On Winning the Young Stationers’ Prize 2015

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Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 16.46.15Last night I was delighted and honoured to be awarded the Young Stationers’ Prize 2015, for accomplishment and promise in writing. And then I got very drunk. Watching my third Berocca dissolve in water today has given me time to reflect on this unexpected joyous moment. Bear with me: I’ll try not to be too much of a twat.

I was surprised and chuffed when Kerry Hudson nominated me for this year’s prize, and grateful to Daisy Buchanan, Diana Beaumont, Hannah Knowles and Shelley Harris for their touching supporting statements and letters of recommendation. I would never have made it this far without them, but not simply because of their lovely endorsements.

Writers have a reputation for being loners, and it’s true I spend a lot of time with just my Mac, but inspiration and creativity don’t come from barren soil. My life is rich with the work and vision of journalists, columnists, authors, editors, filmmakers, directors, playwrights, actors, teachers, mentors, friends, and family. I admire the resonant columns of those like The Evening Standard’s Rosamund Urwin, who was awarded joint runner up of the Young Stationers’ Award. I’m inspired by the innovative work of people like BookMachine’s co-founder, and joint runner up, Laura Summers. I seek to emulate the philanthropic dedication of good souls like Ian Buckley of Prima Software, who was highly commended by the judges. And I’m enlightened by the erudite writing of journalists like Henry Foy, the Financial Times Central Europe Correspondent, who was shortlisted for the prize. Our world is full of stimulus. And as David Aaronovitch from The Times noted in his after dinner speech, technological advances, like Twitter, have opened us up afresh to a broader spectrum of information, knowledge, and interest.

To even be on the same shortlist as the accomplished, driven and brilliant professionals listed above was a thrill. Taking in the Stationers’ Hall, which was completed in 1673, I had to acknowledge the work of all those who have come before. Founded to protect, regulate and promote manuscript writers and illuminators tradesmen in 1403, I was walking in the footsteps of those who sought to make things better. I’m very fortunate to win this prize, but I cannot claim the credit: I’m merely constructed from all those who’ve enriched my life and come before me. This one’s for you guys.

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Thank you to Paddy Belton, the Master, and all at The Worshipful Company of Stationers for a fantastic evening and a truly treasured prize.

 

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Positive at Park Theatre, by Shaun Kitchener

| Reviews You Can Read In One Minute

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Positive tells the story of Benji, a gay Londoner looking to revive his love, sex and social lives one year after testing HIV+. But if Benji’s mantra – If Britney can get through 2007, then I can get through today – doesn’t give you the heads up let me make it clear: this is not a moral depress-fest, but a hilarious nuanced comedy of modern manners. As the writer Kitchener states in the programme introduction: ‘nobody dies’. At one point I laughed so hard my theatre companion had to restrain me from keeling over into Marcio Andrey Santarosa’s clever dual reference giant round pill and plus sign stage, upon which the action is delivered. From the ground up this is a polished, satisfying story: Kitchener expertly teasing at first hilarity and then real emotional depth and punch from his subject matter.pTimothy George’s ‘Benji’ and Sally George’s overbearing mother ‘Margo’ (yes, they are mother and son in real life) give stunning performances, managing to move from an amusing confrontation to genuine tenderness in a devastating second. Yet again I found myself being steadied by my friend, as I attempted and failed to fight back tears. And it is here in the meat of the play that Kitchener’s work really comes into it’s own: this is not a story about HIV, but about life and how we choose to live it. About love and how we choose to give it. Director Harry Burton must be congratulated for bringing the best from his cast, never allowing laughs or sentimentality to get in the way of the real power of the piece.

A special mention for Claire Greenaway’s Health Physician Jennifer, who was the perfect picture of professionalism, concern and genuine care I recognise from my own consultants and carers I see as part of my chronic health condition. Yet again Kitchener’s script shuns the saccharine or obvious, and instead delivers a slice of reality in what is a tightly structured and deftly delivered play. I positively suggest you go and see it.

Positive is on at Park Theatre until the 1st August 2015.

 

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The Thirty List, by Eva Woods

| Reviews You Can Read In One Minute

 

517UM8BXNULI love lists. I make lists for everything from shopping lists, to lists of things I want to do in the coming year. They help me remember, clarify and stay focused. Forget the iPhone Generation, when I think of the ‘listicles’ that appear on Buzzfeed I know we’re the List Generation. Which is what is so initially appealing about The Thirty List: a romantic comedy that tells the story of Rachel, newly separated from her husband, who draws up a list of all the things she’d meant to do before turning thirty and sets about ticking them off. We all have that list. The one with the big things on it, our hopes and dreams, but how many of us actually tackle them? Rachel jumps in wholeheartedly, and as they say, hilarity ensues.

Woods deftly weaves the tender pathos of Rachel’s broken marriage and impending divorce, with deep belly laugh inducing jokes at the perils of house hunting in London, trying to find a job, trying to make a living, and the day to day troubles that concern most of us. Structuring the story around Rachel’s list, the reader is soon invested in not only the completing of the tasks but also the reconstruction of Rachel’s life. Forced to move in with a grumpy man named Patrick and his four year old son Alex, Rachel corrals her new landlord into writing his own list and this is where the fun really starts. I snorted with laughter at moments in this book, and kept shouting out bits to my companions: ‘Listen to this bit! So funny!’

But Woods is more than a writer of great jokes, the pace and depth of this warm hearted tale built to a real moment of crisis I did not see coming, and one which moved me to tears. There is love and heartbreak and hope in this book: a perfect summer read. Put reading it at the top of your to-do list.

The Thirty List, by Eva Woods: top of my list 5/5

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Dirty Special Thing, Platform Theatre

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UnknownIn the wake of the recent election results I watched many publically express their concerns about our changing society, and pledged, among other things, to support the arts. With IdeasTap closing in a few weeks, and funding and grants being slashed, there is a fear our cultural landscape is being irrevocably changed. It’s being white washed, narrowed, minimised. The voices we’ll hear, the books we’ll read, the faces we’ll see, will be restricted to those who can financially support them selves through training, developing their craft, and getting their first break. Which is why we must back projects like Generation Arts, who work through theatre making with marginalised members of society. They provide access, support, and help getting into employment for young people who haven’t had the opportunity to achieve academic qualifications. Guys, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and cough up a tenner for the ticket. (Added bonus: there’s a student bar at the Platform Theatre and it’s cheap!)

But there is another reason to watch this project end show: it’s bloody good. I sat down expecting worthy, and what I got was real. It took a few seconds for my brain to adjust to those that were on stage. There’s no way to say this but bluntly, most of the theatre I see is white. White actors everywhere. Dirty Special Thing’s cast is diverse, and you know what it looked like? It looked like London. It looked like every day reality. Our capital city and Helder Fernandes’ cheeky young taxi driver training for the knowledge provided the Greek chorus and structure of this play. With charm and wit, he led us through at first what seemed like disparate stories of Londoners, marking out on the floor the routes we take, the transport we use, but they became entwined: we are all part of the same story. A perfect visual execution of the idea of community. A twist on the phrase: we’re all in this together.

Moneer Elmasseek’s erudite Big Issue seller was an oracle providing sharp insights into humanity, as it mostly rushed past. The stories that unfolded were touchingly real, routed in a reality that is often missing in plays that try to address society’s ills. Tammi Blake St Louis’ exasperated nurse, finding time in the 15 minutes she’s allotted with each home care patient to tenderly moisturise the dry face of one. A beautiful moment of compassion in the monotonous grind of life. The numerable cast make light work of the stage, delivering intriguing vignettes full of humour, struggle, pain and triumph. This may be a good cause, but Dirty Special Thing was a great show.

Dirty Special Thing is on until Saturday 6th June, get tickets here: http://www.generationarts.org.uk/dirty-special-thing-2/

 

 

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My Debut Play: The Legacy on at The Hope Theatre, Islington 8th-13th June

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The Legacy Cover Photo-2I’m thrilled to announce my debut play The Legacy is on at The Hope Theatre, Islington 8th – 13th June. Tickets available here.

The Legacy

In 2014 Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz became a lightening rod for worldwide anti-rape and women’s right protests, when she carried the mattress she was assaulted on to classes and lectures.

Inspired by those events The Legacy, is a cynically funny play that explores gender, affluence, and shouting back.

‘I read her newspaper bits. In one of them she used the v-word. Vagina. Actually wrote it. Thank god Daddy only read The Telegraph.’

Imagine if you took a politically minded, media savvy, online viral activist, and dropped them into conservative, status driven, vanilla suburbia?

Loving wife and mother Rebecca is thrilled when her estranged sister Esther shows up for the reading of their late father’s will. But free spirited Esther’s very presence soon disrupts Rebecca’s dream suburban life; prompting questions neither sister wants to face. Cracks appear. Tempers fray. And the truth about Esther’s disappearance a decade ago finally surfaces.

The Legacy is an exciting new play about love, money and bleeding heart liberals.

http://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/the-legacy/

Starring Lucinda Westcar as Rebecca, Jim Mannering as Adam, and Claira Watson Parr as Esther. Directed by Michael Beigel.

See you in the bar! x

 

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Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose at Richmond Theatre (& On Tour)

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Confession time: I’ve never seen Twelve Angry Men staged, or the movie with Henry Fonda. I know, I know: I just hadn’t got to it yet. But this meant that when I took my seat in the gorgeous Richmond Theatre I didn’t know what was coming.

Set in 1950s Manhattan, in a hot locked room, twelve jurymen must decide if an accused boy is guilty of murder. If found guilty the sixteen-year-old defendant, from the wrong side of the tracks, will be executed by electric chair. Immediately Tom Conti, who plays Juror 8, is marked out by his (at first physical) distance to the others and by his lone vote of not guilty. The only thing standing between the boy and death is Juror 8. And so begins an intense re-examining of the evidence, as in turn each Juror confronts their own doubts, prejudices and beliefs.

This is a fight for survival and justice, the set holding the men in a claustrophobic embrace Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 13.46.49as thunder rolls overhead and it grows dark as the rain comes. The table the men sit around slowly revolves as they debate ever closer to the deadline they’ve imposed: the tables literally turn. The outstanding cast make light work of the humour, the emotion and the high stakes. Andrew Lancel as Juror 3 embodying the repressed anger and pain recognisable in the posturing of many a bar bully. Squaring up to Tom Conti’s considered, thoughtful Juror 8 the two seem destined to forever be opposed. This is a classic play delivered with panache and conviction, which left me on the edge of my seat till the end. A guaranteed good night out.

Twelve Angry Men is on at the Richmond Theatre until Saturday 2nd May, and will then be touring: full details and dates here.

 

You can read about what I will and what I won’t review here.

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What I Review… And What I Won’t Review

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I read a lot of books, see a lot of plays, and watch a lot of films. It’s my job: you can’t write without studying your craft (well you can be you probably won’t get far), and that includes digesting as much material as possible. The creative process is a hard thing to define and explain, but for me a large part of it is to be stimulated: different genres and different mediums all feed back into my ideas and what I’m working on. A newspaper story, a documentary, a superhero film, a literary novel, a four-minute Youtube sitcom: it all goes into the melting pot. For me it’s all about story: and you find that in every form of expression.

All this creative-crudité-crunching means I come across some amazing things I want to share: plays that made me cry, books that made me laugh out loud, and films that chilled me. It also means I come across things I find not so successful. Creativity is subjective, and even if I find flaws in works I understand that getting a book written and published, producing a play, or getting a movie green lit is a big deal. It’s hard to achieve, and it takes a vast amount of work. We’re talking years of sweat and tears and determination and very possibly near-bankruptcy. I also know the finished article an audience receives has had the input of many others: a book will be shaped by an editor, a film re-written numerous times by multiple writing teams, a play tailored by a theatre. The faults you think you can see in a creative piece don’t necessarily originate from the writer.

photo-17So who am I to blog negatively about someone else’s work? We’re all learning, we’re all growing, we’re all hopefully moving forwards. If I don’t like something I don’t review it. I write about the things I enjoyed or loved*. There are already enough hurdles artists have to overcome, there is already enough rejection to endure: they don’t need a silly little blog giving them a bad review.

 

*If you or your publisher have sent me your book and I have not reviewed it, please do not assume it is because I didn’t like it: sometimes life gets in the way and my to-read pile gets out of control. My apologies.

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The Liar’s Chair, by Rebecca Whitney

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A year or so ago I was at my favourite writing retreat and met fellow guest Rebecca Whitney, who was working on what would become The Liar’s Chair. Sat in front of the fire clutching a glass of wine, I listened rapt as she read an extract. I remember being consumed by the desire to know what happened next. Now finished and published by Pan Macmillan I have my answer.

The Liar’s Chair is the story of Rachel Teller, a prosperous businesswoman who accidentally kills a man in a hit and run incident. It is a taut, gripping plot, with controlling husband David covering up the accident and insisting Rachel and he pretend nothing has happened. But this one act of violence sends fissures across the meticulously cultivated veneer of Rachel ‘s seemingly perfect life, and arouses her husband’s darker side.

I got in the bath to start reading this book and didn’t get out until I’d finished. Wrinkled like a prune and having emptied the boiler of hot water, I was fascinated by Rachel and her plight. But more than simply a tense page-turner, The Liar’s Chair is a stunning psychological profile of a character. Whitney delves through the shadows of Rachel’s life to bring the reader an extraordinary understanding of the woman we meet on the first page. Rachel is a troubled character and I’ve seen a few reviews sighting her as unlikeable, but I think we should be wary of damning protagonists on their likability. This is not a popularity contest, and all too often the question of likeability is only raised in regards to female writers and female protagonists: so unused are we to seeing real representations of women. Rachel is not a two dimensional portrait, but a complex, augmented, fully-formed person. She is very very real. Something I hope we see more of when it comes to female characters.

If you’re in the mood for a pacey psychological thriller, and don’t mind abandoning your plans for the day, then I’d recommend The Liar’s Chair.

The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney: dark, startling and compelling 4/5

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