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.
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.
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.
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.
The shortlist for the Irish Book Awards was announced this week in Dublin. Bestselling authors Cecelia Ahern and Marita Conlon-McKenna spoke to me for UTV Ireland on how they felt about being nominated and why they think their books stand out.
As Series One comes to an end, Daisy Goodwin – the screenwriter of the TV series Victoria – tells me about casting Jenna Coleman as the leading lady, creating on-screen chemistry, and what episode made her cry.
With nearly a million followers on Twitter and on first-name terms with one of the most iconic authors in the world, Evanna Lynch from Co Louth has made a name for herself as one of Ireland’s great acting exports.
I interviewed the super editor/writer/all-around book aficionado Claire Hennessy about her job at one of Ireland’s major publishing houses, what she looks for in YA submissions and her best advice for aspiring authors.
I recently attended a presenting course at The Actors Centre in central London. Led by Kathryn Wolfe, a TV director and media lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire, the focus was on understanding what we wanted to convey and how, with the overall goal of building our confidence in different areas of presenting.
It was a diverse group: several worked in the creative arts, as voiceover artists and dancers; others were there to improve their group presentations or to just get a bit more experience and direction in front of the camera. I was the only journalist, so I enjoyed when we had to interview two people at a time, and get out on the streets with a camera to do vox pops in Covent Garden.
One of the most interesting things I learned was that when presenters begin, it’s not “action” that’s said on set, but rather “standby, and cue”, by the producer through the ‘in-ear talkback’ in the gallery. We watched a BBC news bulletin where the open ‘in-ear talkback’ was played, so as well as the presenter hearing her directions and being told “Camera 3” or “Camera 1”, the camera operator was being told whether to go to a wide shot or close up etc, and the graphics operators were being instructed too. All of this can be heard by the presenter. While you might be reporting on a breaking news story and concentrating on speaking to the audience, you’ll also have to listen carefully to what the producer is saying to you.
However, what struck me the most is that time is always crucial when it comes to presenting and production. Everything is timed to the second, so it’s hugely important to be aware of. For example, if it’s a news show, there will be a breakdown made out in advance of how much time will be given to each section. So think about how many seconds are devoted to the music, your intro, and then maybe a live report before the camera comes back to studio.
Perhaps the live report has taken a little longer than scheduled and you’ll have to cut something by 30 seconds – but it’s about maintaining a cool head, listening to your producer in the gallery who will tell you how much time is remaining, and for you to fill in the five or ten second gap without your audience noticing anything.
I found presenting with ‘in-ear talkback’ and being counted down a fun challenge. We tackled pieces to camera, too, which involved learning off a section of the script and saying it confidently down the lens of the camera, sometimes walking along at the same time. A 10-second link is about 30 words, so slow it down, memorise it and be ready to go, smiling if appropriate for the piece when “standby” is said.
So, here are three key steps I picked up from the course to become a better presenter:
1) Warm up properly.
I hadn’t particularly considered this as an element of preparation for presenting, but it can make a huge difference when you take a few moments to stretch your muscles, complete a physical and vocal warm-up, and get yourself mentally ready.
To deal with nerves, ensure you’re breathing slowly, almost like yoga, focusing on the ‘in’ and ‘out’. But stay a little bit nervous – it’ll give you energy to keep going! We tapped our bare feet off the ground as a calming exercise. Consider your posture (shoulders back), body language, clear diction and a smile. Be natural.
Talk through any potential problems with your producer or director, and mark up your script with your own personal notes on tricky pronunciations or long figures. You could ask the autocue operator to spell out “two hundred and ninety seven thousand, five hundred” in your script instead of trying to decipher “297,500” quickly when you’re reading. Rehearse what you’re going to do, read your intro and ending out loud, and do one or two practice runs of your piece to camera. It will all help you to feel extra confident with what you are doing, and that will come across to the audience.
2) Be prepared…for everything and anything.
Do your research in advance. Know about the guest you’re interviewing, what they’re passionate about, what they’ve done recently, any topical comments they’ve made which you can discuss, and what’s coming up for them. You or a researcher could put together a briefing pack on them for you to go over again before the interview, so you’re fully up to date and ready with suitable questions. If you want to run the guest through a few of your questions so they feel more at ease, that’s up to you, but more often than not, the best answers are spontaneous.
Learn your script – this will give you the confidence to continue even if something goes wrong, or if you suddenly have to report a breaking news story on air. There could be many versions, so mark the latest script and always have it with you. Have a printed copy on your person in case your technology fails, and make sure to turn the pages as you progress through the show, in case you have to refer to something and you don’t have to awkwardly find page 20 when you’re in the middle of a bulletin.
If you’re interviewing multiple people, consider what they have in common, or indeed, what they disagree about. Balance it so that each person gets the opportunity to have their say. Be aware of closed questions – ones where your guests could simply answer “yes” or “no”. Try asking them “Why did you do that? How did it make you feel?” Encourage them to explore their reasoning, that’s the way to a natural conversation.
Think about how you’re going to start and wrap up too. It’s all very well if your interview goes fantastically but if you give it a terrible, mumbled and rushed ending that’s what will stick out. If you have a structure in mind (even a list of bullet points), that can really help.
3) Know your audience.
When you look down the lens, maintain that eye contact and don’t be afraid to do so, because you’re speaking to one person. That’s who you’re trying to engage. But really imagine it’s someone – your mum, your best friend, your nephew – and think about how you’d explain this topic to them and what words you’d use. Don’t drop eye contact when you finish presenting a report and you’re handing back to studio, because you might still be live. Keep looking.
If you do look away during your report, have a good reason for doing so. But remember, the audience’s attention will be diverted by this. They’ll want to know what you’re looking at. Will it intrigue them too? Get the camera to show them. But if you make a mistake, just keep going and it will soon be forgotten.
Most importantly, who is your audience? What tone should you take? Are you presenting to an eight-year-old or a 35-year-old? An amateur historian or a professional one? Is a YouTube vlog or a weather report?
What’s going to interest your audience most? Ask the questions they’ll want the answers to. Be naturally engaged and genuinely interested; a viewer will know if you’re not, they’ll see it in your eyes.
When you find that connection with your viewer, emphasise their value: “Lovely to see YOU. Thank YOU for joining me.” Even if you have an audience of 20 million people, it’s essential to make every single person at home feel like you’re speaking directly to them.
How do we tell a news story? Can the way we write be the same even in a different language? Here I look at the main stories from three newspapers in three countries – Britain, Ireland and France – on Monday June 2nd, analysing the style, tone, choice of words and the use of quotations.
Upcoming fashion designer Stephen Foley chats to London Oral History’s Marése O’Sullivan about following in the footsteps of his ancestors, how he feels to be an Irish immigrant in London and what his plans are for the future.
In honour of World Book Day this week, Marése O’Sullivan spoke to the new Chair of The Society of Young Publishers (SYP), Helen Youngs, to find out about her publishing career so far, being impressed by famous people and what her plans are for the SYP.