Saturday, 7 December 2013

Ushers: A Funny, Energetic Musical for Musical Lovers

I must admit that I was pretty annoyed by the time I got into the 50-seat Hope Theatre at 207 Upper Street in Islington. As part of the show, a cast member appears at the bottom of the stairs to begin the show. This means the entire audience is left standing, winter coats on (there is no coat check) in a crowded pub for, in my case, twenty minutes. I was hopeful that this announcement would begin the show as they intended to continue, that it would be creative and entertaining and worth sweating it out pre-show. I don't like spoilers, but the announcement? "Ladies and gentlemen, the house is open. The house is open." Not worth the wait, but fortunately the production improves 100-fold from there.

Filled with musical references and insider jokes, Ushers: The Front of House Musical, keeps the audience laughing for a one hour, forty-five minute running time, which is no easy feat in our digital age of six second memes and half-hour sitcoms. The energy of the six-person cast is the driving force in this show filled with catchy, amusing and witty songs all about the inner workings of theatre's front of house.

The cast of Ushers. Photo credit: John Hunter

Thursday, 14 November 2013

I Wasn't Born This Way: 5 Steps to the Organised Artist

When I was twenty-three I embarked on an around-the-world trip that I anticipated would last for at least a year and up to two...or maybe three. Who really knew? I was young, I had quit my jobs and the world was at my feet.

I had a stack of traveller's bibles: Lonely Planet books for South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Austalia. I had some savings. I had my CV printed. I had wanderlust.

What I did not have: organised packing skills.

Mere hours before my flight took off I was sitting in on the floor of my bedroom surrounded by every shred of clothing I owned, staring at an empty backpack. My mother swore off helping me because the stress was too much for her. I began to hyperventilate.

Eventually, somethings found their way into my bag and other things lay abandoned on the floor as I dashed out the door with my mother reckoning that the best she could hope for was that I would still have hold of my ticket and passport when we got to the airport. Against all odds, I did and I hadn't forgotten anything even remotely important in my panicked packing haze. I've even managed to survive the subsequent years and to coordinate an international move.

More than that, I've developed quite the reputation for organisation. I spent the last two years organising events for the Kingston Writing School, compiling and publishing pamphlet anthologies, co-teaching and generally keeping several projects on the go, while completing an MFA, a teaching qualification and writing a novel.

Then, a couple of days ago someone asked me for advice on how to be more organised. Me? My first reaction was to think, "There's nothing I can say about organisation - I'm the least qualified person to talk about organisation!"

Then I decided that, perhaps, I'm actually the perfect person to talk about it. Who knows better than I how a self-confessed scatter-brained caterpillar can transform into a orgnaised butterfly?

Here's how I did it in five steps:
Good dental hygiene is essential

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Alice Munro Did Not Kill the Short Story

On 10 October 2013, an author I know Twitter-declared that "the short story is officially dead."

This was a direct response to the announcement that Alice Munro is the 2013 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Dead? Officially dead? Makes me want to go in and immediately lecture my students on the dangers of hyperbole.

So here's a couple of thoughts on the latest Twitter death rumor:

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Learning to Quit Books

This post was first published on on 01 September 2013.

In the true spirit of blogging, I am going to make a confession.

It will perhaps come as no surprise that I have always loved reading. I devoured all the assigned books when I was in school. I loved many of them, disliked some of them but read all of them. While my classmates bought Cliff’s Notes for Crime and Punishment, I wrapped myself in Dostoyevsky’s language. When they watched the film of Great Expectations, I sought out more of Dickens’s novels. I read anything and everything I put my hand to and never quit. Real readers don’t quit.

So, for many years now I have lived with the great shame of not having finished Gulliver’s Travels. I was sixteen when it was assigned to me and I hated it. I read Lilliput and just thought it was unbelievably dull. This, from a teenager who counted The Return of the Native among her favourite books.

Until just this year it was the only book I’d ever failed to finish. But I have a new outlook now. I was having a chat with science fiction novelist Christopher Priest this spring when he mentioned that he only reads books that he loves. When I explained my guilt-reading, he squashed the idea firmly. He said that there are a finite number of books that you can read in your lifetime so you had better be sure you enjoy the reading that you do.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

As Is Not Packing the Expected Punch at the Finborough

When my taller half and I were looking through current shows we were immediately intrigued by William M. Hoffman's As Is, currently playing at the Finborough Theatre. Originally produced in 1987 it was a groundbreaking look at the AIDS epidemic in young, gay, New York men. It is a powerful play whose mix of drama and comedy only serve to strengthen its effect on the audience.

Hoffman manages to bring the audience inside the most intimate relationships of Rich, a writer recently diagnosed with AIDS. From his long time lover to his new fling, from his friends to his brother we feel the pain, sorrow, fear and confusion of every character. These are fully realised people that come no where near the stereotypes we often see portrayed. But is that enough?

As Is promotional image

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Thank you! Blog Awards Ireland 2013 Nomination

Thanks to all who nominated me for the Blog Awards Ireland "Best of the Diaspora" award. It is much appreciated.

blog awards ireland

Now begins the wait with held breath and crossed fingers. There are a lot of great blogs nominated. Good luck to all! Short list is out on 08 September!

Monday, 12 August 2013

It's Time to Laugh with Harry Potter at The Cripple of Inishmaan

In a delightful twist to expectations, it turns out that everybody's favourite boy-wizard can act. Daniel Radcliffe and his child co-stars have long been accused of a lack of talent and empty fame built on the luck of being cast in the mega-film, Harry Potter franchise as children. Even those of us who were rooting for them worried that they would never be able to escape the wand-wielding typecast roles they played for their entire adolescence. How could they escape their alter-egos? Well, Emma chopped off all her hair and opted for the sexy dress route, while Daniel first shed all his clothes in Equus and now adopts an Irish accent to play the eponymous role in The Cripple of Inishmaan. So, did it work?

Look! It's Harry! I mean, Daniel...I mean Cripple - no, just Billy.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

What Kate and Will Should Have Named the Royal Baby

While I have little to no interest in the latest little royal, I have been getting a lot of questions about the news. Isn't it thrilling? What is it like in London? Is it all over the news? Nope, not particularly thrilling that a couple I don't know have had a baby. Though, I am delighted that one of my oldest friends and her husband are expecting. London is a bit rainy this morning but we're expecting sunshine later - oh, you meant the baby. London is too big and too busy to care. And finally: Nope, it's not really in the news at all anymore. Or, if it is, I've just been tuning it out.

I do, however, have an opinion on the name chosen for the baby. I mean, George. Really? Does it get more dull than George Alexander Louis? I feel that the new parents have missed a golden opportunity to join the ranks of awesome celebrity baby names. Why not start screwing up privileged children from the get-go? In light of some joyous names like North West, Blue Ivy and Fifi Trixibelle, I offer you some alternative royal names:

What's His Name's future digs

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Heatwave Update


This just in: It is officially too hot for burgers.


Our local pub and burger joint (all they serve is burgers - beef, chicken or veggie) were out of beef burgers today because it was "too hot to deliver the meat." Of course. That makes perfect sense. 

So is it the cows that have gone on strike? The farmers? The abattoir? Or are the delivery truck tyres just in danger of melting at a whopping 32C?

Burgers are a BBQ classic and everyone knows that BBQ is a winter treat. Who wants to eat a burger when it's hot?

Identifying features blocked to protect the identity of this otherwise outstanding establishment

Monday, 15 July 2013

Oh, no! It's a London Heatwave!

Yes, it's true. Heatwaves actually happen in London. And when they do, Londoners go nuts. We are now in day 11 of our blisteringly hot, sunny summer. I should clarify that by "blisteringly hot" I mean temperatures in the mid 20s-low 30s (80-100 Fahrenheit). Arizona is still laughing in our faces, but it's really hot for here. So hot that I have compiled a list of extraordinary things that have happened in the last week and a half:

From nudity to firefighters - this post's a good one

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Twittering Writer

 This post was first published on, 15 June 2013.

When I tell people that I edit a blog for which other people write and that does fairly well in terms of hits-per-day, I usually get a look that says, "Oh, so you're not one of those 'writers' who says she writes, but really just mucks around in her pajamas all day."  But the minute I say that I use Facebook and Twitter I can see them picturing me back in my red, snowflake, flannel pajamas clutching a cup of coffee, surfing the internet for cat videos and calling it "writing".

This is, unfortunately perhaps, untrue on several fronts. First, my snowflake pajamas aren't flannel and I wear pink or blue tracksuit bottoms when I'm working from home. Second, I don't drink coffee. And third, I don't while away time on the internet. That is not to say I don't waste time. I do. I, like all self-respecting writers, am a connoisseur of procrastination techniques. It's just that I prefer ones that make me feel productive. I cook. I do chores - the house is never cleaner than when I'm on a deadline. I catch up on emails - has it really been 6 months since I went through my junk folder? And I read. I read a lot. In the name of research, of course.

Catherine has covered procrastination quite eloquently, however, so I won't dwell on it. So the question that remains is: What am I doing on Twitter and Facebook then?

I'm being a writer. Honest.

Granted, I spend some of my time reading articles about writing and writers, some of dubious research value such as this one from The Onion. But for the most part, the hour a day I spend on social media is spent making and keeping connections, working with writing communities and, of course, some shameless self-promotion. Writers, if you don't do it, no one else will.

That said, I offer some guidelines for how to shamelessly self-promote without driving your social media 'friends' crazy.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Plucking and Dyeing: The Grey Haired Dilemma

I had every intention today of writing about my busy spring spent finishing my teaching qualification (PGCLTHE - that will be an unbelievably satisfying number of letters to follow my name), teaching first year undergraduates, designing and running a blogging/social media class and plugging away at the novel. The taller half and I have just come back from a lovely holiday so I have some travel ideas I want to bash out as well. All in all, I had plenty of proper things to write about five minutes ago. Then I ran my hand through my hair and ended up with two hairs entwined in my fingers. One my natural, very dark brown and one snow white.

Yes, I am going grey.

Well, white, to be fair. And in full disclosure, this is not news. Alex found my first grey hair in Mr. O's Latin class when we were fourteen. Fourteen. I was slightly less thrilled than he was. Alex was already fairly salt and pepper by then. As a slightly chubby, gay, greying, cello-playing, theater buff, Alex might have needed the company. Not that I saw it that way at the time. But we were friends and when you get your first grey hair before your first real kiss there's a lot you're willing to forgive.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Good Reading vs. Good Writing

I recently came across an interesting opinion piece by novelist Matt Haig called "30 Things to Tell a Book Snob" and it got me thinking about the value of art (again). Now, I don't agree with everything he writes, but I do agree with the sentiment and any reading is good reading. But does this translate to "any writing is good writing"?

You can argue all day long that art is subjective and that one person may love what another person thinks is rubbish, but you can't convince me that all writing is good writing. People are certainly entitled to their opinions and entitled to love bad writing, but that doesn't mean that the writing is brilliant. A novelist I know often laments how many people tell him, "I would write a novel - if only I had the time." As though every person in the world can be a writer. His feeling is that people never think to themselves, "I would compose a symphony - if only I had the time." We accept that composers know something about music, have probably studied it extensively and practiced for many years to hone their skills. I may love the song that my six-year-old neighbour just made up, it may be my favourite song but that doesn't mean that Beethoven wasn't better than her. No one would argue that my neighbour is giving the greats of music composition a run for the money based on my opinion. Most people in the world have the physical capacity to sing, but they're not all good singers. So why would we accept that everyone is a good writer, just because?

I know I'm not the only schmuck working this hard to produce "good" writing

Friday, 19 April 2013

Love that Dirty Water

Oh, Boston, you're my home.

As many of you know, I spent my very happy childhood in the City of Boston. So this week has been surreal. We say "surreal" but what does that mean? What is real? Surely explosions, highspeed car chases and my family being told not to leave their homes is very real. It certainly feels real. And also, very far away.
T-shirt design from Chowdaheadz

Sunday, 17 March 2013

St. Patrick's Day the Irish Way

This post was first published on, 17 March 2013.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, before you don your silly shamrock headgear, dig out your “Kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirt and go drink yourself sick on green beer, spare a thought for a true Irish tradition: the seanachie.

A seanachie (shan-a-KEE, sort of, Irish pronunciation is problematic in English) is a traditional Irish storyteller. In ancient Ireland, they travelled around the country staying with families and, in return for hospitality, they would share stories. It was a way to keep the old myths alive, to teach history and also to share the news of the day. Naturally, with newspapers, television and the internet, the days of the traveling seanachie have mainly passed in Ireland, but tradition of storytelling and being a storyteller is still strong throughout the country and with Irish people across the globe. Instead of traveling down the narrow country roads to different families every night, today seanachies can be found in the local pubs and at every family gathering. When Irish people meet, the first question we ask is, “What’s the story?” Why say what happened when you can tell the story of what happened?

Many of our storytellers have achieved worldwide acclaim, like William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and other heavy hitters. But these literary giants are not all Ireland has produced. There are currently some amazing writers coming out of the country, making waves across the literary world and their work is well worth a look. Here is my incredibly biased and far from comprehensive, taster list of five contemporary Irish writers who work across the literary spectrum:

Friday, 1 March 2013

Duck as Good as the Pâté

In November of last year I had the unbelievable good fortune to be invited to a talk by one of the people I respect most in the world. Rather a silly claim to make given that I had never met her before and, even now, have only exchanged a few words with her. Still, her books speak for. They speak to people around the world. And, for the purposes of this inevitably self-absorbed blog, they speak to me. I had the privilege and the pleasure of spending an evening with the inimitable, giant of literature Margaret Atwood.