Month: December 2011

Matt Wingett In Interview With The English Sisters

So, today I had an interview with Violetta and Jutka Zuggo, aka the English Sisters – a pair of charming women who use their hypnosis and NLP skills to teach English, and are passionate hypno-babes.

It was great fun, with the pair of them asking me about the hypnotic content of the book, and with me not quite answering them, every time… But very nearly.  The book, by the way is Turn The Tides Gently, and you can find it here:

Funny moment too, when she told me she’d read something of mine, and I couldn’t remember what it was at all. Well, I’ve written a lot, after all.

Overall, great fun.  Enjoy!

Cinderella – The Kings Theatre, Southsea

I have to admit it, as I get older, I get more childlike. Which makes going to the panto every year something of a special treat. It’s not often you get to sit in a theatre and scream “behind you” at men in tights on stage. At least not in Southsea, with 400 other screaming kids.  So a good panto is something that sets just the right festive tone for me. It feels like Christmas.

The art of creating  not just a good panto, but a fantastic one is hard, as Cinderella proves.

You walk a line between playing to the kids and playing to adults. The former means lots of brightness and colour and fun and laughter, as well as a big dash of  frolics and frivolity. The latter requires a bit of emotional depth, a coherent plot and a good finale.  Playing to the adults can also include (as I recall memorably from a Worthing panto last year) some HOT costumers for the woman dancers, too. It’s a cheat, that one, but it packed the houses – and the dads were extremely well-behaved throughout.

With its lavish sets, its amazing costumes and its well-choreographed set pieces with wonderful sound effects, Cinderella has plenty of the ingredients to keep the kids engaged. But this really is a kids’ panto. The story is simple, a little muddled (introducing the Fairy Godmother early in the plot takes away any surprise when an old lady later on appears who needs Cinders’s help.), but it all muddles along it a breakneck speed.

The performance of Tom Owen (Last of the Summer Wine) as Baron Hardup is warm, likeable and funny, while his wife, played by Leah Beacknell is suitably scary, and sexy. But the pace of the plot means that she is not allowed to really explore her meanness, and we don’t get a full sense of how mean she can be. I suspect her slightly sexy and cruel character has enough chill about it to make her a Bond villainess – but we are never allowed to find out.

There are some really funny lines in the play. When Prince Charming is told “You’re Fattist” by one of the Ugly Sisters, he replies after a moment’s thought: “No, you’re fattest.”  And there’s plenty more where that came from.

The sets are extraordinary.  It really is like wandering into a Disney cartoon.  The village is fabulous, the woodland hunting scenes are fantastic, and the palace wonderful.

The costumes and dance routines really catch the eye.  The kids dancing in the woodland scene dressed as rabbits is a hoot, and the dancers in shiny riding gear wonderful.

The kids in fact deserve special mention.  A chorus of dancers, some of these boys and girls clearly love the stage.  It’s fantastic to see.

And the Ugly Sisters, too, are mean, funny, camp and butch all at once.

All the components for a great Panto are here. The Barbie-like fairy godmother played by Tracy Shaw from Coronation Street is wonderful. But  somehow something is missing.

The panto gallops to the end with a breakneck speed, and the finale in the ballroom doesn’t quite happen.

It might be that as the panto goes on, it beds in, but at the moment it needs to slow down in places, take a breath and expand out.  Let the kids get breathless and excited. They will do even more, when the actors get more in control of the script.

Would I recommend it as a good night out?  Yes, I would.  It’s great to see the kids having a fab time.  But I also know that this cast could get more out of their performances if they just allowed themselves to breathe.

Kindlophobia – the fear of taking responsibility

For some people, it’s natural to feel uncomfortable with change.  If you’re a creative sort, it’s something you need to be very careful with. It will hold you back.

That’s the thought I have at the writer’s hub networking event at Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal, where Mark Chisnell arrives to speak about the state of publishing in the early 21st Century.

It’s a fascinating talk, with Mark’s story confirming what I have been thinking for some time… that the job of the agent and even the publisher in fulfilling their own commercial needs is to work against the interests of the writer.

His story of having a novel published by Random House, just as he had always dreamed of as a kid, his book spending 2 weeks on the shelves of W H Smith and Waterstone’s, receiving no supporting publicity from the publisher (except for a Press Release that would have scored badly in an “O” Level exam) and then having the books withdrawn is a priceless tale of the treatment the majority of authors receive from publishing houses.

But Mark Chisnell goes on to talk about the massive change that is happening in publishing now.  He talks about the opportunities offered by e-books, and the strategies for getting publicity.  He talks about the artistic control you have as a writer when self-publishing via Kindle.  He talks about the circulation of stories from people who have stories to tell, but who would never previously have been allowed a voice.  Of books that have not been messed around with by a small publishing clique in London who think they know what’s good for us, or what will sell.

It’s all here, in his talk.  A precise summary of the pygmy world of publishing, and the massive opportunities the electronic world offers us as writers.

The responses of the audience are fascinating.  There are concerns about grammar, and about not having editorial guidance, which are issues that really sound like ones of affirmation – as if your audience is not affirmation enough. One speaker seems concerned that you aren’t going to get the very best out of yourself if you aren’t made to work it up by an editor and you just publish. A red herring, I believe.  A publisher’s editor can wreck a piece of work or make it fantastic.  The fact is, whoever you work with, you need to trust their judgement more than you need them to work for one publishing house or another.

Another literary author feels that self-publishing compromises quality. But it’s not as if the people wanting to read shlock horror or works containing poor grammar are competing with the audience for “elite” writing, so what difference does it make if there are more voices for a reader to choose from?

Another, bizarrely, seems to believe that any attempt to make money from writing is “wrong”, while at the same time stating that vanity publishing is also “wrong”.  Which doesn’t leave her very many places to go.  Of course, such a view is just bloody nonsense.

It’s a fascinating night that really shows how much fear can surround change. It has really set me thinking…

And doing, too, I have decided.

My project. To get my first e-book out for Christmas, if possible.

I’ll let you know how it goes.