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Posts tagged ‘relationships’

Book Review: The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait

The story of Alice Liddell and the real Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) is one that has inspired so much speculation and analysis since the  creation of Alice in Wonderland in 1862; cover-image-of-looking-glass-house-by-vanessa-taitand here is another book on the subject, The Looking Glass House, this time a novel told by Alice’s great granddaughter Vanessa, which draws on family treasures and stories of the ‘original’ Alice. I found it a convincing picture of a stifled Victorian society with characters suffering from Victorian angst (especially Mrs Liddell and Mary Prickett the governess)  along with a very pert, outspoken Alice and an enigmatic but compelling Mr Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll).

For me, this novel built up a picture of an intense, brilliant young man with a great love for children which never quite tipped over “the edge” (as we would define it today with our 21st century sensibilities), but could easily have done if Victorian restraint had not had such a strong hold on his character. Vanessa Tait’s book depicts the scene in which Mrs Liddell banished Mr Dodgson from the house, thus precipitating the rift between him and the Dean’s family.

Having considered it all I believe that if I had been in Mrs Liddell’s position, I may well have done the same. Alice herself is shown very much as an instigator and provocateur in her relationship with Mr Dodgson. The adult Alice’s silence on the subject throughout the rest of her life is something I could well understand –  as the two Alice books quickly became hugely popular she would have been afraid to tarnish anybody’s vision of the stories by telling the truth about the circumstances in which they were created, which may have been misinterpreted.  Mr Dodgson’s family, too, clearly felt the same, in tearing out of his diary the very pages which cover the time he created the first Alice story.

I was intrigued by the number of Amazon reviewers who gave The Looking Glass House low star ratings and said the book disappointed them, because it was not what they expected. I think they hoped the biographical reality behind it all would fully match up to the enchantment of the stories.  As a writer myself I feel that knowing the biographical reality behind the creation of a story is interesting but in no way defines or encompasses the created story itself. The curious fact is that I identified at different times in the book with Mrs Liddell, Alice, and Mr Dodgson. I admired and enjoyed the pert outspokenness  in Alice which other readers described as brattishness; and felt I could understand Mr Dodgson’s obsessive love for the company of children, and also Mrs Liddell’s fear of allowing the relationship to develop into Alice’s adolescence, and her sudden urge to banish him from the scene.

Above all the book made me feel that as I child I would love to have had a friend like Mr Dodgson because he was the sort of person children love – quirky, entertaining teasing, quixotic, fun, enigmatic.

Beatles Shine with Passion and Energy in New Documentary “8 Days a Week: the Touring Years”

How young, innocent, and naive they were, aged in their early twenties: cheeky and endearing. As Paul McCartney puts it, “At the beginning it was all very simple. By the end it had become very complicated.”the-beatles-8-days-a-week-poster-bb23-2016-billboard-1240

And in the Beatles new documentary “8 Days a Week: The Touring Years” we saw a transformation rather similar to the one which we witnessed in Diana, Princess of Wales – a transition from youth and innocence to another state of being harder, more cynical and worldly-wise, more knowing and more guarded, more self-protective. It is an inevitable transition in many ways, one we all make, and yet we never see our own transition writ large upon the screen, projected before the public gaze, as with those who become famous.

In this respect it is their story, but our story too. There were many moments when the whole cinema audience burst out laughing at John’s humour. There was a wonderful little scene when John told a US reporter that his name was Eric, and the reporter took him seriously, and then kept calling him Eric, and John said, “No, John” and the reporter said, “I thought you were Eric,” and John said to him in a low voice, “I was joking”, as if he’d finally taken pity on the reporter.

The one thing that shines out of the new Beatles documentary 8 Days a Week is the fact that with the creative partnership that was the Beatles, we didn’t get just 100% passion and energy; instead, we got 400%. Their love of what they were doing was paramount; at the beginning they were just a “great little band who loved writing songs and playing music, and having a laugh.” The documentary was inspirational, joyous, funny, moving, thought-provoking, emotional, touching, heart-warming.

There are so many different wonderful things about this documentary. As a former Beatles fan myself (who was never, alas, allowed to go to a live Beatles concert, and so was never one of those screaming fans), I watched it with a big smile on my face, laughing often, delighted in being reminded how funny John was, touched by the poignant moments, and the way each corroborated the others in superbly-cut-in interviews which were recorded individually and at different times. George’s interview was particularly moving; there was so much depth to him.  He made the most thought-provoking remark when he said, “We were torn out of our youth, and force-grown like rhubarb.”

The other thing that struck me was how vulnerable they were at their live concerts – no effective protection at all.  At the end of the concert at Shea Stadium they ran to a limo and sped off. But if they’d had to run from the stage to the dressing room area, they would have been torn to pieces by fans breaking through the barriers, and being chased by fleet-footed policemen (who must have got the most exercise in their career, being on guard at a Beatles concert).

As we watched the footage of the Shea Stadium concert, digitally remastered, so we could hear the music the Beatles made (which they never heard at the time, as the music was drowned out by the screams), we saw many wonderful cameos of audience behaviour.  There were girl screaming in hysterics, overwhelmed by emotion, to a point where they seemed to be in distress; others screaming just as loud, but in ecstacy; every so often there was an indifferent looking male, standing there  with immobile face in the midst of mass fervour ; other men just smiling quietly; there was a mother handing out tissues to her overwhelmed daughters; girls just listening with smiles of joy on their faces; others gazing in rapture, in a state of absolute bliss. And standing at the side, quiet, restrained, appraising, watchful: Brian Epstein, of whom Paul said, “The thing about Brian was – he was Class. Liverpool Class. That was what Brian was. Well-spoken, well dressed.”

And in the middle of this, John’s humour into the microphone: “oooh, look at her.” And Paul’s charm, ever-present then, exactly as it is now 50 years later, when he performs to mass audiences: “I want everybody over there, and everybody over there – yes, you, all of you, and all of you over there, to clap along.”  When we saw him at Cardiff Millennium Stadium a few years ago, he said, “How are you all getting along up there at the back?”

And the fabulous cheeky, innocent humour at press conferences. When the boys were asked, “Why do you think you are so popular and successful?” John replied, “we really haven’t got the slightest idea. If we knew, we’d start another group, and become managers.”

And then there was the bizarre period when John caused an international incident by saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. At the press conference where he knew he would have to apologise, we listened to what he said, and had that terrible feeling that John was trying to dig himself out of a hole by digging himself further into it. As Paul said, “You could tell he wanted to finish with a joke but knew he couldn’t… we were all scared, and we all knew it was very serious. We had all been bought up with a religious background.”

When the boys were asked to account for their fans’ reaction to them, and the screaming, they appeared bemused. They observed that the screams grew louder when they shook their heads. In fact, body language was how Ringo managed to know whereabouts in a song they were, in the huge concerts: he couldn’t hear the music at all. He said, “I watched Paul’s arse, and John’s arse, and when they shook their heads and when they tapped their feet,” and that was how I worked out whereabouts in the song we were.” And astonishingly, when listening to the digitally remastered recording, we can see that despite not being able to hear each other, they were all in tune, and together. Paul observed how instinctive they were with each other, musically, because of their close relationships, and the fact that they knew each other so well. They were good at what they did he said, simply because they did it so much.

There was such a poignant contrast between the first concerts the Beatles did, and the concert at Shea Stadium, and the very last public performance ever on the rooftop of the Apple offices in Savile Row.  As people gathered in the street down below and watched, curious, bemused, and silent, it was sobering to reflect that they had no idea they were witnessing the very last pubic performance ever, of what history would judge to be the best pop group ever, and the most astonishing social phenomenon of the twentieth century. What a huge historical moment that was – and all were unconscious of it at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Inner Child” Faces Down “the Perpetrators” at Constellations Therapy Workshop at Hayes Conference Centre

The most powerful workshop I took part in at the conference “Continuing the Journey: Rummaging for Reality” last week was a constellations therapy group run by a therapist who specialises in working with people who have suffered spiritual, satanic and sexual abuse.continuing-the-journey-home Approximately 12 of us took the part of various ‘voices’ in the client’s brain (identity confidential of course). The client had herself, over a long, and painstakingly slow process with the therapist, identified and written down the words spoken by the voices in her head. She had given permission for the therapist to use this material in her workshop with us – and was hoping to benefit from our experience with it.

We all took different roles – in this case, the names of the roles included Me, Body, Sexuality, Inner Child, Anger, Faith, Church, Priest, Nuns, Uncle (the last 4 named roles were all perpetrators). I took the role of Inner Child. As we read out our scripts, and then started to move around in relation to each other, inside the client’s brain, we decided how to interact with each other, and what we needed in order to progress and make changes.  As the workshop progressed, each one of us entered into our roles so strongly we were no longer using scripts. The whole thing became dynamic, and compelling.  I found myself, as Child, being strengthened and supported by Anger; together we were able to challenge and weaken the lies of the perpetrators.  I don’t think anyone who took part in that workshop is likely to forget it for a very long time! I heard different members of the group describing it to others afterwards as “stunning.” For a while during the rest of the conference, when I looked at each person, I found myself thinking of them as the role they had been playing.

I wondered at one point how this experience might play into my fiction. I then realised that even if I were to create fictional characters based upon these different voices in the client’s brain, I would not be able to replicate what happened in the group. For each voice / character needs to be fully rounded in fiction; even if someone is a ‘perpetrator’ and has done terrible thing to a vulnerable victim, we would have to see why that character has behaved in this way. We would need to look into their own childhood, their own background, and would need to understand them from the inside as well as the outside. That we were not in a position to do, within the circumstances of the constellation therapy group.  All I knew was that the voices of the perpetrators had to be faced down.

How this will impact upon my new novel, I cannot yet say as it will take time to process!

 

Thoughts on Three Dimensional Characters in Films and Novels – Inspired by Hugh Grant

On the Graham Norton Show which was broadcast on BBC One on Friday 16th April 2016, Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkinsactor Hugh Grant said he took on the role of St Clair Bayfield in the newly-released film Florence Foster Jenkins against his previous intentions, because a) the script was so good and b) because he was attracted by the three dimensional character he was being invited to play – which implies he thinks all his previous characters were one dimensional.

Hugh said that the character he plays, St Clair Bayfield, is “a failed actor” who has chosen to protect Florence (played by the wonderful Meryl Streep) from true self-knowledge because he loves her. In the film, this character goes to extraordinary lengths to collude with Florence’s self-deception, by covering up her lack of ability as a singer and paying off bad reviewers and hiding her from the truth.  In other words he does what seems to be cowardly, morally weak, wrong and even cruel, for complex reasons that are not straightforwardly immoral, and because he is emotionally invested in supporting her and upholding her in the dream she believes in.

I haven’t seen the film yet and so cannot offer a review, but I was fascinated by the point Hugh Grant was making. Many love the characters Hugh has played so far during his film career, but his comments brought me back again to the vital importance of three dimensional characters, not only in persuading major actors to take on film roles, but also in winning success for a novel.

Three dimensional characters in fiction are those whose actions, words, relationships, behaviour and inner life all work together to win our empathy.  Just as the hallmark of a great leader is the ability to win people’s confidence, the sign of a great character in fiction is that we care for them deeply, whether their actions are “good” or “bad” or far less easily defined. Whilst reading a recent novel I was starting to intensely dislike a certain character, when his actions and behaviour were depicted from the viewpoint of someone else. But then the author took me into his viewpoint – and my attitude to him was transformed.

I believe we only need to see and understand someone’s inner life, to feel that empathy for them.

Do share in the comments. Which are your favourite three dimensional characters in fiction, and why?

A Passionate Spirit in Lancaster Alumni Magazine

A Passionate Spirit is featured in the latest edition of “STEPS” the Lancaster University alumni magazine online.

The picture below was taken on Box Hill, in Surrey, on a recent visit.

I have happy memories of Box Hill from my childhood, as I was born and brought up in Kent. This is a landscape which has aroused love and feelings of spiritual wellbeing in many.

This time I couldn’t help but recall once again one of the most famous scenes in fiction; the picnic which takes place in Jane Austen’s novel Emma, when Emma allows her irritation with Miss Bates to overcome her forbearance… provoking a reaction from Mr Knightley which makes Emma realise for the first time how much she cares for his opinion of her.

And, curiously, Emma was the subject of my very first English Literature seminar at Lancaster, when I was pounced upon and challenged to mount an argument in defence of Jane Austen’s literary reputation. I had much less insight into human psychology then than I do now, having spent many more years observing people and relationships and the many ironies of this life; and (to my eyes at least) I failed miserably on that occasion!

A fitting literary scene, then, for an author photo to go alongside my Lancaster University alumni article.

Author Sheila Skillman at Box Hill, Surrey, January 2016

 

Find the article here

Totally Devoted to Jane Austen

One of my favourite Christmas gifts was one I bought for myself for 10p in the late stock-clearance at my son’s school Christmas Fair – an audio book of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice book cover (The Folio Society Definitive Collector's Edition)

Pride and Prejudice book cover (The Folio Society Definitive Collector’s Edition)

I’ve been listening to it in the car over and over again. And despite Death Comes to Pemberley  on TV after Christmas, I still cannot get enough of Elizabeth, Darcy, Mrs Bennett, Lydia, Wickham and all the rest of them.

In addition, as another Christmas gift I received the DVD set of the classic BBC TV series starring Colin Firth as Darcy and Elizabeth Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett.

You’d think that knowing all the story-points and the outcome would dim your enthusiasm for engaging with one novel again and again.

Yet in Pride and Prejudice my appetite is never sated.

On every hearing, there are new glittering gems of psychological insight, discernment and irony to be found.

Was there ever such a bitchy young woman as Miss Bingley? Or such a cringing sycophant as Mr Collins? Can we ever quite fathom the sardonic detachment of Mr Bennett? And was Lady Catherine really pleased with Mr Collins’s obsequiousness? And can we ever truly understand Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr Collins, or determine exactly what Mr Wickham imagined would happen to Lydia and her family once he’d  finished with her in London and gone off abroad to seek better chances there – as was his avowed plan when Darcy finally hunted him down? And has any author ever written a  better account of a changing heart than Jane Austen’s, in her depiction of Elizabeth reading Mr Darcy’s letter and coming to a new opinion of the respective characters of Mr Wickham and Mr Darcy?

We keen novel readers have many ideas of the best novel ever written. Some may say Cervantes’ Don Quixote, or James Joyce’s Ulysses, or Tolstoy’s War and Peace, or  Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. But I say Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is the most perfect novel ever written because I can never get my fill of her wisdom and  insight into human relationships and behaviour and motivation. And there seems no end to the power of this story and these characters and this author’s observations, to set off answering bells in my own life-experience.

Friends At Last: Building Trust in the Animal World

Molly has now overcome her resistance  to the idea of an alien cat in the house with her (albeit her mother)

But it took  Willow a little while to overcome her annoyance at her daughter Molly’s initial rejection of her.

Willow and Molly 27 Oct 2013 (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Willow and Molly 27 Oct 2013 (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

She spent a few days expressing her annoyance, and trying to exert some discipline.

She was a strict mother,and we watched her setting the boundaries.

“Behave!” she would say to Molly.

And then she discovered what it’s like to have your young one defying orders.

And later I was reminded of  one of those classic situations which many young mothers bemoan; the toddler who won’t even let her mother go to the toilet alone.

Molly has been pushing at the door of  the litter tray while Willow is in it, trying to jump in with her.

“Can’t I even go to the toilet in peace?” cries Willow.

Now we hear the scampering of feet across the floor as the two play-fight with each other and chase each other from room to room.

Relaxing? No. And sometimes those play-fights look horribly real.

But I reassure myself that the claws are retracted.

Otherwise the squeals and  squeaks and cries that  come from 8 week old Molly would be screams of pain.

Watching a relationship of mutual trust being built in the animal world has made me reflect on how this may apply to us humans too. Suspicion breaks down, the first tentative steps are taken; building trust is a process of experimentation and small moves forward. So we see ourselves and our own characters partially reflected in animal behaviour.

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