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Buen Camino!


One step at a time, heading for Santiago de Compostela....

Bat Out Of Hell


Well, a week on & I still can’t get the music out of my see, ‘ it was a hot summer night’ ..and ‘ my heart’s still beating’...

Sorry, it got me!

I wasn’t planning on going to this production, but had the chance of a last minute ticket- & am so glad I accepted it.

Everything about it is big & larger than life- the Colisseum is a big, beautiful venue, with a big set for a big show written by a big man.

The story is cheesy, of course, but the performances are great, the songs are singalong & the choreography is innovative.

The special effects people were obviously just let loose & they come up with surprises galore- as to the lighting, during one splendid moment, I had to ask myself ‘ Am I at a gig or a musical?’

It is funny and raunchy with a nod to a dystopian world mixed in with unsubtle references to Peter Pan & the Lost Boys.

The audience, of all ages, obviously had a great time, as I did- and I LOVED the ending!

On at the London Colisseum until August.

 The Five Things Lesley Allen Can’t Write Without...

1: A tidy house:

I really don’t cope well with mess. I’m certainly not overly house proud, or obsessive about cleanliness, but mess just messes with my head. It’s an exasperating distraction – like an irritating itch. If I know there’s a big pile of untidiness lurking somewhere in the house, even if it isn’t in the room I’m actually working in, I can’t write a word until the mess has been attended to. I fully appreciate that this is simply a psychosomatic extension of procrastination, and I am trying very hard to re-train my brain and embrace a ‘love your outer mess’ attitude - especially as my office is next door to my teenage daughter’s bedroom. Say no more!


2. My laptop

I’d like to pretend I write by hand, as it just sounds so much more authorly; more impressive. But the thing is, it took me years to write TLLOBW on a computer, and if I’d tried to write it long-hand, well, we’d still be bloody waiting.   Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love my laptop. It’s an unreliable heap of *#$t and at the moment I actually want to chuck the damn thing out the window, but I need it, therefore I am nice to it, and treat it with as much kindness as I can muster. I do fantasise about running off to a tidy house in Greece with a shiny new MacBook though. Every day.


3. The internet

How did Jane Austen do it? And Fitzgerald and Plath and Lee and all the other writing Gods whose collective feet I worship at. Obviously their intellect and ability was a galaxy or three away from mine, but I honestly don’t think I could have written TLLOBW without the help of the world-wide-web. I’m a spontaneous researcher.  I can be in the middle of a sentence about, say, a girl who is having an illicit relationship with a man she really shouldn’t be seeing, when I suddenly realise I need to know what they could have gone to see at the cinema in June 1985 – and I need to know it NOW or else the rest of the chapter, never mind the book, will be wholly, ridiculously ruined. There’s no sense of ‘let’s go back to that later and keep on writing for now.’ (They went to see Witness, by the way, starring Harrison Ford!)  


4. Some of my favourite books

I like to have a few of my favourite books around me when I’m writing – not the classics, nor my childhood treasures, but recent books that have stimulated, absorbed and inspired me. My writing is categorised as contemporary literary fiction, which happily, is precisely what I like to read. Maggie O’Farrell, Alice Seabold, Zoe Heller, David Nicholls, Sarah Winman … these are just some of the writers who have inspired me to start writing myself, have pulled me out of the quicksand when I’m sinking into despair, and relentlessly wave me on from the side-lines, whooping and cheering when I achieve something as significant as finishing a chapter. (You should have heard the noise they made when I got my deal!) Of course they don’t know they do these things; they have absolutely no idea who I am. But that is irrelevant. At the moment my desk is adorned with Maggie O’Farrell’s latest masterpiece, This Must Be The Place, Laura Barnett’s achingly exquisite debut, Versions of Us, and all of the paperback editions that have so far been released by my fellow Twenty7 Books stable mates. When I get stuck, or lost, or confused, I like to pick one up, breathe it in, flick through and read a random paragraph, and more often than not, I find my way back.

5: Red wine – preferably pinot noir:

Not to drink during the writing process (though sometimes it might help) but to have as a ‘reward’ at the end of a writing session, with a packet of cheese and onion crisps, naturally. Unless, of course, the session ends before six pm (okay, 5pm) in which case it’s a cup of tea and a Kimberley biscuit. (I’m currently working my way through a job-lot of Kimberley biscuits my daughter bought as a surprise gift when my book was published on Kindle. If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand. If you haven’t – buy it and you’ll see!!)

What a great list...a woman after my own heart, although I think for me, at this time of year, a nice glass of oaky rioja would do just nicely!

Featured: Dark water interview with Sarah Bailey

Not only am I sharing my review of Dark Water today, on the first day of the Blog Tour. I am delighted to be able to add an interview with the book’s interesting and entertaining author, Sara Bailey.

BB:I really enjoyed your book, Sara- did you enjoy creative writing at school, or was it only as a 'grown up' as you studied, that you decided you wanted to write?


SB:I loved writing at school. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful English teacher called Jocky Wood at Stromness Academy who encouraged us all to write. Orkney nurtures creativity in all forms right from school age to adults. It’s one of the things I love about the place.

I got distracted from writing when I left home and was busy having fun and earning a living, but it was always something I wanted to do. Funnily enough, it wasn’t until I was doing the MA in Women’s History that I really started to take it seriously. The women on that course were incredibly supportive and gave me the confidence to go for the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa, where I was incredibly lucky to have Tessa Hadley and Philip Gross as tutors.


BB:What did you do straight from school? I guess some of your varied work experiences have come in useful in your novel.


SB: My first job was as a trainee Laboratory assistant at a hospital in Surrey. I was really bad at it. I fainted all the time (at the sight of blood) and went out drinking with friends instead of studying. I’m not sure how much help my varied work experiences have had for this novel, but I’m sure that they will in the future. Working in the West End theatre was interesting – so many varied personalities!  I’m a great people watcher and working in different areas has been great for that.


BB:You have obviously spent a lot of the time in the South of the U.K., did you have the idea for the story of Dark Water before you returned to Orkney?


SB: I wrote the story as part of my Ph.D, so it was all written while I was still living south. In some ways I think it was a kind of love letter to the islands I’d left behind. Coming back to Orkney helped me to refine the book and to write the ending. I had actually put it away and didn’t plan to send it out at all. It was my husband who encouraged me to do so. He thought it was insane to spend all that time working on something and not get it published. So I sent it out, got lots of rejections and then, almost out of the blue, was asked if I’d like the book to be the debut novel for a new imprint of Blackbird-Digital, Nightingale Editions. 


BB: What inspired this story? Who is your inspiration?


SB: The islands inspired the story. The islands and the people.  Orkney is unique in so many ways, not least because there is a very positive attitude here towards creativity. The place is full of fantastic jewellers, artists, photographers, storytellers and poets as well as textile artists and potters. There must be something in the water (or the whisky/gin/beer – there are two whisky distilleries, two gin distillers and a brewery). When folk down south asked me if I’d miss the culture that London had to offer, I had to laugh – you have no idea how much culture there is in Orkney; as well as history, wildlife and of course the incredible views. So it is hard to pin point one particular aspect of the place that inspires me. But if I had to pick it would be this view I have every day from my house.


Beach at the end of my road.

BB: If you had to rescue one book from your house, which would it be?


SB: Daddy Longlegs by Jean Webster (1912). A copy was given to me by my godmother a few years ago. It’s a book I’ve always loved and is my comfort read.

I loved this interview, and ended it with a big grin on my face. Sara has certainly inspired me to go and visit this beautiful region, though hopefully without the traumas experienced in Dark Water!  So I suggest you go and read this fascinating novel & be inspired too.

David Hockney RA - 82 Portraits & 1 still life

Royal Academy until 2 October 2016


The heavy scent of white lilies always makes me think of David Hockney’s work. They are placed in huge vases within the wonderful Salts Mill in West Yorkshire, in permanent memory of Jonathan Silver, an entrepreneur who had the vision to buy the dilapidated mill and display the Bradford born artist’s work there, but who sadly passed away in his late forties.

The gallery now has over 400 pieces by Hockney, including large opera sets , & the exhibitions change regularly.

Hockney has even embraced the digital age, designing flowers on his Ipad to be able to send a bouquet of flowers to his friends, daily.

I have an extremely tenuous link to David Hockney; his brother , Paul, was Mayor of Bradford when I was at school.When he spoke at our school assembly, the only fact that I remember from that talk is that he wore bright socks that did not match!

There must be something in the Hockney family about bright and different-for  as I walked into the Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, I was surrounded by bright Californian light colours. The exhibition features portraits of a mixture of friends and relatives, of all ages, sitting in different poses, but all on the same chair.

I am not a huge fan of portrait exhibitions, but these were intriguing. The personalities of the sitters shone out,  they wore what they wanted & draped themselves in various comfortable positions. The colours are vibrant & the exhibition is well lit. The whole body of portraits took 2 years to paint, averaging around 3 days a painting. The solitary still life was painted as one of the sitters did not turn up, so Hockney just assembled what fruit & veg he had & it!

Favourite painting, has to be Barry Humphries- larger than life,even on a canvas. Least favourite- didn’t have one, am just a total Hockney fan! If you are passing by, call in- and then head onwards for a brightly coloured cocktail in tribute to this great British artist.

Valentina: An interview with Susie Lynes

Having thoroughly enjoyed reading Valentina, I was fascinated by this dark story & was intrigued to know what had inspired the author to write it ,so I jumped at the opportunity to interview Susie, and was delighted to find that we had lots in common...we have both lived in Leeds and Italy, we both run on Prosecco..and I wasn't imagining the subtle references to Jane Eyre! ( I am a huge fan of the Brontes)

First of all I asked Susie why she wrote this book;

SL: This was an old idea based on a passing thought I used to have when my husband went offshore - I didn't have a baby then nor did we live in the country- that was me throwing the works at Shona, poor thing. Then more recently the idea resurfaced and was fed by a flippant joke I made about my own blind trust in my husband who often puts forms under my nose and says: can you just sign this? And I do, without reading. So I have in the past joked that I could be homeless and divorced for all I know. So the big 'what if?' Came from there. The darkness came from the decision to write a psychological thriller - not much of a thriller if everyone's really nice! 

BB: Have you always enjoyed writing?

SL:I have but struggled with confidence. I did a course at my local college called Write a

Novel in a Month with the author Sara Bailey. The course introduced me to the idea of writing as a process and helped me to understand that there is a craft involved as well as a lot of practice. I started to write without throwing everything away immediately!

BB: Is the novel based on your own observations and feelings of loneliness when living in Aberdeen /Rome? ( As personally, I could really empathise with them)

SL: Yes I did process feelings of loneliness in this book. I have been in this situation a few times. When I first moved to Aberdeen I knew no one and my husband went offshore two weeks out of every month. I was very lonely and very cold. Fortunately I found work with the BBC and met the most fab, mad bunch of people there, with whom I'm still in touch.  Shona's loneliness is that of many women who are turned upside down by the birth of a child - you don't need to be in a remote cottage to feel that way. 

BB: Do you particularly like one character? If so, does that character reflect some of your own emotions?

SL:I like Shona because she has breadth. She is working class but educated and she has good morals and values. She is very straight, feisty and funny too and I gave her a temper and keen sense of justice. I create characters by working backwards from what needs to happen and how I need them to react. I also liked the idea of someone who In their professional life seeks the truth but cannot see the truth of her own life. You might think she's naive or unobservant but of course she doesn't know she's in a Psychothriller - the reader knows that so the reader is ahead. Shona reflects some of my own experiences of loneliness and the vulnerability that comes with becoming a mother for the first time. 

BB: Do you feel that Mikey changed as you wrote about him?

SL: Mikey didn't change, we just see who he really is as the book unfolds. I had read up on  Narcissism and liked the idea of arrested development. Mikey is essentially a spoilt six year old. He doesn't think he's a bastard or cruel - he is simply extremely solipsistic and can only conceive of the world in terms of what he wants.  He is shocked by Shona's reaction and knows he has done wrong but still thinks what he has done is in some way forgivable. I wanted the reader to be charmed by him as Shona was. With Valentina I wanted the reader to feel uneasy from the start and for Shona to not see it due to being so desperate for a friend. 

BB: Why do you think Valentina behaved as she did?

SL: Valentina is essentially a sociopath. She never really wanted Mikey, she wanted only to win. That she doesn't want Mikey is something that she doesn't know about herself. The thought that he had moved on so easily was unbearable to her ego, her vanity is offended. The bargaining chip of pregnancy backfires. Mikey paints her into a corner. She does what she does to regain control. Then when she 'wins' Mikey she sees him as weak and stupid and is immediately bored. She was hugely enjoyable to write - she borders on camp and I was playing with fairytale motifs too so she has more than a dash of the wicked queen - but she did give me stomach ache sometimes when I got stressed by her cruelty. 


So there it is, a fascinating interview with a charming and interesting author. I hope you found it interesting too.  I can't wait for her next book...


VOGUE 100 – A Century of Style
National Portrait Gallery until 22 May 2016
What a stylish afternoon we had at the #Vogue100 exhibition at #NationalPortraitGallery.
An early bottle of Prosecco set the tone for a relaxing afternoon, admiring the stunning covers of Vogue over theyears. From the early exquisitely drawn pieces (who knew that Cecil Beaton was not just a Royal photographer, but also an amazing artist?) To the modern icons of our age. Many , many photos of Kate Moss, but also the gorgeous Claudia Schiffer, natural Cate Blanchett & beautiful Kate Winslett. Not to forget our cultural heroDavid Bowie and cheeky Robbie Williams.
Vogue is an institution, and has reflected social history throughout its hundred years. The magazine’s mission statement , which was tomix high and low-brow culture with flair, is illustrated by not only celebrating the Coronation of Elizabeth II, covering the funeral of George VI, but adding in a melange of Josephine Baker and Aldous Huxley, Charlie Chaplin and Edith Sitwell. It must be said, back in 1926, Charlie Chaplin was really quite an handsome young man!
Favourite covers? Too numerous to mention them all, but I have to include Princess Diana, a beautiful ethereal Princess Anne, and many from the earlier years of the magazine such as the gorgeous Jean Shrimpton.
As to my worst moment...that was recognising that some of the stand out issues that I owned in the past, are now for sale for between£20 -£100, with the sad realisation they have been sent to that great recycling bin in the sky!
To help get over that sadness, we headed for our glass of Veuve at Le Caprice, to continue where we had left off earlier...
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