If ‘not now’, then when?

It’s HOT! And in usual British style, the weather didn’t give us much warning; it just switched from ‘meh’ to volcanic heat literally overnight. And, as is my usual, this has got me thinking. I went out to the RNA South West Chapter dinner last night, and I was quite sad that I couldn’t wear a certain dress, since it was sweltering and the jeggings wouldn’t do. The dress was really rather tight when I tried it on, and not in a good way. This triggered off a thought process, of course.

At present, there are 11 ‘not now, but soon’ dresses in my wardrobe. Some have been sat in there for a fair while! There are at least two pairs of jeans and a skirt in that category, too. I am a sucker for the ‘ooh, that’s nice, I’ll buy the size I think I should be rather than the size I actually am and in a few weeks I’ll be that size,’ thing. The trouble is, I don’t ever get there. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m moderately realistic; I only ever buy the next size down – I’m not a total fantasist, but even that’s irritating me now! Why do I do it? Why not buy the size I currently am (about a UK size 14, if anyone’s interested!) and wear the bloody clothes straight off? The answer? Probably deeply embedded in my psyche is my attachment to the idea that size 12 is the biggest I should ever be. Yes. I know. And believe me, I don’t need anyone telling me ‘it’s just a number’. I know.

Before anyone also mentions the fact that all shops size differently, I know that, too. And I do actually fit into certain clothes from certain shops that are the much longed for size 12. But, damnit, I want to be consistent! Especially now, as I’m pushing 40 and feeling, frankly, rather invisible. I don’t want to be still having this debate with myself in ten years. As my BMI is around 27.8, I want to get that down, too. It’s no joke that international rugby players weigh less than me at the moment, and I’m fed up with justifying it with the fact I’m tall.

I’ve taken pictures of all of the clothes that don’t fit me. I’m going to put the pictures at strategic points around the house (the Husband will think I’m madder than he already does).  I would love to be able to wear them by my 40th birthday, which is at the end of August. I’m a total commitment phobe when it comes to weight loss, but I am still attending Slimming World, so we’ll see if this time I can manage it. What tends to happen is I lose a few pounds and relax again, so we’ll see if I can do it for longer this time. It’s that, or Ebay the clothes, and I really don’t want to do that!!

I’ve got the tools, it’s just a question of getting on with it. Wish me luck…

A Backwell Ghost Story

I wrote this for a Year 8 class who were working on their own ghost stories. I wanted to take the everyday and turn it into something spooky!

ghostEnjoy…

The Walkers of the Corridors: A Backwell Ghost Story

They say you should never be on school grounds during the night of a full moon. Even the site team will lock up early for one night every month, hurrying away to warm houses and reassuring families after their perimeter checks. For during the full moon, things start to happen here.

The first time I heard tell of it, I was sceptical. This is a school, for heaven’s sake; what harm could come to me, or anyone else, for that matter? However, my curiosity got the better of me, and before I knew it, I was here, alone, on the night of January’s full moon. How stupid I was! How naive! How I wish, now, that I’d heeded the advice of all who had warned me.

It was a crisp, dark, late January evening. I was working in my classroom, an ancient hut smack in the middle of the school. Its goldfish bowl like windows ensured that most of the time, I could see what was going on around it, and anyone passing could see in. I liked it because it was so public; nowhere to hide. I’d miss it when I left. And I was planning on leaving. I’d got a new job at a school closer to my home, so this term would be my last. I’d worked at the school for fifteen years; it was time to move on.

I saw the last of the school’s site team hurrying around the house blocks, locking doors, securing the odd open window, wishing goodnight to those remaining people on site. He waved at me as he passed the hut, gesturing at his watch, reminding me that it was time to leave. I nodded and smiled. Just a few more books, I thought, looking at the enormous pile of marking. I really didn’t want to take it home with me. I raised the key that was on a lanyard around my neck and mimed an I’ll lock up gesture through the window. He nodded and waved a hand as he moved off. Thinking about it now, I could have sworn I saw a look of concern cross his face as he turned away, but at the time, I was too preoccupied with my marking to give it a thought.

Three more books marked, and it was starting to feel chilly in my hut. The heating had gone off some time ago, and I shivered as the air began noticeably to cool. As I stood up from my desk and crossed the classroom to the pigeon holes where I kept the books, I’m sure I wasn’t imagining it when I noticed that the air in that corner of the room was colder still. Perhaps there was a hole in one of the wooden walls? It was an old building, after all. Shivering slightly as the goosebumps rose, I shoved the books into the correct pigeon hole and returned to my desk. As I did so, there was the slightest movement in the corner of my eye. It skittered across the periphery of my vision, reflected in the dark glass of the goldfish bowl windows of the hut. I blinked. Turned my head. Nothing. I’d obviously been at work too long; my mind was playing tricks.

Huddling my cardigan more tightly around me, I sipped the dregs of my last cup of coffee of the day and put my pens away in my pencil case. The silence of the classroom was so unlike what it was like during the day that it was almost unnerving. Knowing that the site team had also left, and that I was, in all likelihood, the last person on site, I decided it was time to call it a night. As I searched in my handbag for my car keys, I swore. I must have left them in my desk in the English Office. Grabbing my pencil case and planner, I slipped my lanyard from my neck and headed to the door of the hut, feeling more and more chilly as I stepped out into the winter air. Hurriedly, I locked the outside door and then strode across the quad to the English Office.

As I passed by the grassy bank by the Head Teacher’s office, I felt the faintest of shivers running down my spine; as if I was being observed. But that was impossible; everyone had left now except for me. Who could be watching? I picked up the pace a little. The grave shaped mound outside the Head’s Office had always rather amused me; I used to joke to students that it was where naughty pupils, those who had been expelled, were actually buried. No-one gets out of Backwell alive, I’d said. Once here, you’re here forever. How silly that seemed now, on this dark night, when the full moon shone overhead.

I cursed as I reached the English Office only to find the door was locked. I didn’t have a key, either. What was I going to do? My car keys were inside, safely locked away in my desk; a desk I could see from the window in the office door. There was nothing for it; I’d have to phone my dad to come and pick me up. Feeling like a naughty child, I pulled my phone from my handbag and dialled. As I did so, I again felt eyes on me. Pull yourself together, I thought, waiting for my Dad to answer. As his phone clicked through to voicemail, I hung up in irritation. Now what?

Feeling really cold now, I dithered on the step to the English Office. Should I go back to my classroom and try phoning Dad again? Should I try ringing a friend? At this rate, it would be easier to bed down in my classroom for the night! Students always joked about teachers living at school; how surprised would they be to find me snoozing under my desk in the morning? It was too cold to hang about outside, though, so I decided to head back to the hut. Just as I turned to go, a cold gust of wind caught the back of my neck, brushing my ponytail forward onto my shoulder. Just as swiftly, it was gone. My skin started to prickle; I really didn’t like being alone here.

I hurried back to the hut, trying to dispel the sense of dread that was rapidly rising. I’d just have to wait it out until I could get hold of dad. Unlocking the classroom door once more, I jumped as something cold and spiderlike tickled its way across the top of my hand. There was nothing there. As I looked down, I heard what sounded like a giggle from behind me. Heart thumping, I steeled myself to turn around, but when I did, there was no-one to be seen.

‘Is there anybody there?’ I called out into the crisp evening air.

Silence.

‘Show yourself if you’re there,’ I tried again. My breathing was getting shallower and I felt the first vestiges of panic rising. Was I being watched? I pulled open the door of the hut, slammed it shut and then locked it from the inside. My heart felt as though it was going to burst through my chest.

‘Boo!’ Came the whisper in my left ear. I stood stock still, trying desperately not to cry out. My skin was crawling, an unpleasant sensation made worse by knocking knees and sweating palms.

‘Come and play…’ the voice came again. ‘It’s time…’

‘T-time?’ I stammered. ‘Time for what? Who are you?’

Painfully, dreading what I was going to see, I turned around. Nothing. No-one in the classroom except me, but as my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light that came from the desk lamp, my gaze was drawn to the windows once again. There, lined up in the reflections of the glass, was a long line of students. Only they were like no students I’d ever seen. Dressed in uniforms from Backwell School’s past and present, with the range of historical hairstyles to match, they formed an unbreakable chain across the windows. Blurred at the edges, vaguely transparent and with a shimmer that suggested something distinctly supernatural, they stood sentinel, filling every single window.

‘Tell me!’ I shouted. ‘Why are you here?’

A bell like tinkle of laughter shimmered across the cool air of the classroom. ‘We are the excluded; the forgotten; the moved on. We are those that the school sought to remove, to displace, to brush over. We remain here as memories, as walkers of the corridors, a reminder.’

I gripped the desk for support, my knees weak beneath me. ‘A reminder of what?’

‘That you can be excluded from this school…but you can never, ever leave.’

Suddenly, the mound outside the Head Teacher’s office made perfect sense. How many years had Backwell been burying bodies there? The rat population had exploded a few years ago; was it because they were feasting on the corpses? How many souls were doomed to walk the corridors for an eternity? The troublesome students; those who didn’t fit the mould, those who were supposedly moved on to other schools. All remained.

With shaking hands, I scrabbled to fit the classroom’s key in the lock and escape the hut, but the door was jammed shut. Knowing it was hopeless, but with panic overtaking me, I banged on the glass, not caring if I broke through it. The laughter came again, this time with a threatening edge. ‘Let me out!’

‘It is time for you to join us,’ the ghostly voice came. ‘We need a new teacher.’

‘No!’ I screamed. ‘I made the choice to leave. You can’t keep me here.’ The glass in the classroom door started to crack, but it was too late. As it finally broke, the figures emerged from the windows and crowded around me.

‘Miss, help me miss, I don’t get it. Can you explain it to me again? I’m stuck. I don’t have a pen. Miss, Miss, Miss…’

They say that Backwell School never leaves you. That you can take the person out of Backwell but never Backwell out of the person. How frighteningly true that is.

 

 

 

Meeting Your Heroes…

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This weekend I arranged for The Husband and myself to bog off alone to Cheltenham and watch a play. Having not had a night away by ourselves for two years (when we went somewhat further afield to London to lust over Richard Armitage as John Proctor watch The Crucible at the Old Vic, this was a real treat. Kids and dog dispatched to my Mum and Dad, we headed an hour up the motorway to a decent hotel and a night of drama.

It had been a spur of the moment decision; I was gutted to find out that I’d missed A Judgement in Stone, which was adapted for the stage by Bill Kenwright from the original novel by Ruth Rendell, when it visited the Weston Playhouse a few weeks back. To be absolutely honest, it wasn’t the play I was disappointed about, as at that stage I didn’t know anything about the story or the production. It was because I’d missed  the chance to see one of my favourite actors, the utterly amazing Sophie Ward, onstage. After I posted this on twitter, she tweeted me back to let me know about the Cheltenham dates, and I booked tickets the next day. The Hotel du Vin followed (ouch, in terms of my bank balance, but worth it for the experience!) and we were all set.

the-cast-of-a-judgement-in-stone-sophie-ward-deborah-grant-shirley-anne-field-and-antony-costa-photo-mark-yeoman-copyThe play itself was really elegantly produced and performed; it’s essentially one set, which moves backwards and forwards in time between the time before the tragic event that the play investigates, and its aftermath. In this vein, it reminded me very much of Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. The choreography was extremely clever in creating this effect of a time slip – actors move seamlessly on and offstage through the exits while others are coming on, and there are lighting shifts to indicate the past and the present. A classic Rendell character study, this play is not so much a whodunnit as a psychological drama, exploring issues of class, privilege and attitude around the central tragic event of a multiple homicide.

The play, while essentially an ensemble piece, had some standout performances. The brilliant interplay between Debora Grant and Sophie Ward as Joan Smith and Eunice Parchman has light and darkness, and sets up the darker events of the play wonderfully. Anthony Costa as Meadows the gardener is, at times, channeling Mellors the gamekeeper from Lady Chatterly, but gives the role both humour and depth. When he loses his temper in the third act, he is convincingly threatening but equally portrays the devastation of a man whose liberty is at great risk. The four members of the Coverdale family are convincing as a blended family, with the older generation’s chemistry wonderfully played, and the younger step siblings having that slightly uncomfortable relationship that, deliberately underplayed, feels raw at the edges in the best possible way.  The two detectives who are investigating the murders of the Coverdale family give expositional clout, and although sometimes there were moments where it’s difficult to recall just how much they know at any given time because of the slickness of the flashbacks, they keep the pace moving and ask the questions the audience needs to ask. The Coverdales’ dotty cleaner is the village’s voice, filling in the gaps in the narrative, and played with the lightest of touches by Shelley Anne Field.

ajis-prod8The role of Eunice Parchmann, dour housekeeper with a dark secret, was taken by Sophie Ward. Eunice is the one constant onstage; the bridge between past and present, and as such, hers is a physically and emotionally demanding role. There are very few moments when Eunice isn’t there; she’s in the background during the family’s interactions, as well as taking centre stage with her own place in the timeline. Physically, she moves a lot; always carrying something, cleaning, walking from one ‘room’ to the other, and that’s before you get to the set pieces (clearing up after the murder, an echo of an earlier moment when she’s picking up the sweets scattered by Joan at the end of the first half, to name a couple). For many reasons, Eunice is the lynchpin of the drama.

And I have to say, Sophie Ward nailed it. I read the book during the week, as I wanted to know the story before seeing the play, and Sophie’s portrayal of Eunice was fantastic. From the physical awkwardness and gangliness of the character (aided by the fact that Sophie is model-tall), the fish-out-of-waterness at being in ‘the big house’, the stilted, often comical verbal interactions with the other characters, the separateness of a woman who has slipped through society’s net on so many levels…I could go on. I’ve always known Sophie Ward was an amazing actor, but it was a sheer pleasure to see her onstage in a role like this. Eunice is a woman who is old before her time; a throwback to a bygone era of service with a darkness in her; I felt simultaneously Eunice’s depths (she, as a character, has an instinctive cunning that is belied by the surface guilelessness), and also her insecurities.

After screwing my courage to the sticking place and belting around to the Stage Door of the Old Vic to get Richard Armitage’s autograph after The Crucible, I was plucking up the courage to do the same when the curtain came down in Cheltenham. There were a few people there – some to see Anthony Costa and Deborah Grant, and as they left, I was lucky enough to see Sophie and her wife Rena coming down the steps to the stage door. Knees trembling (I’ve been a fan of Sophie’s since I saw That Film back in 1987, and several of her roles have stayed with me as I’ve got older; A Dark Adapted Eye springs to mind, as does A Village Affair and Wuthering Heights…I could go on!), and her strength, grace and eloquence, especially in the face of such inevitable media scrutiny as an actor, have made her such a role model. As I stammered out a few congratulations, she shook my hand and thanked me for coming, and then, hoping it would be all right and not too cheeky, I asked if it was OK to take a photo. Rena very kindly snapped a couple, and then we said our goodbyes. It was so lovely to meet her, and she and Rena were very kind to indulge me and have a chat – I wish her and the cast a wonderful rest of the run (the play is up and down the country until November, if you fancy seeing it). It was a great night, and it meant so much to finally meet someone who, in a sense, I’ve grown up with. They say you should never meet your heroes…well, on this occasion, I’m so glad I did!

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Meet Me At Wisteria Cottage, Teresa Morgan’s New Novel

Fab interview with the lovely Teresa F Morgan about the genesis of ‘Meet Me At Wisteria Cottage’. 🙂

The Romaniacs

We’re delighted to welcome Teresa F Morgan onto the blog today, to talk about her latest novel Meet Me At Wisteria Cottage. Over to you, Teresa …

Thank you so much for inviting me on your blog today, and letting me talk about how Meet Me At Wisteria Cottage all started.

I was walking home one day, probably from dropping the boys off at school, when this scene just popped into my head. I envisaged a hysterical woman being thrown over a man’s shoulder into a fireman’s carry to calm her down or shut her up. (I have been put into a fireman’s carry, but that’s another story).

So then, I had to think about why she’d be hysterical, and why would a firefighter be there, or was it something he used to do…

I didn’t want Harry to be a firefighter, as had already pictured him as a…

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Thoughts on ‘The Accountant’ (2016)

Just a quick post to share a few observations of this film! Spoilers, obviously.

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The Accountant is a strange beast. Part issue driven family drama, part character study, part big, dumb action film, it feels a bit schizophrenic at times. However, I don’t review what I don’t like, and I did find myself liking a lot about this film.

The film’s central character, Christian Wolff, is an autistic savant whose gifts lie in the field of number crunching. A traumatic, nomadic childhood (dad, who is in the army, believes in a kind of implosion therapy for Chris’ condition, whereby he should be subjected to as many loud noises, bright lights and fistfights as possible, whereas mum wants him to be taken under the wing of a sympathetic doctor with expertise in the condition. Dad wins.) means that young Chris has grown into an adult with a somewhat unique moral code. That moral code drives him to become the go-to guy for mobsters and crooks who want their books ‘uncooked’ when things go wrong and their cash goes astray. Anyone who transgresses his moral code is likely to get a bullet to the head.

Ben Affleck does a really interesting job here. His performance is extremely convincing, and, while it could be argued that everyone who has the condition of autism is different, Affleck’s portrayal does present some of the more common traits. The reluctance to make eye contact with others; the difficulties associated with placing oneself in a space, the social confusion and awkwardness, all are shown here. Yes, it’s a broad brush presentation at times (the conversation with the old man Frances about how to recognises inflection and tone in people’s voices is part expositional, part for comic effect, but strangely touching), but actually, I bought into Christian’s character. I forgot I was watching an actor for most of the film, and just enjoyed the performance.

For me, as always, the film was about the relationships. Two big ones spring to mind. The first is the presentation of the relationship between Chris and Dana Cummings, the accountant for the robotics firm who spots the discrepancy that causes Chris to be brought in to solve the issue. Although woefully underwritten, the moments that we do get are a delight to watch. From their first awkward meeting, to the lunch scene, to Chris’ total animation and delight when he shares the solution to the accounting problem with her (cut short, beautifully, when her boss walks in), the film explores Chris’ issues with connecting with people really nicely here. In context, talking numbers, he’s at home; out of context, discussing anything else, he’s uncomfortable.

This is reinforced in a later scene when Chris and Dana are on the run; Dana, who, most likely is also on the autistic spectrum, only not so far along it as Chris, tells Chris a story about a dress; only it’s not about the dress. This is another slightly clunky ‘everyone just wants to connect’ moment in narrative terms, but the performances of Affleck and Anna Kendrick as Dana carry it through, and there’s a subtle moment of true connection between them. The inevitable kiss-and-everything-will-suddenly-be-alright moment is interrupted, though, when Chris has another numerical breakthrough. The two leads do have great chemistry, and there is a touching moment at the end of the film that shows Chris really has fallen for Dana, even though he is unable to express that in person. I think that’s where the misunderstanding comes with this film; autism isn’t lack of desire to connect with people, it’s lack of ability/the tools to do so, and at times this film gets it right, but at other times it forgets that. Affleck’s performance redeems a lot.

tac-10_jbernthalThe other relationship that intrigues me, and is, again, carried by excellent performances is that of the two brothers in the film. Chris’ younger brother is presented to us in a very limited way, through flashback, and is, for the most part shown to be ignored by his parents, angered by his mother’s desertion of the family and then…well, nothing. Until the end of the film, that is. Then, we find out that the representative from a somewhat shady security firm who has been putting the frighteners on investment bankers on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged and the royally screwed over, is in fact Chris’ brother Braxton. In a sense, the two brothers have followed the same path, developed the same unique moral code, although this is underplayed in the film.

But what made me sit up and take notice was the performance of Jon Bernthal as Braxton. Last seen (at least by me) shagging Rick’s wife Laurie in The Walking Dead before being bumped off, this role gives him something interesting to do – at least for the last ten minutes or so of the film. Don’t get me wrong, he has a really chilling moment when he presents the co-director of Living Robotics with a grisly ultimatum, but it’s the end of the film where he gives another woefully underwritten role real range. In the conversation between Braxton and Chris, Bernthal presents us with grown man and confused, traumatised boy simultaneously; it’s a brilliant performance. You see the brutality of the killer juxtaposed with the confusion and hurt of  the boy who lost his mother and then his brother too young. Bernthal’s facial expressions, body language and delivery of dialogue are in such stark contrast to Affleck’s in this scene; the two of them play wonderfully off each other; Affleck’s Chris struggles to connect, although you can see in his eyes he’s desperate to do so, and Bernthal’s Braxton is struggling to contain his emotions in the face of a brother who can’t read them. They spill from him in such a way that it’s both painful and beautiful to watch. I wanted more of this, and less of the fighty fighty bits!

I should mention that there are other strands to this film – the subplot involving an FBI treasury analyst tracking down Chris’ true identity is a worthy addition, if a little convoluted, and there are some brilliant interactions between Chris and his favourite farmer clients, too. All of these come together in the usual Hollywood way, and resolve fairly well.

Overall, The Accountant was a decent watch, and I absolutely bought into the characters. It’s a shame that there were a few too many moments that were underplayed or glossed over (and, considering it’s just over two hours long, that’s saying something), but it was definitely one to remember. I do wonder, though, if my love of romance, and my equal affection for a warring brothers trope, has influenced me! Thoughts, anyone?

 

Last Witness @CarysJAuthor @Aria_Fiction #QA

Fab Q&A with the awesome Carys Jones!

Love Books Group

ARIA_Jones_LAST WITNESS_E

The page-turning sequel to the best-selling psychological thriller Wrong Number. With her husband gone and his legacy in her hands, Amanda Thorne is hell-bent on revenge. Amanda Thorne is on a mission to avenge her husband. Restoring his honour and protecting his legacy will be dangerous, but she will not rest until all those who have hurt her loved-ones have been dealt with. Her only option is to go undercover in the murky world of the gang kingpin McAllister. So, with her loyal companion Shane by her side, she heads back to Scotland to finish what they started. McAllister’s world is one of seedy nightclubs, drug deals, and beautiful women, but he is a hard man to get close to. As Amanda gets deeper and deeper into his dangerous world, what secrets from the past will come back to haunt her, and will she be able to protect the last…

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Beltaine Fire and Butterfly Dreams

Love this, Helen! So much tradition this time of year, and beautifully put 💜💜.

Journey To Ambeth

Today is May Day, or Beltaine in the old calendar, the first day of summer and the festival that falls halfway between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice.

The garden is green and humming, the blossom almost gone, the promise of Summer’s warmth just over the horizon. Last night I dreamed of a purple butterfly landing on my face, flapping delicate wings as it clung to my cheek. Apparently, to dream of such things is a sign of change, and for the butterfly to land on me signifies that the change will be positive. And to dream of such a thing on May Day Eve? I don’t know, but it seems to add another layer of significance. Or perhaps it was just a dream…

Today the sun aligns with stones, tonight fires will burn on the hillsides, if only in memory, the old customs not yet forgotten. And perhaps I…

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