Aspiring authors flock to Dublin’s International Literature Festival

Thousands of writers are heading to Dublin city in Ireland this week in the hope of gleaning advice, encouragement and inspiration at the International Literature Festival.

I spoke to festival director Martin Colthorpe about what keeps drawing people back nearly 20 years on, as well as authors Vanessa O’Loughlin, Catherine Ryan Howard and literary agent Sallyanne Sweeney on their advice to get your book on the shelves.

Have a watch of my 3News report for TV3 Ireland:

 

March Favourites

Here’s a round-up of my favourites this month.

Camera: Olympus Pen E-PL8

I bought this blogger-friendly camera this month. Not only do the photographs look great, I really liked its aesthetic and the tan colour really popped. There is a flip-down screen and in-built WiFi to instantly upload the images to your social media accounts. The camera is also available in white and black. I’ll do a full review of it in the future so keep an eye out for that!

Continue reading

A beauty of a film – ‘Beauty and the Beast’ review

The hotly anticipated remake of the 1991 Disney classic Beauty and the Beast hit cinemas this weekend, and it lives up to the hype.

Emma Watson takes the lead as bibliophile Belle, who is frustrated by the limits imposed on her life as a young woman shunned by her village for her intelligence.

belle2

A tormented prince, magically transformed into a beast as a result of his selfishness and greed, imprisons her father in his castle for stealing a rose. Belle takes her father’s place. She and the Beast grow to understand each other through the help of the castle’s enchanted staff. She must look past his hideous exterior into his soul and fall in love with him to break the spell.

I’m sure Watson feels the pressure of living up to a character she – and we all – loved since childhood, but as she appears on screen singing her opening number Belle, you can feel the audience settle in the knowledge that Watson is going to deliver.

She sparks off her co-stars’ performances, notably her repulsion at egotistic suitor Gaston, depicted by Luke Evans (above). She does perhaps overplay the sincerity but exceeds hitting the emotional beats of the film as Belle’s relationship with the Beast develops.

She is perfectly matched by Dan Stevens as the Beast. He wonderfully portrays the transition of a spoiled young prince learning how to be gentle and kind through Belle’s influence. Despite the tough regime of motion capture, separate face capture, and stilts to create the character, Stevens masterfully shows us all sides of the Beast – especially a man simply scared to hope for love. His searing blue eyes constantly remind us of the human within.

It is the first time for both Watson and Stevens to sing on screen but it certainly doesn’t show – for me, their solos were among the most captivating parts of the film. The score by Alan Menken – who wrote the music for Disney hits The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Pocahontas – is nothing short of astounding. New additions feature but they slot in perfectly with the legendary music we already know. I adored Dan Stevens’ song in particular, Evermore; it truly captures the agony the Beast feels at seeing his love leave him.

Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, The Fifth Estate), his vision is wonderfully executed through the intricately designed sets. They truly bring this film to life as the characters explore the castle. Condon showcases the gobsmacking production level with epic wide shots, and close-ups of intimate details like the designs on Belle’s yellow dress. For this reason alone it is wonderful to see the 3D version of Beauty and the Beast.

disney

While I appreciated the modernised take on Belle, I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of her inventing a washing machine of all things to break the mould, and also that she helped her father break out of a cell rather than doing it herself. If Disney wanted to commit to a feminist heroine they should have done so with gusto. Nor was I sold on the final scene in the ballroom – the last shot of the film isn’t even of the Beauty and the Beast.

But that’s minutiae. For those who are worried this will spoil the original for you – it won’t. It’s a faithful retelling of the ‘tale as old as time’ with stronger backstories, a more empowered heroine, and wonderful chemistry between the leads. The transformations are brilliantly done for maximum emotional impact. There were plenty of sniffles from fans at the screening I went to.

It’s already broken box office records. This film is a magnificent and nostalgic tribute to the iconic Disney films of the past, and will take its well-deserved place among them for future generations.

Images and footage courtesy of Disney.

Review: Brontë, Smock Alley Theatre

A tale of love and loss – the words of Polly Teale are interwoven with excerpts from the iconic Brontë novels to make two hours of a captivating story.

The play is a fascinating watch because it questions what drives people to write, why and if fame matters, and how three young women from the Yorkshire moors made their names as some of the most renowned authors in history.

While the three sisters – Charlotte, Emily and Anne – certainly lead the production, this is very much a Brontë family drama: we watch their brother Branwell’s descent from a young man full of potential and promise into the depths of alcohol addition, and their father Patrick’s encouragement to better themselves through exploring the world of literature. The actors perform very well together as a whole, have clearly established strong relationships with each other that come across on stage, and all had mastered the regional accent.

I admire how much the cast gets out of Smock Alley’s intimate and minimalistic set at the Boys’ School: with just a few chairs and a table, the Brontës come alive again. We are front-row witnesses to a chaotic family dynamic, both as grief tears them apart and as they learn of their literary success.

Ashleigh Dorrell as Anne Brontë stands out for her ethereal nature and her ability to communicate her character’s thoughts in a quiet way. As Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights, her otherworldly look becomes ever more haunted and you really do believe she is horrified by the decisions she has made and the person she has become. However I wasn’t particularly keen on Katie McCann donning for all intents and purposes a shower cap to transform from Emily Brontë to Nelly the housekeeper for those scenes, although her matronly concern is well portrayed.

The ‘drunk’ acting by Desmond Eastwood as Branwell is somewhat exaggerated with deafening roars, and when I saw it he accidentally knocked one of the chairs apart as he stumbled raucously around the stage. His youthful bravado is more believable, amplified by the symbolism of his tight curls turning lank and wild as the character battles his addiction. As Heathcliff he conveys a wonderful intimacy with Catherine, complemented by Ashleigh Dorrell’s stellar performance.

For me, the star of this is Ruairí Lenaghan, who plays multiple roles including Patrick Brontë, Charlotte’s tutor Constantin Héger, and Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre. He sinks into each part with seamless authenticity, contending with multiple accents and physical ailments, and shines the most as the shy and earnest Arthur Bell Nicholls. Louise O’Meara is equally at her best as Charlotte Brontë here, playing off the growing fondness and mutual embarrassment between the characters.

One of the most striking elements of the play for me is the exploration of how loss shapes you: perhaps most evident towards the end of the play, when Charlotte is left alone as those closest to her have passed away. Though she feels their physical presence around her, their absence is tangible as she sits alone at her desk.

Overall, I thought it was a wonderful show, suited to both Brontë diehard fans and newcomers. Those who aren’t overly familiar with the books will learn more about the women who wrote them, and those who have devoured every word will consider aspects of the authors’ personalities that they perhaps hadn’t before.

Brontë has a limited run at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin every evening at 7.30pm until Saturday 11th March. Tickets are €15, or €12 concession. You can book it at smockalley.com/bronte/. This will be followed by performances at the dlr Mill Theatre in Dundrum from Thursday 16th March (8pm) to Saturday 18th March (matinée 1.30pm). Tickets there are €18, or €15 concession, with groups of 8+ at €12. To book, see milltheatre.ie/events/bronte/.

Lead image courtesy of Illustrated Productions/Ste Murray.

This review was also published on Xpose.ie.

Inspirational Women Series: #2 – My grandmother

This is the face of a fighter. Not one who swings punches or gets in the ring. One who has the kind of inner strength you hope for in dark times, a resilience that never fails.

Aged 90, she has battled Alzheimers now for a decade, and it’s not just a physical battle where the body degenerates, but it is – of course – a mental battle. Beyond struggling for words, forgetting birthdays, imagining missing children… thoughts become jumbled fragments and your family are strangers.

Illness does not discriminate. The sadness, anger and frustration lingers, that this could happen and there’s no way to stop it. That to some she is a number and not a person. What is the hardest is when people think she’s stopped existing. She is still a human being full of love and gratitude. She may not recognise those she was once close to, but that doesn’t mean the effort shouldn’t be made to see her, to talk to her, and to try and make her day better.

My Nana wakes up every day with the determination to keep fighting. She is a true warrior who does not see a future with a disease – she sees a life despite it. She has faced it head on and refuses to let it dominate her. She still holds on to her soul, the very essence of who she is, and that has meant everything to me. She still smiles, she hums fragments of songs, her eyes light up when she hears one of our voices. Her mischievous laugh lifts my spirit and makes the bad days worthwhile.

image

She would always give us anything, whatever we needed, even if it meant she had to go without. And even now that is who she is. She does not know who I am but still tells me ‘alright my love’ and that I am ‘a nice child’. How does a person who is supposed to have forgotten everything still remember how to be kind?

I was scared, when she was diagnosed. The future flashed before me, the unknown, but the all too apparent reality. I did not want to let go of the person I knew.

Nana and me

I wish someone had told me back then that you find ways to go on. You find happiness in the small moments. And somehow you find the courage to walk through the door and know that a person you have loved for your entire life will look at you blankly as if it is the first time they have ever seen you.

And you do it for them, because they are fighting for you. They are still there, for you. They are still smiling, for you.

It takes unimaginable strength to keep going. But she has.

Nana