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Worst Witch review

13 Jan

19 years ago, ITV produced a series based on the Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy (providing the now-famous Felicity Jones with one of her first acting roles). Now, the BBC is making its own series based upon the misadventures of Mildred Hubble (first chronicled in print way back in 1974). A tough act to follow!

The 53-minute opening episode of the series (officially episodes one and two, rolled into one) is currently available to view on BBC iPlayer. As a fan of the Worst Witch in all its formats, I was interested to see how this adaptation fared.

The opening seems to be aping Harry Potter, to the extent that Maud (who seems far more clumsy than Mildred in this version) broke her glasses and had them magically mended. However, Mildred’s briefly-shown towerblock home-life doesn’t exactly  compare to Harry’s awful childhood and the introduction of a masquerade (never explicitly stated in earlier versions) didn’t really add anything to the story.

Mildred and Maud were passable – I did think Mildred looked more like Tracy Beaker than Mildred Hubble, although she grew on me towards the end – but Ethel was spot on. Hardbroom and Cackle were both good, although they didn’t manage to eclipse the portrayals of the characters in the ITV series. Overall, the acting was somewhat variable, although stronger towards the finale, and, while the visual presentation was good, the episode itself was somewhat uneven in tone, especially as it seemed to be trying to present the setting more seriously, yet veered sharply into humour at times. However, it is likely that the players will settle into their roles and the tone of the series stabilise as time goes on, so hopefully these are temporary niggles – and, not too serious ones, at that, if I’m honest.

Given that the plot of the first book was used as the plot of the Worst Witch movie, in addition to the opening episodes of the ITV series, the BBC bravely chose not to rehash it for a third time. Instead, they distinguished their version by crafting (pun intended) an original opening that loosely drew upon Agatha Cackle’s plot (in the book) to take over Cackle’s Academy from her sister. It’s possible purists might not be happy about it, but it works well enough and offers something new to those of us who’ve seen previous versions on the screen, without diverging too far from the source material.

Overall, it does a passable job of relaunching the Worst Witch for a new generation and I’m certainly going to watch future episodes to see how it develops, although I doubt it will displace the ITV series from my affections. Of course, while it will inevitably be compared to the versions that came before, it really isn’t for an adult to judge it. The real test is whether kids, who are probably unaware of the ITV and film adaptations, respond to it. I suspect it will win fans. For parents who might be wondering whether they should encourage their children to watch it, I can say that this first instalment presents no reason not to and is likely to entertain them. Definitely recommended!

Reviving Classic Sitcoms

30 Aug

The BBC has decided to celebrate the days when it produced high-quality comedy but reviving some of its classic sitcoms in a series of one-offs. The first two to be aired were revivals of Are You Being Served? and Porridge, and they ably demonstrated how to achieve success with a revival – and how not to.

The episode of Are You Being Served? was set in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, that was the first flaw, as it was assumed that nobody remembered the later series of the original series, let alone the sequel Grace and Favour (aka Are You Being Served? Again!). So, we had Mr Grainger back from retirement, despite Mr Humphries having become head of men’s wear (although Mr Peacock received that title, at one point, rather than being referred to as floorwalker – perhaps they had a further restructuring?) and the new recruit was told of Mr Lucas’s attempts to seduce Miss Brahms, ignoring the equally-futile attempts of his successor, Mr Spooner, while a previously-unhinted-at grandson of Young Mr Grace was introduced, despite his seemingly-childless death being the catalyst for the sequel series.

Given that the original cast were all dead, all the original characters had been recast. Mr Grainger was the only one who was near-perfect. Mrs Slocomb and Captain Peacock were bearable, while Niky Wardley was far from perfect as Miss Brahms (although with plenty of potential as a character in her own right) and Mr Humphries was pretty awful. Mr Rumbold looked nothing like the original and seldom sounded like him, while Mr Harman was nothing like the original in any way and an insult (why not just introduce a new character?). It was the new characters that had the greatest potential.

But, it may not have been entirely the fault of the actors or the person who cast them, as the biggest problem was the script which veered between being a third-rate pastiche and nothing at all like the original, giving them very little to work on. There were maybe four good lines in the show. Too often, it seemed they were told to say or do something solely because it was in the original, but without the flair. Which wasn’t a great surprise, given that the original writers are long dead, too.

Porridge on the other hand was written by the original writer and opted to be a sequel rather than a rehash, and, thus, was a far superior product. Instead of Norman Stanley Fletcher, we met his grandson, who was doing time for computer crimes. It captured the feel of the original, while also showing how prisons had changed since then, while managing to be its own product. Although not the greatest of comedies, it was funny throughout with a great deal of potential for more, and I would happily watch a series of it – and, I would expect a series to be even better, as it would doubtless move further out from the shadow of its original and find its feet. This is how you do a revival.

Marked By Scorn: An Interview with Dominica Malcolm

1 Jun

Dominica Malcolm is a writer, editor, and publisher at Solarwyrm Press, where she consistently focus on trying to highlight the stories of more diverse characters. Her novel Adrift is about a bisexual female time-travelling pirate. Then she published her first anthology, Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Aurealis Award for Best Anthology, and focused primarily on racial diversity. Now she’s crowdfunding the release of her second anthology, Marked by Scorn: An Anthology Featuring Non-Traditional Relationships, which features a range of characters of different races, sexualities, genders, ages, and relationship structures.

Questions by DJ Tyrer.

Marked By ScornDJT: Marked By Scorn is an anthology of fiction and poetry about non-traditional relationships. What inspired you to choose this particular theme and what do you hope to achieve by releasing the book?

DM: Originally it was just going to focus on polyamory and other non-monogamous relationships, because I wanted to read more stories like that. The story I wrote for my previous anthology, Amok, was the only one that featured a polyamorous relationship. But then I became close to a guy who was in somewhat of a relationship with a polyamorous married woman, and they were different races & nationalities. I learned of their struggles, and how even the racial differences had become an issue, specifically in how he worried about how other people would judge them as an interracial couple. That made me think more about the difficulties that come from being in any kind of relationship that differs from the norm. I also identify as bisexual, and though I’ve not really personally struggled with relationships in the same way as other people in same-sex relationships, I’ve read enough and heard enough stories from friends to know how difficult it can be. I understand how hard it can be to have to hide a relationship with someone who means the world to you.

Though not every piece in Marked by Scorn explores this side of non-traditional relationships – some of them just demonstrate the joyful sides of them – I do feel like it’s important for people who haven’t been in those situations to understand the struggles, and maybe judge less. Then there’s also the importance of providing content that is more representative of people who aren’t often shown in mainstream media. For people to see that these other lives exist, and maybe they’ll feel less weird, less alone. When I was a teenager discovering my sexuality, the lack of bisexual characters in the media, and even to some extent the lack of lesbians, made it harder for me to understand what I was attracted to. What was okay. I thought I had to follow the monogamous heterosexual narrative because that’s what the media showed was expected.

At the end of the day, I believe love is love. Someone might love differently than another person, but that feeling is universal, and I think it’s something anyone can relate to, regardless of whether they have the same kind of relationship. So one of my other goals is for people to be able to have that kind of experience and awareness.

DJT: The contributions are set (and contributed by writers from) around the world. What was the most surprising or unexpected thing about relationships in other cultures that you discovered from them?

DM: Well, there wasn’t really anything I was particularly surprised by. I lived in Malaysia for five and a half years, and the way the government treated LGBT people there came up in the news frequently enough. Part of that was because sodomy is illegal there, and so in the strict political landscape, the opposition leader was often fighting sodomy charges. I travelled to other parts of South East Asia enough to know it wasn’t much different there. Malaysia is also a predominantly Muslim country, and I was aware of how that influence can affect people who are raised in that religion but identify as homosexual – I have a friend who talked to me about his experiences with that. So having a story in Marked by Scorn that highlights two Muslim men in Malaysia & Indonesia was great because it meant I could share that with other people, but it being written by a Muslim meant it could have more depth and detail to it than something I could write myself. The theme of the LGBT stories set in Asia all follow the thread of having to be secretive in different ways. The one set in the Philippines explores a relationship between an openly gay man and his partner who wants to be perceived as straight. The one in Cambodia is about two men who clearly care very deeply for each other, but can’t tell people exactly what their relationship is because of their culture. The list goes on.

DJT: And could you share why you chose some of the submissions you did and what they illustrate about non-traditional relationships?

DM: I already talked a bit about why I chose the Asian stories that I did. There were a few stories that ticked multiple boxes of the types of non-traditional relationships I was looking for. For example, Mirror Sunsets by Kelly Burke is about an interracial homosexual couple in South Africa. It’s an adorably sweet story about their romance. No Magical Vanilla by Jo Wu is about a bisexual Asian-American woman who is in polyamorous and interracial relationships, and also explores consensual BDSM. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that was why I decided to open and close the book with those two stories. Though the majority of non-traditional relationships explore the QUILTBAG spectrum, there is plenty of diversity amongst them, across different age groups and levels of secrecy and location. One of my favourites was Roulez by GK Hansen because it discussed pronouns and the difficulties experienced in Louisiana between an intersex person and a transgender woman. Intersex characters are so very rarely seen in media, even less than transgender now, so it was great to be able to have that. The characters range in age from being in high school to the end of their life, so even though age diversity is not something I consciously think about as much as racial and sexuality diversity, I loved being able to read and include that variety.

Ultimately, what I did with my selections was show how much variety there is in relationship styles and difficulties even in relationships that fall under the same category of non-traditional relationship. Also how the level of acceptance you receive from others can vary immensely based on where you live and who you surround yourself with.

DJT: Diversity in fiction is clearly important to you. How would you encourage a reader to explore more diverse fiction and what books or other media would you recommend?

DM: I do think it’s important for people to seek out those stories to learn more about them, and find common ground to judge people with different backgrounds less. But it can be daunting to start out, knowing how many different types of people there are in the world who don’t live similarly to yourself.

I presume most people might find they’re more interested in understanding specific cultures or themes over others, though, so it’s easier to search when you can narrow it down like that. For example, I started out exploring various Asian media and culture simply because I lived in Malaysia and enjoyed stand-up comedy, so I learned a lot about what life was like for Malaysians through the local stand-up scene. Some of the comedians were also actors, so that led to me watching movies like Crayon and Relationship Status. If you can get ahold of either of those films, I would definitely recommend them.

If you wanted to understand more about why the Black Lives Matter movement came about, then it would be good to search for black writers who explore themes of oppression. As an Australian, I had little historical knowledge about racial tensions in the US, so after moving here, I watched movies like Fruitvale Station and Selma, which were both heartbreaking and stories that I could connect with even though I’m white. Of course, black people have as diverse experiences as white people, and Asians, and other races, so I think it’s important to not limit that narrative. I also recently read The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae, and there was so much I could relate to because we’re a similar age and grew up in families with similar incomes. Of course, these examples are all non-fiction, but I think non-fiction narratives are just as interesting as fiction ones.

Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series is great to see a couple of different Asian races and how their cultural background affects who they are, and also explores interracial relationships. Margaret Cho is another great comedian to check out, and she’s bisexual, I believe, so she explores sexuality as well as race. I recently watched her film Bam Bam & Celeste, which was a lot of fun. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Fresh Off the Boat, but I liked what I saw of that and was excited that someone greenlit a sitcom starring an Asian family for the first time in 20 years in the US.

Checking out film festivals and crowdfunding campaigns can be a great way to find more diversity, too. Last year I saw a brilliant Vietnamese dystopian film called Nuoc 2020 at CAAMFest in San Francisco, and I’ve backed projects like Someone Else, which is a Korean-American film that is now available to buy online.

In books, I know Crossed Genres is a publisher that focuses a lot on diversity much in the same way I like to do with Solarwyrm Press, so that’s a good place to start.

If you’re interested in learning more about types of non-monogamous relationships, Thorntree Press has a number of publications, mainly non-fiction, that explore this theme. More Than Two is a great book about different ways to structure ethical non-monogamous relationships, and Stories From the Polycule is an anthology that includes multiple authors of different ages and relationship stages who discuss their experiences with polyamorous relationships. I’d also recommend Home by Nicole Berman for polyamorous fiction.

Visit the crowdfunding page for Marked By Scorn.

An Interview with DJ Tyrer

23 Jun

An interview with Atlantean Publishing editor DJ Tyrer is now available. Got any questions you wish they’d asked? Email them to atlanteanpublishing@hotmail.com and they may just get answered on here…

Captured by Poetry

26 Nov

Captured
By Julie Vanner
ISBN 9781500233815
Available to order from Amazon
julievannerpoetry.com

Essex poet Julie Vanner has not only overcome adversity to produce a poetry collection that has garnered plentiful praise, but has also disproven the assumption that a self-published book must be of inferior quality by producing one that is excellent both of content and of form (the latter being helped by the presence of the lovely illustrations by Renee Murray).

The collection opens with the titular Captured, about a pirate, which flows evocatively (“The sails of a ship billow softly, / to the mariners’ song on the wave; / by a westerly cove, near a lost treasure trove, / on a ship only sailed by the brave”) before moving on to touch on all sorts of topics. Amongst those she writes about are the horsemeat scandal (Mane Course in which she wonders “what’s next for casserole? / Sausages made not of swine, / But battered star-nosed mole?”), technology (The Machines Are Rising in which “All my machines have gone bizarre, / My PC’s pouring smoke; / I can’t drive for my brake failed car / and my dishwasher just broke.”), Facebook (in the aptly-named Facebook describing how “This Facebook lark’s addictive – I’m finding it quite fun, / My life is now restrictive and the housework’s not been done”) and nature (in poems such as Dragonfly in which we see “A summer pond stained soft rose-gold”).

I especially liked Dragonflies and Lullabies in which she asks “Do dreams drift like dragonflies, / as newborn lids close tight, / nestling down with lullabies / as you bid day goodnight?”, painting a wonderful image of a parent watching their sleeping child.

Julie Vanner writes wonderful rhyming poetry which manages to make their structure appear effortless. Captured ranks as one of the most enjoyable poetry collections I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

Short and shocking…

1 Aug

Battery Pack is a micro-anthology from Neon magazine which is available to subscribers of the magazine and free to download from their site (the first in an intended series). It’s impossible to review in any details as the stories are all less than 500 words in length, but for such a short read, it’s exceptionally potent stuff! About all I can is that this isn’t a collection of sweet and innocent tales, but if you like your stories dark and with a nasty sting in the tale, you’re bound to love this little anthology – and, you can read it for free, so you don’t lose, even if it’s not for you. Highly recommended.

Poetry Reviews – A Knock On The Door and An Only Girl

31 Jul

A Knock On The Door

By Christos Kallis

Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd, 2014, 37pp

www.austinmacauley.com

Available in paperback and on the Kindle from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

The debut poetry collection from Christos Kallis is a collection of twelve pieces infused with irony and a sense of the absurd. It opens with Columbus voyaging through a poem in search of some sort of meaning, or at least its ending in the seemingly silly yet inspired A Lonely Dot In A Sestina. The collection abounds with stunning imagery such as “A wall that you built so majestically high to prohibit angels ‘intruding’” in An Apple (a deceptively bland title for an evocative poem), “Inside a stage of desolation” in A Letter to Aeschylus, and “The light of the half-sliced moon fell upon us” in A Double Jesus On The Rocks. Even the one-line His Wolf Whistle has a surprisingly power.

For a debut collection, it is exceptionally good and well worth reading. Recommended.

 

An Only Girl

By Melissa Usher

Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd, 2014, 30pp

www.austinmacauley.com

Available in paperback and on the Kindle from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

 

The first poem in this collection by Melissa Usher, Me and Inspiration, utilises a simple but effective rhyme structure (“You may not believe it / But it is honest and true / That I get all my inspiration / Through things that I do”) and many of the others likewise use simple rhymes to good effect, producing enjoyable poems. In Holiday, ” A week away for a holiday starts with a flight / A first holiday abroad can give a child a fright / To pick a destination with the hottest sun / To spend the day on the beach and have the greatest of fun”, whilst in Complicated Sleeping, we are told “In the early hours of the day / The sun shines through the window pane / It shines in your eyes and wakes you / It’s enough to drive you insane” and in the title poem, An Only Girl, Melissa tells us “I am an only girl sat alone / I am searching for my house, my home / I have looked high and low for that tiny glow / To let me know what I call my home”.

An Only Girl is a fun and entertaining poetry collection. Recommended