Tag Archives: Shakespeare

To kill a book?

Candice: I note, with glee, that they are removing Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from the GCSE English Literature syllabus.

Now I was in the first year to take GCSE’s (1988) and it was on the syllabus then!  I have distinct memories of it as I hated that book, I just couldn’t get in to it and it was the only time my parents came home from a parents evening, took me into the dining room and told me I wasn’t to leave until I had read the book.  Obviously, not all that night but they would be keeping an eye on me.

I was savvy though, I just read some of it and then the penguin pass notes, so I could get through the course.  Luckily, I did a pure coursework GCSE so they just didn’t use that essay when they submitted my paper – I do remember getting good marks on one about Malvolio from Twelfth Night and that was used instead.

In fact,  I know children everywhere will be moaning about the fact Shakespeare is still included in the syllabus. But as someone who can still quote parts of some of his plays now, and works in the town that millions of people flock to just to see where he lived, I can kinda see his relevance still now. And that ability to quote has been very useful in pub quizzes!  I’m sure there are elements of Romeo and Juliet in their day to day life all the time.

What I find interesting is what they have now included.  One of the pieces is ‘Anita and me’ by Meera Syal.  I read this years ago, can’t remember what it was about but do remember enjoying it.  It’s a complete change from the works above, but if it engages those who don’t like to read – all the better.

I don’t think Phil and I will ever hit the GCSE syllabus but maybe they will grow up to read our books?

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Happy Birthday Billy. I’m not going to read your stuff.

BillySPhil: Living so close to Stratford-upon-Avon, we are both pretty well versed in William Shakespeare. There have been occasional lunchtime meet-ups opposite the birthplace trust. If we put down our over-priced paninis and peered over the crowds of tourists, we could see the place the great man was born. Inspiring or what.

Next week, we’ll be doing the literary thing ourselves by enjoying several events as part of the annual festival. You can tell the ones we’re going to, cake is included in the ticket price.

Anyway, yesterday was his 450th birthday and as you can imagine, the world has gone literary mad. There are people quoting him all over the news. Poor Yorick, that fellow of infinite jest, is being alas’ed by thespians waving skulls around. Kingdoms are being offered for horses and there are more than 2 be’s floating around, or maybe there aren’t 2 b’s…

I’m sure there is someone thundering about a lack of Shakespeare on the school syllabus and demanding that children should be forced to read all his great works.  Here, I beg to differ. Not because the thundering will be from the sort of rent-a-quote idiot who local TV producers seem to be able to produce at a moments notice. No. It’s because they are, for the most part, wrong.

A Shakespeare play is just that – a play.

I’ve enjoyed a few nights watching the great man’s work performed. The plots are a bit duff in some cases (an identical brother and sister?) but generally the comedies at least are good fun. But only when seen on stage performed well. You need to give it a few minutes to tune in to the language but I defy anyone not to find at least some of A Midsummer Night’s Dream funny.

(Be you new to the bard on stage, I suggest that if in Stratford go for the Swan Theatre rather than the main auditorium, if elsewhere, try to catch the Oddsocks Theatre Company performing something as it’s always brilliant and often outside so you can take a picnic.)

Reading the stuff on the page sucks the life out of it. These weren’t written as great literature. Those who treat them this way forget that they were originally performed to the sort of people who would now enjoy Eastenders or Coronation Street. They were entertainment.

The moral – plays and books are different things. When it comes time to turn our book in to a blockbuster film, we’ll do rather more than hand copies to the actors and tell them to read it out.

Update: I wrote this yesterday, but in the news today, Dame Helen Mirren agrees with me, and you don’t mess with the Mirren.

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Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival

How to get published stagePhil: Yesterday evening, Candice and I wended our way to the Shakespeare Centre, next door to the Bard of Avon’s birthplace, for an event called “How to get published….or How we did it”. Along with around 30 other eager wannabee authors, we hoped to find the secret code or incantation that would take The Book from a file on our computers to the front window of Waterstones bookshops.

Hosted by Gareth Howard (CEO of authoright.com), there were a panel of real authors: SJ Watson, Rachel Joyce and Julia Crouch. All had been through the process of writing, submitting, editing and then watching their book get published and the idea was that they could describe this to us and we would learn the tricks of the trade.

Each writer started with a little of their background and then a very short reading from their book. After this the chairman asked a few questions to get the discussion going and then threw it open for the attendees to ask thier own.

Sadly, none of the panel seemed to have a big pile of rejection slips from agents or publishers, pretty disappointing as the owner of such a pile myself, but we did get an insight into the process once you are accepted.

There was a lot of talk about the mountain to be climbed before getting there. SJ had reduced his full time job in the NHS to part-time to free up writing space. A couple had been through a very demanding Faber course where they’d been told to cancel all extraneous appointments for 6 months. Basically, writing is hard work was the message. Julia wrote the main part of her novel during NaNoWriMo, which is a serious commitment in itself and the first time I’ve heard of anyone getting anything out of this.

Once you get there published of course, it’s fabulous. I loved Julia’s description of the joy of seeing the book in print. I have a feeling it’s like the first time I placed an article in a magazine (I haunted WH Smiths for days around the date it was due) but times 100.

Funnest moment though, had to be either the loud “Oooof” issued by one of the audience when Rachel mentioned she was a mother of 4, or SJ’s advice on the famous Artist’s and Writer’s Yearbook.

The story goes, he was on a writing course and the tutor asked how many people had bought a copy. All the hands went up.

Then he asked, how many people still owned it. Half the hands went down.

To the rest, his advice was simple.

“Burn it. It’s full of dead people”

Not something the W&A marketing department would be entirely happy with but you can see his point. After all, you can just as easily look at the books on sale that you like, or your novel could happily sit alongside. Check out the agent details in the back and look them up on t’interweb. That’s 14 quid saved. Which allowing for the cost of entry, would go a long way to an after show drink.

Which is exactly what it did do. We sat and talked, the results of which we’ll be blogging in the near future. Watch this space – writing mojo has returned.


Filed under Phil, Publishing, Writing

Good writing is overrated

Phil: This week we sat down and came up with a new mantra. “Stop messing around and get on with it.”

Progress has stalled while we fiddle with the book text then hum and haw over the query letter. Simply beating the first paragraph of the later into shape took 2 cakes, a pint and half of beer, 2 cups of tea and a glass of over-chlorinated water. I leave it to you to work out who consumed what but the point is we aren’t going to get anywhere until we start pushing this book out to some agents and publishers.

Those who aspire to bookdom know that the standard advice is to keep polishing your manuscript until it is perfect. I suppose this is because there are people out there who send off a first draft without bothering to see if it reads well and which professionals would rather not see bloating the slush pile. On the other hand it might just be a way of saying, “We’ve got enough books now. Would you all stop sending them to us.”, but I don’t think so. After all, publishers need new books. If the gems were never sent because the authors were busy agonising over odd words and commas then they would pretty quickly go bust.

It’s not like the manuscript is going to be untouched once a publisher has it either. At some point an editor will get their mitts on it and tell the poor author that the style stinks or the story needs more shape or that chapter 2 is b*****s and should be re-written before home time tonight or you won’t get any tea.

No, while polishing is all very well, we have concluded that there is something more important.

Tell a rollocking good story.

Look at it this way, has anyone ever read a book just because it was well written ? Yes ? Well they probably don’t get out much. No one, and by this I mean no-one who matters, goes on holiday with a whopper picked up from the airport bookshop and comes back saying that they enjoyed the punctuation or that the use of the past participant was excellent.

On the other hand, they do buy books that literary types consider very badly written. And they buy them in spades. I give you Dan Brown as an example. Even on the Writers & Artists day there were comments from the front about the quality of the prose, but no moans about the sales. When you buy a book you want to be transported to another world. As long as the writing style doesn’t get in the way and you are enjoying the plot, then you keep turning pages until the end.

Which is what we think we have written. There are some scene setting bits, some funny bits and some parts where we just move things along. You want to know about these people, you wonder if Kate will get it together with her old flame, find out why things are happening and see a few people get their just deserts – and by that I don’t mean trifle.

Neither of us is Lynne Truss, we want to be Dan Brown. Not only do we dream of seeing well-thumbed piles of our books in charity shops, we aspire to film deals, long lunches at The Ivy and book tours. All of this requires healthy sales and people desperate to know what happens in books 2 to 7.

Oh, and there is a discussion on the importance of “correct” English taking place on the Ceefax Letters pages. Someone has suggested that Shakespeare wouldn’t have been succesful if he hadn’t used the “correct” language. I’d suggest that using a man who couldn’t spell his own surname consistently and operated at a time when most of the population couldn’t read anyway as an example, might not be the best plan. Anyway, only masochists and actors read his plays. The rest of us go and see them on stage, where they usually are a rollocking good story.


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