Julie

Julie
The arts are my passion: drama, music, opera, dance, sculpture, painting, art history, architecture, film, literature... old and new... national and international... and after a period living, writing & performing in Australia and Italy this passion has brought me back to London. 'Blog Julie Arts' is a spin-off after success with 'There's Always A Story' at blogjulie.com

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Versions of Us



Laura Barnett has written a wonderful debut novel, The Versions of Us.  I recommend it unreservedly. 

The Versions of Us is enjoyable, sensitively and finely crafted, and everything about it makes you think – makes you think about the versions of you and your life which you leave behind... of the ones you haven’t yet achieved... and the versions for which you silently, often subconsciously,  grieve or long.  Her narrative explores "the road less traveled" as well as the nuances of the path we do ultimately take, for all its triumphs and pitfalls.  With her characters, as in real life, no route is perfect.  No love is beyond pain.  But the search, the relative search, for the best life her characters can live within the constraints in which they find themselves, with different amounts of bravery and integrity, is so vivid, so heart-rending, that you are addicted in a few pages.  This is a work of which this new novelist can be immensely proud.  On so many levels her book, her imagining and observations, leave the world a better place.

Inevitably The Versions of Us got me thinking: if we all stand at the crossroads and make choices in our lives from which we can’t return – the phenomenon the poet Robert Frost famously describes as “The Road Not Taken” – how do we maximise our choices... maximise the opportunities we have to become ‘the best version of ourselves’... so that when we get to our rocking chair (if we are so lucky) we can look back and feel happy and peaceful about our principal choices.  Not 100% happy, of course, that simply isn’t compatible with a life that must contain mistakes and failures, detours, recovery, adjustment, improvisation and forgiveness; for life and people were never designed to be flawless.  I mean largely happy, largely peaceful, that we gave this one life we are given one hell of a good shot.

After all, it isn’t a dress rehearsal! 

So I’m wondering, what do you do to be, to find, the best version of yourself?    

Take days off to escape the city and breathe in the beauty of nature?  Take weeks off to lie by the beach and remember what it is to feel unstressed and sanguine?  Take months (or years) away from your regular job to climb a mountain, learn a language, sink into another culture, rent a cottage in a foreign land and write a book, put on your headphones and escape into the power and rhythm of great music,  dance until you can hardly stand, squash into a moshpit and absorb the energy of the crowd, get together with your best friend/s and laugh until your side aches, spend time in a monastery, learn a new sport or hobby, make love until you are so tired you have to sleep for a day to recover, sit on a park bench and simply watch the world go by? 

We all need renewal.  And we all need moments to pause. Each and every moment to pause, to sit and take stock of where we are and where we’d like to be, is very precious in the cut and thrust of a busy life. 

Perhaps your tonic is simply to sit on the sofa and hug your children (if you’ve been blessed with them).  Perhaps it’s to go to church, to pray, to do yoga, to jog along the river, to join a community with people of common interests.  Perhaps it’s a date-night with your partner.  Perhaps a dinner party where you plan something special for your friends.  Perhaps all you need to lift your morale and and focus your inner-self is to sink into the dark before the curtain goes up at the theatre... or curl up with a good book, a book like The Versions of Us.

The recipe, the route, to the best version of yourself – a challenge which is never achieved to be filed in a final or complete manner... but which is ongoing at regular intervals... which is in fact a life pursuit – is the truth upon which every religion, every serious spiritual and artistic practice is based.  And though fitness and health definitely helps, it is universally understood to be about our interior life, our attitude, our courage, kindness (to self and others), honesty and sensitive assessment of where we are and where we’d like to be – short, medium and long term.  And the moments, hours or sessions, we take to go to that gentle but revealing place of reflection is infinitely precious. 

If we go there, if we consider the ‘versions of us’ and find in that examination that, actually, not so much is left wanting, that we are in fact on the track which is the best of the available options, we feel empowered, relieved or grateful.  If we are off track, not really in harmony with our own heart and idiosyncratic hungers and desires, then it’s time to do something about it.  And whatever advice we receive, only we can know the intentions and subtleties of our own heart.

Sometimes that something we need to ‘do’ is to let go.  To give something up and to wait and see what flows in to replace it.  I’ve had that experience recently. Other times it’s to take action, to ‘gird our loins’ and face our fears or reticence.  I’ve had that too.  This change of direction can be scary.  It can be exposing, and make you feel vulnerable.  But to be vulnerable is to be truly alive.  There is no virtue or joy in living like a robot, in living someone else’s life – however cool or appropriate it may be on the surface.  To consider the versions of yourself, and to review your focus and priorities as you go through life, is the road to fulfilment – ultimately the only road to fulfilment, however you perceive God, Mother Nature, Destiny or the Universe. 

So before the summer ends, the best of times to lie quietly and lap up the beauty of the world around us, create a little space for yourself... alone or with a good book or CD... and snuggle into that space.  The long weekend coming up is perfect for it.   

The Versions of Us: this is a manuscript you can keep reading and writing as long as you have the breath and energy for change and reflection. 

Thanks Laura Barnett.  What a great first novel you’ve put out into the world.  Like all great works of fiction, it speaks to the non-fiction in all of us.  Brava!


RECOMMENDED:




Monday, 13 July 2015

The Bubble Bursts


I have been in a bubble of sorts in recent months while focusing everything on the launch of my new book TO KISS OR NOT TO KISS. 

It is a light read, I hope humorous, and neither overtly feminist nor anti-feminist. If anything, it highlights the importance of being true to yourself, as well as trusting - and, where necessary, defending - your instincts and values.

I have emerged from this bubble hungry now for new intellectual, social and artistic stimulation... only to find in the public realm recently some incredibly disappointing events and attitudes.

 
1    

Sarah Jessica Parker has come out in a magazine to say she “isn’t a feminist”. What the ****?

Please Ms Parker, let this be a mistake, a misquote.  

Surely you know, SJP, that the people who believe in gender equality received a positive boost recently when Mark Ruffalo made some helpful and sensible public comments about feminism.  Also positive, and needed, is the HeForShe campaign fronted by the wonderfully centered Emma Watson from Harry Potter fame. SJP, couldn’t you have just left the topic alone if you couldn’t be supportive?  Apart from the fact that you are privileged and therefore more able to defend your rights, to say “I’m a humanist” is a lame excuse for not acknowledging the truth that despite other injustices in the world women continue to suffer from discrimination and a lack of equal rights and power.  So much for Sex and the City’s version of girl power.  Very disappointing.  

If you want to read more from me on this topic go to:


From Mark Ruffalo:


From the HeForShe campaign:


       Or get a good book out of the library.

 

2    

The immensely valuable BBC has an hour dedicated to women’s issues on Radio 4, called Woman’s Hour.  It is presented by Jenni Murray and she’s good value in so many ways.  In an interview recently in The Mail on Sunday I could have hugged her for saying:”I’d make it a hanging offence for anyone not to pay a woman the same as a man”.  Bravo Jenni! We know she doesn’t mean it literally but is making an important point. 

Then she totally spoiled it – no doubt unwittingly – by telling the journalist that the last film she saw and enjoyed was Kingsman.  “I laughed my socks off” she apparently added. Please tell me, Jenni, that you also went on to criticize the film’s sexist ending and that the sub-editor cut out your other comments?  Please don’t be passive or naive to the link between the unacceptable, discriminatory ending of this film and the question of equal respect for women, and equal pay for equal work! 

Again I am disappointed and can’t believe we still have to fight, win, fight and re-win the same ground over and over again for gender equality without making more firm progress.

What century have I emerged into from my literary bubble?

For opinions on that film you can google pretty much anywhere... and for my thoughts see:


      

3

Then I went to the Royal Opera House, where I go probably a dozen times a year, to see Guillaume (aka William) Tell. I went along having learned the day before that there’d been criticism of the opera about a new scene which had been added, a rape scene.  I didn’t want to disappoint the friend who’d paid a lot of money for the tickets, and felt I should probably see the production for myself before coming to any conclusions. 

Oh dear, what a mistake.  I was miserable company, the production was so poor I still can’t believe anyone thinks it’s up to scratch, and it left me deeply concerned a company receiving this much public funding – an organisation filled with artists who regularly feel for and defend against other forms of discrimination and exploitation – could be so blind as to the standard beneath which they have fallen on this occasion.   

Let’s start with the least of the Royal Opera House’s problems.  This production of Guillaume Tell is extremely dull. If not for the reasons above I would not have remained in my seat beyond Act 1. As a whole the production lacks energy, dramatic impetus and truth. There is miniscule character or narrative development, and much that is far-fetched and unconvincing, such that over 4 acts and 3 long intervals I could have cried with boredom and impatience that so many people could be spread out on a stage (and paid to be there) to so little dramatic effect.

There is some lovely music. I can’t fault the orchestra (under the baton of Antonio Pappano) and the principals each have strong moments. Indeed they struggle to maintain artistic integrity in what cannot be an easy production to deliver.

Here I should add that I suspect this opera would be hard for anyone to present persuasively to a modern audience. The director, Damiano Michieletto, can’t be alone in failing to make it interesting. I don’t know what opera experts believe but, for me, the score of Guillaume Tell is far too long, the composer, Gioachino Rossini, is often indulgent, and the central narrative is weak. There are some quality arias and duets - Gerald Finley as Guillaume Tell, John Osborn as Arnold Melcthal and Malin Byström as Mathilde each show their voices to best advantage in isolated sections.  So isn’t that sufficient you may ask?

Well actually, no. Opera in the modern world is supposed to combine strong musical and dramatic elements; as well as meaningful costume and set design, orchestration, production values etc. (Actually the large tree as a set piece from Act 2 onwards was something of a relief because it made a strong statement. And the lighting was imaginative in places.)

Every artist or institution has the right - the need - to aim high and sometimes fail. That is the nature of art. Yet organizations receiving generous public subsidy are not immune from criticism on such occasions. The ROH is not funded to produce material that would be better heard on a CD at home in one’s armchair. So the sheer dullness of the production is the first criticism. But I happily embrace and accept that risk, if that was all.

The 2nd criticism, and the most important, is that if a large and wealthy company choose to commission and present a new production, and create for that production a ‘new scene’ which explores a (possible) piece of subtext or tangential narrative, then they better make sure they do it in a way which justifies its existence - dramatically and musically - and adds to the overall experience, deepening the audience’s appreciation of the opera. In all these aspects the Royal Opera House utterly fails with the new ‘rape scene’ in Act 3 of Guillaume Tell.

As a comment about women being raped in war, I can appreciate the idea may have come up in the rehearsal room.  In the background it may have warranted a small example of intimidation between soldiers and a peasant girl. BUT it definitely does not warrant the centre stage ‘celebration’ it has been given.  In fact this new scene’s prominence is disgusting.  Here’s why:

·     the invented episode is entirely unrelated to the central characters or the core story;

·     a scene dedicated to the rape of an innocent bystander is a huge embellishment of a possible background element;

·     the threatening abusive behaviour goes on for an extraordinarily long period of time – for no justifiable reason - with increasing violence and torment for the innocent and defenceless female victim;

·     the same point could have been made with a few bars of music and action (without causing offence to anyone);

·     the light-hearted folk music to which her abuse is set in this ‘new scene’ clashes so badly in tone with the reality of what we are seeing that it seems to mock her (and any sympathetic person’s) distress;

·     it is the only time in the production where the director appears to have come up with a powerful idea which, when contrasted against the plodding dullness of the rest, only heightens our discomfort;

·     and meanwhile the main story desperately lacks believable narrative development of its own. 

 
I am a very experienced and robust theatre-goer and I simply would not have felt so deeply uncomfortable and offended if this scene had been dramatically justified. But the fact is that this scene is grossly distorting of the opera’s plot. It is gratuitous, highly sexist and offensive. 

It is also unacceptable to use a slimly justified bit of subtext about violence against women in war to inject into an otherwise dull and sedate journey a token of dynamism.  What a very poor excuse it is for real creativity or imagination. The Royal Opera House should be ashamed of itself.

Greatly concerning too is that the ROH was insensitive (dare I say arrogant) in the way it initially handled people’s objections to the scene. And their efforts after the opening night fiasco to appear diligent and concerned have been as artificial as the scene itself.    

Yes, the ROH has attempted to make the scene less abhorrent by shortening the nudity. But it’s not the sight of a beautiful naked woman which offends me; that is nothing in the context of a well conceived play. It is the ominous threat and cruelty of this extended and (seemingly glorified) scene which vanquished my spirits as it abused and raped the poor victim – a character who came from nowhere and whose plight was then ignored.

This lack of respect for women is contemptible – shared knowingly or otherwise by everyone around this production who was in a position of power and could have made different choices.

In the 21st Century how could a publicly funded organisation such as the ROH completely fail to notice, let alone avoid, an instance of gross indulgence and offence to women?

Neither the pathetic slip of paper inserted into the programme (if you happened to buy one or pick it up) or the email some received from the General Manager warning of the “possible offence”, is enough to make up for it. 

I am bitterly disappointed in the Royal Opera House.  Imagine if gay or religious rights were treated with such disdain how loud the outcry would be?  

The only things that hit their targets in this production were the brave soprano who complained after a dress rehearsal, only to be ignored until the boo-ing began on opening night.  And the tenor who expertly shoots the apple off his son’s head. Bravo for those good shots.  Bravo. 

But definitely BOO for the rest. BOO and SHAME ON YOU.
 
 
 
 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

National Kissing Day



I discovered quite late yesterday that it was #nationalkissingday.  This made me smile for several reasons:

1.       I rather like the idea of a whole nation celebrating one of my favourite activities.

2.       It reminded me I really should remember to tweet more.

3.       And yesterday I launched my new website to begin to publicise the upcoming release of my new book: TO KISS OR NOT TO KISS

Perhaps it’s a good omen?  Or like the serendipity which goes into a good kiss? 

I guess you’ll have to read my book and decide for yourself.  It will be out on Amazon and Kindle on the 22nd July 2015.

xxxxxxxxxx
 

Meanwhile, I was asked recently to make a comment about my book for a press release. And this is what I said:

My interest in short stories developed from my blogs, with female readers in particular responding well to romantic yarns - the good, the bad and the ugly.  The book idea emerged over lunch with friends and, as singing and kissing are two of my favourite things, that led naturally to the book’s hook... and from there a theatrical title and musical theme.  It developed so organically I decided I should trust and go with it – like a good kiss really... you don’t want to over think it!

So thank you to all my blog readers over the past few years on www.blogjulie.com and www.blogjuliearts.com  If not for you my focus for this project might never have come together. And that’s why I’m making an exception today and posting the same news on both my blogs.

If you like to kiss - or you agree with me that a kiss can work miracles – please check out www.juliemullins.co.uk  for a little preview.

TO KISS OR NOT TO KISS.  Romance in bite-sized pieces.

#tokissornottokissbook   #tokissbook  COMING SOON  J

 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Avalanche


When I decided to self-publish my own book I knew it was time to put a stake in the ground, to ‘just do it’.  I felt that ignoring excuses and setting a deadline would focus my energies and attention, forcing me to make compromises and get to ‘curtain up’ just like you have to with an opening night or a live event. Percolation had gone on long enough. Perfection is a status reserved for those who never publish. If I really am going to be a writer and take myself seriously it is time to put out there one of the four manuscripts I have written since making a solid commitment to my writing in 2008.

I’m facing that deadline now, on the 22nd July, with the soft launch of my light-hearted book of short stories, To Kiss or not To Kiss. That means getting printed copies of the new work to potential reviewers as close as possible to the 22nd June; as one month is a standard lead time for newspapers. In an ideal world I’d be operating three months ahead, as that’s the average lead for magazine publicity, but I decided not to let that deter my commitment to moving forward. Magazine coverage, if/when I am lucky enough to get it, will just have to wait until after my book is up for sale on Amazon; after which I hope to organise a broader distribution schedule and a more comprehensive PR/Media launch. Sometimes you just can’t do everything at once.

That brings me to the different hats I’m currently wearing: author, co-editor, brand/design manager, publisher, event co-ordinator, marketing manager, and general dog’s body. I have hired professionals into key roles (you’d be mad not to) but still I’ve been close to drowning under the pressure this week. The writing of a book is one thing – the most obvious job – and then there’s an intense but enjoyable process with editor and designers. While still completing those discussions, I am now turning my head to things which I’d generally understood would need attention... but which I hadn’t quite been prepared to encounter all at once in such a challenging timeframe.

It is, to be frank, like an avalanche, which no amount of planning on a whiteboard can avoid. The last few days I have felt that my brain might explode - as I read (at speed) endless online articles, specification documents, and digested arguments for the pros and cons of a myriad of details pertaining to the business of book production and print on demand service agreements.  And that’s before a single step in the direction of marketing and publicity, both of which must kick-off the second I have a finished cover image to use on social media.

No wonder I had three glasses of wine last night in quick succession after 10 hours on the computer.  How else was I going to stop my head exploding?  I did run 11kms before I sat down to dinner, which definitely helped to clear my head, but it also meant I absorbed the wine faster into my bloodstream!

Thankfully I am not a complete novice when it comes to marketing or print materials. I have managed staff and agencies who have delivered marketing strategies and marketing collateral for arts and events businesses over many years.  I knew the kinds of questions which needed to be asked and I’ve been reading about self-publishing for an extended period. But until you are actually in the HOT SEAT, you don’t really realize how much of this ‘new industry’ you are yet to assimilate and how much you still have to learn. It’s a little like taking up a new sport, where you may be fit, flexible and well informed... but your muscles aren’t going to operate as if it’s all natural and easy until you’ve clocked up the necessary hours on the turf.

So in my crash course about publishing in the last week, I have had to work out how to apply for ISBN numbers. I have had to estimate the number of pages in my book, something difficult to do when the manuscript is not quite finished being edited, nor has it been formatted for print. I’ve had to decide: how large (or small) I want my book to be, while respecting industry standards for genre; the colour and thickness of the paper; the gloss or matt finish of the cover; the type of binding; the estimated thickness of the spine; the font to be used for the interiors; dozens of tiny manuscript formatting and type-setting questions; submission guidelines for each platform; unit cost per book; recommended retail prices (for the US, UK, Australia and Europe); the purchasing of websites and business names; longer-term distribution strategies after my 90 day exclusive agreement with Amazon finishes; American IRS tax exemption forms (definitely the most tedious); and whether or not I need permissions for musical quotes when every document I read about the legal status of copyright suggests something different and is ultimately rather confusing.

Just writing that list makes me tired.  No doubt you too.  So imagine what actually doing it is like?!

Ah, but nothing good happens in life without a bit of effort... so I just have to pace myself, take one hurdle at a time, and ensure I stay focused on the ultimate goal.  And I am very happy to say – on the blog I’ve been sadly neglecting lately - that I will soon be able to hold my new book in my hand, knowing that years of life, years of artistic percolation and writing practise, and some dedicated months of study and practical effort has made a long held dream a reality. Then it’s in the world, like a new baby, my baby, and it can make its own way.

22nd July 2015 – To Kiss or Not to Kiss – live on Amazon and Kindle.

Watch this space.   


 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

EMMA


I have been lying on the beach thinking about the lovely girlfriends I have called Emma.  They are, it has to be said, thoroughly good eggs - exceptional lasses in countless ways who I’m lucky to have in my life.

I can say the same about fabulous women with many names... but after noticing this comparison I realised I also feel quite a deal of affection for literary heroines and actresses called Emma.  So, writer that I am, I got to thinking about whether a name might inspire a person to be a certain way? 

A name certainly affects, I think, the way an author feels about her character... or how could Jane Austen have crafted such a perfect curve of personality and plot development for her Emma?  And similarly couldn’t parents and teachers respond to children differently depending upon their fondness for a name?

So perhaps you’ll allow me to disagree with Shakespeare’s Juliet who famously said:
       What's in a name? That which we call a rose
       By any other name would smell as sweet.


She was, after all, hopelessly in love with a stupidly cute Latin boy.  And I rather fancy the idea that if you are called Emma you are more likely to be intelligent, generous, interested, loving, open, kind, motivated, practical and... special.

It may be a generational thing, perhaps Elizabeth or Mary were the fabulous girls half a century ago?  Or maybe I’m simply too inclined to make connections between odd and disparate things?  It has been said.  But to that I reply: isn’t that how one weaves a story?  And isn’t that, in fact, how we live and view our lives?  Read my blogs if you don’t believe me... or my soon to be published book (watch this space).

However, before I go on with this theme, I must give immediate credit to Samantha Ellis for her book How To Be A Heroine.   In this book Samantha goes back over her reading life to draw all sorts of comparisons between her literary heroines, highlighting how they have impacted on her life, and that’s what inspired me to think about my Emma friends.  Anyone with any serious interest in English Literature, storytelling, the development of characters, narrative and feminism should read Samantha’s charming work.  Its premise is hugely imaginative and its research far reaching.  The author does not waste a single word or illusion, and there are so many familiar connections and satisfying new allusions that I found it thoroughly entertaining and stimulating.  I even read in this exploratory work a reference to a man I have kissed (passionately) and a place in Tuscany I had a particular romance.  Who would have thought?  Yet even without these personal parallels, I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone interested in female characters and the building of meaningful literary and dramatic themes.  Thank you Samantha!  Maybe you’re leading a trend for Samantha to be the next ‘special name’.    

Anyway, with that as background, I’ll flatter Samantha further by imitating her fascination with a fiction-life crossover... and allow Jane Austen’s Emma to supply my benchmark.  I always do write arts-life crossover stories in this blog (as opposed to reviews) so I hope Samantha won’t mind. 

Austen’s Emma is described as having a bright and happy disposition.  That is just as I’d describe the Emmas in my life.  Emma Woodhouse is known for being exceptionally pretty; as are my friends Emma G, Emma H and Emma W.  Austen’s Emma takes special care of her friends and family, going out of her way to make herself available to them, and in this my friends definitely resemble her.  The comparison remains true in so far as my girlfriends and our literary heroine take active steps to help the people they love achieve their ambitions, and empathise sincerely when plans or aspirations do not blossom as hoped.  

My general sense is that an Emma is a no-nonsense type of girl, who is always there for you, gets a job done, and is down-to-earth and classy at the same time.  Emma laughs and loves, thinks and reflects, without being fussy or heavy.  She has brains and practicality, is a sensible, gentle and caring person without being overly-sentimental. In particular, the light and warmth which infuses Emma’s courage and humanity is no less sure for being under-the-radar.

Even my muse for this story, Samantha Ellis, has a best friend called Emma who sounds like my clever girlfriends.  And you can’t ignore the fabulous Emma Thompson for a role model can you?  I saw her in Sweeney Todd recently at the ENO singing and commanding the stage with Bryn Terfel as if she was born to play Mrs Lovett (yes, of course I was jealous).  When I played Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing some years ago, I couldn’t watch her tremendous film with Kenneth Branagh again until the season was over, because I knew damn well I didn’t have a hope in hell of playing it any better (hey, I’d have settled for half so well, and I’m usually ambitious with standards).     

Back to Jane Austen: Do my Emmas live on an enormous country estate?  Do they set me up with the wrong man and then realise they have to apologise?  Do they mock the maiden aunt for talking too much, or marry their next-door neighbour after years of not noticing they were in love?  No; not so far.  So I won’t draw the comparison literally.  Yet the qualities established above serve sufficiently well to highlight that the name and character of Emma appear to come with many delightful attributes.  Let me show you.

Emma G is a remarkably centred, informed twenty-something who is lots of fun and wonderful company at a dinner party or on a holiday.  We worked together on the Olympics and have grown increasingly close ever since.  She is as happy debating the politics of the day as she is sitting in a wine bar chatting with unexpected eccentric characters, cooking a cheesecake, navigating her Boris bike across London (I find this very impressive), absorbing the architectural feats of La Sacrada Familia, or unpacking the mysteries of a play or contentious media article.  Smart, that’s what she is, and exquisitely modern – neither of which take away from her sincere social values or physical beauty.  I love that with Emma G we can switch from laughter and flippancy to serious feminist dialogue without missing a beat.  She can also remind me, when I need to hear it, that true feminism is not just about being strong or brave or fighting hard to resist paternalistic limitations, it’s about not letting men shape the argument or dilute our ability to view our life (our choices and feelings) in a way which is uniquely feminine or, more importantly, true to ourselves.  (That’s what Samantha Ellis refers to, cleverly, as ‘defining yourself’ rather than allowing anyone else to do it for you.) 

Recently I was telling Emma G about a niggling sensation I had over an encounter with a certain man, a negative feeling, and she pulled me up short because my story had started with a positive perspective: “hey, don’t let his reaction shape the way you view what happened... who cares what he thinks... you work out what you think and stick with that”.  How could you not love her?!   Equally, Emma sometimes tells me I’m brave and adventurous and that when she’s older she wants to be like me... and though I’m sure she’ll be far more accomplished and amazing in her own way by then (she already is) her validation never fails to hearten me.  Female friendship and respect is so precious.

Emma H is also smart and wise.  She can google, gather and forward relevant information faster than anyone I know and I only wish I was currently running a company so I could employ her.  She seems to have a ‘bullshit detector’ which allows her to navigate around rubbish and stay focused on the important things, and in this she is immeasurably practical and positive.  She is non-judgemental and gentle too, her strength quiet and unassuming.  We met on a yacht in Greece when unexpectedly forced to share a bed... and it could have gone so horribly wrong if she’d been a snorer or a wriggler... I confess I wriggle after a few wines... but she stayed on her side of the small, odd-shaped bunk without a moment’s discomfort or inconvenience.  Seriously, how can any stranger be that easy to get on with in such intimate circumstances?  But that’s Emma H - she’s a no fuss girl, while still being hugely sensitive and mature (again beyond her years). 

I was in a funk not long ago after a particularly lovely man caused me a considerable amount of pain (not because he’s not a nice guy, but because sometimes people’s needs just don’t align), and I was desperate to jump on a plane and get the hell out of London.  However it was school holidays and flights were exorbitant.  What did Emma H do, she simply offered me her (and her partner’s) car to go exploring in the UK instead.  She knows me, she knew I needed movement to begin the ‘letting go’ and refocusing process, and she offered as if it were the most natural thing in the world.  I feel compelled to make an Emma Thompson comparison here – in her role as Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility - for Emma H is just like that much-loved character as portrayed by Emma T: loyal, sensible, sensitive, aware and ready to put others before herself.  Again, how could you not love her?!

And that brings me to the effortlessly appealing Emma W: we did our Masters of Commerce together in Australia and became friends quickly.  Emma W can talk clothes, handbags, shoes and girly magazines (she’s often catches me up on media gossip, especially about Liam Neeson of whom I’m stupidly fond), but that light-hearted side belies her keen intelligence and capacity for engagement in many a diverse analytical topic.  It also doesn’t tell you how flexible or resourceful Emma W can be.  For example, I never fail to smile when I remember Emma’s response when I invited (probably cajoled) her to be on a group project with me worth thirty percent of a subject’s final grades: “oh but Julie, you are an A student and you’ll expect to get an A on this assignment, and if I don’t do the work you expect you’ll get tense and I don’t think either of us needs that”.  (I would highlight Emma was running a household and caring for children as well as studying so her need to be practical and set realistic boundaries was sensible and important.)  I was a bit shocked at first, disappointed, thinking she’d want to study with her friend, but when she said “isn’t our friendship more important?” I couldn’t argue.  And actually the group I did ultimately work with did piss me off and, as I saw it, drag me down, so Emma’s decision was not only honest and wise but prophetic.  When I haven’t set clear enough boundaries in my life – yep, that’s happened a few times – I remember this experience and sincerely wish I had Emma W’s objective assessment skills. 

Some years later, this university friend (and her husband) were so incredibly understanding and supportive of me in the midst of a major personal crisis – generous beyond description – that I still cannot think of their kindness without a tear in my eye.  I won’t bore you with the details, but in this case Emma’s giving was utterly without boundaries or rationality, and it showed to me a capacity for love and care which is not only remarkable but typical of this warm-hearted and special woman.  You might hear that the attributes of tall leggy blondes or beach-babes are all on the surface, but I tell you this Emma has it all going for her - on the outside and the inside – and again so much of what she does and who she helps is low key and pragmatic.   

All in all, it’s no wonder I have a terrific impression of the name Emma – these women are rich in so many qualities, not to mention brilliant company!  And they just happen to share a name with one of my favourite literary characters.  So thank you Samantha Ellis for inspiring me to reacquaint and reappraise the heroines in my life – in my ‘real life’, in books, plays, television and movies - as the gift that these women are... the many women I value... is a gift which just keeps on giving. 

 

Highly recommended:



 

 

Monday, 20 April 2015

The true art of project management



Since 'crossing over the footlights' into arts and events management, and subsequently more traditional project management, I have often thought about the skills which transfer. 

I was invited recently to write a guest blog on the topic, and it made me stop and reflect.  It's certainly not an exact science but if you’d like to read more please follow the link.



http://hut63.co.uk/the-true-art-of-project-management/

 

Cheers!

 
          Recommended:

          www.hut63.co.uk
 


 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Kingsman



I have said in this blog that I write arts-life crossover stories, as opposed to artistic criticism.  I have said, too, that I don’t tend to write about productions I don’t like.  

I’ve just changed my mind.

Why?  Because I have seen a film that very much troubles me.  And I saw it before I heard the furore.  

Usually I go to the cinema to see a particular director or actor’s work.  Or I go because I’m interested in the story.  Occasionally I go to a random film because that’s what is on when I am meeting a friend at a particular location.  This was one of those occasions, and random is what our experience turned out to be.

Kingsman is an action comedy which appeared to suit our Friday evening mood.  It was never going to be a great film, the premise too far-fetched and the characters so light they are flimsy.  However the film is entertaining, sometimes slick, fun and silly.  That is not a negative observation as the same can be said of some of my writing, it is just what it is.  For most of the film it also ‘does what is says on the packet’.  It bubbles along and gives you a giggle.  So far so good... 

Until, that is, you get to the final scene.  You may have heard about the controversy and if not you should.  Because what the makers of this film have done by way of a substitute for a real ending is disgraceful.  Indeed I would go so far as to say, criminal.     

If you think I’m exaggerating, let me ask:
 

·         Do you agree, over history, that it is a travesty warriors have arrived in a place and, no sooner asserted their authority, gone on to rape and pillage? 


·         Do you think a super hero, a special agent, or anyone acting the part of a ‘protector’ should take advantage of the vulnerable? 

·         Do you agree there are standards and values which popular cultural has some responsibility to uphold? 

·         Do you agree that sexism is wrong? 

·         Do you agree that information which is disseminated and shown to be discriminatory – especially in Great Britain, the United States and countries claiming the moral high ground – should be allowed to circulate in the public realm without repercussions?

·         Do you think power should be used wisely and women and young people protected? 

·         And do you agree that a film should be classified as suitable for young people if the contents of that film – physical or psychological – could harm them?

If you have answered yes to any or all of these questions then even before you know the details you should appraise Kingsman with your eyes open.
 
I am not a prude; nor is the young woman, Emma, seated with me in the cinema.  She is educated, in her early twenties, and working at the London School of Economics.  Yet we were utterly shocked by the sudden turn of this film.  Indeed everyone in the cinema was stunned; the general reaction one of jaw-dropping silence.  We, and many, are appalled by what the makers of this film – and those who released it – think is an acceptable way to end a film in the 21st Century. 

Has the fight for women’s rights, for respect and equality, receded that far? 

Is sexism so entrenched such that the people who contributed to the decision to leave that ridiculous scene in the film can no longer see it?   Or can they see it but just don’t care?  

Or do men really feel that it is not only acceptable, but humorous, to send a message to young people around the world that it is normal and impressive for a conquering male to use his power to take extreme sexual liberties where and how he may?

I make no judgement on anal sex.  What consenting adults do in their own beds doesn’t concern me in the least.  It is the context here which is so reprehensible:
 
·         the woman offering up her “arsehole”, as she so elegantly puts it, is captive and reliant upon the hero for her release from prison

·         the hero has champagne and acts as if it’s all a laugh and why shouldn’t he – a virile and conquering male – get from the damsel in distress what all men want (so it suggests)

·         the woman doesn’t know him and has had no relationship with him (barely with the audience)

·         there is no intimacy or respect

·         there is no relevance to the story

·         there is an underlying aggression about his desire (and his arrogance)

·         there is aggression too in the implied need for him to take the one thing left on this rescued planet that he hasn’t yet conquered

·         the scene is utterly gratuitous and in the worst possible taste

·         the scene, the ending, lacks any creative credibility or real imagination

·         and it ruins an otherwise frivolous romp of a narrative - undermining anything of value which has gone before (including all the performances)

I didn’t need to read a review to know that this ‘ending’ was a spoof on the ending of James Bond films, where Bond always scores the girl.  But that excuse from the director is as pathetic as the scene itself – because it lacks all Bond charm and class.  Even the Bond franchise has grown with the times and wouldn’t dream of being so crass.  
 
Kingsman is a desperate wannabe and – unless the ending is changed - it doesn’t deserve an audience.  Nor does it deserve for it to be allowed to continue to play in cinemas, or God Forbid, on television.   

We should all be considering this very seriously. 

What message is this widely released film sending young women and boys – children from ten to twenty-five years – who have limited sexual and sensual experience?  For it seems to me, and the girlfriend who saw it with me, to suggest that women are to be conquered as and how a man pleases, and it is the woman’s job to comply, to lie down and take it, whether she wants it or not – and especially if she is in a position without power and therefore reliant upon him for her liberty.

Where is the respect?  Where are the women who were involved in this process of decision-making and who did not stand up and say “this is not acceptable now or ever”?   Or did they, but weren’t heard?  Because doesn’t that tell you what a fight we still have on our hands to resist the ugly tentacles of sexism? 
 
For make no mistake (and again I say this without reading any other commentary), any film-goer knows that this was not a decision made by a few people, but many - many men and women over many months from draft scripts, to approved script, in the shooting, editing, post-production, marketing, classification and release of the movie.  This is no accident or over-sight.  The ending chosen for this film is intentionally arrogant and shocking – and every single one of these people should be ashamed of themselves.  

And so should we if we do nothing about it.
 
I have never been as depressed at the end of a film as I was at the end of Kingsman – because I thought the world had made some progress. 

It is no wonder we can’t protect girls and women from enforced circumcision in other parts of the world, from every sort of enslavement, if we think a film with an ending like Kingsman is acceptable. 

It isn’t. 

It isn’t even funny.    

We need to find and harness our outrage.  Don’t reserve it for the current episodes of Selfridge, where one hundred years ago women and men seemed to have more fight for the subject of sexism. 

All the young boys and girls you care about are relying on you.  
 



P.S. If you want to see a film which takes discrimination head on, which moves you, is worth the ticket price, and leaves you (and the world) uplifted and inspired, then give Kingsman a big miss... and see SELMA.  Everyone involved in that project can be proud.