her faults, jointly identify and agree areas for improvement.

That’s all fine and well. I’ve been appraised many times and been handled both gently and harshly. One boss who didn’t like me airing my views in an open forum because they differed from his, almost reduced me to tears when he asked for ‘a quiet word’.

Recently, however, I’ve experienced feedback of a different kind. Not about the quality of my work, or my level of understanding or development. More about how I look and sound.

Jones and I agreed we needed some more recent photographs.  So it started with a professional photo-shoot.  John from Alyth Photography came to the house, brought a flattering background cloth, positioned me so that my best side was apparently on-show and taught me to stand with my body at an angle and my face to the front to minimise my width! I can’t fault his work but I was shocked at the final result. Was that matronly woman really me? Great photo! everyone said. Shows that even positive feedback can hurt!

Kirkmichael Summer Festival hosted a ‘Meet the Author event’ last month.

Authors poster 2014 final-page-001 Continue reading “An author with “a great face for radio”!”

All roads lead to Edinburgh

The six girls in our debut novel Eight of Cups came from far and wide. Their birthplaces shaped them, their University days in Edinburgh matured them, and their eventual homes both nurtured and challenged them.

But how to describe a place? And how to reflect how it might have been at the time of the action in the novel?

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Is the film as good as the book?

One positive by-product of having a foot operation is that my weekly trip to the yoga class, and twice weekly practice of karate have been replaced by several visits to the cinema.  So for once I can say I have seen almost all the Oscar winners in their prizewinning roles.  I can recommend without hesitation The Dallas Buyers’ Club, Gravity and Philomena.  Blue Jasmine was a disappointment.  And somewhere in between lay American Hustle.

On last week’s excursion I went to see The Book Thief, the film of the hugely popular book.  It generated that ubiquitous question – is the film as good as the book?

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Destination – Room 101

Room 101 first appeared in George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’. It was a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love in which the Party attempted to subject a prisoner to his or her own worst nightmare, fear or phobia. The emphasis shifted in the BBC comedy television series Room 101 from facing fears to identifying and then consigning pet hates to a fate worse than death in Room 101.

Mirren is angry with herself this Saturday morning and has decided to work on that anger by identifying all the things that currently annoy her and then metaphorically locking them in Room 101, possibly never to be seen or experienced again.

Firstly goes that full bag of Cadbury’s Chocolate Eclairs greedily consumed yesterday evening after a hard day at work. No more combating tiredness with empty calories. They can stay there for at least the six weeks it apparently takes to change a habit (Do you really believe that?).

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Compare and Contrast

Although it is many, many years since I last sat an English Lit exam, the instruction to ‘compare and contrast’ can take me right back there. Knowing plenty about one of the pieces but not enough about the other! Trying to make what I did know, fit some kind of structure. Hoping that it wouldn’t be too obvious that most of the quotations came from the favoured text.

The phrase came to me quite involuntarily this week when reading two very different books in tandem – Stoner by John Williams (a work of fiction) and Where Memories Go by Sally Magnusson, (part memoir, part research and reporting into the effects of dementia on memory.)

Two very different reads set in highly dissimilar contexts and yet the overriding feeling that remains is of having walked the road step by step with the author. William Stoner is a university professor in the 1930s-50s in Tennessee, initially amazed to find himself an academic when he had expected to return to his father’s small farm to continue to scratch a living. His life is in many ways low key and uneventful; he is probably forgotten very quickly once he hangs up his gown. And yet his acceptance of a life full of disappointment and sadness is quietly inspiring and laudable.

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