Monday, 23 January 2017

La La Land

If you haven't heard of La La Land, can I start this post by asking WHERE ON EARTH HAVE YOU BEEN? Living under a rock perhaps? It has all anyone has been talking about since it came out in the UK and totally cleared up at the Golden Globes in the same weekend. I have seen it twice in the past week and may or may not go see it again because it has given me a lot of feelings. A LOT of feelings. Which I thought I would talk about here. As it is one of the jobs of this blog to be a haven of all things wonderful. And this was certainly wonderful.

Just before I begin my discussion though I would like to put a really big SPOILER ALERT right here. I just need to splurge a little bit and talk about everything to do with this movie so if you haven't seen it, stop reading here and go and see it at once.

There is no doubt that everything about La La Land is truly beautiful. The cinematography is stunning, the costumes are wonderful (I would like to own every single one of Emma Stone's outfits), and the acting is fabulous, particularly from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone - all those intense closeups where you can read every single emotion in their face. Truly incredible. And the music is just dreamy. You go into this little bubble of beauty when you watch it and you simply don't want to leave. But these are aspects that are obvious to everyone. I am not here to rehash what the critics of the papers have said so I will discuss it no further in that way. I want to get into the nitty gritty of it. Which basically means I am going to take little bits and analyse it to death. Sorry not sorry.

The character progression depicted within the course of La La Land is spot on. Actually I have often said how films normally don't manage to get this as right as La La Land has. Books do it well, because they have 300-800 pages to play with. TV series also do it well because they have 8 hours to achieve it. Films with a mere two hours of time often can't manage it. Particularly if it is an original film. But over the course of a little over two hours, you are invited into Mia and Seb's magical yet frustrating world of trying to succeed in their artistic dreams. You travel with them, sharing in not only the journey of their relationship with each other but the relationship with their art. And it's interesting that both try to achieve their aims in a different way - Mia relentlessly goes for audition after audition and is on the brink of giving up. And Sebastian sells out a little to do something that he doesn't want to do in order to sidestep into what is his ultimate dream. And you watch as they find each other and realise how much they both need the other to put them on the right track. Mia needs Sebastian to push her forwards, Seb needs Mia to pull him back and remind him of who he is and what he is working towards. And that leads to their success at the end.

As an artist myself, in the form of writing, the struggle of both Mia and Seb spoke to me in so many ways. Both characters had moments that I related to. Seb at the beginning had this moment when you first saw him perform in the restaurant. His boss (with a cameo from JK Simmons) was very insistent that he should stick to the mind numbingly dull versions of Christmas carols. But Seb can't stop himself from performing something else. He threw everything he had into that performance but when it was over, the people in the restaurant continued as if nothing had happened. Nobody eating even glanced his way. And where I am applying to literary agencies at the moment, it feels exactly like that.

I think anyone pursuing a career in a creative art can also relate to the conversation that Mia had with her parents just after she had moved in with Seb. I know I certainly can. Here, they were clearly asking her how she was going to survive if neither she nor Sebastian were making any money and yes it was all very well that she was putting everything into her acting, but how was she actually going to eat? These questions (which my parents have asked me numerous times) are the little shout realism that are in the outer edge of the artists' brains. The parents are telling them things that they have pushed to the back of their minds because they can't cope worrying about not eating as well as the possibility of failure in their chosen career. The fact that Mia was having this conversation out of shot was a clear indication of how this was something that she was very much not focusing on, something that she was trying to ignore but she couldn't help but hear it from her parents. And it was Sebastian who was in shot who could see the damp stain on his ceiling and took the realistic advice on board, sacrificing his own dreams to support hers. They couldn't both be earning nothing after all.

I feel like people in general are saying how they related to Mia and sympathised with her a lot more. Most too, have been taking her side in their argument. But I became completely heartbroken for Seb at this moment. He was a bit of an arse, I admit that. But this was the beginning of the end for their relationship and I think he could see that. She was almost there and he knew that once she succeeded, she couldn't give her all to it without leaving him behind.  He had the hardest job of all in this movie. Because, having pushed Mia forward he had the joy of watching her fly but then, immediately, he had to let her go. Which he was more than willing to do because he was amazing and understood how important her dreams were to her. But I found that totally heart breaking.

There are a couple of quotes from Seb that spoke to me, in particular - firstly was when he told Mia to 'write something as interesting as you are' - YES! I am very much going to take this on board. Don't half arse things, do it properly and make every single thing I write as amazing as I am (within the limitation of the amazing I actually possess, of course). I am so passionate and I need to put all of my passion into all of my writing, all the time. The second of his quotes that I adored was when Mia asked 'Are people going to like it?' And his response was  'Fuck em.' DOUBLE YES! You can not write or sing or act or paint because someone else may or may not like what you are doing. To be able to throw your all into it, you have to do something which YOU are fully behind. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. It's the passion that counts and you can only give that if you like it. As soon as you start worrying about someone else liking it, you are only going to fail. Because not everyone is going to like it obviously. You just can't win if you think like that.

In terms of quotes I love, I could actually write down the entirety of The Fools who dream, which Mia sang at her audition. In fact, I could write an entire blogpost just on that song. Maybe I will. It was stunningly done, simple and effective. Just Emma Stone's face and the camera and those beautiful words.The lyrics were spot on. 'Here's to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that ache. Here's to the mess we make.' And later the lyric changed to 'crazy as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that break.'  I can't stop listening to the song and it resonates so so highly with me and my attempts to become a published author. You do start going a little bit crazy the more you get rejected, (but as Emma Stone also advised us during this song, a bit of madness is key) and your heart does break a little when you throw everything into your art and get nothing in return. But you have to keep doing it, and when you finally do go into the Seine (ie. achieve your dreams), you wouldn't change a bit of it, you would do it over and over again. Did you notice when Mia and Seb were dancing through their alternative life together, that when Seb and Mia danced up to the Seine, they turned away from it? She didn't jump into it like her aunt did in the song and therefore she didn't achieve her dreams when she was with him. Ugh *sobs*

Because there at the end, we had the crux of it. If you are going to succeed in your art, there are things you are going to have to sacrifice. And for Mia/Seb this was each other. Having pushed each other into their successes, they couldn't have each other too. Mia's stricken face when she realises she is in Seb's bar tells us exactly how OK she is with that. The look between Mia and Sebastian across Seb's, was so full of love and gratitude and the nod was the final thank you - the huge thank you that they gave to each other, for getting them to their successes against all the odds. Neither of them would have made it without the other.

I would urge anyone to watch La La Land and it is possible to simply enjoy the ride. But if you are an actor, musician, artist, writer or anyone else wanting a career in something creative, it will speak to you on such a strong level, you definitely shouldn't hesitate. It gives you such hope to see your struggles depicted so epically on screen with them both succeeding in the end. If they can, anyone can. And that's what we have to bear in mind as we continue along our personal journeys. Thank you Damien Chazelle, Justin Hurwitz, Emma Stone and Ryan did good. Really good.

(photo courtesy of

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Saturday, 7 January 2017

Reading Roundup

Last year I read 88 books. Can you believe it? I can barely believe it myself. That's an insane amount and considering that I was aiming for 55, I think I did really really well.

Out of those 88, I read 43 classics, 4 of which were Shakespeares, 2 were Austens and 3 were Dickens. I also reread all of the Harry Potters and 77 of my reads have been books I've never experienced before.

I have found some incredible new literature this year that have snuck into my list of favourite books so I thought I would share a few of these with you.

Firstly, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I have no idea why it took me so long to read this book. People have been recommending it to me for absolutely ages and I can see why. Immediately I was sucked into the world of intrigue that Zafon wrote about expertly. The mystery set within the beautiful descriptions of Barcelona and the bookshop where Daniel works, kept me turning the pages and I loved all the characters. It was satisfying and engaging and the plot involved around a book/author. What more could you want out of a novel?

Next up I read and adored Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale. Later in the year I read one of her newer ones The Heart Goes Last and I have bought Blind Assassin. It is safe to say I am now a huge Atwood fan. She is the queen of Dystopian future fiction. She just has this uncanny ability of finding the very worst in human beings, breaking down society and making stories around it. It is an epic, exciting read that definitely touches a nerve.

To see the good in human beings once more I read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. This is technically not fiction as it is based around Albom's own experiences, meeting weekly with an old tutor of his who is dying, but it does read as easily as fiction does. It is a beautiful, highly emotional read which makes you view life in a slightly different way and reconsider what is important.

Another author who has fast become one of my favourites this year is HG Wells. I read Kipps shortly after seeing Half a Sixpence at the theatre and found myself really relating to the retail struggles that he wrote about within this classic novel. Wells has a very readable style and I now really want to read The Invisible Man and The History of Mr Polly. I also love that he grew up down the road from me.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and The Tennant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte were two more classics that I hadn't read before and absolutely adored. Both were easy to read and had an element of mystery which kept me enthralled. But, most excitingly, each one had a very strong female protagonist which was quite unusual for that kind of literature. They were flawed and determined and jumped off the page to become real people. They were a joy to read.

And finally, I read what is now one of my favourite books at the very end of the year, The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This has been on my TBR list for a very long time after being recommended it repeatedly on Instagram. I am a huge fan of Fitzgerald, and I feel that this had echoes of him in it. Tartt has such an easy to read style and I was totally gripped by the intensity of the situation that the extremely normal main character found himself in. I feel like it could have happened to any of us and that was both exhilarating and exciting. Great book.

Talking of Instagram and while I am on the subject of rounding up 2016/books, I thought I might officially introduce my Bookstagram that I started last June: The Roaming Reader

I have been planning to start this up for a while as my love of books is so strong, I wanted to devote a whole account to pretty bookish pictures. And I figured it all makes sense. I travel around so much and whenever I do, I have a book with me to read whilst I am on the train/plane. Therefore, when I take my bookish picture in whatever fresh town I am, it records not only the place I am in, but the excellent book that I am reading too.

I have loved my 7 months that I have been a part of the bookstagram community. They are so welcoming and lovely and I hugely enjoy all the bookish discussions we have on there. If this sounds like something you would be interested in, do come and join me over there. I'd love to have you. And here's to a fabulous 2017 with many more fantastic books.

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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Happiness does not exist

At least, not in the noun form. Everyone is searching for happiness like it is this big magical thing that just pops along out of nowhere and settles down into our life, granting us everything that we have ever dreamed of. But life isn't like that. Happiness isn't like that. It is simply not a thing that you acquire and appears out of nowhere. Instead, happiness is something you have to work at. Which would make it a verb, technically. Something that grows and fluctuates constantly. You have to work out what makes you happy and then perform it. Which for someone our age is occasionally easier said than done.

I think there are two main ways that you can work at achieving happiness without having to make any prior decisions. Firstly: don't compare yourself to other people. Your life is your life. No one else's. It goes at its own pace and you are free to do whatever you want to do, when you want to do it. Who cares if everyone around you is getting engaged? And buying houses. And getting promotions. And travelling to far off beautiful places. And seems to have a better social life than you. And more money. They only tell you the good bits after all. They don't tell you about the stress of preparing for their workday every day.  Or how much they detest the early starts. They don't mention how they are so tired at the weekends, they only use them to sleep. You don't see all the petty arguments which rage between them and their significant other.

Secondly: don't listen to what people think you should be doing. Which is almost the same as comparing yourself to other people but not quite. Society is full of ideas as to what you should be doing in certain times of your life. And people (including your friends and family) love to tell you exactly what you should be doing right now and how you are failing. I am finding at the moment, that my friendship group is roughly halved and falls into two camps. Either they are getting engaged and buying houses. Or they are still out partying. I personally am in this stupid in-between category. I can't deal with clubs any more but I feel that I am too young to be home on a Saturday night watching Netflix. I don't want to sleep around, yet I am nowhere near ready to commit to someone for life (maybe I need to meet the right person - who knows). I feel I am too old to be part time in a job, yet I don't know what career I want yet. I am too old to get a dive of a place with a bunch of students but too young (/poor) to get a mortgage with a W1 postcode. Ahhhhh it's all so difficult and it's not helpful for parents/friends/strangers to sit there telling me that I 'should be doing this' and 'when I was your age I had achieved all this.' Ignore them and go your own way.

Happiness is an aspect of my life which I have put to at the bottom of my list of priorities but which I have finally learnt should be moved to the top. It is such an underrated concept and something I am working at. And actually I am doing pretty well and slowly working out how to be happy and what I have to do to feel it. Generally it is only when I compare myself to others and when I think about what I 'should' be doing right now, (i.e when I don't follow the above rules) that's when I get stressed and upset. Most of the time I am fine.

I always thought that by 25 I would have my life sorted. And suddenly 25 seems very very close. But there's still time. Maybe 2017 is the year when everything slots into place. Where I find a boyfriend I love and actually want to stick it out with. Where my book gets taken on by a publisher/agent. Where I settle in one city and want to stay. Or maybe it won't. And that's ok too. Life has a way of working itself out. It will all be ok in the end.

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Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Labyrinth

When I was in Edinburgh, I was trying to find a bookshop on my last day when I accidentally wandered past a little garden instead, in the centre of a square on the south side of the city. Nestled in amongst some university buildings, I walked through the entirety of the gardens and there in the corner of them, I located The Labyrinth.

A little plaque on the outside of the hedged-off labyrinth, told me that labyrinths are in fact different to mazes, which most people don't realise. Whereas with a maze, it tries to trap you within its walls/hedges via dead ends and misdirections, a labyrinth is very simple. There is no way you can get lost in one, as there is only a single route which leads you right into the centre. As long as you follow it faithfully and don't try to take any shortcuts, you should reach the middle without any problems.

The idea is, that while you are wandering the path set out for you, you are meant to try to completely relax. All the things that are worrying you, you need to bring to the surface and then leave them on the path so that by the time you reach the centre, you are at a point of complete peace. You can stand in that central point, regulate your breathing and feel like you have achieved something without the weight of worry, panic or any other negative emotion interrupting that.

And it really worked.

I personally used the labyrinth as a metaphor for my life. The path representing my life that I am travelling through and the centre representing my ambitions. At points, moving along this path, it felt like I was going to be there forever, and the ambitions that I was striving towards seemed to be just as far away as when I started. But slowly, ever so slowly, I came gradually nearer, until suddenly I was there. Occasionally I did go backwards a bit, and it seemed as if I was moving in the wrong direction yet it would always loop right back around. And when I finally reached that home strait, it was something of a surprise.

At some points, walking along that path seemed slow and unrelenting. But if I had sidestepped on to a different path and tried to take a short cut, it could, in fact, have taken me the wrong way, or even all the way back to the beginning. There is no shortcut to achieving my ambitions, I just have to keep on going, work hard, never give up and remember that every step I take is a step in the right direction. It's definitely a good thing to keep in mind.

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Monday, 31 October 2016


I didn't think I was ever going to fall in love. I didn't think I was capable of it. But it's finally happened - I think it is safe to announce this important, irrevocable event in my life. Obviously I want all of you to be the first to know about it. In fact, I want to shout it from the heavens. And all over the internet too. I am in love with EDINBURGH.

London has always been my favourite city. Wherever I have travelled and whatever beautiful places I have seen, London has always felt like home and I didn't think anything was going to knock it off that top spot. But Edinburgh has managed it. I walked in and it just felt right. Like a breath of fresh air. This city has been waiting for me all this time and now I have finally woken up to it. There is so much history, beautiful views, stunning architecture, creativity (I was constantly surrounded by music and monuments to famous writers who found inspiration here too!), wonderful friendly people, there were quaint pubs and tea shops and hundreds of bookshops. Basically it is my idea of heaven.

As a staunch royalist, it shouldn't be that surprising to anyone that the royal offerings of Edinburgh were at the very top of my list to visit. So on the first morning, I sped up the Royal Mile and into the castle. Packed full of history, this huge castle was more like a mini walled village. It had so many different buildings to explore, the Scottish crown jewels, two prisons, the biggest war memorial I have ever seen and I even stood in the room where King James I (the first King of both Scotland and England) was born. I always find it so weird to think that millions and millions of people throughout hundreds of years have stood where I stood and walked where I am now walking. The magnitude of history can become a little overwhelming if you think like that.

I was thinking something similar when I was at Holyroodhouse Palace the following day. This is the Queen's Scottish palace (the equivalent to London's Buckingham Palace) where she spends a week to do all her Scottish business before heading up for her holiday at Balmoral. And as I walked those corridors, I found it amusing that the carpets had been rolled back away from where the public were allowed to walk. Can't have us commoners muddying her home, can we now?

The Royal Botanic Gardens were absolutely beautiful and a lot bigger than I was expecting. I was only going to spend a brief half hour to an hour in these before heading on down to the royal yacht. But they were so beautiful and there were so much more to them than I thought, that I actually spent most of the afternoon wandering around the peaceful gardens. Which meant I had to sacrifice seeing the inside of Royal Britannia but I still went along to the harbour to view it from the outside. Pretty big for a private yacht but this time I was disappointed on size - somehow in my head I was expecting a cruise liner and it wasn't quite that big. The gardens were much much more impressive. My favourite part, was the gorgeous Rock Garden where they had plants from all over the world at different levels. And right in the middle, towering above the lake, was a waterfall. Of course there was. The whole effect was stunning.

It is safe to say I did A LOT of walking when I was in Edinburgh. I had no idea that it was so hilly. It gave me a proper workout that's for sure and next time I visit I will definitely go to the gym for a month beforehand at the very least. I obviously explored the ground thoroughly, wandering all over the Old Town, the New Town, Stockbridge and the entirety of the Leith walk all the way down to the harbour (which was 2 miles each way, just saying!)

But I also made the effort to see the city from above. The castle was on a hill, well technically a volcano, giving me excellent views of the Old Town below and a bit of the New Town beyond. I climbed Calton Hill, which turned out to be an excellent idea as I met a lovely local who gave me advice on what I shouldn't miss during my explorations. Plus it gave me a slightly different angle on the town. And on the very first evening I climbed Arthur's Seat. Again, I wasn't fully prepared for this little trek. I mean, the hill is right in the centre of the city, how big could it actually be? Answer - it is HUGE. And climbing it in skinny jeans/little slippery ankle boots was not my cleverest plan ever. I think I would have been ok if it hadn't been for that. And the fact the 'steps' going up the side of it, should actually be known as 'little death traps that make you fall.' I can't believe I got both up and down them, all in one piece. It was totally worth it for the views of the sun going down over Edinburgh, though. It was truly beautiful and I don't think I have ever felt so content in all my life.

As I had seen so much of Edinburgh from above and at ground level, I had to complete the trio. It was only to make it neat and to ensure that I got the fullest view possible of the city. So I headed underground on the Mary King's Close Tour. I didn't really know what this was about, but it was, in fact, one of my favourite things that I did whilst I was there. All over Edinburgh there are these little alleyways that run down the hill away from the main streets. These are called Closes and the closes that we were being taken to visit were below the massive City Chambers building in the very centre of the city, right opposite St Giles Cathedral. They had originally existed as normal closes with people living in the houses. But when the City Chambers was to be built in their place, everyone was chucked out and they simply knocked off the top 3 or 4 storeys and plonked the building on top. So the closes still exist beneath the building. It was surreal to one minute be going down steps into what you think are going to be cellars and then to suddenly find yourself looking down a street. It's like an underground city. And it's these little quirks which made me fall in love with Edinburgh.

Another of the great things about Edinburgh which made me fall in love with it a little more, were all the literary connections. Considering that I had taken myself off on holiday in order to write, I really had managed to pick the perfect place. Every day I saw the Scott Monument (the largest monument to a writer every created); walked past the Balmoral Hotel where Dickens and JK Rowling both wrote masterpieces; sat in pubs and cafes that were frequented by authors and I'd arrived by the only train station in existence to be named after a novel. It was basically a writers' dreamland.

On top of that, there were SO MANY second hand bookshops there. Which of course I couldn't resist - it was definitely a case of eyes bigger than stomach kind of a thing. I bought far more than I could fit in my bag so I then had to buy another bag to lug them the 450 miles home. Oops. Oh well. I regret nothing.

I ended up dedicating the whole of my final day to bookshops and going on a proper tour so I could examine as many of them as I could find. I didn't want to leave any of them out, did I? I visited about 8 or 9 in all and they were all wonderful in their own unique way. One which was called Cabaret, was a weird mixture of homeware and books. So to reach the books, you had to go down this super steep spiral staircase. For a clumsy clot like me, it was an absolute death trap, especially because there were pictures and figurines alongside the staircase all the way down. It would have taken one tiny misstep for the whole lot to go flying. Armchair Books was my official heaven. Not only did they offer a student discount but there were just books everywhere you looked. The second you stepped inside, you were completely surrounded by them. It was wonderful.

I really can't believe that it has taken me such a long time to drag my ass up to Edinburgh. Sure it is a long way to go and extremely far out of this southern gal's comfort zone (like seriously, anything north of London is technically north right?) but this is one of the best trips I have ever been on. This city, with all it's creativity, gorgeous architecture and cute little cafes, is just so me. I will be back there for sure. And I definitely will be visiting the little Southern Cross Café lots more times when I return. When I am a bestselling author, I want a plaque attached to the wall going 'Charlotte Coster wrote her novel here'. Totally going to happen.

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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Week of Walks - Spain - September 2016

I love exploring new places. Whenever I go abroad or even if I have a single day off in the UK, I tend to pick a town and just wander around its streets. It's the best way to get a vibe for the place and from those peaceful amblings, I get far more of an insight into the culture than just sticking to the touristy sights. Don't get me wrong, I do love a good museum or gallery or a stately home. But better than any of that is simply walking through the town, gazing up at my surroundings.

Which is basically what I did when I visited Spain a few weeks ago.

I was staying in a town called Calella which was about an hour along the coast from Barcelona. It was a beautiful spot and had the best of all three worlds - an intricate and interesting town to explore, the hills behind it and the sea on its other side.

We started off by walking the coast, taking in the beautiful sea views and climbing up the cliffs. There were many different paths set into the cliffside and they took us higher and higher through the woods. On the very edge of one of the cliffs there was a lighthouse to warn passing ships of the jaggedly rocky coastline below. And even higher still were two medieval turrets that used to be watch towers before they fell into disrepair hundreds of years ago and were now simply a small tourist attraction.

From up there we had some excellent views of the town and the hills behind Calella gave us a similar view. By exploring Dalmau Park and again trekking through steeply ascending woods, we had the whole of Calella laid out before us with the sea beyond.

We travelled further along the coast as well, to the town of Santa Susana. At ground level it was very touristy with massive hotels dominating the beach. But if you moved away from them and bothered to climb the hill behind all of those grandly tacky structures, you got a real feel for the historical town. The architecture was lovely and I walked the winding roads until I was close to the top of the hill and could view Calella in the distance.

As we were staying so close to Barcelona I obviously couldn't resist spending a day exploring that wonderful city too. I felt that it was a mixture of many other European cities I had visited. It had the gridded structure and hip-ness of New York with the architecture and beauty of Paris along with the friendliness of London. We spent the entire day walking around it and went from Las Ramblas all the way up to Park Guell so it was interesting to see the difference between the ordinary apartment buildings and the grandness of some of the sights closer to the touristy sights. Gaudi's unique designs which we spotted frequently throughout our walk were also stunning.

So there is my advice for you. Whenever you visit a new place, make sure you do a lot of walking. That's how you can see the reality of the country you are staying in.

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Saturday, 27 August 2016

Buying Back My Time

During a dead period at work the other day I found myself daydreaming about being rich and what exactly I would spend all my money on if I did happen to win the lottery. Is it just me who does this? Please tell me it's not because I have actually found myself doing it an awful lot recently.

And it made me think - why exactly do I want to become a millionaire?

Because, to be completely honest, I don't need or want lots of money. Yes I really do mean that. I am a strong believer in how money can't buy you happiness and how there are all sorts of other stresses that come with having money that we just don't see. On top of which, there isn't an awful lot that I would want to do/buy that I don't do/buy already.

After thinking about the issue a bit more deeply, I realised there was only one true reason I would want to have more money = I would be able to give up my job and use all my time to write and push getting published. Essentially I want to buy back my time.

We all spend a hell of a lot of our waking life working. Time is one of those things which is meant to be inherently ours. We are born and we have a certain amount of it to use how we like. Except we can't. Therefore we spend money to grab some of it back for ourselves.

Mostly, we achieve this through booking a holiday (completely quitting our jobs may be a little too drastic for some). By spending a few hundred quid we manage to secure a week or two of our lives a year that we can use purely for ourselves. We can explore a new place, breathe a different air and totally relax. Essentially we can do whatever we want to do.

I find it so sad that we can't do what we want all the time. It is our life after all, yet we have so little control over it. Which is why buying back our time for ourselves is so very important. Book your weeks off somewhere exotic for an explore and a relax. Give yourself treats. Visit friends and family. Eat, drink, do whatever makes you happy and don't feel guilty for spending that money. Remember that your life IS yours despite the fact the majority of the time, it does not feel like it.

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Sunday, 21 August 2016

What makes the Olympics truly great

The Olympics is like marmite - it is one of those events which you either love or you hate. If you are really into sport, well then I guess this is what your heaven would be like. Sport on telly, all day every day on every channel. While the rest of us just endure, trying not to complain too much (even when the Bake Off is pushed back a few weeks QUEL HORREUR!)

I am not exactly what you would call a sporty kind of gal. I don't play sport, I never watch sport and prefer to sit reading/writing/eating cake/all three rather than attempt to run or do something similarly energetic. But even I get gripped by Olympic Fever.

It happened so slowly that I barely noticed it. At first I treated the Olympics with a certain nonchalance. Oh it's here...fine...if it has to be. Then I had it on in the background while I was doing something else. Then I started watching the odd event and then I looked up when the finals of certain events were, to ensure I didn't miss them.

Because that's what the Olympics does - it sucks you in. We all get swept up into this crazy two week adventure and go totally nuts. We just can't help it.

The reason for this, quite simply, is because the Olympic athletes are so inspiring. They have worked incredibly hard for many years to reach this point of skill and fitness - they are at the top of their game. And because the media bigs up their journey so much, we almost feel like we have been on this journey with them although the television crews can barely scratch the surface of the amount of work that truly goes on. And then we look on as they succeed or we see them fail.

Either way, it is incredibly emotional. These athletes put everything into the tiny amount of time it takes them to compete. Literally everything that they have. They don't half arse it, they don't give up. They fight to the very last second until they can give no more. And the emotions that are produced afterwards (whether that is due to elation or despair) are so raw, it is almost intrusive to watch it. And we go through the emotions with them.

I watched the incredible performances followed by the extreme happiness of so many athletes - Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow, Max Whitlock, Laura Trott, Jason Kenny, Andy Murray, Bryony Page and so many more....and I also saw the crushing disappointment of countless others.

I couldn't help but think what great role models these people are for youngsters. They advocate hard work, determination and never giving up on your ambitions which is an incredibly valuable thing to pass on to children. I hope that there were lots of children watching this summer, who then found out about a sport because one of their heroes won a gold in it. I hope they yearned to be like those people that we saw up on the podium. And I hope they copy them. Because if they do, there will be a great many fantastic Brits in the future.

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Thursday, 11 August 2016

Half a Sixpence

As a theatre blogger/lover/addict (delete as appropriate) I regularly lament that I do not live in London with access to the fabulous West End every night of the year. But when it is summer and you live in one of the most beautiful towns in the UK which boasts one of the best theatres in the country, I don't really have much to complain about.

I am, of course, talking about Chichester Festival Theatre, which I am so lucky to have just down the road from me. This year, amongst other productions, it has put on Half a Sixpence which I was invited to attend on Tuesday night with a group of fellow bloggers.

Half a Sixpence, based on the novel Kipps by HG Wells, is the story of overworked apprentice Arthur Kipps who yearns for a better life and more money. But when he comes into an unexpected fortune, he finds that it does not solve all his problems. He struggles with trying to straddle the two worlds that are as far away from each other as could possibly be - the world of the poor, with his friends and the world of the rich, which he now technically belongs to.

Prior to attending the show on Tuesday night, I made the decision not to watch the film. Perhaps this was foolish, but as this had been adapted by a writer you might possibly have heard of, Julian Fellowes (yes, the Downton Abbey genius!) and new songs had been added by musical dreamteam George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (who helped create shows such as Mary Poppins); I wanted to enter with a fresh perspective too. I didn't want to simply be comparing this exciting, brand new adaptation to the old version the whole time. But I was in good company as Charlie Stemp (who played lead, Arthur Kipps) didn't either

Talking of whom, Charlie Stemp was absolutely wonderful in his first lead role. With a little West End ensemble work already under his belt, Stemp actually auditioned to be understudy Kipps but after circumstances changed for the original lead, he got the role. Proving that sometimes luck and good fortune play a big part in this crazy industry. However, that doesn't take anything away from the fact that he is unbelievably talented. He serenaded, whistled, pranced and banjoed his way through the show with apparent ease. Which isn't easy at all considering that he is on stage for the majority of the runtime. His energy didn't seem to wane though and he definitely made you fall a little bit in love with this slightly doofus-like character as he carried out the plot of the show.

Devon-Elise Johnson and Emma Williams (who played his love interests Ann Pornick and Helen Walsingham) were similarly fantastic. Johnson's girl-next-door portrayal of the often ignored Ann really made us feel for her and the feistiness she brought to the part was spot on. Johnson's vocal prowess was proved time and time again too. From the emotional 'Long Ago' to the extremely comical new addition 'A Little Touch of Happiness' which had us all in stitches, Johnson proved how truly diverse her voice was. Williams, in some ways, had a much harder job in that she played a slightly less likable character. It would be easy to view the character of Helen as this horrible woman who stole Arthur away from his childhood sweetheart. But Williams' performance and stunningly heartfelt vocals allowed you to empathise with her and feel for her big time! Williams did a truly epic job.  

You might not feel like you know this musical but actually it is highly likely that you know at least one of the songs - Flash bang wallop which comes at the very end of this new reworking of the show. Giving the cast no chance to rest, it is this massive extravaganza which ends the show with a (literal) bang. The entire musical is a big spectacle with one huge glittering dance number following another. It is gorgeous to watch. Most of the songs have been adapted in some way to fit the changes that Fellowes made and then there were the additions of a whole bunch of new songs. These fitted seamlessly into the musical and were in keeping with the original score so well that it is hard to tell which are the additional ones. In fact, two of my favourites - 'A Little Touch of Happiness' and 'Pick Out a Simple Tune' - were new ones and I didn't realise until I had looked them up afterwards. One thing is for certain, whether new or old you won't be able to leave the theatre without them buzzing around your head and accidentally humming them.  

I do love the classic musicals and considering the popularity of Showboat, Guys and Dolls and Funny Girl this year, I hope that Half a Sixpence may have an opportunity to Flash (Bang and Wallop) its way into the West End. But in the meantime you can catch it at Chichester until the 3rd September. And if you are under 25 you can get tickets for £8.50 (find about their Prologue scheme here) so you really have no excuse.

**I was very kindly invited to attend Half a Sixpence and meet the cast by Chichester Festival Theatre but, of course, all the opinions expressed here are my own**

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Sunday, 7 August 2016

Harry Potter rewatched

Everyone has been a little Harry Potter mad recently  with the whole excitement surrounding the release of the book version of the play that is currently in the West End (and I still haven't seen. So sad about this!!!) Me included! I grew up with the stories. I mean I was 6 when the first book was read to me and I was 19 when the final film came out. It has literally been my companion throughout the entirety of my childhood.

So I thought to get in on the hype a little bit I would reread all the books and rewatch all the films. This is in fact, is the first I have rewatched the films as an adult, since they first came out. I have been wanting to do it for a while and then my brother gave me a box set of all of them for Christmas. So I did feel it was finally time. And here is my adult perspective of those wonderful films.

Harry Potter 1

This came out in 2001!!! Can you believe it. I was only 9 and the child actors were not that much older. They were incredibly cute!!!

When this first came out, I had to wait until it was on video (yes, video. Do you remember what they are???) and then I watched it over and over and over again. To the point where I could speak the lines along with the film. Even now, I could still talk along with the majority of Hermione's lines (did anyone else want to be Hermione when they were a kid??)

Since this has come out, I have struggled through boarding school and teacher training and I have realised that the teachers of Hogwarts seriously need to work on their disciplinary and general techniques.

Firstly - house points are neither a good deterrent nor a good motivational tactic for teenage kids. They are inherently selfish and don't care a monkeys about their house prestige.

Secondly -  the mixed signals. The teachers set down rules but then casually break them whenever they feel like it (for example when they send Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco into the forest for detention after dark despite pressing on them how terrible it is to enter the forest/wander the castle and its grounds at night)

Three - their blatant shows of favouritism from Snape, McGonagall and Dumbledore. Really? Of course they are going to have favourites, every teacher does. But it is extremely unprofessional to show that favouritism quite so obviously.

Talking of Dumbledore and Snape, it did hit me half way through just how many of the actors are dead. I am not sure I am over Alan Rickman's death yet!!

Harry Potter 2
When I was a child, this was my least favourite movie out of the 8. I think it was mostly because it was kinda scary. The disembodied voice freaked me out and the spiders wasn't great either - Ron summed it up best when he said 'Follow the spiders? Why couldn't it be follow the butterflies?' Even as an adult, I still jumped when the basilisk appeared out of the water when Harry was down in the chamber.

Saying that, it was also a really really funny movie. There were some great one liners in there. For instance:
'You and that bloody pigeon aren't going anywhere'
'Have you seen my jumper? Yes dear, it's on the cat'
'You're a mess Harry'
'At least no one on the Gryffindor had to buy their way in'
'Oh Harry if you die down there, you're welcome to come and share my toilet.'

Hermione has better hair, Harry's voice has almost broken and Ron has learnt to drive - don't these kids grow up fast?

Harry Potter 3
So the Harry Potters have spent two movies introducing the world in general and the vague plot/threat. But the third one seems to be a lot more settled.

The characters really come into their own in this movie and you find out what they are made of. Hermione is calm, logical and the voice of reason. Ron tells it bluntly how it is. And Harry is kind hearted to the core. When Snape insults him and his father, he defends his father first. And he does the same when he is defending himself/his father to Marge too. And when Lupin nearly kills him but then gets knocked around by Buckbeak, he goes 'poor lupin, he's having a really rough night.'

I love the constant love and friendship that he displays when he is surrounded by his friends and how he is constantly searching for it in Sirius and Lupin in this movie. It's heartbreaking that he is just looking for love and acceptance and he finds it because he is wonderful to all the people he meets despite having a horrific childhood. He really is a great character.

Harry Potter 4
This is basically the one where they are all rubbish with girls. Hagrid puts his hand on his conquest's bum and she says no and he spikes flitwick's hand when he can't keep his eyes off her. Ron gets jealous about Hermione and Krum. Harry dribbles at Cho, and then fails to ask her out. Ron fancies his sister in law, and asks her out by screaming at her. The comedic moments are pretty endless.

In fact, they are great a relief from the dark Voldemort-based events that go on. The opening titles of this film are noticeably darker and the first death that we actually care about, happens. This is the beginning of the adultness of the Harry Potters, and it all just steps up a bit: the acting, the subject matter, the budget and the special effects are all a lot bigger form here on out.

Harry Potter 5
The Order of the Phoenix is the one where Harry finally learns the benefits of friendship. He has always been a bit of a lone ranger throughout the other films especially when facing the threats at the end of the year. He always battled them by himself and he has always been a touch arrogant because of it, putting himself above the others a little bit because of the experiences he has had. But now finally he understands just how important love and friendship is. It ultimately saves him. And he, in return, saves them. It was a joint effort. He's also all the more accepting of people who are different. Losing Sirius was completely heartbreaking and the acting is a lot better, particularly surrounding that event.

Harry Potter 6
This was always my favourite and watching it refreshed that opinion. I love it. There are some really funny lines in it and I think the banterous friendship between Harry and Ron is much more normal than it has been in the previous movies. I love the little moments like when they were fighting over getting the non-tattered potions book, when he was opening up about his love life and when they were talking about girls '[Ginny] is attractive, she has Hermione has nice skin don't you think. As skin goes.' The relationship with Hermione solidified too as the best friend of Harry and the love interest. He was her moral support when she had to watch Ron fawn over Lavender.

Harry Potter 7 Part 1
Everything is stepped up here. Most notably the action. There are long pauses between the different sections of action but when it comes, it is totally enthralling. The mystery surrounding the horcruxes and the hallows keeps you interested. The effects are much better and the deaths start coming from the very beginning. And every single one is heartbreaking. Whether that is Hedwig or one of the human characters, you feel as if you have got to know them all and you care about each one. It is horrible when they die.

Harry Potter 7 Part 2
And this is where it really comes together. Part 1 just seemed to be one long introduction to this film. In fact, all 7 films seemed to be an intro for this. It is fabulous. The amount of action. The amount of characters. The amount of answers you finally get.

Over the 8 films, you really feel like you get to know the characters. The films came out over a period of 10 years and span 7. You literally watch the characters grow up in front of you. You grow up with them. You almost view them as friends. SO when they have hardships, you really feel it. When Harry finally meets his Mum andDad, getting ready to die, your heart breaks. His line - I didn't mean any of you to die for me - it is survivor's guilt big time. The whole thing was beautifully done. The action was wonderfully entertaining, the emotional bits really pulled at your heart strings. Harry shows his humanity again and again. The friendship between the three are shown again and again. And you realise that they are everything to each other. They are the three sides of the triangle and co-exist wonderfully. It is a perfect series.

Preference 8, 6, 7, 3, 2, 1, 5, 4
Favourite character - Draco or McGonagall
Favourite non human character - Dobby obviously

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