I love Sarah Millican. Yes she’s a ‘dirty bitch’ as my Mum says (she loves it!) But she’s also so real, wise, FUNNY and is outspoken about the world’s beauty standards/ sexism. She maybe doesn’t match up to what is deemed beautiful or fashionable by the Instagram generation but she has learned not to give a crap (except literal IBS craps that she describes in detail!) and she encourages all of us to do the same.
My International friend (ha) Caoimhe and me saw her live stand up, two years ago? In our hometown and we loved it! Her honesty about her marriage breaking down, her dividing us into flowers or pets, her ACCENT, and bravery all make me love her. Also her sharp risqué wit that had me laughing til I cried.
I’m a proud member of Standard Issue, the online magazine, now podcast Millican started in 2014.
In September, 2014, Standard Issue launched as a smart and witty online magazine for women by women, covering everything that interests women – ie everything. No celebrity tittle tattle, no photo shopping, no calorie counting, no cellulite circling. Just honest, good, interesting and funny writing from a bunch of cracking broads.
Standard Issue will never tell you who to be, what to wear or how to look. We believe that every woman should feel empowered to simply be herself.
I was excited when I saw she had a new autobiography out, How to Be Champion. I devoured it, with plenty of tea and coffee and cake as prescribed, in a couple of days while not wanting it to be over.
Sarah’s description of school was similar to mine, I always felt extremely ugly and I would melt if anyone asked if I had a boyfriend. She was studious and interested and got picked on for that, the reason people are in school!
She’s obviously worked SO HARD to get where she is, and I enjoyed reading about all her different jobs. Even though I still feel like I was stuck in her 19-year-old job at age 28!
Sarah got married at age 22 and the marriage broke down after 7 years. She was absolutely floored, really hit rock bottom, moved back in with her parents, became deeply depressed, but somehow started finding funny elements of the situation and worked on her writing, and somehow stumbled into stand-up comedy which she was made for. She’s wise and smart about the divorce. I think it would be very helpful for someone going through the same thing.
Her achievements are amazing, and she really deserves her success. I hope I can somehow channel her enthusiasm and willingness to work hard and sleep on people’s sofas for maybe writing a novel someday. She somehow gives people extra permission to be themselves while being HILARIOUS of course. I love a book that makes me literally LOL.
She has her priorities right, and in so many ways the Internet…the world does not, and this book is a breath of fresh air for women especially.
I almost did a cry as Sarah would say, when I finished the book. I read someone’s tweet that said ‘It’s a rare thing to find a book that feels like a friend.’ @NaomiPanter
I feel like that too. I just kind of wish she didn’t tell me the thing about hotel kettles. Can’t stop thinking about it.
Almost a month ago now I saw ‘The Cursed Child’ the much discussed ‘eighth story’ is the Harry Potter series. I am so grateful I got to go. And if it hadn’t been for my friend Charlotte online-queuing for tickets TEN MONTHS before, I never would, so thank you C!
It’s in the Palace Theatre near Leicester Square in London. As is my life at the moment everything is happening at once, and I was only home from my good friend’s wedding in Scotland the week before, so I was a little bit stressed about it but it was SO GOOD.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan at all, and the wizarding world has meant anything to you, I urge you to go and see it if you can.
Buoyed from the Warner Bros Studio Tour (excellent! Almost cried in the gift shop wanting to buy everything). We had chosen the two night option (The play in its entirety is about 5 and a half hours long and divided into Parts 1 and 2), you can also choose a Matinee performance and a night-time one. Because we were visiting London, this meant we could sight-see and manoeuvre the Underground successfully on Thursday and Friday visiting the British Museum, eating a very expensive chicken burger, Covent Garden, Westminster, Houses of Parliament, St. James’ Park, Hyde Park and Camden Market. We were knackered. Getting the ‘London Legs’ as my friend Caoimhe aptly called them!
There’s a buzz of excitement around the theatre and a queue forms down the side of the building. About an hour before it begins we have our bags searched and are allowed in to the historical and grand Palace Theatre. It’s impressive in gold and wood and beautiful inside. We sat in the bar area and waited for the doors to open.
I was like a ‘wide eyed child’ from beginning to end as Katie says in her review. The sets, props, MAGIC, choreography and costumes are amazing from the get go. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was totally transfixed from beginning to end.
As I discussed with friends, the plot IS pretty far-fetched even for the Wizarding World and something about it just isn’t true JK Rowling, despite her name being there as a writer beside Jack Thorne and John Tiffany ?
However, if you are in any sense a fan of the Boy wizard, you will love this play. It’s like nothing I have ever seen, and the true essence of the world of Harry Potter is really respected and celebrated with enormous talent.
The original cast had just changed merely weeks before we attended, I am sure the play will run for years and years and have many casts… The character of young Scorpius really stole the show. I’m doing my best to #KeepTheSecrets here, but I thought Samuel Blenkin as Scorpius was charming, nerdy, and his comic timing was ‘on point’! My other favourite was probably Thomas Aldridge as the ever-lovable Ron Weasley. Rakie Ayola had poise and grace as the wonderful Hermione Granger.
**PLOT SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T READ ‘THE CURSED CHILD SCRIPT’**
There was magnificent use of characters facing the audience while confronted with a wondrous sight that we could not and did not need to see. There’s probably a theatrical name for it. Such as Hogwarts in the sunrise, the dragon task of the Triwizard tournament and Harry’s heart-break as he watches Voldemort enter Godric’s Hollow on 31 October 1991.
People appearing in portraits was done with comedy but also high emotion. Dumbledore is one of my favourite fictional characters of all, and I will admit to crying several times.
There is something of community about The Cursed Child, you almost make friends with your seat neighbours as you sit beside them a second night, ‘Keep the Secrets’ badges are distributed after Part 1, and the internet surprisingly has respected this plea for no spoilers and #keepthesecrets hashtag!
A time turner is vital to the plot, and I always say Prisoner of Askaban is my favourite book because of the time travel aspect. They do this SO WELL in the play. And I suppose all this ‘Nineteen years later’ business (when the play was set. 19 years after the final Harry Potter book, THIS year actually, 1st September 2017) gives a feeling of time travel mixed with nostalgia for the fans.
I finally decided to finish writing this today, as it’s J.K Rowling and also Harry Potter’s birthday today! 31st July, 52 and 37 respectively. Happy Birthday to a woman who created a very happy magical space for me to escape to, and fictional friends for me to love, and to a boy who inspired me and kept me company for a very long time!
I have recently been torn about my Hogwarts House. The latest Pottermore Sorting technology puts me in Ravenclaw. Wit, Learning, Wisdom. All very admirable qualities. But I have a sneaking suspicion I’m more than a little bit Hufflepuff. (Dedication, Patience, Loyalty) Most of the people I’m close to are Ravenclaw too. So I’m glad I would have company at least, to answer the questions posed at the common room door.
I have written extensively about Harry Potter before, but as today is 20 years since the release of The Philosopher’s Stone, I wanted to say some more words about what these books have meant to me!
(Here’s a piece from 2011 I wrote for the Derry News after the final film came out.) As I say here, my Harry Potter love story began 19 years ago with The Chamber of Secrets in the Shantallow Library. I remember it quite vividly! I was 9 years old.
Hogwarts completely captured my imagination, and more. I think everyone can relate to Harry’s isolation and struggles. Harry Potter was just as much of an escape from the real world for us muggles, as Hogwarts was escape from the Dursleys for Harry himself.
I remember the giddy excitement in the weeks before a new book was released. My Dad always preordered them for me. I read obsessively on Mugglenet and Harry Potter message boards about the hilarious escapades of those across the water in the USA and England queuing for their copies. The fun! I longed to go to a midnight release party, dressed up and the geeky community of it all.
Community. Connection. I think this is mostly why Harry Potter and the world JK Rowling created is so important. My friends are major Harry Potter geeks to this day. I’m 28 now. My best friend Aisling and I call each other Fred (me) and George (her) partly because she had a phase of giving everyone opposite sex names AND we used to and still do have eerily similar things happen in life. Fred and George Weasley were the twin brothers of Ron Weasley. Hilarious, ginger, hearts of gold.
My little sister Ellen (10), who’s a ‘word millionaire’ by the way, she’s read 1 million words in books according to her school <3, and I read the beautiful illustrated editions when I remember… Bad sister!
By coincidence my colleague Charlotte and I are going to London to see the play at the Palace Theatre The Cursed Child and The Harry Potter Studio Tour this week. Leaving tomorrow! It’s been booked for 10 months or so. And now I’m writing this instead of packing. Squeeee! I’m so excited and we have bonded so much already because of HP!
I know a boy who’s returning home from Finland tomorrow. He’s studied a semester there, and has spent a large portion of the last few weeks trying to find Durmstrang Institute… Or maybe that was his magical Erasmus exhange programme from Hogwarts. I hope he isn’t too addled with Dark Arts when I see him!
My George told me to dig out this email I sent her while she was in America for the summer when we were 15/16. It’s about the sixth book, but check my enthusiasm!
On Tuesday, 19 July 2005, 19:29, <fiona—-@bt—t.com> wrote:
Ok, as promised I’ll type out the stuff I wrote in my file block!! You’ll probably get bored, sorry! And it kinda looks like I hated it, but I didn’t really, or I’d be in a state of depression now! Here goes, *ahem*
Stuff about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to email Aisling about
1. Why did Dumbledore trust Snape all these years? I was waiting to hear a brilliant reason, and thought Snape might be good underneath! I was looking forward to hearing it! Now all the years of “I trust Severus Snape” mystery was for nothing… she seemed to be building up to something there! I’m amazed Dumbledore couldn’t see through the hook nosed, filthy greasy haired stuck up evil legitimens death eater! Come on, Dumbledore was perfect, infallible, until book 6 where he acted weird then ass hole killed him. I so miss him *sob* I cried when Dumbledore said “I’m not worried, I’m with you” to Harry. Premonition he was going to die. Cried again of course when he did.
2. There was way too much snogging! Half of it could have been left out! Plus, I’m way jealous of Tonks. I love Lupin!! Hairy palms and all.
3. Dumbledore, God rest his soul, didn’t actually get around to telling the full story of his injured hand! He said once it was a great story and he didn’t have time, then he just mentioned it in passing! Say what now? I know it was destroying the ring…but still.
4. Why did Snape get the Defence Against the Dark Arts job? And we never saw him teaching a class did we? When he taught potions, nearly every class was written about! Hold on… could Dumbledore have been under the Imperius curse to trust Snape in this book and give him that job?
5. How come Lucius Malfoy’s still in Azkaban if the Dementors have left? Could he not escape. (I’m not demanding u answer these questions, by the way!)
6. Sirius!!! He was barely mentioned, I half hoped he would come back. And what about the two way mirrors?
That’s my initial thoughts anyway. I forgot about Trelawney…good point. She’s probably still standing there!! There are A LOT of unanswered questions!! But wasn’t “U-No-Poo” funny? The constipation sensation that’s gripping the nation!!! What a weird thing to happen to Bill, get your face mauled by a werewolf who wasn’t transformed… crazy!
Well, hope you enjoyed my fanatical musings, looking forward to hearing from you. Must go see if some Harry Potter message boards are open, see what other people think.
Hilarious. I will probably never grow up.
Ok, I love this story of connection. Aisling/George has recently adopted an ADORABLE puppy. His name is Harry Pupper and he has his own instagram. When she visited the family who owned the litter, she met a young girl, lets call her Katie. Katie is about 9 I think, and when she heard Aisling was calling her puppy Harry she was delighted. She is a big fan and said no one at school likes Harry Potter except her. Katie’s mum explained quietly to Aisling that Kate has Asperger’s Sydrome and children at school make it difficult for her. Katie happily renamed all the puppies in the litter, (and I was trying to convince my Mum to adopt Hagrid for a while). Katie’s dad is very ill, he has terminal cancer and Aisling could see that Katie was buoyed up by the world of Harry Potter and the connection Harry still felt with his parents even after death. Katie’s mum said Katie lit up while talking to Aisling and the world of Harry Potter really stimulated her imagination and communication. When my friend returned again to collect her new wee Harry, she came armed with some HP merchandise and handmade bookmarks saying, ‘Don’t let the muggles get you down.’ I’m not crying, you’re crying.
I think Harry Potter is so long lasting because it’s a story in these hard strange times where Good prevails. It’s a tale of hope, courage and friendship. And who could do without those right now?
Perhaps it’s a bit like my interest in The Walking Dead. We are drawn mor eto the lives and interactions of the characters and their lives than the magic, per se. Although the magic helps!
I have a funny story from work this week. Because of the anniversary we have some pretty nice merchandise like cauldron bowls, muggle studies notebooks, Gryffindor common room signs, cute mugs etc. There are also posters, one of which lists spells and charms and illustrates the wand movement required… So on a late Wednesday night, no customers about, I whip out a rolled up poster and start practising my REPARO wand movement. (Quite swirly) My friend/colleague Chelsea rounds the corner. ‘Are you…dancing?’ No, Chelsea. It’s worse than that… Please don’t tell every…Oh, never mind. Ha!
I would say my favourite book is The Prisoner of Azkaban maybe it’s because it’s the book before they start getting super dark. But also Harry meets his Godfather Sirius. Which is fraught with terror for a while until he understands. Also time travel, I have discovered is one of my favourite themes.
My favourite character is Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. He is like Atticus Finch where wisdom is concerned. Gentle and twinkly, brave and always there… All the best quotes come from him, too.
Congratulations on 20 years, JK Rowling. You’re a real hero of mine. Lumos ❤ Keep being a light to children and big children everywhere. And thank you.
20 years ago today a world that I had lived in alone was suddenly open to others. It's been wonderful. Thank you.#HarryPotter20
So, I’m just going to blatantly use the lovely #alwaysreadingclub wonderfully created by my friend ZoeProse ( long time wordpress buddy!) to get myself back into the swing of blogging as I have neglected you, as usual.
The first book for the online Book Club was David Nicholls’ 2009 novel ‘One Day.’ I reckon I did read it the year it came out. But I couldn’t find my copy! And I’m surprised I didn’t blog about it actually. It has always kind of stuck in my head so I was happy to give it a reread. I got a sun bleached second-hand copy online that took ages to arrive so I finally finished the April choice on May the 4th.
For those not familiar. (It’s a film now too!)
15th July 1988. Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways.
So where will they be on this one day next year?
And every year that follows?
I suppose it’s a long kind of dragged out romance, and the original bit is that it mostly just concentrates on one day for 19 years.
The main characters Emma Morely and Dexter Mayhew ‘Em and Dex. Dex and Em’ are complicated and frustrating at times. They have so many near misses.
Dexter is sometimes hard to relate to as he becomes a TV presenter, he is a womanizer, he can be loud and cruel and drinks too much.
Emma although she doesn’t always say what she means, can be stubborn. But I could really relate to her pining to be a writer but being stuck in a dead-end job and there’s this awful bit where she’s been working in a Tex Mex restaurant and she hates it, and she gets offered the manager job and she’s crying in the office. I would do the exact same!
There is a lot of reality in there. The story never goes how you hope it will. And yet what a connection.
I thought it was brilliant on not-quite-right relationships. Emma and Ian would break your heart!
I loved the connection to Edinburgh and Rankeillor Street, as that’s where they graduated from and where the story begins and ends.
*SPOILER* The twist is a bit shocking, and so devastating really. I cried finishing it today, not at the event but the anniversaries and aftermath. And the way the final chapter is split between then and now and the very end of the book is the very beginning of Emma and Dexter.
It’s nice how Dexter’s relationship with his daughter develops. Especially at the end. It’s even kind of reassuring the inevitability of Dexter going out with Maddy the manager of his store, after the worst happens. I really loved Ian’s letter to Dexter in 2005. About how special Emma was.
It can be difficult and frustrating at times. They don’t treat eachother very well and there’s too much pining! My friend pointed out that it’s obviously written by a man at some points, maybe observation and descriptions. However, there’s a lot to be learned about life and love in this book. Maybe how people don’t really change, but can still light each other up.
My Name is Leon is a heartbreaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how- just when we least expect it – we manage to find our way home.
I had a good feeling about this book, and had been saving it for a while. I gobbled it up in a day and a half. Leon is nine in 1980 England, he is mixed race, his Mum has baby Jake with another guy and he is white. This does not stand between them in any way, and Leon soon finds himself having to change, feed and look after Jake for longer and longer periods of time as his Mum descends into post natal depression or maybe something else. Leon doesn’t mind too much. He loves his brother and he is good at it, and only goes to Tina Downstairs for help when there is no food and no money left.
Kit De Waal is astounding at getting into Leon’s head, the way he has learned to tell Social Workers what they want to hear, and not believe what any of them say. He distracts himself with Action Man and swiping fifty pence pieces when things get too hard. He is a good, lost child and your heart really breaks for him.
Leon and Jake go to live with Maureen, an older lady who has been fostering forever. I LOVED Maureen. She is no nonsense but wise and loving, larger than life and is always cooking up fabulous grub and endless snacks for the boys. She asks Leon about Jake’s routine and what he does and doesn’t like so she doesn’t get it wrong. She gets out a pad and pencil and writes down two pages of notes on what Leon says ❤
Leon licks the sauce off his fingers and looks around. Maureen’s house smells of sweets and toast and when she stands near the kitchen window with the sun behind her, her fuzzy red hairstyle looks like a flaming halo. She’s got arms like a boxer and a massive belly like Father Christmas.
Maureen is amazing. The boys and the reader trust her implicitly.
Something devastating happens, Jake is adopted. Maureen believes because he is white. Poor Leon trashes his room and starts grinding his teeth in his sleep, and can’t cope very well. There’s a heartbreaking but wonderful chapter where Maureen has to wake him from a nightmare and she sits him down and ‘has words’ about how she knows a thing or two about children.
‘Answer me this. How many children have I fostered over the years? I know you know the answer because I saw you ear-wigging the other day when I was talking to the neighbours.’
Turns out its twenty-two. And including her own children, grandchildren and Leon it’s thirty. She tells him how she knows he will be alright and that he will see his brother again. It might not be until they are adults, but Leon will see Jake again. ‘He hasn’t gone forever.’
Despite this safe environment there are still a lot of trials for Leon and even Maureen. His Mum sometimes doesn’t turn up to see him, he doesn’t hear from her for months. He makes friends with some older men at nearby allotments when he acquires a bike, and for a long time it’s not clear what their motives are and it left me a bit uneasy.
But there is a whole sub-plot about police brutality against black men which I wasn’t aware of, in England in the 80’s. And Tufty, who has an allotment is key to this, and teaching Leon about Black Power, and racism and dignity.
This is a brilliant first novel, so real and genuine and tender. Beautiful stuff, and well worth a read. Book 32 of 2016.
War was declared at 11.15 and Mary North signed up at noon.
The cover of this book has the most beautiful photograph of an extremely well dressed woman posting a letter into a post box in a square that is reduced to rubble.
Backdrop: London, 1939 to 1942. ‘It was a city in love with beginnings.’ I find WWII endlessly fascinating. Chris Cleave the author speaks about why World War II is so vital for novelists very eloquently here:
I had high hopes for this book, I received it twice on my birthday because I had been talking about it so much. Every Chris Cleave novel (The Other Hand, Gold, Incendiary) has floored me. He writes in a truly beautiful but hard-hitting way. This is first historical novel.
In a powerful combination of both humour and heartbreak, this dazzling novel weaves little-known history and a perfect love story through the vast sweep of the Second World War- daring us to understand that, against the great theatre of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.
Mary is thrust into teaching, as all the school masters are away at war. She is quite indignant about this at first. But she accepts it. ‘Mary almost wept when she learned that her first duty as a schoolmistress would be to evacuate her class to the countryside. And when she discovered that London had evacuated its zoo animals days before it’s children, she was furious.’ What Mary actually ends up doing, is teaching the children that have been rejected and sent back from their temporary homes in the countryside.
Mary, as an aristocrat goes from quite enjoying the novelty of the idea of war, herself and her friend Hilda go by train to view the first bombed site in London, never dreaming it would soon be them, to truly suffering. They both sign up to drive ambulances almost on a whim.
The other main characters are Tom Shaw, an education administrator who reluctantly gives Mary her first job and becomes her lover. His best friend and flatmate Alistair signs up for the war as soon as it begins. Alistair sees so much horror from early on, and he becomes rather distant. The humour of Tom’s letters revive him, and he is jealous of Tom’s newfound love, but this is nothing until he actually meets Mary.
Tom gives Alistair a homemade jar of Blackberry Jam before he leaves for war, and Alistair keeps it, through starvation and being shipped to further and further battle zones, to share with Tom when it is all over. It’s a really beautiful symbol of friendship.
It’s such a human story. Even against such a dramatic and seemingly well known background as the Second World War. Chris Cleave makes the most familiar, yet surprising observations:
One didn’t understand, until one had seen a great many bodies, the unconscious effort that one must be making every minute simply to keep one’s hands and face and clothes clean. The world’s surfaces were so filthy that the living touched them only with the tips of their fingers and the soles of their shoes. How grubby it was to die, to give up making that effort.
There’s a graphic description of something Alistair witnesses in Malta, a German pilot crash lands in the street, and the locals attack him. I completely zoned out in Starbucks, it was so vivid and brutal. You completely understand Alistair trying to stop them.
This, my 29th read of the year could be the best book of 2016 so far. I have been talking about it to anyone who would listen and trying to thrust it into customer’s hands in work. A love story, but so much more than that. It did not disappoint, I didn’t want to finish reading, and I’m proud that I must be descended from the Mary Norths and Alistair Heaths of the world.
I was biding my time, waiting to read this, as I didn’t want the series to be over. (For now) Once again, I absolutely loved it. This is the first time Robert Galbraith/ JK Rowling had the villain speak in alternate chapters, and what a scary dude. She says it’s the first time her own writing has given her nightmares.
When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.
Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible- and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.
With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the three other men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them.
I am perhaps more interested in the unlikely Cormoran and Robin’s undeniable chemistry than the cases, the characters are wonderfully developed and the plot really draws you in, and keeps you guessing. Robin’s wedding to Matthew is looming and neither Robin nor Cormoran seem too happy about it.
Robin is such a brilliant character, we finally find out why she abandoned her Psychology degree, and why she sticks with seemingly reliable accountant Matthew. I really love that she has advanced driving training and self defence.
Maybe it’s the major girl in me but I love the passages where they are grabbing a quick bite to eat in a pub, always well described, (Strike loves his grub) and usually a pint of Doom Bar or glass of wine as they update each other on Donald Laing, Noel Brockbank and Jeff Whittaker.
These are three seriously dangerous men, the first one Strike is responsible for getting life imprisonment, second a suspected paedophile who blames Strike for brain damage, and the third, ex-husband of Strike’s super-groupie mother Leda, whom he suspects killed her.
The leg owner’s body turns up, seemed she had BIID (Body Integrity Identity Disorder) otherwise known as amputee identity disorder, she felt that she was meant to be disabled, and she wanted to amputate her leg. She believed that Strike, also an amputee (Afghanistan) had done the deed himself, she had tried to contact him and someone had replied.
It’s a really fast paced and keeps you guessing. More women are killed, sometimes we see it happen as the unnamed killer goes about his horrible misogynistic business.
I loved all three of the Cormoran Strike (Or should we say Robin Ellacott) novels, and feel they get better and better. It wouldn’t even be necessary to read them in order, as Galbraith does a wonderful job of updating the story without being repetitive.
The writing is often funny, and there are other dramas such as the few day to day cases that Strike and Robin are following, a spurned father stalking his children, and a suspicious boyfriend distrustful of his stripper girlfriend.
Strike always has an hallelujah moment near the closing chapters, but the author doesn’t tell us his conclusion straight away, and the timing and suspense is very well executed.
Another interesting theme is, the book is named after a song by Blue Oyster Cult, and there are references to tattoos and obsessions in the book, and each chapter opens with a short lyric from Blue Oyster Cult’s back catalogue. A lot of times the lyrics are by Patti Smith.
I was surprised and delighted with the revelation of the identity of the killer. And the question mark about Robin and Strike is underlined more than ever by the end. Loved it!