Review: Rock of Ages at The King’s Theatre

The smell of wine and cheap perfume is practically rife in The King’s Theatre, Glasgow, as the audience settles in for a night of rock n’ roll debauchery at Rock of Ages.

A global smash hit musical with stints on London’s West End, Broadway, and Las Vegas, Rock of Ages promises to bring crowds hurtling back to 1980s Los Angeles when bands like Mötley Crüe wore more makeup than their female fans, glam metal dominated, and every mind-expanding drug and excuse to party was very much used and abused.

Set on the Sunset Strip, in the ‘Bourbon Room’, a remake of the notorious Whisky a Go Go, Lonny (Lucas Rush) is our fabulously flamboyant narrator.

We meet Lonny in a time of crisis for his beloved Bourbon Room as developers measle their way in and threaten to demolish the Strip and replace it with a clean-living, civilised suburbia.

A cast of rockers and misfits dance, sing, and fight their way back with perfectly-executed choreography and electric vocals, using everyone’s favourite rock ballads to ward off the suits.

Of course, no story would be complete without a love story, as Lonny breaks the fourth wall to tell us. Enter: Drew (Luke Walsh), a city boy, born and raised in South Detriot, and young aspiring rock star who mops floors in the Bourbon, and Sherrie (Jodie Steele), a small town girl, living in a lonely world, who took the midnight train to LA to become an actress.

With passionate, roof-shattering vocals from Walsh, Steele, and the rest of the cast, the show gives the people what they want with hits including We Built This City, Don’t Stop Believin’, We’re Not Gonna Take It, I Wanna Know What Love Is and many more. (But no Def Leppard? Come on, guys. What about Pour Some Sugar On Me?)

Rush as Lonny is one of the true stars of the show who never fails to make us laugh, interact with the audience, and adlib with effortless charisma. Zoe Birkett, too, is an unsung hero of the show with powerhouse vocals and dazzling sex appeal as Justice, the owner of Venus, a ‘gentleman’s club’ on Sunset Strip.

The worry with musicals based on rock music is often that the raspy tones and thrashing guitar solos synonymous with metal won’t translate onto the stage where the performances are precise and the vocals are crisp and clean with a large helping of cheese.

But Rock of Ages more than compensates with dynamic costumes, dramatic rock gig lighting, passionate vocals, and explosive performances from a cast that seemingly never run out of energy.

Rock of Ages is a feelgood, tongue n’ cheek hit of nostalgia that reminds everyone why we’re still obsessed with the music and fashion of the 1980s.

Have you seen Rock of Ages? Let me know what you thought in the comment section below.

Melissa Chan’s Literary Book Gifts / Promo Code

Do you know someone who has scribbled, underlined, highlighted, and put dozens of post-it notes in the battered, crumpled old copy of their favourite novel? Or someone who has never missed a book signing by their favourite author and always manages to get to the front of the queue for a personalised message in their copy of the latest release? Or maybe someone who was right there in the front row, on the edge of their seat, clutching an extra large bag of popcorn at the midnight screening of the film adaptation of their favourite book?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, Literary Book Gifts is the perfect place to look for something special just for them.

The best and most memorable gifts are always the ones that you know had genuine thought and creativity put into them. And that’s where Melissa Chan comes in.

What is Literary Book Gifts?

I spoke to Melissa, owner and designer of Literary Book Gifts, a small company bringing books to life, about the inspiration behind her business.

‘I started Literary Book Gifts as a way to make unique and interesting shirts for teachers, librarians, and generally anyone who loves to read. Launched earlier this year, it carries t-shirts and tote bags in tons of designs ranging from gifts for Edgar Allan Poe fans to those who love the great classic Moby Dick.’

‘I run the business myself and launched in early 2018. Each and every design is inspired by the particular themes of the novel. I also draw much inspiration from art history and in particular, the art nouveau movement.’

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Whether you’re looking for a gift for a Wuthering Heights or Dracula fan, Literary Book Gifts has something for everyone.

The designs are inspired by imagery from the novels from the ominous graveyard scene for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein tote bag and matching t-shirt, to the classic raven on the Edgar Allan Poe clothing.

With the rise of literature-inspired design, Melissa has created a way of transferring the portable magic of books into fashion design with a range of high-quality tote bags, t-shirts, and hoodies; perfect for bookworms and literature students who want to wear something from their favourite novel, short story, or poem.

Use the code SOPHIEMCNAUGHTON20 at the checkout for 20% off any order from Literary Book Gifts.

What do you think of Literary Book Gifts? Let me know in the comment section below. 

 

Introducing Melisa Kelly and the Smokin Crows

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Introducing Melisa Kelly and the Smokin Crows!

Made up of frontwoman Melisa Kelly, lead guitarist Luca Pisanu, pianist Dean Darkie, Luther Sean Hall on bass, and Micah Johnston on drums, their music is a patented blend of blues, classic old-school soul, and powerful Amy Winehouse jazz.

Lead vocalist Melisa Kelly exhibited a talent for singing from a young age and started gigging professionally around Glasgow and the West of Scotland in 2010. She has since played in some of Glasgow’s most renowned and beloved venues including The Gaiety Theatre, the O2 ABC, and the O2 Academy.

Melisa Kelly and the Smokin Crows formed when Melisa worked on various music ventures with pianist Dean and bassist Luther. The trio started collaborating with guitarist Luca and drummer Micah when they met through jam sessions held in Glasgow. And so Melisa Kelly and the Smokin Crows were born.

Since they formed, the band have supported huge acts including Alabama 3, The View, and Big Boy Bloater. Melisa’s rich, enunciated, raspy tones pack a real punch reminiscent of the awesome Etta James.

With every band member bringing their own unique influences and talents to the table, Melisa Kelly and the Smokin Crows are a force to be reckoned with.

Here is the band performing ‘Devil’s Luck’ on STV2’s Live @ Five:

‘Devil’s Luck’ Album Launch Party

Following the release of their critically acclaimed EP ‘Some Kind of Voodoo‘ in 2015, the band has just wrapped up recording their debut album ‘Devil’s Luck’. The album was recorded at Chamber Studios and mastered at the iconic Abbey Road Studios.

‘Devil’s Luck’ will be launched at a special event in Saint Luke’s in Glasgow’s East End (buy your tickets here!) on Thursday, August 2.

At the launch party, Melisa Kelly and the Smokin Crows will be accompanied by members of Jools Holland’s RnB orchestra who recorded the album with the band.

This event is guaranteed to be a night to remember. The intimate listening party will showcase the album which will be performed live in its entirety. There will also be support from local live acts with special guests yet to be confirmed.

For fans of Aretha Franklin and James Brown, this album launch is a party not to missed!

To find out more about the band, you can follow updates on YouTubeFacebookTwitter and SoundCloud.

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Rubber Ducks

(radio static) Bizarre reports of hundreds of rubber ducks appearing overnight in Central Park continue today. Another 4,548 of the squeaky yellow toys were found this morning. The bath time companions have mostly been found inside trash cans, on benches, and on top of bridges across the park’s grounds.

Rumours are circulating amongst concerned parents that a gang of thieves is breaking into their homes, somehow undetected, as part of a strange prank. Reports indicate that children across the city, too, are becoming distressed with rumours of rubber-duck-stealing bogeymen and monsters infecting playgrounds across New York City.

 

ACT 1

SCENE 1:

A group of small children gather next to the swings in a busy school playground during lunch time.

SID: Okay, guys…guys…we need to do something. No more duck stealing in this joint. I won’t sleep until I get my duck back.

DUNCAN: But who’s taken ‘em? If it is the bogeyman, I ain’t fighting him.

LEWIS: Aw, are ya scared? (Makes chicken noises.)

DUNCAN: No!

LEWIS: Duncan’s scared of the bogeyman!

SID: Hey! Even if it is the bogeyman, we can beat him! There’s trillions of us and only one of him. Everybody wait at the gates after school and we’ll go find him and get our ducks back for good.

MOLLIE: But how we gunna fight the bogeyman? We need weapons, Sid. We can’t fight him just fisticuffs alone. (Pause.) Megan still has her ducky, ya know.

The group turn and look at Megan.

SID: Do you, Megan?

Megan holds her hands in front of her and gives a coy smile. She nods without saying a word.

DUNCAN: No way! Where is it? I want it! You don’t even like rubber ducks. I bet it isn’t even yours. You’ve stole mine! Give it back!

Duncan tries to push Megan, but she pushes him back with all the force she can muster and manages to knock him over. Mollie stands in between them as Duncan whimpers on the ground.

MOLLIE: You leave her alone, you big…big…freak! She hasn’t stole your ducky. She’s got her own, fair and square.

SID: Well, somebody’s stealing from us. And I bet it’s the bogeyman.

LEWIS: There’s no such thing, slime ball!

DUNCAN: (scrambles to his feet) If you say ‘slime ball’ into a mirror three times, the bogeyman appears.

MOLLIE: Shut up, Duncan!

SID: Shush everybody! Listen, we need to go out and get this guy! We’ll take weapons from class. Pens and pencils can be knives and we can use Lego blocks to throw in his eyes and…and…blind him! We can get the monster and get our duckies back once and for all times. Who’s with me?

SCENE 2

Parents meeting in a small-town hall in Manhattan.

There is a lot of chatter and commotion. Everyone is talking over each other, getting louder and more frantic.

GAIL: Quiet everyone…Everyone? Please! Quiet! (The group eventually stops talking.) Thank you. Okay. Good. I’d like to thank you all for coming at such short notice.

Now, we need to discuss what our plans are. This hoax, this prank. I don’t know what it is. I won’t pretend to understand, and I won’t pretend it doesn’t scare me. I don’t know who is doing it. And I don’t know why they’re doing it.

I didn’t understand that stupid creepy clown craze and I don’t understand this rubber duck hoax either. But this is serious. Our children could be in danger.

MATT: (scoffs) That’s a bit of an exaggeration, isn’t it?

LINDA: An exaggeration? People are clearly breaking into our homes!

IAN: Predators!

MATT: How? How are they breaking in? Do you see any signs of forced entry in your home? Has anything of value been stolen?

GAIL: Well, how do you explain it, then? Our children’s rubber ducks are missing and hundreds of them turn up in Central Park of all places. I don’t see how the children could orchestrate something on such a large scale. We’re talking about four and five-year olds, here.

MATT: Yeah, I do think the kids are behind it-

IAN: Predators!

LOUISE: This is ridiculous.

DAVID: You’re in denial, Matt. Kids could never organise something this big. Come on, be serious. We’re talking about hundreds of kids across New York City. How do you explain that? Do they have some kind of underground network? Do their Sippy cups double as cell phones?

MATT: I can’t explain it! It’s weird. Of course, it’s weird. Any logical explanation is going to sound weird because we’re talking about rubber duck theft here, for Christ sakes. But I don’t believe that predators have broken into our homes with the sole purpose of stealing our kids rubber ducks. I feel ridiculous even saying it!

GAIL: Look, regardless of what’s going on, we need to find a way to stop it.

PATRICIA: My little Duncan cried last night at bath time. It’s not the same without his little ducky. He’s so melancholy!

GLEN: Oh, be quiet, Patricia. I think this is a little more important than your son’s duck and his perpetual bedwetting.

PATRICIA: How dare you! My Duncan does not wet the bed! Don’t you dare make out he’s a sissy again. Not like you did at the last parent council meeting.

(Groans from everyone at the meeting.)

GAIL: Patricia, please! We’re not getting into all that again.

PATRICIA: Well, tell him to keep his toxic masculinity away from my son and we won’t have a problem!

GLEN: Toxic masculinity?!

LINDA: Oh, give it a rest, you two! Patricia, you are an overbearing, overprotective mother, and Glen, you’re an asshole. There, it’s settled!

In unison.

GLEN: I’m not an asshole!

PATRICIA: I’m not an overbearing mother!

IAN: (shouting over Glen and Patricia’s squabbling) Aren’t we going to talk about these predators?!

GAIL: People, please! We’re getting away from the point of this meeting. We should be working together. There’s no need to start squabbling and get personal. It’s not necessary. We’re adults!

DAVID: Okay, okay. Let’s get back down to business. We’re talking about creeps who are getting into our houses undetected. How are they getting in, first of all?

MATT: Nobody has gotten into our houses!

DAVID: How do you explain it then?!

MATT: I don’t explain it! But predators are NOT breaking into our homes. To. Steal. Rubber. Ducks!

HILDA: (appears from the back of the group) My Megan still has her rubber duck.

The group fall silent and all turn to look at Hilda.

PATRICIA: (breaks the silence with a frantic yelp) How much do you want for it? I’ll pay for it! Name your price!

DAVID: I’ll pay double whatever she offers!

IAN: I’ll give you five dollars!

HILDA: No way! Megan would have a fit without her duck. It’s a novelty pink unicorn one I got in a store in Time Square. She won’t go for a bath without it.

GAIL: But, Hilda. I don’t understand. I thought every rubber duck in the city had been stolen. How can little Megan still have hers? Is it new? Did you buy it to replace her stolen one?

HILDA: No. I bought it for her years ago, before all this nonsense started.

PATIRICA: What makes Megan so special? My Duncan deserves his ducky more than your spoiled brat!

HILDA: Spoiled brat? That’s rich! Coming from you and that little tyrant you’ve babied for five years!

Patricia gasps in outrage.

LINDA: That’s enough!

GAIL: Stop! We’re not going to get anywhere if we keep going on like this.

The group fall silent for a moment.

IAN: I’m telling you people. It’s predators doing this! If you don’t listen to me now, you’ll be sorry. We need to do something about this. Who’s in agreement?

ALL: Oh, shut up, Ian!

SCENE 3:

Hilda’s high-rise apartment in Manhattan. Megan has just got out of the bathtub, wrapped in her pink dressing gown and holding her pink rubber duck. She looks out the low window directly in front of her which leads to the fire escape. She can hear the buzz of the city and sirens whizzing by below. Hilda has been trying to convince Megan to leave her duck in the bathroom and go to bed when the phone starts to ring.

HILDA: (sighs) Ugh, okay. You just play with ducky. I’ll be back in a minute, sweetie. Okay?

Megan nods and smiles.

Hilda leaves the room to answer the phone. Leaving Megan to play with her duck alone. After a moment, Megan sits the duck down on the side of the bathtub, cups her hands to her mouth, and imitates the sound of an owl. A rattle comes from the fire escape. Megan toddles over to the window and pushes the window pane up. A breeze blows in and the sounds of the city fill the room.

The rattling from the fire escape gets louder as someone climbs up. Finally, a mime dressed in monochrome clothes and makeup with a huge red smile appears at the window. He waves at Megan and she waves back.

The mime gestures to her duck and imitates a silent quack. Megan giggles without noise. She holds her duck out to the mime as a gift.

The mime mouths ‘No!’ He pushes the duck away, letting Megan know it is hers and she must keep it. The mime appears to have remembered something and, out of nowhere, pulls out a black bag. He opens the bag and, inside, there are dozens of standard yellow rubber ducks.

He lifts a handful out of the bag and hands them to Megan.

Megan is giddy with excitement and quickly snatches them all and cradles them in her arms. The mime makes a shushing gesture and Megan nods. She pulls out a big box of her bath time toys from the cupboard beside the sink. She opens the box and it is full to the brim with rubber ducks. Megan squashes the new additions inside, closes the box, and quickly hides it again.

She turns back to face the mime. He makes a strange gesture with his hand, like a salute, and Megan copies the action. The mime waves goodbye and sneaks back down the fire escape.

Megan walks towards the window and leans over the edge to watch the mime climb down the steps with the speed and agility of Spiderman. She watches him with wonder as he shoots down to the bottom, skips down the street, and disappears into the distance.

Hilda comes back into the room and sees Megan sticking her wet head out the window.

HILDA: Megan, what are you doing?! Get away from there!

Hilda runs over and pulls Megan away from the window while she giggles with glee.

HILDA: (sighs with relief and chuckles with Megan in her arms) You are so mischievous, little lady! What have you been up to?

Megan smiles.

Don’t Blink / Buy your copy today!

A wee blurb about Don’t Blink

It’s April 2017. Fletch and Billy are meeting up for their monthy bevy to catch up and reminisce on the good old days when their ex-best friend Fran bursts into their local – reviving old wounds and creating new ones.

In Don’t Blink, the reader is taken on a painted journey from the trio’s twenties back (2017) to their late teens (2012) and, finally, to the infamous last day of school (2008).

Along the way, you’ll discover the secrets these friends have kept from each other and from themselves.

These three linked stories, following three drunken bams through adolescence, can be read in their presented order or in reverse.

You can buy your own copy for £5 from Lulu.com.


How it all started

Don’t Blink started as a few incoherent scribbles around two years ago. When I started writing my creative writing dissertation for my honours year, I knew I wanted to revisit these stories and flesh out the characters I started creating months before.

My writing usually centres around two things – language and nostalgia. Writing in colloquial Scots can sometimes flow naturally and sometimes it can be a lot more challenging. Don’t Blink was a bit of both.

Once I had cemented my ideas for the plot, the stories flowed naturally. I originally wrote the stories from a third person perspective, but I quickly realised that it was too hard to create distinctive voices for each character when writing from this point of view.

Determined to create three separate narrators with their own unique idiosyncrasies, personalities, and turns of phrase, I re-wrote the series in first-person and found that I was much happier with the outcome. This perspective allows the reader to immerse themselves in each character to understand their behaviour and motivations.

Don’t Blink contains three linked coming-of-age short stories, each set several years apart, with a rotating narrative among three childhood friends. I hoped that the language and narrative structure would create a sense of realism to allow the reader to feel like they are getting to know these characters as they grow up.

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Image credit: Abigail Wing.

When it comes to nostalgia, I’ve always enjoyed writing stories set in the past and I like to include references to music and events from that specific time. I hoped that these stories, especially the last day of school episode, would encourage readers to reminisce on their adolescence, the friends they had, the music they used to listen to, and the scraps they got into as teenagers.

The book also includes a critical commentary on my writing process and research which provides more detail on how these stories and characters were created.

Self-publishing

I have used Lulu self-publishing a few times to create little collections of stories I’ve written over the years.

It’s a great platform for creating and customising your own print-on-demand books. You can choose the size and style of the print copy (Don’t Blink is an A5 paperback) and create eBook versions of your work, too. You can design a cover or upload your own artwork.

I commissioned my friend Kyle Smith to create the cover art for Don’t Blink. He was able to perfectly capture the personalities of each character in the illustration and I am delighted with the final result.

The only issue with print-on-demand self-publishing is making sure the placement of your cover is accurate. I went through a lot of different edits to get the bleed even, but the nature of print-on-demand is that the alignment of your cover might not always be 100% perfect. It takes a lot of trial and error to get it just right.

How to get your own copy

If you’d like your own copy of Don’t Blink, you can buy the book here for £5. Or, if you know me personally, give me a shout and I’ll set a copy aside for you (it saves you paying for delivery).

If you’re a book reviewer and you’d like to review a copy for your blog or website, email me at sophieamcnaughton.com or fill in the contact form below. I’ll be happy to send one your way.

You can also leave a review of Don’t Blink in the comment section below if you’ve already got your copy!

Review: Ma, Pa, and the Little Mouths at The Tron Theatre

Published by Glasgowist.

Ma and Pa seem obsessed with the past, recalling unreliable memories, and conversing in an endless cycle of stories they have heard and told before yet can’t quite remember. Karen Dunbar and Gerry Mulgrew ooze sharp, sly wit and fantastical characterisation bordering on the grotesque as the aged Ma and Pa.

Charlotte Lane’s inspired set design blends muted tones of cream and beige with a thick, hardened layer of dust, depleted of any real-world sense of colour and fruitful life. Ma and Pa’s world encompasses a small surrealist living room with lamps and knickknacks littering the walls at obscure angles and sprawled across the ceiling like they’ve been frozen in time.

Ma, Pa and the Little Mouths, Nalini Chetty & Karen Dunbar, credit John Johnston

It is an existence where time goes in circles, freezes, and restarts as the outside world is blocked from bleeding in through the taped-up black-out curtains. With allusions to an apocalyptic disaster and a new, dangerous alternative reality outside, only Pa leaves their fortress once a week for essentials and cans for the fridge. Ma, an elderly woman with a bulging belly who refers to the ‘little mouths’ inside her bump, rarely leaves their self-elected prison apart from an outing to source eggs for her famous homemade custard.

The first half of the play exudes Beckettian absurdism and is relatively light-hearted as we fall into Ma and Pa’s toxic yet hypnotic co-dependent routine of farce and black comedy. The atmosphere shifts considerably from this brand of tragicomedy when a vulnerable stranger, saved by Pa, enters from the unseen bathroom in just a towel and a pair of trainers.

Their rescued guest Neil, portrayed brilliantly by Nalini Chetty, immediately threatens Ma with her appearance of youth, fertility, and femininity. As Ma probes her story about a traumatic ordeal and questions why Pa invited her to their high-rise home, the mood soon darkens.

Ma, Pa and the Little Mouths, L-R Karen Dunbar & Gerry Mulgrew, credit John Johnston

Plagued with strange, guised references to lost children, an unsettling recurring theme of pregnancy and motherhood serves as the tipping point for Ma and Neil’s tone of sinister unsettlement which escalates into disturbing outbursts of full-blown rage. The atmosphere frequently flips back and forth from moments of storytelling and silly routines which are almost cheerful into painfully detailed and gruesome soliloquies.

This alarming pace, volume, and sense of urgency culminates in a troubling, climactic conclusion where the outside world finally cracks through. As Neil fights to escape her increasingly threatening and obsessive captors, Ma simulates labour pains while she pleads for help, and Pa obliviously shouts about being a child while sitting on the floor, clutching an old photo album.

Martin McCormick’s new play draws us into a fragmented world of wonderment, surrealism, and fear. The intensive experience of cabin-fever sucks the audience in like quicksand with eyeballs cemented on the strange and perplexing drama of Ma and Pa’s house-bound universe.

Image credit: John Johnston

What did you think of Ma, Pa, and the Little Mouths? Let me know in the comment section below.

Review: Jersey Boys at The Kings Theatre, Glasgow

Published by Glasgowist.


Melding old school Rock n’ Roll with pop and Motown, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons became one of the most recognisable quartets in American history with a back-story as compelling as their countless hits.

The audience, filled with long-serving fans of famous tunes, gears up for this performance of Jersey Boys in The Kings Theatre in Glasgow on a drizzly Wednesday night. As the show opens, we are taken back to Tommy DeVito’s humble, albeit it chaotic, beginnings in Jersey.

Played by the outstanding Simon Bailey, DeVito is portrayed as the underground music industry’s wise guy, oozing cockiness and swagger, as he practices with musicians on the street.

Desperate to make it big and escape his neighbourhood, Bailey’s charismatic DeVito wheels and deals to assemble a music group with a unique sound.

The first half of the show depicts the band’s steady rise to fame and fortune with DeVito plunging himself into debt to get gigs and Valli nervously stepping onto the stage for the first time with DeVito’s encouragement. Amongst their clunky band practices and tensions between band members, we catch glimpses of raw talent during rehearsals of Sherry and B-side tracks.

The aesthetic of the production with its loud tailored suits, Cadillac cars, large greased-back quiffs, and urban to Hollywood settings provides a colourful glimpse into 1960s America.

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Dayle Hodge is a revelation as the iconic Frankie Valli, a pint-sized star with a remarkable vocal range and a tone as sweet and rich as treacle. Hodge, with his charm and Joe Pesci Italian-American accent, steals the show and makes the production a true musical tribute to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

The second half of the show considerably kicks up a notch as the group become a global success and the audience are delighted by signature classics including Big Girls Don’t Cry, Bye Bye Baby, and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

Lewis Griffiths brings dry deadpan humour to Nick Massi, DeVito’s right-hand man who always wanted to start his own group but still, even after he left the band, couldn’t resist a reunion.

Declan Egan, too, is superb in bringing multiple dimensions to a character we love to hate, the formidable songwriter, Bob Gaudio. As Gaudio strikes up a rapport with Valli and stirs up tension by pulling DeVito’s protégé away from him, Egan brings complexity to a clean-cut well-to-do character.

The show is filled with extraordinary vocal performances, humour, grit, and heart. With songs not everyone realises they already knew, this production of Jersey Boys tells the true story of four guys who scrambled to success and fell back down but remain a force to be reckoned with and the owners of a well-deserved place in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

What did you think of Jersey Boys? Let me know in the comment section below.

Aye Write! Festival: Irvine Welsh Discusses New Book Dead Men’s Trousers

Published by Glasgowist.


Dead Men’s Trousers, Irvine Welsh’s highly anticipated new novel, is the final chapter in the Trainspotting saga. Until his publisher asks for another, he teases.

The synopsis for the final instalment chronicling the lives of a group of drug-taking misfits in Edinburgh says that Mark Renton is now an international jet-setter successfully managing DJs around the world. The formerly psychotic Francis Begbie is no longer seeking revenge and has reinvented himself as a renowned artist. Spud and Sick Boy are still wheeling and dealing in unsavoury money-making schemes. The blurb ends, however, with the daddy of all hooks: ‘One of these four will not survive to the end of this book.’

Audience members are sitting in their seats below dimmed lights in Tramway, a quirky postindustrial arts venue in Glasgow, waiting impatiently for the arrival of the man closing this year’s Aye Write! Book Festival.

Welsh is welcomed on stage by a roaring crowd of cult fans and begins discussing his latest work which continues the story of four characters the nation fell in love with in Trainspotting.

The first thing Welsh indulges is how this new story came about. During his time in a Big Brother House, as he calls it, in Edinburgh with Trainspotting director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge as they planned the movie sequel T2: Trainspotting, he explains how he became curious and excited about these characters again. Knowing the Leith motley crew had one final hit in them, Welsh explains how he was compelled to write one last chapter.

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Among many points of discussion from politics to literary fiction, Welsh discusses why he believes Trainspotting has exploded into a global success. He explains that Trainspotting consists of archetypal characters that everyone can recognise in someone they know. We all know the cynical intellectual (Mark Renton), the lovable loser (Spud), the violent psychopath (Francis Begbie), and the sexual-deviant master-manipulator (Sick Boy).

As readers can see themselves and people they know in these characters, we are instantly compelled to find out what happens to them. Welsh also believes the franchise maintains a cult following because at the heart of these stories is a deep existential crisis following the decline of industry in working-class Scotland in the 1980-90s in which many people turned to mind-expanding and mind-numbing drugs to fill the void.

Welsh discusses how this revolution affecting work and livelihood that happened to the working-class in the 90s is now bleeding into the middle and upper classes in 2018. With the advancement of technology and data robots which can replace countless jobs, this crisis of purpose and anxiety surrounding the world of work is still relevant today. While maintaining intense drama, humour, and entertainment throughout, the social issues addressed in Trainspotting (HIV infection, heroin addiction, loyalty, betrayal, and purpose) continue to transcend era and location.

After the on-stage interview, Welsh stands up to address the audience to read an extract from his new book. The reading, featuring a scene where Sick Boy discovers his son’s true sexual orientation, is surprising, insightful, and hilarious as expected and the traditional Welsh black comedy delights the crowd.

Next is the audience Q&A where following a question about his writing process, Welsh explains that he creates playlists for each character he writes (cheesy ballads for Bruce Robertson in Filth and Chinese Democracy by Guns n’ Roses for Francis Begbie). He also lets the audience in on how he listens to loud music and jumps around the room scribbling on scraps of paper, typing on his computer, and writing on boards when he is brainstorming before putting the pieces together to compose a story.

The acclaimed author even stays to meet fans, take selfies, and sign new copies of his book for well over an hour after the talk is over. He beams and is upbeat as he meets his fans, despite his hangover, and takes the time to have a chat with everyone who queues to meet him.

After getting their selfies and meeting the big man, fans are instantly opening their books and getting stuck in to find out where these characters are, what they’re doing now, and most important, who won’t survive?

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Have you got your copy of DMT yet? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

foaxes 2

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⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀awk here we go again

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀here I go again on ma ain

that’s a gid song aht

⠀⠀wee bitta whitesnake

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ hing on

⠀⠀⠀⠀ahts detractin fae ma point

⠀⠀aht hings distractin me again

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀wae its mad ginger tail

⠀⠀flickin aboot aw ooer the joint lit a feather duster

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ let me journey back

⠀⠀⠀⠀aht foax ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀is back again

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀  ye ken thi wan

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀mockin me ⠀⠀⠀so it is

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀well no this year pal

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀her maw n dah are ooer

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀sa the wains are entertained

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀climbin aw ooer thair heeds

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀lit wee spider monkeys

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀scoffin quality street

⠀⠀⠀⠀n makin stain glass windaes oot thi wrappers

keep thum occupado for a while

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀no payin attention tae whit am dain

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀ah wis prepared this year ⠀⠀⠀⠀so ah wis

ah might still have her pink goonie on ⠀⠀⠀standard

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀but ah’ve no goat the slippers oan this time

⠀⠀⠀ah’ve goat ma bits oan n ah dont care anymare

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀aht hings gettin hunted

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀it scampers across ma grass

⠀⠀⠀coated wae that thick frost

thi kind aht crunches unner yer bits lit gravel

⠀⠀n there’s a fog creepin lit sumhin ootta silent hill

⠀⠀⠀⠀n aht foax is balancin up oan its hind legs

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀front paws oan ma bin

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀readin fur tippin the hing

well no this time bucko

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀ahm just aboot tae charge oot there

⠀⠀three day auld daily record in haun

bits strapped onto ma freezing tootsies

⠀⠀⠀huntin this hing oot ma gairden once n fur aw

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀but here

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀just as ah go fur the door

⠀⠀⠀⠀wee pebbles paws at ma trooser leg

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀she kens whit ahm lukin at

we caw her pebbles like the wee yin in the flintstones

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀on account ae her rid hair

 

she’s goat a leftovers piece in her other wee paw

⠀⠀⠀⠀turkey n squashed stuffin n pigs n blankits

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀n cranberry sauce ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀gadz

⠀⠀⠀⠀ n gravy n bacon chucked in fur gid measure

a cacophonous combo ae the horrid food aht comes

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀wae this mingin festive season

 

⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀she’s sayin

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀dah dah mon we’ll gee a piece

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀ tae the wee foaxes

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀tae the foaxes

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀is she

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀kiddin me oan?

⠀⠀but wae her suddenly sleepy wee eyes

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀n aht wee face

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ah can hardly say naw cin ah

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀we totter oot thi backdoor n thairs thi menace

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀thi beast aht mocks me

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀comes back here n laughs aht me

⠀⠀ thi vermin aht plagues ma dreams ⠀⠀⠀so it does

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀n we ur walkin across the grass

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀n it freezes n stares at us

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀n a single wee club slinks oot fae behin it

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀it’s got pure fuzzy mockit fur

 

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀wee pebbles lets go ae ma haun

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀mon dah dah

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀shes sayin

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀bold as ye like

⠀⠀⠀⠀she’s ooer thair in her wee barbie wellies

⠀⠀extendin her paw tae the wee fuzzy ginger pups

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀n placin the piece on the grass pure gentle

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀crouchin doon next tae the foaxes

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀she makes aht chi-chi noise

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀the same noise she makes tae thi cat

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀n they look at me

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀as if fur permission

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀n patter closer tae hur

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀until she cin gee thum a wee clap

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀they munch away oan thi piece n

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀after a while ah go ooer

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀even end up clappin thi wee hings

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀wid ye believe

⠀⠀⠀⠀thi wee cubs wid melt a black hert ⠀⠀⠀so they wid

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀thair pure wispy fur

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀n thair lit a wrickle ah bones unnerneath

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀thair needin fed dah dah

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀she’s sayin

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀bless her wee cotton soakes

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀n here

⠀ye wilny believe this

⠀⠀⠀day after boxin day

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀thair ah um

⠀⠀⠀⠀sittin outside oan the grass

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀in the freezing cauld

⠀⠀⠀⠀hearin thi wains blarin the grinch oan the telly

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀wan leftoor piece n guess whit am dain

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀  waitin oan these foaxes

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀n sure enough

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀they poke thair heeds oot fae the hedge

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀bold as ye like

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀n thair oor aht ma feet

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀tearin throo thi turkey n bacon

 

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀aye fair enough

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀awrite ah’ll allow it

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀happy new year bois


 

What do you think of foaxes 2? Let me know in the comment section below. Read the original foaxes poem here.

Theatre Review: Sleeping Beauty at The King’s Theatre

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Published by Glasgowist.

As we snuggle down in our seats, show programme in one hand and an extra-large mixed strawberry and blue raspberry slush puppy in the other, the audience at The Kings Theatre is buzzing for the opening night of the Christmas panto, Sleeping Beauty.

There’s something about pantomime which turns everyone into big kids. With the extravagant, over the top costume, candy-coloured, glitter-covered set, kids hyped up on sweeties running around with Santa hats and light up wands, and the wee man selling tiny pots of overpriced ice-cream at the interval, the setting always inspires nostalgia and throws us back to primary school class trips to the panto before the Christmas holidays.

Sleeping Beauty is a Scottish retelling of the beloved fairy tale of a beautiful princess who inspires envy in a cruel enchantress who curses her to a sleeping death if she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel before her twenty-first birthday. But with Beauty’s loyal fairy godmother at her side to protect her, will she manage to escape the curse?

The Kings Theatre is synonymous with panto, as is the leading star of Sleeping Beauty, Elaine C Smith. Famous for playing the hysterical matriarch, Mary Doll, in Rab C Nesbitt and the star of Two Doors Down and City Lights, Smith is back in her playground as Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmother, Fairy Bella. A treasure of Glasgow stage and screen, Smith brings a new dimension to the show’s humour with her lovable-mammy-meets-Glasgow-tough-bird persona.

The gags in Sleeping Beauty, specific with inside jokes suited to a West of Scotland audience, add a personal, family touch to the show. Smith’s cameo as a Glaswegian Adele singing ‘Haw You’ at Sleeping Beauty’s twenty-first birthday party and her rendition of I Belong to Glasgow were among the hilarious yet heart-warming highlights.

Starring alongside Smith is Johnny Mac who steals the show as Fairy Bella’s dim-witted son and sidekick, Muddles. As the court jester who is secretly in love with Beauty but can’t muster up the courage to confess his true feelings, Muddles gets into all sorts of side-splitting scrapes and mischief.

Juliet Cadzow in Sleeping Beauty

The show also features Juliet Cadzow as the evil, maleficent villain Carabosse and Paul-James Corrigan as her son and reluctant, Igor-like henchman Slimeball. With the wonderful Maggie Lynne as Princess Beauty and Will Knights as Prince Calum, the pair provide the perfect true love’s first kiss and the happy ending everyone wants to see.

Louise Ludgate, Georgre Drennan, Elaine C Smith and Johhny Mac in Sleeping Beauty

The impromptu engagement with audience members who are cherry-picked from the front row, and the ‘accidental’ stage blunders like the exploding lighting and the falling of the curtain which reveals a stage full of cast members, stage hands, and dancers loitering behind the scenes and scurrying to their positions gave the audience proper belly laughs.

It is when things go wrong, whether intentionally or otherwise, and we spot Elaine C Smith and Johnny Mac biting their bottom lip to hold back laughter at their latest misspoken line or a joke that only the adults get that makes this Glasgow panto such great fun.

Maggie Lynn and Will Knights in Sleeping Beauty

The repetitive, slapstick humour, the breaking of the fourth wall and total disregard for traditional theatre etiquette, and the cast’s ability to make fun of themselves and pantomime itself immediately puts the audience at ease and encourages us to loosen up and have a good time.

It’s undeniable that Sleeping Beauty is a family affair, filled with everything you could want to see in your Christmas panto including lively music, silly physical comedy, a loathsome villain, a Disney happy ending, and a few cryptic jokes for the grownups, too. For the perfect cherry on top of this year’s Christmas cake, get down to The Kings Theatre this December.

Elaine C Smith and Johnny Mac in Sleeping Beauty

Have you seen Sleeping Beauty? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.


Theatre Review: Mamma Mia at the Theatre Royal

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Published by Glasgowist.

Admittedly, Mamma Mia is a total cheese-fest. The smash hit musical by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus has ludicrous high notes, a sickly sweet romantic setting, perfect enunciation, and huge grins which make even our cheeks hurt. But the infectious, feel-good atmosphere in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal on opening night is undeniable and even the dads ‘reluctantly dragged’ along can be caught bobbing their heads and singing along, getting steadily more enthusiastic as the show progresses. Whether they’re your guilty pleasure or if you’re a loud and proud fan, everybody loves a bit of ABBA.

MAMMA MIA! UK Tour 2017 Photo by Brinkhoff M Âgenburg (3).jpg

The setting is a small island, a hidden gem, supposedly home to Aphrodite’s fountain of love, off the coast of Greece and the action opens with 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan sending wedding invitations to her three possible fathers.

After finding her mother’s diary and discovering her biological father could be one of three men from a hot, messy summer way back when, she decides she wants to get married knowing who her father and, more importantly, who she really is.

Featuring ABBA’s greatest hits including Dancing Queen, Super Trouper, Does Your Mother Know, Take a Chance on Me, Lay All Your Love on Me, I Have a Dream, Money, Money, Money, and countless more, the actors even give a nod to the crowd and there is an obligatory Glaswegian roar from the audience when they cast sing ‘I was sick and tired of everything when I called you last night from Glasgow’.

With an impressive cast including the charismatic Helen Hobson as Donna Sheridan, the party-girl-turned-independent-mother who is secretly dying for someone to give her a man after midnight, and Lucy May Barker, whose trickling high notes would shatter glass, as the curious and mischievous Sophie.

Mamma Mia provides the audience with hearty, wholesome ABBA goodness and everyone comes out of the theatre giddy and on a high, with several ABBA classics being sang as people totter back to their cars or navigate their way to the train station after the ideal, boozy Christmas night out.

Jampacked with laughs, energetic choreography, 1970s glitz and glam, and infectious music from start to finish, Mamma Mia really does build to a satisfying crescendo.

Scoff and sniff at musical theatre if you must, but you would be hard pushed to find anyone who could go along to Mamma Mia and not end up singing or at least humming the tune to Waterloo all the way home.

Mamma Mia is at the Theatre Royal until 30th December.

Theatre Review: Trainspotting at Citizens Theatre (2017)

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Published by TSA.

It’s a quiet, soft moment on stage. A group of scanty clad, intoxicated delinquents are slowly being roused from their drunken slumber when the silence finally breaks as Alison (Chloe-Ann Taylor) makes the worst, most unthinkable discovery a mother can make.

Taylor’s profound, shattering wails pierce the eerily still air and reverberate through Citizens Theatre from the stage to the exit doors as the audience watches on, helpless in horror, as Harry Gibson’s colourful and concentrated Trainspotting reaches breaking point. No longer are the lovable Leith scallywags free to enjoy spectacular highs with their only worry being their next score. Now, real life has obliterated their rose-tinted world as Alison’s baby Dawn tragically dies from neglect in a dingy flat littered with bloodied needles, condoms, and unknown doses of unknown drugs made in somebody’s kitchen.

This pivotal moment in Gibson’s massively successful stage adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s cult 1993 novel marks the beginning of the end of an era for Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie. Before this scene, the play’s first act is an ecstatic, care-free, fun-filled, albeit still grim and unsettling, experience which immerses the audience in the hypnotic and explosive highs of addiction. Following baby Dawn’s death, however, the illusion of stunted adolescence is destroyed as responsibilities, deaths, overdoses, heroin withdrawal, and HIV infection inevitably rear their ugly heads.

Directed by in-house director Gareth Nicholls, Trainspotting is back for a second run after its massively critically-acclaimed debut back in September 2016.

Bringing a refreshing production with a renewed sense of gore, squalor, and unnerving but hysterical black hearted comedy, the emotive delight of round two of this play is intensified tenfold following the release of Danny Boyle’s highly anticipated sequel, T2 Trainspotting, in January this year.

With Boyle’s already iconic and beloved sequel fresh in our heads, snippets from individual character monologues lit only by a harsh, fluorescent light and entire scenes towards the end of the action evoke new meaning in light of T2 Trainspotting. One such scene takes place in Leith Central as the protagonists gear up for a mammoth drug deal which will take them to the bright lights and dangerous streets of London. As they wait for the rest of the gang, casual luggage bag filled with heroin in hand, Lorn Macdonald’s complex and dynamic Renton and Martin McCormick as Begbie spot an old drunkard swaying from side to side, trying to keep his polybag carry out in his grasp.

As they shoo him off, McCormick’s petrifying and disturbing Begbie confesses to Renton that the old waster is in fact his father. Renton, speaking to the audience, indulges that when they left Leith Central, Begbie let out decades-worth of pent-up anger directed at his deadbeat dad by savagely attacking an innocent, random passerby.

This moment brings to mind a T2 Trainspotting scene featuring Robert Carlyle’s incomparable Begbie relived in one of Spud’s ‘wee stories’ when Begbie meets his dad in that very same station (a scene cherry-picked from Welsh’s text) and Begbie later confessing to Renton during their mighty, long overdue square-go that he killed a man once, a man who did nothing to him, in a moment when he was thinking of Renton.

It is these moments and others like this interspersed throughout the stage play which create a patented blend of Welsh’s Trainspotting and Porno, as well as Boyle’s massive blockbusters. By creating a discourse between the seductive, gritty aesthetic of Boyle’s vision of Thatcherite Leith morphing into an invigorating New Labour Britain alongside Welsh’s boundless filth, heart, and black comedy, Nicholls’s adaptation ranks highly and takes a well-deserved seat alongside the cult classic’s cinematic and rival theatrical adaptations including the immersive experience, Trainspotting Live.

With a phenomenon cast including the remarkable Angus Miller as the lovable, tragic Tommy and the scheming, twisted Sick Boy, and the immensely talented Gavin Jon Wright who perfectly plays the energetic, baby-faced old man Spud, Trainspotting at Citizens has everything going for it. Every aspect of the show has been painstakingly considered from costume, choreography, and set design to vocabulary, pace, and special effects.

A remarkable tribute to the entire Trainspotting franchise (book, cinema, and theatre alike) with a refreshing portrayal of a timeless story with social issues, relationships, and characters that transcend time and nationality.

Running at Citizens Theatre until November 11, Trainspotting is an absolutely extraordinary and unmissable show that will make you laugh, cry, and, of course, heave.

Have you seen Trainspotting at Citizens? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Theatre Review: 30th Anniversary of The Steamie

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Published by Glasgowist.

A tribute to the mammies and grannies of bygone Glasgow, The Steamie is a classic and timeless comedy, masterfully blending Scottish humour with the touching sentimentality and drunken nostalgia that comes with Hogmanay.

With side-splitting laughs from the get-go, The Steamie’s joyous, light-hearted patter builds to a crescendo of hilarity with the mystery of Mr Culfeathers’s dinner – is it his wife’s mince he loves or is it the tatties?

Mary McCusker is witty and loveable as the old Mrs Culfeathers and her slow burn, repetitive, forgetful telling of the Galloway’s mince story has the audience in stitches as she encapsulates the classic, dighted, elderly relative every family, or at least every Scottish family, has.

Set in a vibrant but gritty 1950s Glasgow in a public washhouse on December 31, The Steamie is back for a run at The Kings Theatre until November 4, celebrating 30 years of roaring success and countless curtain calls.

Written and directed by Tony Roper, the first performance of this iconic comedy-drama stage play was performed in Glasgow in 1987 and has been making audiences laugh, cry, and reminding everyone of their own teetering old grannies ever since.

Carmen Pieraccini is faultless as Magrit, the hilarious, feisty, no-nonsense tough bird who shamelessly doles out the insults and dishes the dirt as she scrubs it off her own washing as well. Fiona Wood, too, is superb as the sweet and naive Doreen, the youngest of the bunch, who dreams of one day having her own house phone, television, and, the mark of luxury, an indoor toilet. T

he pair create a brilliant chalk and cheese friendship with Doreen being cute as a button with her head high up in the clouds while Magrit is keenly witty and hardy but still looks out for her pals.

Accompanied by music seamlessly incorporated by David Anderson, The Steamie resembles the excitement and giddiness of getting geared up for a big night out. But instead of putting in their rollers, looking out their good frocks, and putting their slap on, the ladies of the washhouse are scrubbing away at their washing boards, trying to get the last bit done before the new year.

Libby McArthur is hysterical as chatterbox and steamie gossip Dolly who has no qualms about stripping off down to her drawers and giving herself a bath in the sink when she suspects the black water at the baths she used – six months before – were in fact just dirty from all the people who’d be in it before her.

The not-so-handy handyman Andy (Steven McNicoll) also makes several mumbled, musical appearances on Hogmanay night to sneak a wee dram from the women who all have their husband’s carry out for the festivities stashed in amongst the washing overflowing from their prams. Unsurprisingly, Andy soon ends up worse for wear and in typical Glesgy style starts singing unrecognisable songs before conking out in from of the sinks before the bells even give their first chime.

Roper expertly creates a plethora of Glasgow patter, relevant to audience members young and old, while keeping the heart, comradery, and fierce friendship that brings the material to life. In a touching moment as lonely old Mrs Culfeathers breaks down when talking about missing her wains who are all grown up and living far away, Roper tugs at our heart strings and proves that The Steamie is emotional and sentimental as well as backing a punch of Glesgy banter.

While the play is set in a Glasgow of days gone by, The Steamie will never get old.

Find details of the final performances of The Steamie here.

 

Review: Friday 13th at Dread, Scare Attraction, Glasgow

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Published by Glasgowist.

Friday 13th, unlucky for some, can be scary enough in Glasgow city centre at night with the odd alcohol-induced zombie roaming the streets, shoogly scaffolding to walk under, cracks on the pavement to dodge, and, bearing in mind it’s always raining, slippery surfaces to avoid.

It’s the month of Halloween and with glowing pumpkins and spooky skulls creeping up in the metropolis already, there’s a nervous excitement in the air as we make our way to Dread, a new live-action, walk-through scare attraction located on Renfield Street.

Deliberately being told very little about what exactly we were about to experience, we tiptoe into a dimly lit but glowing green reception area where we are asked to leave our jackets, bags, mobiles, and dignity at the door.

In a small group, we are led downstairs into a grim, dark basement where our tour guide introduces himself and we soon meet a mad scientist as we enter into his laboratory where he briefly discusses his disturbing, experimental research.

At the start, our eyes dart around the room, our palms sweat, and we giggle in an attempt to shake off the nerves as we are led deeper into the basement. Inevitably, something goes wrong and, before long, the group is jumping, screaming, and gripping each other for moral support as we duck, dive, hide, and run through the seemingly endless maze of rooms.

In the runup to Halloween, Dread is the ideal way to kick off a night out. The Friday 13th event, a 15-minute tour, is filled with jumpy scares, creepy noises, spooky set, and a creative storyline. Think Terminator crossed with I Am Legend and you won’t be far off.

While the tour could have been more terrifying if were actually chased through the attraction, the lights flashed on and off more, and if there were more zombie characters with graphic, gory make up and costume, Dread is great fun and definitely makes shriek, breathe faster than normal, and grip the arm of the person next to you, whether it’s a friend or even a stranger.

If you’re planning a Halloween night out in Glasgow’s city centre at the end of the month, creep down to Dread 2: Mutation tour to experience the new threat in a zombie outbreak.

To find out more about Dread, find them on Facebook.

Theatre Review: The Addams Family Musical

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Published by Glasgowist.

Against a misty backdrop of gothic manors, creepy phantoms, and thunderstorms, The Addams Family Musical cast bring a new brand of macabre comedy to everyone’s favourite misfit family.

Originally created by cartoonist Charles Addams in the 1930s, the Addams Family is described as a satirical inversion on the idealised family unit. With an edge of aristocracy, the clan are thrilled by all things grim and ghoulish as it appears they don’t know or simply don’t care that ‘normal’ people find them strange and disturbing.

Appearing in cartoons in The New Yorker, the Addams Family were then immortalised in a live-action television series in the 1960s. Several adaptations of the characters were made including the hugely successful 1991 film The Addams Family and the 1993 sequel Addams Family Values starring Angelica Houston, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lloyd, and Raul Julia.

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From the writers of mutli award-winning hit musical Jersey Boys with music and lyrics by Tony Award nominated Andrew Lippa, The Addams Family Musical makes its UK stage debut this autumn. Showing at Glasgow’s famous Kings Theatre from October 10-14, the musical comedy adaptation puts an acidic new twist on the Addams cocktail of the gothic mixed with glee.

The musical features a star-studded cast including EastEnders’s Samantha Womack as the hypnotic and seductive Morticia Addams, Les Dennis as Uncle Fester, Cameron Blakely as the brilliantly comical and animated Gomez, and Carrie Hope Fletcher, a revelation, as Wednesday Addams.

The story begins with Wednesday keeping a dark secret. Contrary to Wednesday’s typical morbid persona, she falls in love with her polar opposite, a preppy jock with a clean-cut look, respectable parents, and no interest in torture with red hot pokers or shooting innocent targets with crossbows.

Fletcher seamlessly strikes the balance between Wednesday’s newfound soft side and the ice-cold demeanour, dark humour, and deadpan wit which makes her everyone’s favourite princess of darkness. As well as capturing the essence of the original character, Fletcher’s spellbinding vocals make her punk rock royalty.

As Wednesday’s secret grows bigger, she confides in Gomez, suspecting that her mother, the matriarch of the family, will disapprove of the unorthodox match. The bulk of the action takes place during an awkward, tantalising, and hilarious dinner as the Addams Family make an attempt to appear normal in front of Wednesday’s boyfriend Lucas and her sickly sweet potential in-laws. This task proves difficult considering a disembodied hand tends to walk along the dinner table, dead ancestors rise from their crypts, and characters in paintings take on a life of their own in the Addams’s haunted castle.

The hilarity of show is also provided by familiar faces including Pugsley, Grandma, Lurch, and the lovable Uncle Fester.

The making of a show starring such iconic characters is rooted in the set and costume design. Featuring Tim Burton style palettes of mystic purple, dusty chocolate brown, and blood red coupled with spiralling staircases, gothic landscapes, murky shadows, and vivid contrasting costumes, the aesthetic of the show is nigh on perfect.

This hilarious Halloween show has something for everybody and is suitable for the whole family from children to adults and even those beyond the grave.

If you like dark comedy, theatrics, and all things gothic, The Addams Family Musical is a must see this October.

The Addams Family is at the King’s Theatre until 14th October.

Interview: Greg Esplin, Co-Director of Trainspotting Live

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Published by Glasgowist.

In 1993, Irvine Welsh’s ground-breaking debut novel Trainspotting was released. The book disgusted some, infuriated others, and kickstarted a phenomenon which is now a beloved franchise.

Now, over twenty years later, the story of Rents, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie is still being picked up by every generation and reincarnated into new, exciting adaptations.

Based on Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation, the massively critically acclaimed Trainspotting Live has returned home to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this month after a hugely successful world tour. Created by In Your Face Theatre Company, specialising in immersive theatre, the show is back where it all began for the festival season.

Artistic director of the company Greg Esplin juggles the day-to-day running of operations with co-directing and starring in the show as lovable good guy Tommy.

I caught up with Greg in the midst this year’s festival madness to find out more about Trainspotting Live and if the show will be coming to Glasgow any time soon.

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SOPHIE: How are you enjoying playing at the Fringe so far?

GREG: Aw, it’s brilliant. It’s our fourth year in a row now. So, it’s good to have a change because we’re in a different venue for once. I absolutely love it. I love taking the show back home.

There’s always a bit of pressure because you tend to think Edinburgh think they own the show which they do a little bit. But the pressure is good in a way – not that we ever take it for granted or become lackadaisical – but it’s nice to be like, ‘Okay guys, let’s not fuck this up’.

S: How did Trainspotting Live come about?

G: We just always wanted to put Trainspotting on stage.

We took Harry Gibson’s play and, if you read it, it’s about two and a half hours long. We essentially just spoke to Irvine Welsh about adapting that into our own little take into a quick, I guess, punch in the gut. A quick 75 minutes. So, it really just came out of asking nicely and having a bit of passion about it.

S: How do you think this performance differs from other stage adaptations?

G: Well, a lot of stage productions, perhaps, and not that this is the wrong thing to do, but they try to put the movie on stage. Whereas we very much wanted to stay closer to the text and to the book and focus on the reality of these characters’ stories and situations, the truth behind it all as opposed to the glamorisation.

It’s definitely not a happy-go-lucky Trainspotting, it’s definitely darker. And there’s nothing wrong with either way, I don’t think, it was just that we, well speaking for myself personally, I absolutely love the book. There’s things in the book that aren’t in the film like Begbie and June, you get to see some of that relationship, and obviously Tommy’s downfall as well.

There’s a lot more behind that than just him going to Renton in the movie and buying some straight away and these are just things we wanted to hit on more rather than just putting the movie on.

S: So, what does your role as Artistic Director of In Your Face Theatre involve?

G: It’s basically the day-to-day running of In Your Face Theatre Company and keeping it afloat. Today, for example, I’m rehearsing with an understudy and we’ve been rehearsing him the last couple of days and then come Tuesday we’ll do a tech with Adam [Adam Spreadbury-Maher], the co-director, he’ll come in and I’ll just be Tommy that day, I won’t be co-director.

It’s important to have a balance and not take on too much. It’s too easy to be like ‘No, this is mine, I’m doing this,’ but actually the more you share something, it becomes a lot easier.

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S: What’s the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of playing Tommy?

G: He’s just a nice guy, isn’t he? I love him. I love playing Tommy. His heart’s always in the right place. His backstory in the book is tough because he has a hard time with his mum and his family but he just loves his mates.

The most challenging part of playing Tommy in a 75-minute play is that it’s such a quick downfall. That’s quite difficult but I do love playing him because if you were playing Begbie, for example, a lot of people dislike him straight away whereas Tommy is easy to fall in love with.

It’s not that much of a challenge to get the audience to like Tommy. But maybe just switching to the other side when he takes drugs and having to fall to the ground naked 15 times a week, that bit can be quite difficult.

S: When the adaptation first started, did you think it would become as successful as it has?

G: No, not at all. We just did it because we really wanted to put this show on and it was something we absolutely loved. We started it as a bit of a passion project and I guess you never start anything thinking it’s going to become huge.

I think if you’re going into something expecting it to be massive then you’re probably doing it for the wrong reason. We did it because we love the story and we’re all passionate. Passionate about the book, passionate about the movie and I think that’s probably why it’s been so successful because everyone loves what they’re doing.

We just finished a play called The Hard Man about a Glaswegian gangster and it just went so well and I was working with all these guys and Trainspotting was just something we all wanted to do and that was three and a half years ago. We just toured Australia and the whole of the UK and it’s been absolutely humbling. It’s been brilliant.

S: So, will the show be coming to Glasgow?

G: I bloody hope so. I’m from Falkirk so I’m between the two [Edinburgh and Glasgow] and we want it to come to Glasgow. I think next year should be the year. We’re definitely planning another UK tour. So, I’m going to put down a hopeful ‘yes’. Nothing’s totally booked in yet but we’re definitely in talks.

I’d fucking love to bring the show to Glasgow. I think the response from the audience between Glasgow and Edinburgh would be about neck and neck. Glaswegians are great and I’d absolutely love to get the show there.

You can buy tickets for Trainspotting Live here.

Read my review of the show here.

 

Theatre Review: Trainspotting Live at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

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Published by Glasgowist.

Scurrying into what feels like a dark train tunnel buried underneath the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, wearing fluorescent wristbands as admission, the nervous excitement and eager anticipation in the room is palpable. Based on the 1993 novel by Irvine Welsh and adapted for stage by Harry Gibson, the audience brace themselves for what is promised to be a powerful Franco Begbie right hook from In Your Face Theatre with their production of Trainspotting Live.

Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin, this smash hit has enjoyed tremendous hype and a glowing review from the big man himself, Irvine Welsh, who labelled it ‘the best way to experience Trainspotting’. Currently touring the UK with a stint at Edinburgh’s world-famous Fringe Festival, this show is drawing crowds from around the country. Understandably, expectations are sky high

The venue is perfect for the company’s immersive theatre experience with what resembles a wide catwalk as the performance area and a brick arch above with the audience surrounding the cast almost uncomfortably close on all sides; no raised stage, no barriers, no personal space, and no-holds-barred.

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Punters go from being wide-eyed, horrified, and hanging off the edge of their seats one minute to doubled over with laughter the next. But no audience member is safe as Chris Dennis’s terrifying Francis Begbie spits beer on the crowd and violently threatens a front row punter with a pool cue, Michael Lockerbie’s charismatic Sick Boy pulls a victim from the audience onto the performance area, and Gavin Ross’s hilarious and emotive Mark Renton bends over naked inches away from an audience member’s face and gives another punter a dab of speed which is willingly taken without a beat of hesitation.

The first half of the play has tears of laughter streaming down our faces with painfully embarrassing blunders and failed sexual conquests cherrypicked from Welsh’s novel, full-frontal literally-in-your-face-helicoptering nudity, and, of course, the worst toilet in Scotland.

For this scene, the gritty steel toilet sits smack bang in the middle of the audience on the left-hand side of the venue as Renton fishes around in the bowl for his precious opium suppositories. Flinging his own mess all over a recoiling, screaming crowd, he even chucks in a dirty condom for good measure with splats onto a disgusted punter’s head. Stunned, enthralled, and thrilled by the play’s side-splitting opening, it soon dawns on the audience that the come down from this high will be considerable. The good times couldn’t last forever.

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This young dynamic cast, oozing raw talent and charm, take the audience on a painted journey of hilarity, stunted adolescence, and recreational drug use gradually slipping into the grim realities of heroin addiction.

As things take a turn for the worst, Tommy contracts HIV, baby Dawn dies, and Renton overdoses, the adaptation’s low moments are traumatic. With a combination of the cast’s portrayal of genuine pain and despair and the intimacy of the setting, we feel very much part of this performance, part of these characters stories. The audience flinch and squirm in their seats as Erin Marshall’s brilliantly hysterical Alison lets out a piercing, bloodcurdling scream and punters visibly tear up as Sick Boy cradles his dead baby Dawn.

Tommy’s death, too, is hard for the audience to recover from as we watch Greg Esplin’s morally-upstanding, lovable good guy deteriorate with no hope of a cure as he slowly slips away in a graphic, heart-breaking scene which leaves a stinging wound.

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As the lights fade out to the pounding sound of Underworld’s Born Slippy, evoking the memory of Danny Boyle’s phenomenal generation-defining 1996 film, the audience erupts and gives the cast a well-deserved standing ovation.

Blending the electricity of the film with the grotesque poetry of the novel, the play is a fast-paced, in-depth series of hilarious, heartfelt and heart-breaking stories true to Welsh’s text. With bloody violence, sex, hard drug use, profanity, and nudity, this performance is a thoroughly enjoyable, ecstatic assault on the senses which inspires us to beg the cast to hit us one last time. Just one more hit.

As the show ends, we slowly toddle out of the venue and back into daylight, delightfully dazed and delicate after an intense sensory thrashing. Definitely not a show for the squeamish or the fainthearted, this performance is Trainspotting in its most faithful, unapologetic form. It hasn’t been cut with bicarb or baby formula, it’s pure from the source.

Trainspotting Live is a concentrated hit of the passion and aesthetic style of Boyle’s film mixed in a spoon with the gore, horror, and hilarity of Welsh’s novel, shoved down the barrel of a dirty needle and flushed into our veins.

Choose Trainspotting Live. Believe the hype.

You can buy tickets for Trainspotting Live here.

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What do you think of Trainspotting? Let me know in the comment section below.

Review: American Idiot at The Kings Theatre, Edinburgh

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Published by Glasgowist.

Following Green Day’s highly anticipated Glasgow gig being spectacularly cancelled last week, merely hours before show time, a youth theatre group are seeking to revive the spirits of Scottish Green Day fans. Shoogly Peg Productions showcase their adaptation of the 2009 Broadway musical American Idiot over two nights in Edinburgh’s impressive King’s Theatre.

American Idiot is a sung-through theatrical adaptation of Green Day’s 2004 punk rock opera album of the same name. The show features hits including the title track, Jesus of Suburbia, Holiday, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, St Jimmy, She’s a Rebel, Whatsername, and Wake Me Up When September Ends.

Both the album and stage adaptation were massively critically acclaimed and won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album. The iconic concept album and stage show takes the audience on a painted journey of love, heartbreak, war, drug abuse, and broken dreams. The work is now a beloved fan favourite which the Shoogly Peg cast strive to recreate with their energetic adaptation.

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Telling the story of three jaded friends, desperate to escape small town minds, Johnny, Tunny, and Will plan to leave home for the bright lights of New York. Their grand plans, however, soon go awry as Johnny turns to chemical love and drug misuse, Tunny is wounded while serving on the frontline, and Will is forced to stay behind with his pregnant girlfriend.

As Jingletown is transported from America to The Kings, the cast open with enthusiastic, multidimensional performances with talented lead vocalists and minor roles alike each having their moment in the limelight. While the performances are convincing, sincere, and passionate, the area in which the production is lacking something essential is the sound and lighting arrangements. As the technical aspects of any theatrical production can make or break a performance, there is a sense that the production needs the volume whacked up and more artistic direction and intensity in the lighting choices.

At certain moments, delicate and powerful solo performances are drowned out by the music with the volume of the band and the performers being slightly out of sync. If the volume of the 4-piece live band and the performers ramped up and pounded from the speakers, that electric, face-melting, rock gig atmosphere would be easily achievable for this dedicated and diverse cast.

While there are some small technical hitches, the cast effortlessly recover from these minor setbacks with cool professionalism and only use them to spur on their performance.

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The obvious rapport between the actors portraying Johnny and his evil, masochistic, drug-fuelled alter ego St Jimmy is undeniable. The twinned pair have real chemistry on stage, struggling between their love for anarchy and ecstasy and a bitterly toxic mindset of violence and self-destruction.

Among the highlights are the female lead performances showing off some real vocal acrobatics and presence on stage. Additionally, the moments in which the entire 52-person strong company come together during crescendos is when their portrayal of teen angst, political anger, rebellion, and passion truly shines.

What do you think of American Idiot? Let me know in the comment section below.

Why the T2 Trainspotting Ending is Genius

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As Vladimir Nabokov once said: ‘Genius is finding the invisible link between things.’

With the DVD of T2 Trainspotting being released this month, allowing hardcore fans and phenomenon newbies alike to relish in 30+ minutes of unseen footage and cast interviews, the ending to the long-awaited sequel is a hot topic of conversation.

Loosely based on Porno, Irvine Welsh’s sequel to his 1993 novel Trainspotting, director Danny Boyle and original screenwriter John Hodge worked their magic again by fine-combing the novel to cherry-pick scenes for T2 Trainspotting; one such scene being Renton and Simon’s already iconic 1690 scam in an Orange Hall. Mixing choice scenes from Welsh’s sequel with a brand-new plot focussing on nostalgia, masculinity and getting older, Hodge wrote an inventive script which was an instant hit with Boyle and the original cast, Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller.

Although McGregor’s character, Mark Renton, is the lead protagonist of Welsh’s novel and the articulate antihero narrator of Boyle’s hugely successful 1996 film adaptation, the character focalisation shifts slightly in T2 Trainspotting to Bremner’s character, Danny ‘Spud’ Murphy.

A baby-faced old man in a serious long-term relationship with heroin, the initial worry for Spud is that he won’t survive a sequel and those fears are almost realised when the audience sees Spud preparing to take his own life – the first scene in the franchise to be narrated by a character other than Renton. And while Renton has his resourcefulness and a new life in Amsterdam, Simon has a network of scams and a (failing) pub to run, and Begbie has burglaries to commit and unfinished business to take care of, Spud has nothing – nothing except his stories.

 

Being by no means perfect, Spud has, nevertheless, always been the moral compass of the franchise; the only friend who Renton loved and felt obliged to compensate after his devastating betrayal at the end of Trainspotting because Spud had ‘never hurt anybody’. As the sequel continually poses the question of what will happen to this lovable goof, Hodge’s ingenious twist gives Spud a new lease of (or should I say, ‘lust for’?) life. After spending his time between sauna refurbishments scribbling down stories from his early-twenties, Spud eventually combines them to create makeshift novel to be read by his new friend Veronica and the love of his life and mother of his son, Gail.

The ending of T2 Trainspotting does well to make the audience emotional by revisiting each character and the note they end on, but there is something particularly emotive and special about Gail, portrayed by the brilliant Shirley Henderson, rearranging Spud’s papers after reading and saying, ‘I thought of a title’ – a moment that made even Ewan McGregor get tear up. Combined with the numerous self-reflexive moments alluding to the first film and Welsh’s novels, the lightbulb suddenly clicks on when the audience realises the reason behind Hodge’s ingenious meta references throughout as he implies that Spud represents Irvine Welsh himself.

Talking to The Telegraph in 2015, Welsh said: ‘The game changer was getting seriously addicted to heroin in my early 20s. I didn’t have any money to lose, so for about a year I got into the dark world of scams and multiple giro claims, petty shoplifting and theft. I was constantly borrowing from people and running up debts, and that changes people’s perceptions of you.’

Just as Welsh took heroin, committed benefit fraud and theft, Spud, too, is a heroin addict who forges signatures and was even imprisoned for shoplifting. And as Renton and Simon joke about who in their right mind is going to read Spud’s stories, we smile to ourselves knowing that the whole world will.

Defying Sick Boy’s unifying theory of life which dictates that everyone who has ‘it’ ultimately loses it, the cast and crew of T2 Trainspotting definitely still have it. The conclusion makes the franchise’s down-and-out underdog a star by giving him a creative outlet that could transform his life, refuses to reward Renton for his controversial and arguably amoral behaviour despite the device of first-person narrative largely focussing on him, and brings these characters and relationships full circle.

Whether this analogy, this ‘invisible link’ between Welsh and Spud, was intended by Welsh when writing Spud or completely invented by Hodge when writing the screenplay, T2 Trainspotting’s conclusion is nevertheless a beautiful and truly satisfying ending; the ending that the fans deserved and one that pays tribute to the man who started it all.

 

What did you think of the T2 Trainspotting ending? Let me know in the comment section below.

Shelley, Welsh, Nabokov: The Dream Authors Panel with Eventbrite

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This week, I was inspired by Eventbrite – a platform that allows event organisers to plan, promote, and sell tickets to events and publish them on social media – to come up with my dream panel of authors, dead or alive, to hear talk about their particular genre and bestselling books.

I have used Eventbrite myself to organise the print launch for a literary magazine where I worked as an assistant editor and various other events. The site makes every area of event management simple, quick and easy and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone planning a party, club meet-up, cultural event, or conference.

For me, the headliners of my dream authors panel would have to be…

Mary Shelley

If there’s one story in the world I wish I had come up with, it’s Frankenstein. One of the first successful works of science fiction/gothic horror, Frankenstein was considered blasphemous and scandalous upon publication in 1818. Telling the story of an eccentric, obsessive scientist – desperate to discover the secret of reversing death and prolonging life – Victor Frankenstein finally succeeds in assembling a creature from dead body parts.

After bringing his monster to life, Victor is horrified by what he has done and rejects his creature, causing the monster to turn from innocent and caring to hateful and vengeful. In an ideal world, it would be great to hear Mary Shelley talk about the inspiration behind her legendary story and – since there are so many films and sequels to her book – what she believes the monster would have done next after the novel’s ambiguous, cliffhanger ending.


Irvine Welsh

Frankenstein was my favourite book until I read Trainspotting. Featuring a rotating narrative following a group of delinquents in Leith who turn to drugs, crime, and violence in an age of unemployment and bleak prospects during the Thatcherite era, Mark Renton, Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson, Danny ‘Spud’ Murphy, and Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie and their mates get involved in everything from comical scrapes to harrowing tragedies. Written in Scots, the book might be a challenge for those who aren’t native speakers, but it is definitely worth a read no matter how familiar you are with dialectal speech.

The author of bestselling novels including Trainspotting, Porno, Filth and Glue, it would be great to hear Irvine Welsh speak about the Trainspotting franchise, what he thinks of the new film adaptation of his sequel to Trainspotting, and if he ever plans on revisiting Mark Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie for one last chapter.


Vladimir Nabokov

Author of one of the most notorious banned books ever, Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita, a novel following unreliable narrator Humbert Humbert who is obsessively ‘in love’ with 12-year-old Dolores Haze. Seducing Lolita’s mother, Humbert becomes her stepfather and then her sole guardian when she is orphaned. Considered a classic of 20th-century literature, but controversial nonetheless, the book continues to bewilder and fascinate readers today with Stanley Kubrick adapting the story into film in 1962 and Adrian Lyne adapting the novel into film again in 1997.

I would love to be able to ask Nabokov about the process of writing such an unconventional novel and how he felt about the backlash it received. I also would have liked to hear him discuss his other works including dystopian novel Bend Sinister.

If I could have another few guest panellists, having Samuel Beckett, Herta Muller, Bram Stoker, R.L. Stevenson, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, the Grimms Brothers, Angela Carter, Susanna Kaysen, and Margaret Atwood would be ideal.

Who would you have on your dream panel of authors? Let me know in the comment section below.

 

In the Line of Duty: Building a Memorial to the Unsung Canine Heroes of WW1

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Published by Positively Scottish.

They are the forgotten heroes of the Great War, thousands of dedicated individuals who more than played their part on the front line.

But now a crowdfunding campaign is under way to provide a permanent memorial to the Airedale Terriers near the Scottish base where their training began, at East Haven in Angus.

During the First World War, the dogs were used by the British Red Cross and by the Army to locate injured soldiers on the battlefields, for sentry work, to carry messages through the trenches, and to carry first aid supplies and carrier pigeons on crates on their backs.

Wendy Turner, secretary of the Airedale Terrier Club of Scotland Breed Rescue, is leading the crowdfunding to raise £50,000 for a monument, ideally to be unveiled to coincide with the centenary of the end of the war in 2018.

Wendy says: ‘The crowdfunding campaign only started in April and it’s up to over £2000 already. Angus Council said they would match the figure when it reached £1,250 which helps give us a boost. In the meantime, I’m trying to get grants from here, there and everywhere.’

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The story behind the campaign began in the early 1900s when Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Hautenville Richardson and his wife, Blanche Bannon, bought Panbride House, a manor house between Carnoustie and East Haven. Both were avid dog trainers.

Wendy says: ‘They looked at small terriers and collies and other breeds but they settled on the Airedale Terriers because of the temperament and the sheer tenacity of the breed.’

Originally, the couple trained four Airedales who were given to the Glasgow Police, two stationed at Maryhill and two at Queen’s Park. These Airedales become the first official police dogs in Scotland and the UK.

At the beginning of the First World War, when word began to spread about the Airedales’ intelligence, obedience and energetic nature, the British Red Cross approached Edwin and Blanche to ask if they could train dogs to locate wounded soldiers and to carry their medical supplies on the battlefield.

Wendy says: ‘Once they were trained for that, the British Army obviously had their eye on them, thinking that they could use these dogs, too. So they asked Lieutenant Richardson and his wife to start training Airedales to carry messages through the trenches, do sentry work, and to carry the carrier pigeons in cages on their backs because the pigeons were used to send messages back and forth during the war.’

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The British Army were so pleased with the Airedales’ resourcefulness, aptitude and bravery in war zones that they opened a purpose-built war dog school in Shoeburyness in Essex. Edwin and Blanche then moved into the training school to continue their work.

Wendy says: ‘Our aim is to have a monument built where it all started in Angus because I think it’s a piece of history that’s kind of been forgotten about. When I started researching, I found some contacts in historical societies who I thought would know all about Airedales, but I couldn’t find anyone who knew much about it at all.’

When she began to dig into the history of the Airedales as war dogs, Wendy eventually sourced contact details for someone who pointed her in the direction of Panbride House and this piece of information set her on the right track.

Discovering the history of the Airedales and the sacrifices they made alongside soldiers, in the line of duty, Wendy was inspired to start the campaign to honour these tremendously loyal and intelligent dogs.

Wendy says: ‘I’ve applied for several grants. Our aim is £50,000 as it costs £40,000 alone just for the sculptor and the granite. And the rest of it goes to getting the 30 tonnes of granite moved, pathways put in, getting a plinth and other expenses. I feel like I’m spending my life on a computer at the moment trying to organise it all!’

‘We’re hoping to have sculptor Bruce Walker from Kirriemuir create the monument. It’s his artist’s impression on our website. He’s the only sculptor in Scotland who specialises in granite sculpture. And we really wanted Scottish granite from Aberdeen. We felt that was important because it’s a story that starts here in Scotland.’

You can find out more and donate to the Airedale Monument Fund, here.

What do you think of this story? Let me know in the comment section below.

Review: Leah McFall at Stereo Cafe, Glasgow

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Published by Glasgowist.

It’s a crisp, slightly chilly Monday night in Glasgow’s city centre and Northern Irish singer-songwriter Leah McFall, runner-up on The Voice UK 2013, is set to play Glasgow for the first time at Stereo Café as part of her debut ‘INK’ tour. After breaking away from her label and independently releasing her mini-album of the same name, Leah is now embarking on her first tour, visiting cities including Birmingham, London, and Bristol.

During my interview with Leah back in February, she told us it was important to her to find local, unsigned artists to support her in each city throughout the tour. After scouting for a local act in Scotland, Leah picked homegrown talent, Deni Smith.

Originally hailing from Dunfermline but now living in Glasgow, Deni warms up the crowd with her acoustic guitar and sweet, trickling voice. Promoting her new single ‘Bring Back the Sun’, the baby-faced songstress will be gigging all over Scotland this summer. Blending an eclectic mix of folk and pop with a delicate but powerful voice, Deni Smith is definitely one to watch this festival season.

After Deni’s set, it’s time for Leah and her band to take the stage. Following the release of her first mini-album ‘INK’, Leah is now touring the UK with Glasgow being the second date after a homecoming gig in Belfast. The crowd is rowdy and lively as Leah steps on stage in a white Nike t-shirt and long pink coat with matching shorts, signifying the artist’s unique, quirky style. Performing songs from her EP including ‘Happy Human’, ‘Wolf Den’, ‘Bottle It’, ‘Language’, and the moving ballad ‘Colours at a Funeral’, Leah regularly intersperses tracks with chats to the audience as she dishes the dirt. Throughout the set, Leah takes the crowd on a painted journey of life as a writing, recording, gigging artist working independently and getting her music out there.

The EP, sounding like a mix of 1990s R&B and contemporary pop with an electronic edge, is a refined collection of stories about breaking free from creative shackles and refusing to fit the cookie cutter mould for the standard chart musician. Leah has retained her madcap fashion sense, her ridiculous, gravity defying voice, and her spirit to remain true to herself and her music.

Giving the crowd an exclusive listen to some unreleased tracks including ‘Solid Gold’ and a currently unnamed ballad preliminary titled ‘The Emo Song’, Leah gives the Glasgow crowd an intimate insight into her professional life, heartbreak, finding love, and going against the grain. Covering fan favourites including ‘Loving You’ and ‘I Will Survive’, massive cheers follow every impossibly high note as Leah’s vocals blow the roof off.

While the gig is filled with expressive tracks and emotional moments, it’s virtually impossible to have a nice, quiet gig in Glasgow. From an admirer in the crowd buying Leah several cans of Red Stripe to fangirls in the front row gushing over every single lyric and riff, the audience is in love with the quirky, pint-sized star.

Hoping to go on to release more music, play festivals this summer, and perform to bigger and bigger crowds, Leah’s wonderfully weird voice is set to take the UK, and beyond, by storm.

Leah McFall’s new EP ‘INK’ is available to buy from iTunes.

What do you think of Leah McFall? Let me know in the comment section below.

Glasgow International Comedy Festival Review: Frankie Boyle and Friends

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As part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival, the country’s most controversial comedian Frankie Boyle heads up the show with host Fred MacAulay and support acts Jen Brister and Scott Gibson over four nights at The Kings Theatre.

Perth comedian MacAulay opens the show, not afraid to tear into members of the crowd including a poor, unsuspecting older gentleman in the front row, and warms up the audience for a night full of belly laughs. With a joke about a fish finger that will haunt us all for the rest of our lives, MacAulay entertains the crowd with his brand of Scottish humour using hipsters, old people, Donald Trump, and EasyJet employees as comic fodder. Engaging with the audience and finding out where everyone hails from, MacAulay sets the pace with a lively atmosphere as everyone gets ready for the following acts.

The penultimate act before the main man is born and bred Glaswegian comedian Scott Gibson, winner of Best Newcomer Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016. Perfect for fans of Frankie Boyle and dark, provocative comedy, Gibson’s blend of masterful storytelling, twisted humour, and comic timing announces him as a rising star in the industry. With stories of him realising he loves her so much he wishes she was dead, and how children these days don’t get scheme bootings anymore like he did in the good old days of the ‘80s, Gibson has the audience in tears with laughter. Gibson is daring, side-splittingly funny, and not scared to broach risqué subjects that cause even a Glasgow audience to take a sharp intake of breath before laughing.

The final warmup before Frankie Boyle is Jen Brister, an energetic, naturally funny comedian ripping into clueless, self-obsessed millennials, the imbeciles of British politics, the tear-your-own-hair-out nightmare of having children, and the hilarious, ignorant reactions she gets when people find out she is raising her children with another woman. A slick wordsmith with natural talent and charisma, Brister is a breath of fresh air, breaking up sections of darker, dry comedy with energetic, physical gags. Brister is a bold, confident, fearless performer and definitely one to watch.

Following Brister, the atmosphere in the room suddenly changes with everyone gearing up in their seats, apart from the suckers in the front row who recoil in on themselves, as the black-hearted master of comedy himself, Frankie Boyle, takes the stage. From his usual blend of sadistic, character-destroying, personal attacks on audience members, and his satirical take on politics and current affairs, to nail-biting gags dramatising the most taboo subjects, and traditional Glaswegian storytelling filled with profanity and dripping with cleverness, Boyle is on top form. With new stories including one about ‘a man of a lively disposition’ (also known as: ‘a bam’) interacting with a clueless family of American tourists, Boyle is back with some fantastic, fresh material interspersed with observational tales, inventive routines, personal anecdotes about family life, and political autopsy.

Equally loved and hated for his patented blend of brutal, merciless comedy shattering the mould of political correctness and social convention, Boyle’s raw talent and genius, comedic storytelling is undeniable.

What do you think of Frankie Boyle and friends? Let me know in the comment section below.

 

foaxes

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Published by Quotidian literary magazine and runner-up in New Zealand International Robert Burns Poetry Competition, featured in Dunedin Public Libraries e-magazine.


here
thair its thair
aht foax again
rummagin throo ma bins
bold as ye like
boxin day
dain ma boax in

its fureezin
ahm only in ma slippers
sa ah canny go oot n hunt it
no in this weaer
snaws awfa deep

aht foax hus goat ma wheelie bin tipped rite oor
n its firin intae ma auld boax eh special kay
ahm hauf hopin an auld crismas
cracker goes aff in its face

ahm aboot tae shout
hawl you move
but then ah see a wee cub behin it
scamperin oot fae eh hedge
wan two three
three cubs
scurryin across ma gairden
mad wee ginger snouts
n bushy tails too big fur thair boadies
nosin throo leftover pigs n blankits

awk ah feel bad noo
ah widny hurt they wee cubs fur thi world
neither ah wid

its pure cute seein um
a wee faimily
munchin away oan herb n garlic stuffin

ah cin heer eh wains screamin
n sum disny fulm playin
n ah cin smell turkey gettin reheated
n ahm hinkin aboot how much lecky is burnin
while ah munch toast n luk oot eh back windae
in ma new crismas jammies wae her pink goonie oan
since ah didny get wan

n ahm watchin eh wee foaxes
thair wee sharp mooths full eh fruit cake
in aboot ma rubbish
in thi snaw
in ma back gairden
huvin thair ain crismas dinner

enjoy bois
merry crismas

 

What do you think of ‘foaxes’? Let me know in the comment section below.

 

 

Glasgow Film Festival: The Slab Boys

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Published by Glasgowist.

Described as a vivid piece of social observation cinema, John Byrne’s film adaptation of his stage play The Slab Boys returned to the big screen at the Glasgow Film Theatre for the 20th anniversary of its release in 1997. Attended by John Byrne himself and cast members Robin Laing and Julie Wilson Nimmo, the packed screening was filled with fierce fans of the Britpop-era cult classic.

With Byrne’s use of calculated dialogue, and dramatic, choreographed movement, echoes of the production’s theatrical background echo throughout the film – whether intentional or otherwise. Having been shot almost entirely indoors, The Slab Boys feels very much cut off from the outside world in its own surreal, alternative reality full of quirks and caricatures, mixed with the grit of 1950s Paisley.

Set over the course of a week in 1957, the film follows three working-class scamps Phil McCann (Robin Laing), his right-hand man, George ‘Spanky’ Farrell (Russell Barr), and their bully victim Hector McKenzie (Bill Gardiner) working as slab boys, mixing paint for unseen designers in a Paisley carpet factory. While Phil juggles work, visiting his mentally-unstable, recently institutionalised mother, and his efforts to make a portfolio for his art school application, the trio each make disastrous attempts to ask the office eye candy Lucille Bentley (Louise Berry) to the annual staffy.

Laing has a Danny Zuko charismatic as protagonist Phil, giving a consistent, comical, and multidimensional performance. Barr is brilliantly immature, loud, and whiny as Spanky, with the two characters having a conflicting, love/hate friendship, reminiscent of Irvine Welsh’s Mark Renton and Sick Boy. The audience is quickly made aware that the slab room is a snake pit with the pair verbally and physically terrorising everyone who steps over the threshold, most of all the naive Hector. Gardiner, too, is superb as the shy, childlike, utterly adorable Hector who tiptoes around Phil and Spanky, eventually working his way up to a promotion of designer.

The explosive climatic sequence of the annual staff dance is filled with slapstick violence, drama, love, and heartbreak as we learn that someone is deep in unrequired love with the highly sought after Lucille while someone else finally gets the girl. Accompanied by a vibrant soundtrack of American, 1950s classics, covered by Scottish musicians including The Proclaimers and Lulu, music adds a tangible tension as well as a sense of fun and liveliness in keeping with the film’s eccentric tone.

The candy-coloured aesthetic of the film is vivid in every meaning of the word from the rustic slab room splattered with intense paint and multi-coloured dust, to the loud frilly suits, the Americanised rockabilly diner, the larger than life 1950s quiffs, the makeshift Paisley backdrop with an oversized moon, and the boiler suits decorated with ‘I am a Paisley Pirate’. Filled with exaggerations and melodrama, The Slab Boys, depending on your taste, could be considered either a masterpiece, much like Phil’s underappreciated artwork, or a peculiar mismatch. A genius touch to the film’s rich visual style is the sequence of comic book animations throughout from the opening titles, to a punch, to a moment of heartbreak, to the credits.

Hand-mixed by John Byrne, The Slab Boys is a wonderfully weird adaptation of the original play. The film is marmite, admittedly not to everyone’s taste with its peculiar style. But for fans of quirky, alternative films, it’s a landmark piece of cinema to be binge-watched over and over again.

What do you think of The Slab Boys? Let me know in the comment section below.

Interview: Leah McFall

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Published by Glasgowist.

The Voice 2013 runner-up Leah McFall is back with a new independently released EP and UK tour called INK. The singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland who confesses that she ‘sings weird and dresses like a grandpa’ is coming to Glasgow on Monday, April 10 to play in Stereo Café in Renfield Lane.

With INK due to be released next month, Glasgowist caught up with Leah to talk about the new tour and EP, how she’s feeling about going on the road and playing Glasgow.

So, what have you been doing so far in 2017?

This year’s been really exciting and good so far. We’ve basically just been making the record. At the end of last year, we released a track called ‘Wolf Den’ which was the first release from the kind of mini album, the EP, called INK. So, this year we’ve really just been getting visuals together and booking the tour and getting ready for the release of the EP which is out on March 27.

Your new single ‘Happy Human’ is out now. Can you tell me a bit more about the song and the upcoming music video?

The video for ‘Happy Human’ is hopefully being released this week. It got shot over in LA with a director I worked with through Will. I saw the last edit of it a few days ago, and it looks great. I’m really looking forward to it coming out!

The INK tour starts in April. Are you looking forward to going on the road?

I’m really looking forward to it, actually! After the show [The Voice], I wasn’t really able to put on anything like this, just because of contracts and stuff. So, once I got free of them, we decided I was just going to do it independently. I’m really excited because I’ve never actually been able to meet the people supporting me, so that’s like the selfish reasons. But I’m really excited to start meeting people because the support has been so steady and faithful from the show and even a few fans from before the show which is really lovely.

I’m really looking forward to getting the EP out there and being able to translate it into a live show because, obviously, that’s part of my biggest passion is to sing live. And we’re doing it completely independently, so we’ve booked it ourselves and sorted out venues. And, now, we’re actually looking for support acts in each city. We’re looking for local bands who make a similar kind of style of music who are kind of R&B or singer-songwriters. So, if you know any good acts, let us know!

Have you played in Glasgow before? Are you looking forward to coming here?

No actually, I’ve not played in Glasgow, but I’ve been loads of times. My boyfriend and I were there about a month before Christmas and had the best weekend ever actually, it was absolutely hilarious. So, we were like: ‘We definitely have to come here!’ We’re playing in Stereo Café on April 10, which I’m quite excited about because I have a few friends in Glasgow and they were saying it’s a really cool venue. I heard it’s like a vegan café upstairs and a gig venue downstairs, so it should be great.

It’s one of my favourite cities, so I’m really looking forward to it. I mean I’m Northern Irish and I think Celtic people just gravitate towards each other and one of my best mates is Glaswegian and she actually is the funniest person I know. I think it’ll be great and it’s one of the shows I’m definitely looking forward to the most.

Your new EP INK is coming out soon. Can you tell me a bit more about it?

With the EP, there’s not like a singular story. Basically, the record I made with Will over in LA didn’t get released. You have to get a lot of yeses and we just didn’t get them all. So, I basically waited out the contract, so I was free from any kind of restriction, and I just thought, ‘Right, I’ll do this independently’.

I actually started working with the producer I started working with before The Voice, a guy called BeatFox in London. And he’s just this mental South African genius and his beats are just insane. So, we just started to work together and I went to a song writing camp actually in a church and was told when you sit down to write a song just write what your heart needs to hear because you’ll very often find that that real truth will resonate with other people.

So, in that place, I was just coming out of the record deal and realising I didn’t fit a particular mould, but I’m pretty happy with who I am. The whole record is basically about just being yourself and not trying to change into something you’re not. Even ‘Wolf Den’ was just about like going out on your own and ignoring people who say you can’t do it on your own. People said that to me and I just thought, ‘Well, I’m gonna try.’

The record is like a painted journey on what the past few years have been like and a few songs about meeting a couple of douchebags along the way and a couple of songs are about the nice guy that I met. It’s a real, honest record and something I really wanted to do.

Do you think making the EP independently allowed you more creative freedom?

100%, yeah. Most of the songs were actually written and recorded in one day. Part of that was because BeatFox is so quick and one of the quickest studio engineers as well as a producer. So, he would build the track and I would be writing the lyrics and the melody, and we’d just get in and record it while we were still in that fresh kind of vibe. So, there was so much freedom for me to just write about exactly where I was at and do exactly what we both wanted to do, so that was amazing.

It’s been a lot of hard work though, like I’ve had to sneak into a lot of meetings. I had to sneak into one meeting where security were actually like, ‘You need to leave. You’re not a record label. You’re an artist. We know you’re an artist. We recognise you.’ And I was like, ‘Great, well, thing is, I’m not gonna leave. So, I’m just gonna go straight into this meeting.’ And I ran in. So, there was a lot of crazy stuff where I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.’ But we’re having fun with it and we’re just going to push it as far as it goes.

What can fans expect from the live shows? Will you be doing a mix of originals and covers?

The majority of it will be originals because we’re excited to get that new music out and the music that is ready to go after the EP. So, we’ll definitely be focussing on originals. I’ll probably do two or three covers. I’ll probably do ‘Loving You’ and ‘I Will Survive’ from the show and one other, but I will not be performing ‘Home’.

Actually, when I first got told they wanted me to do ‘I Will Survive’ on the show, I was like, ‘Noooo. What am I gonna do with this song?’ But we just spent time working on melodies and I was really excited to perform that one in the end, it was good fun.

After the tour, what’s do you have planned next?

I’d quite like to get on a support set for a bigger artist, that’d be cool. It’d be cool to learn from someone on that level. You know, if I could pick anyone it’d probably be Michael Jackson. If he could just come back that would be great.

Obviously, it’d be pretty cool to support another female artist, you know, like Rihanna. If she’s up for it, I am. I also really like Emeli Sandé and acts who are doing kind of pop and R&B stuff like we’re doing. And I’d also like to try out different audiences that maybe haven’t heard me before. Apart from that, it’s just going to be continuing to get music out there and hopefully festivals and stuff, if that’s an option. I’m sure I’ll just keep sneaking into meetings.

Leah McFall is playing in Stereo Café in Glasgow on Monday, April 10. Buy tickets here.

If you are an original musician or you’re in a band local to Glasgow with a similar sound to Leah’s music, get in touch for the chance to support her at Stereo Café: contactleahmcfall@gmail.com

Glasgow Film Festival: Benny

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Published by Glasgowist.

Benny is an education in the art of boxing, an unflinching look at the unimaginable depravity of Glasgow’s slums during the Great Depression, and an insight into the triumphant rise and tragic fall of the people’s champion, Benny Lynch. The documentary follows the story of the pint-sized 5ft 4in boxer – born in the Gorbals on August 2, 1913 – his astonishing success, and his tragic decline resulting in his death from malnutrition on August 6, 1946, aged only 33.

The film, directed by Andrew Gallimore and produced by Seumas MacTaggart, details how Lynch’s triumph managed to disperse sectarian tension to truly unite the Scottish people to rally around their homegrown hero – an ordinary man from a poverty-stricken background who gave the country hope and rose to the top, despite the odds being stacked against him.

Benny appears to make a conscious effort not to dwell too much on the boxer’s turbulent personal life and struggles with alcoholism. Instead, the film honours the boxer’s memory with a technical, genuine, and detailed depiction of his raw, unrivalled talent and the unique boxing style that catapulted him from rags to riches, and, tragically, back to rags.

Part of the Local Heroes category at its world premiere last night at the Glasgow Film Festival, the documentary features animated recreations of scenes from Lynch’s life and the Glasgow he grew up in, as well as archived footage of Lynch in action – hailed as the greatest boxer Scotland has ever produced. The film delves into Lynch’s life and ancestry, and the history of Glasgow itself from the 1910s-1940s, alongside interviews from a plethora of boxing experts and historians, boxing writers, and modern-day boxers alike.

Starting out in carnival booths, gaining experience and perfecting his craft, Lynch was spotted by coach Sammy Wilson who nurtured the young boxer’s talent and helped him on the way to becoming the flyweight division champion of the world. But as the interviewees of Benny recollect, we learn that as the boxer’s popularity, reputation, and celebrity status grew, new voices in his ear led him astray and a genuine friendship was cut short with the man who always sought to protect him. This instance marks the beginning of Lynch’s demise as his life, and his drinking, spiralled out of control. The boxer even had to resort to selling off his well-deserved accolades in order to feed himself and his demons.

In Benny, Gallimore and MacTaggart have created what is a heart-warming and faithful homage to Lynch, his extraordinary achievements, and the legacy he left behind that is still being talked about over 70 years after his death. Audiences are encouraged to remember Benny as the great fighter he was in his early-twenties, and the hope, fire, and unity he inspired in leagues of fans across Scotland and beyond. The film focusses on the boxer’s charisma, determination, ability, and skill, and how no Scottish boxer since has been on par with his talent.

This inventive, affectionate, and moving retelling of one boxer’s short, triumphant, and tragic life is a must-see, and a real tribute to Glasgow and to the man himself, Benny Lynch. All that’s left to ask now is: who is going to play Benny in the movie?

★★★★

Do you have a Benny story? Let me know in the comment section below.

Glasgow Film Festival: Patriots Day

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Published by Glasgowist.

Patriots Day, directed and co-written by Peter Berg, is electrifying, violent, unnerving, and thoughtful – emerging as an unprecedented highlight of the Glasgow Film Festival.

The film documents the Boston Marathon bombings and the city-wide manhunt that ensued when two bombs were detonated 12 seconds apart on April 15, 2013. Considering how recent this tragedy was – in which three people were killed and several more receiving lifechanging injuries – the wounds are, understandably, still raw. But Patriots Day honours Boston with a faithful, respectful, and commendable tribute to their bravery and solidarity.

Interspersing the film throughout with real footage from CCTV cameras, helicopters, and drones, Berg gives the film an utterly chilling, unnerving, and authentic edge. Particularly, the sequence of a minute’s silence for the Newtown massacre victims before the marathon’s opening gunfire creates a nail-biting, suspenseful calm before the storm which is beautifully executed.

In the film’s introduction, we meet the no-nonsense, lovable rouge cop Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) whose talents are seemingly wasted when he is sent to marshal the race following a suspension for allegedly assaulting a fellow officer.

Boston-born Wahlberg is a true revelation as he portrays a tough guy with heart, humour, and grit who saves lives and takes charge, despite his own fear, in a situation of true chaos. As the film’s lead protagonist, Tommy takes on a leader’s role, confronting the FBI (headed up by a superb Kevin Bacon as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers) on their flawed practice, and insisting on the merit of his own profound understanding of Boston’s people and his knowledge of the city’s geography.

In the leadup to the explosions, we are offered glimpses into the lives of ordinary people – a married couple, Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, and a father and his young son – who we realise will soon be affected by the tragedy that is mere minutes away. A succession of moments of increasing volume, excitement, and movement that quickly disperse into quiet allow for palpable tension to build and build to an almost unbearable level until the moment of the explosions comes.

Following the thrilling panic of the attacks, Berg provides a thorough, detailed re-enactment of the complex manhunt that followed with a close look at the FBI’s recreation of the event, their efforts to fine comb through CCTV as well as footage and images from the public, and how they utilised anti-terror technology to track down those responsible.

In a gripping, climatic, and, literally, explosive showdown between police, and terrorists Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff), the brothers plan their mission to travel to New York to detonate more bombs, kill more civilians, and become martyrs. Melikidze is outstanding and chilling in his portrayal of a determined, callous, ice-cold killer. Wolff, too, is excellent as a brainwashed layabout watching bomb-making tutorials like they are videogames – a character so detached from reality that he texts his friends ‘LOL’ when they question why his image is all over the news.

With excellent direction and casting, Patriots Day doesn’t glorify American heroes, glamorise war, or demonise villains. It paints the real heroes as the people of Boston themselves who came together to help friends, family, neighbours, and strangers in their time of need.

The film illustrates the resilience of the human spirit and the kneejerk reaction of overwhelmingly love, not hate. It is an appropriate homage to Boston Strong and a reminder of how an entire city that was shook, terrified, and completely shut down, came together to support each other instead of rushing to hate.

In a genius conclusion, real-life survivors of the attack, including Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, and members of the police service and the FBI give their thoughts on that day and the impact it has had. A particularly moving moment is when Kensky describes the tragedy as the worst and best time of their lives as we see her and her husband embrace in tears as they finish the marathon on prosthetic legs for the first time since the bombings.

Patriots Day is about just that, patriotism. It’s about American spirit, resilience, and solidarity. It’s about pride, community, and strength in the face of adversity. But the overriding message of the film is that these barbaric acts of brutality, violence, and terrorism that happen in cities around the world do not succeed in causing the immense hateful reaction they are intended to incite. Instead, they bring civilians together and evoke an unrivalled, awe-inspiring level of humanity, kindness, and love.

★★★★★

What did you think of this review? Let me know in the comment section below.

Glasgow Film Festival: Personal Shopper

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Published by Glasgowist.

Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper, starring Kristen Stewart, gives audiences an alternative look at the paranormal. This film is one that is hard to distinguish in terms of genre as we flit between moments of suspense building, uncomfortable silence, and that tense, eerie feeling that someone is watching you (characteristic of Hitchcock). Yet, there are many traditional horror movie scares, too. So, is Personal Shopper a thriller, a horror, or a film about the self?

Stewart gives a personal, delicate, and methodical performance as Maureen Cartwright, an American woman living in Paris, working as a personal shopper for the insufferable, high-end fashion supermodel Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). In addition to having a strange, self-indulgent obsession to become someone else by trying on her diva boss’s haute couture clothes and accessories when she’s not around, there is also another, darker, side to Maureen.

Her job keeps her from what she really wants to focus on, being a medium. As Maureen returns to the classic haunted house archetype in the middle of nowhere where she grew up, we learn of her pact with her dead twin brother Lewis (also a medium) who promised to send her a definitive sign of the afterlife if he died before she did.

In an effort to get closure and finally move on from her twin’s untimely death, Maureen wills Lewis to make contact with her in a process that seems more like a self-exorcism than an attempt to exercise her brother’s lingering spirit. In the creaking, groaning manor house where Maureen creeps around at night, looking for ‘signs’, Assayas provides the film’s tensest moments that are in all but complete darkness and in such quiet that you can hear the audience members around you trying to control their quickening breaths.

In a gripping, digital age horror twist, Maureen receives a sequence of creepy text messages in quick succession from an unknown number as she travels to London to collect clothes for Kyra. Becoming increasingly unnerved by the mystery messenger who refuses to reveal their identity, Maureen turns flight mode on and off periodically, torn between her curiosity to find out who is texting her and her fear of who is texting her. As the person using the unknown number urges Maureen to consider the real reason she is ‘waiting’ in Paris, Assayas hints that perhaps nobody is haunting Maureen, but that she is haunting herself. As she is led to a hotel room booked under her own name, things take a bizarre, violent turn with a bloody murder soon following.

While we do experience the kind of tense, creepy, thriller moments reminiscent of Single White Female, there are several points which seem to be not quite plot inconsistences, but plot points that don’t seem to mesh together or provide progression. A lot of what happens comes across as surprisingly, abrupt, or unconvincing, and the film does suffer as a result. Maureen’s encounters with the paranormal often become too obvious and manufactured to incite fear, leaving the audience feeling torn and somewhat unsatisfied. But considering the subject matter, perhaps this lack of neat closure was Assayas’s intention all along.

Personal Shopper provides insights into the alternate nature of loss, solitude, spirituality, and closure. Assayas explores the strange rituals used in our treatment of death, and while the enigmatic plot does appear to lack something on a surface level, Stewart’s intimate, refreshing portrayal of Maureen’s private life, experiments, and passions is insightful and oddly stimulating.

★★★

What did you think of Personal Shopper? Let me know in the comment section below and keep checking moon child for more Glasgow Film Festival reviews.

 

Review: T2 Trainspotting

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Published by Glasgowist.

Trainspotting is the film of the 1990s, the film of a generation. A phenomenon that perfectly captured a decade in time, making the world laugh, cry, cringe, and recoil in horror, disgust, and delight. Mark Renton, Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson, Danny ‘Spud’ Murphy, and Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie are characters almost every Scot can name and describe in what is undoubtedly the biggest and most loved film ever to come out of Scotland. The tale of prolonged adolescence, friendship, heroin addiction, and ‘life’ itself has resonance around the globe. With masses of devoted fans, new and old, still standing 20 years later, T2 Trainspotting is probably one of, if not the, most highly-anticipated British film sequels of this lifetime. And the film event of the year is finally here.

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Sick Boy’s ‘Unifying Theory of Life’ is certainly proven true in T2 Trainspotting. Our favourite Leith scamps had it – whatever ‘it’ was – and they’ve lost it. Now that the magic and indestructability of youth has dissipated, Renton, Simon, Spud, and Begbie, now middle-aged, have little to show for the last 20 years. Caught in a bleak cycle of regret, misplacement, bad choices, a search for something to replace addiction, and fruitless efforts to ‘choose life’, they search for fond nostalgia – reduced to being, as Simon remarks, ‘tourists in their own youth’.

A crossroads for each character sees them all returning home to Edinburgh with debts to pay, unfinished business to take care of, and a lot of baggage. With new and old faces popping up, Renton (Ewan McGregor) is home, escaping from a life in Amsterdam that has crumbled around him. 46-years-old and lost like a lone child in a supermarket, he goes back to the only place that resembles home in the hope of righting wrongs and starting again. He chose life, but it turns out life is harder than he thought it would be.

Another lost soul is Simon (Jonny Lee Miller). Desperately clinging on to his playboy charm, youth, and looks, and trying to convince himself that he’s still cool and business savvy, he, too, is struggling with what to do with his life. As much as Renton and Simon could kill each other at times, they also can’t live without each other. And together they resort to their old life of seedy, money-making scams and dodgy dealings that could see them getting into more trouble than they ever expected.

Spud (Ewen Bremner), resembling a baby-faced old man now more than ever, is utterly adorable and hilarious in his heart-warming fondness for his long-lost friends, his childlike sentimentality and sensitivity, and his inherent goodness. Arguably the only character out of the four who is truly good at the core, Spud’s story takes a heart-breaking and seemingly hopeless turn. Still a Leith junkie – popping pills, sniffing powder, and injecting heroin – Spud is still very much stuck in a cycle of behaviour, dreaming of the days when youth offered a vessel through which he could plunge into oblivious and forget about the real world. For fans of Irvine Welsh’s Porno (2002), which T2 Trainspotting is very loosely based on, you can expect to see the same new literary side of Spud that features in the novel, but with a dramatic and very clever twist towards the end.

As for the man, the myth, the legend, Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle), he’s out of prison. But when I say ‘out’, I mean he’s escaped. As terrifying as ever, Begbie is on a rampage to track down the man he’s been plotting his revenge against for the last two, cold decades in an Edinburgh prison. And his opportunity has finally come.

The showdown between Rents and Franco, the ultimate square-go 20 years in the making, is everything we could’ve hoped for. With Spud and Simon on hand to intervene, an adrenaline-fuelled dual takes place, filled with fist-clenching, literal mouth-gaping moments. It is at this point, too, that we see the film’s tense, most shocking moment as a life quite literally hangs in the balance.

With a soundtrack – dare I say it – better than the last, a greater depth of emotion and sentiment, T2 Trainspotting is not Trainspotting. As Diane (Kelly Macdonald) predicted, the world has changed, music has changed, even drugs have changed. T2 Trainspotting is a whole other film, a whole new animal. The film stands alone as a reflection and a fitting tribute to its predecessor that grows old but doesn’t quite grow up with its legion of adoring fans. Dealing with issues of masculinity, adulthood, parenthood, and getting old, T2 Trainspotting offers audiences a detailed background of this dysfunctional family dynamic that is steeped in history, loyalty, betrayal, and, somewhere underneath it all, love. With moments of memorial for lost friends and a look back at darker times, T2 Trainspotting contains several flashbacks and parallels to the original in a film that is somewhat self-aware of the incomparable legacy it is part of.

The performances delivered by the original cast are superb, with Ewen Bremner, in particular, serving up an exceptional portrayal of everyone’s favourite catboy. In a story of bitterness, ghosts of the past, and new hope in a new plot with tears, surprises, and massive laughs, filmgoers and diehard Trainspotting fans alike are in for a treat. Director Danny Boyle hasn’t tried to create a cheap, copycat version of the original – something everyone will be thankful for. He’s done something completely different. T2 Trainspotting is truly original, unmissable, and deserving of following in the footsteps of Danny Boyle’s original phenomenon that is rightly adored the world over.

★★★★★

What did you think of T2 Trainspotting? Let me know in the comment section below.

Interview on Scran, Trainspotting and more with Pendora Magazine

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Earlier this month, I was approached by Pendora, an online literary magazine, to be interviewed about my little short story series, Scran, as well as Trainspotting, Scottish literature and more. A big thank you to Himanshu Goel for conducting the interview. Here is what we talked about:


Q. Just going through your blog and social media, I noticed a lot of Trainspotting. Why do you like the book/movie and are you excited for T2: Trainspotting?

A: Trainspotting has been my favourite film and book for a long time. It’s hard to say exactly what about it is so appealing because they are, both the book and film, very bleak, dark, and disgusting at times. But there’s a lot of light in them, too, and they’re both really honest and authentic in their portrayal of mortality.

I love Irvine Welsh’s command over the Edinburgh dialect in the novel and his use of a rotating narrative through different characters who have their own unique idiosyncrasies, mannerisms, and turns of phrase. I love that I can start reading a chapter and if I see ‘likesay’, I know the narrator is Spud, and if I see a lot of profanity in capital letters, I know it’s Begbie. I also love Welsh’s unflinching depiction of drug addiction and of the culture and politics of Scotland in that era.

I think the unapologetically Scottishness of his writing is actually something quite niche and something that most writers shy away from in fear of stereotypical or cliché, but he does it brilliantly. I love his portrayal of decay and failure, and how he creates complex, flawed characters who should be detestable, yet somehow become lovable and characters that we root for. The structure of the novel is something I find interesting, too, because it is essentially just a very long series of linked prose as opposed to a novel format which makes it more digestible and accessible to readers with a lot of variety and colour in the narrative.

As for the film, I think it’s a work of art that really showcases the acting talent Scotland has. The casting is genius and I love everything from the costume design, use of setting, the soundtrack (!), the dialogue, the black humour, and the kind of candy coloured filter the whole film seems to have. Visually, I think it’s a spectacular film and even the set of Mother Superior’s flat looks like something Tracey Emin would create and call ‘art’.

I also love how Danny Boyle and John Hodge fine-combed through the novel to find parts to adapt, and created their own elements as well to piece together a plot that the novel kind of lacks. Both the book and film, and Welsh’s other works, have inspired a lot of my writing and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so. I could talk about it all day!

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Q. Tell us about your favourite Scottish literature and folklore.

A: Well, Trainspotting, that goes without saying, and I love The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Aside from Frankenstein (my favourite book before Trainspotting came along), I think it’s one of the best science fiction-gothic horror works ever written. It also evokes the notion of the Caledonian Antisyzygy which is something that has always fascinated me in literature. I’m a big fan of Kirsty Logan’s short stories, The Tin Kin by Eleanor Thom, and Scottish poetry by the likes of Tom Leonard and Alistair Reid.

As for folklore, I love Scottish myths and legends from the Loch Ness Monster to the more gruesome, unsavoury stories like the legend of Sawney Bean. There are countless ghost stories native to Scotland which is understandable considering the beautiful and haunting landscapes that are here, and we’re very much a nation of talkers and storytellers so folklore, even now, is something still deeply ingrained in Scottish culture.

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Q. Your blog is called moonchild and you have published a short story collection titled Ivy Moon and other stories, what’s your connection with the celestial body?

A: I’m not sure where my fascination with the moon initially came from. I’ve always loved wolves and with the moon being synonymous with them, I started to look more into the symbolism of the moon in different cultural contexts.

I found a lot of old stories and poems about how the moon is in love with the sun, but they can never be together. And I love the mysticism and eerie magic that seems to surround and how it appears to change colour and size. The lunar effect (supposedly more crimes are committed and births occur on full moons) is something that has always interested me, too. I’m quite a fan of bizarre unproven theories that I like to think could be true, and there are loads of ideas like that surrounding the moon.

When I started my blog in October 2014, I was obsessed with the moon so the name just fit.

Q. Tell us about Scran.

A: Scran is a series of linked prose written in a Glaswegian/West Coast of Scotland dialect surrounding three 20-something girls – Kayleigh, Freya and Rebecca – who are approaching graduation, trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and trying to resolve issues they have buried in the past.

While the girls are friends, there is a lot of tension and secrets, and their friendships are tested at several points. But there are also a lot of light-hearted, sentimental, and comical moments, too. I used a rotating first-person narrative from the perspective of a different character in each story set in the week of the EU Referendum (around the time I wrote the stories). I like the idea of placing fiction in a very specific time period and I also included a playlist of songs to be listened to as an accompaniment to the stories and a glossary of Scottish words and phrases.

Each character features in some way in every story with the three girls coming together at the end. I wanted to refer to the millennial notion of the quarter-life-crisis, Scottish politics, and what the future holds for Scottish young people.

Here is a brief synopsis detailing the plot: ‘Following Kayleigh through an encounter with a stranger in a Glasgow pub, Freya’s surprisingly amusing trip home to attend a family funeral, and Rebecca’s traumatic experience of her first ever hangover, “Scran” is a series of stories exploring what it means to be an unsure 20 something living in Scotland in 2016.’

Scran was part of my creative writing project funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and the Research Interns at Strathclyde programme (you can read more about it here). For this project, I researched a variety of Scottish literature, wrote my own series of short stories along with a critical reflection and bibliography (in the same style as an undergraduate creative writing dissertation), and then self-published the collection into an A5 paperback book on Lulu.com. Scran is now available to buy on Lulu.com for £6.

(You can buy your own copy here.)

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Q. You have written and published a lot of short stories and essays, do you have a plot brewing inside you for a novel/novella?

A: Well, right now, I don’t have any novella/novel plans per say, but I’m working on three stories for my final year creative writing dissertation. I imagine I will have a bash at writing a novel in the future, but that ‘big idea’ hasn’t come to me yet.

Q. What can readers expect from you in the future?

A: Hopefully, bigger and better fiction and more dynamic, complex characters and plots. I want to write more series of linked prose as it’s something I really enjoy and maybe a novella/novel in that kind of structure someday. I want to keep working hard to take on bigger creative writing projects and to keep pushing myself to be bolder and more inventive and experimental with my writing. And once I finish my creative writing dissertation, I’ll probably self-publish that, too.

What do you think of indie publishing, Trainspotting and Scottish literature? Let me know in the comment section below.

News: Strathclyde Concert Band Wins Platinum Award

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Published by the Strathclyde Telegraph.

The University of Strathclyde concert band have won their first platinum award at the Autumn Regionals of the National Concert Band Festival in Edinburgh.

Having previously won a gold award, the Strathclyde University Concert Band will now attend the National Finals in Warwick on 8-9 April next year to compete against other bands for the chance to be crowned national winner.

Member and Treasurer Caitlin Turner said: ‘When they announced that we had won platinum, the whole back of the auditorium erupted! We were all blown away by the result. I was just so pleased.’

‘We will be rehearsing hard from January and we are hoping to get a practise concert in Warwick before the Finals,’ Caitlin added.

The National Concert Band Festival has been running for over 30 years. Competing concert bands are judged against criteria ranging from articulation and tuning to interpretation and performance. The bands are then awarded bronze, silver, gold or platinum by experienced adjudicators. Only those who are awarded platinum are invited to compete in the National Finals.

Strathclyde’s diverse concert band, headed up by president Frances Bugden, is made up of students from the University of Strathclyde and other institutions, university staff, previous students and even people in full-time employment.

The concert band meets weekly to play a selection of music ranging from cheesy, feel good hits to classical music. Practice is open to woodwind and brass, percussion and string bass players of all abilities with no audition required.

What do you think of this piece? Let me know in the comment section below.

Review: The Gorbals Vampire at Citizens Theatre

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Published by Glasgowist.

Armed to the teeth with bats, pots, pans, sticks, and even whisks as makeshift chibs, hundreds of Gorbals kids take to the gothic Southern Necropolis to have a square-go with the beast plaguing their town and eating their classmates in Johnny McKnight’s new play, The Gorbals Vampire.

With a moody and atmospheric elongated stage and the backdrop of a dark clouded sky stained orange with the fumes from the local iron works, a cast of local amateur actors provide authenticity, grit and welly in their portrayal of the fearless Gorbals weans who sneak up to the graveyard after dinner time one cold September night to slay the ‘man with the iron teeth’.

Directed by Guy Holland and Neil Packham, the production opens with a cast of adults dressed as Gorbals weans, hiding their trepidations with brave faces, led by the school hard nut as they tip-toe from behind the stalls, beside the audience, and onto the stage to the ‘gravey’ with weapons shaking in their hands.

Based on real-life events, McKnight’s new play, running over two nights during the Halloween weekend at Glasgow’s famous Citizens Theatre, gives new found substance, fiction and gore to a story which emerged from the Gorbals playground rumour mill in 1954. Said to be fuelled by a combination of imported American horror comics, superstition, local ghost stories, religious influences and old wives’ tales about the bogey man used to scare children into behaving, McKnight’s stage play creates a new inventive narrative for the story that was once reported around the world as two twin brothers go missing, leaving behind ‘two wee empty chairs’ in the classroom one day.

As Chinese whispers start to infect the playground, the rumour of the twins’ disappearance grows from them being off sick to a supposed unsavoury incident with their alcoholic father to them being eaten alive by a bloodsucking vampire who is said to creep behind the gravestones in the Southern Necropolis.

McKnight’s shrewd mix of authentic colloquial Scots, frights, side-splitting comedy and real-life meets folk myth makes for perfect Halloween viewing. Visually, The Gorbals Vampire is a smoky, rustic and gothic spectacle of sullen vampirical red and chiaroscuro lighting by Stuart Jenkins. But what really brings the production to life is the unique, feisty and hilarious characters within the diverse community cast who transport the audience to the heart of 1950s Glasgow, voicing their frustrations of being abandoned by the authorities and by the state which led the children to believe that they had to fend for themselves and take on the wean-eating beast without help from the grownups.

As the night grows darker and colder with mist crawling along the tombs, the large group of ‘kids’ aged between 4 and 14-years-old dwindles in size until only a handful of brave wee souls are left on stage along with a quaking policeman armed with a torch. As bumps and creaks come from the gravestones and woodland around them, the kids soon invent and exaggerate their oral narrative even further by suggesting that there could be a whole nest of vampires hidden underneath one particular gravestone.

Interspersed with spine-tingling music by Michael John McCarthy, The Gorbals Vampire incites fear that builds in momentum throughout the production as the audience looks around anxiously waiting for the monster to appear from somewhere, maybe behind the stalls, in the dress circle, or projected on the makeshift Gorbals night sky (a genius element of the production by Kim Beveridge). Thankfully, the tension is routinely cut with false scares and dry Scots humour as the audience laughs a little louder to settle their jangly nerves.

With creative and awe-inspiring choreography by Brigid McCarthy which brings the large cast together to morph into the dark shape of trees blowing in the wind and dozens of hands bending up and down onto the fearful audience, the creative minds behind this production pull out all the stops to create a tense, hair-raising atmosphere that gives the audience a good scare while still being playful and comical.

Starting from real-life events and growing into a beast of its own, much as the Gorbals rumours did back in 1954, McKnight has created his own adaptation of the ‘Case of the Gorbals Vampire’ and has invented a dramatic, fictionalised, frightening and hilarious telling of one of the most bizarre horror stories to ever be told in the Gorbals. The Gorbals Vampire is a short and sweet work of genius that reinvents and modernises a largely untold story with humour, heart and good old blood and guts.


Read my interview with playwright Johnny McKnight here.

What do you think of the Gorbals Vampire? Let me know in the comment section below.

Interview: The Gorbals Vampire Playwright Johnny McKnight

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Published by Glasgowist.

Over 60 years after the notorious Gorbals vampire was said to be creeping around ‘the gravy’ in the Southern Necropolis, a new play on the dramatic real-life events by Johnny McKnight is set to hit the Citizens Theatre this weekend.

In 1954, the rumour mill churned out the tale of a monster with iron teeth who had supposedly kidnapped and eaten two young Gorbals schoolboys.

As whispers infected the playgrounds in the area, hundreds of children aged between 4-14 took to the graveyard one September night, armed with makeshift chibs, to take down the wean-eating monster.

McKnight’s new play stars a local cast portraying the children who epitomised ‘Scotland the Brave’ and took to the graveyard on a mission to slay the beast.

I caught up with playwright Johnny McKnight to find out more about the comic horror story coming to the Citizens just in time for Halloween.


SOPHIE: How did you first hear the story of The Gorbals Vampire? And what did you think of it when you first heard about it?

JOHNNY: The story was actually brought to me by Guy Holland (Associate Director at Citizens Theatre) and he told me they were working on this project, The Gorbals Vampire, and they were looking for somebody to write it and make an outline of it. And I said I’d need to do some research because I’d never heard of the story.

So, I went away home and did a wee bit of research on it. And growing up I was a mad Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Anything about vampires, I was into it. So, I did my research and I thought, I absolutely love this! I mean, if I had been at school and there was a rumour going around that there was a vampire on the loose, I wouldn’t have left the house. I would’ve been terrified.

I loved that these kids in the Gorbals were like, ‘Right, lets grab our chibs and go take it on!’ That was the point when I thought I totally need to write this. I just loved the idea of the story and the fun I could have with it.


At the time, a lot of people blamed things like American horror comic books and local folk stories about vampires. But what do you think caused the hysteria that encouraged kids to go out with weapons to take on this monster?

I think it was a combination of things. It could’ve also been weans that were brought up with the Bible and the idea of a monster appearing. It could’ve been the American comics. Or it literally could’ve just been Chinese whispers.

I mean, I remember being at school and as soon as there was one wee whisper, the playground would become infected with it. It starts with a whisper and builds to a shout. And I think, particularly at that time, there was nothing else to do. It was all word of mouth. Everything was word of mouth. It could’ve been the comics but I also quite like the idea that it possibly could’ve all been true.

Maybe the government were just covering it up like in Stranger Things. For me, it was all about looking at all the different variations of what it could’ve been and not getting too bogged down in making it a historical piece. I wanted it to feel like it was set in that time but that it could still happen now. It’s the exact same thing with the killer clown thing going on just now. It just takes one or two wee voices and a craze can kick off or hysteria can kick off just as easy.

The story was reported around the world. What specifically do you think captured the public’s imagination so much so that people are still talking about it now?

It was such a phenomenon at the time that it got that many kids all assembled in the one place and I think also, what I love about it anyway, is that the kids are refusing to be victims. They just decide they’re going to take it on and stand up to it. And I think that’s quite enduring.

I mean, you’d usually expect parents to put the kids at ease and help them sleep better at night, usually the parents take control. But in this story, I think that’s a phenomenal thing that the kids decide that this is something that only they can take on. And also, everybody loves a good horror story.

Do you think the story is specific to a Scottish setting? Do you think kids in another part of the world would have reacted in the same way or is this just a typical Scottish response?

I don’t know. I mean, I love the idea that it happened. I think it sounds like a really Scottish thing that they went, ‘Right we’re away to get this bam.’ They went to take it on and they weren’t scared that it was a vampire or a monster. I suppose, it’s like years ago when there was the terror attack at Glasgow Airport and someone wrestled the terrorist to the ground and just thought, ‘I’m gonny take that bam doon.’

In some ways, it makes you think maybe it just is something in the Scottish psyche. We’re no feart to stand up for ourselves. I think that’s what makes it so enduring and it’s the reason the story’s lasted. But then I think as well when people’s backs are up against the wall and there’s fear there, it just brings out another side of instinct in people which is what I love about it.

What exactly was involved in writing the play? Did you talk to people who were actually involved when they were kids?

There were quite a few interviews online with people who’d been kids involved at the time. But I decided not to go and interview people because I wanted to make it up so it was still fictional rather than getting too bogged down in making it someone’s life story. I’m also really aware that the show’s going on just before Halloween so I still wanted to keep it scary rather than it becoming a historical piece.

Although it has that historical backdrop, I really loved the idea that maybe it was true and the kids weren’t wrong after all. And if I had started making specifically about someone’s life, I was thinking the story has got 200 kids and I’m very aware the production has a cast of 60, so I really wanted to put in as many different voices across the board as possible and not get too worried about whether that person existed in real life. I wanted it to still be a drama.

This is a big community based project with a local amateur cast. Do you think it was important to keep the spirit of the story very much local to the Gorbals?

Definitely! Definitely. It’s written in a really Scottish dialect and as well I think it’s a really Scottish piece. And I think the whole point of a project like this, well the point of theatre, is to tell stories that haven’t been told. Specifically, there’s not many stories from the Gorbals that get told that don’t involve gangs or gang warfare or extreme poverty. The bigger thing here is you’ve got this horror story right at your backdoor. You had this group of weans who are now grandparents or great-grandparents who genuinely believed there was a vampire stomping around their backdoor at night.

With the show starting this Friday, what specifically are you hoping to achieve with this production?

I think with any kind of production, you want the same thing. You want people to laugh. You want them to feel something. You want them to be transported for an hour into a different time, a different place and a different story. Theatre works brilliantly is when the audience and the cast on the stage all decide to transport each other away from the worries and anxieties or boredom and humdrum of their own lives, to be somewhere different for an hour.

As well, particularly because it’s Halloween, I hope they laugh and are thrilled. As scared as they are, I hope they’re laughing as well. I mean, I’m not going to lie, I was channelling Buffy the entire time. I wanted it to be funny and witty and thrilling and scary, and all that mixed up together.


The Gorbals Vampire opens at Citizens Theatre at 7.30pm on Friday 28th October.

Featured image courtesy of Mark Rowe via Flickr.

What do you think about The Gorbals Vampire? Let me know in the comment section below.

Uncanny Valley and the Creepy Clown Craze

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Published by Huffington Post and Strathclyde Telegraph.

Clown sightings, the world’s current epidemic of excitable rumour and panic – which seems to be gaining more and more momentum just in time for Halloween – began when a young boy, the son of Donna Arnold, and a small group of children, spotted two clowns in the woods in Greenville, South Carolina. According to Arnold, the clowns dressed in bright colours and frightful makeup tried to lure her son into a house hidden away behind woodland.

Since this bizarre incident of the first clown sighting in August this year, many have adopted the white-faced red-nosed persona to chase and terrorise unsuspecting civilians across America and beyond. So far, around 48 states in America have reported clown sightings and several arrests have been made. The craze has even spread to the UK where the authorities are condemning the pranksters for wasting police resources and have even issued a teenager with a fine of £90, the first person in the UK to be fined for scaring children.

There seems to be a common thread of unease with almost everyone: we just don’t like clowns. But why are we so scared of them? Why is it so terrifying to see someone who we know is just a person playing a hoax in oversized multi-coloured clothes and silly makeup? How does something we know is irrational, absurd and, most importantly, not real, become so unsettling?

The fear of clowns, coulrophobia, was epitomised in public consciousness by Tim Curry’s iconic portrayal of Pennywise the Clown in the 1990 film Stephen King’s It. Since then, the standard image of clowns has transformed from a comic performer associated with laughter, tricks, slapstick, mime and children’s parties into a terrifying, almost otherworldly entity who stares mindlessly with dead eyes and a wide devilish grin.

Although there could be many possible explanations behind our collective dislike of Pennywise lookalikes, the crippling fear caused by this creepy craze could be due to uncanny valley, a term first coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. The uncanny can be defined as the psychological concept, thought to be first established by Sigmund Freud in his journal Das Unheimliche, whereby something is strangely familiar rather than just mysterious. Uncanny valley, however, is a hypothesis which is widely disputed among scientists and refers to a dip of negative emotional response caused by the anthropomorphism of robots, 3D computer animated characters, lifelike dolls and, in this particular case, clowns.

Mori hypothesised that these forms of human duplicates which appear to be almost exactly but not quite identical to humans evoke a feeling of unease, eeriness and even disgust among viewers, particularly when the creations begin to move in an unnatural or mechanical way.

During his research, Mori found that as a robot or humanlike creation appeared more human, some observers had an empathetic and positive emotional response. This was the case until the point where the creation began to look too similar to a human and then a response of revulsion and unease was recorded. On the flip side, Mori also found that as a robot’s appearance became less similar to that of a human being, the viewer’s response became positive again.

Cited causes of this hypothesised phenomenon include: artist Kevin Kirkpatrick’s real life models of Beavis and Butthead, AIST robotics, engineer Hiroshi Ishiguro’s identical twin ‘humanoid’, I, Robot (2004), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), and children’s films Night of the Headless Horseman (1999), The Polar Express (2004) and The Adventures of Tintin (2011).

Part of the reason it is thought that uncanny valley causes a sense of revulsion is because we are unsettled by the notion of ‘the other’. The other is a concept very prominent in today’s mainstream and social media with the uncertainty and otherness associated with terrorism and even Donald Trump (is he really human?). And it is this mix of something that appears both human and not human simultaneously that seems to worry us the most. Guardian writer Matthew Teague recently summarised Charles Dickens thoughts on clowns by saying that ‘what fascinates us is not the exaggerated painted face, or the dull face of a man underneath. It’s the tension between the two. The dissonance between what is and what appears to be.’

Thinking along the same lines as the Jekyll and Hyde ideology of the duality of human nature, clown expert David Kiser recently theorised that: ‘…clowns hold up a mirror on society, so we can see the absurd in ourselves. So to be afraid of them is ultimately to be afraid of yourself.’

Like Kiser suggests, maybe our fear doesn’t come from the mask of frightful makeup, big clown shoes, red nose and the colourful wig. Perhaps the image of a clown mirrors a strange, hidden, socially unacceptable part of ourselves. It could be that that the clown face is not a mask at all but it is what we reveal when we take the mask off.

What do you think of uncanny valley and the killer clown craze? Let me know in the comment section below.

Short Story: ‘Little Lies’

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Published by the Strathclyde Telegraph.

Banoffee muffins with cream cheese and cinnamon icing, spiced pumpkin lattes, strawberry cheesecake, banana bread, pumpkin pies, carrot cake, ginger bread, and chocolate brownies were just a few of the baked goods stacked onto the towering shelves in Bella’s Coffee House in Lochwinnoch that morning. With my jacket drenched, and my hair damp and starting to curl already, I was relieved to be hit by wave of heat and the rich smell of freshly ground coffee and cakes as I stepped inside.

I joined the queue to the coffee bar, shuffled on the spot and rubbed my cold bright red hands together to heat up as I ordered my usual: ‘A latte and a piece of carrot cake please, Julie.’

I watched as Julie poured steaming hot milk into the gloopy dark expresso and swirled her hand to etch the shape of a fern on top, before dusting the latte with a sprinkling of chocolate powder.

‘Are you excited for your road trip then, Allie?’ Julie asked.

‘Yeah, it should be great! We’re all packed up now. Just waiting on Joe coming back from the mechanics with the camper and then, fingers crossed, we’ll be all set,’ I told her.

I sat at my usual table by the window and waited for Joe. Just as I sat down, ready to people-watch and stare mindlessly at the raindrops wiggling down the pane, I noticed a man waving to Julie as he left. I only caught a glimpse of the back of his head but his balding crown and wavy silver hair seemed familiar.

I had just finished the last crumb of carrot cake when our battered old Fiat Ducato McLouis campervan came trudging around the corner and bumped to a stop outside Bella’s. I quickly scooped up my bag and ran outside, thanking Julie and giving her a wave as I went.

Joe was sitting in the driver’s seat with a beaming smile. ‘You’ll never guess. Somehow, it’s still actually roadworthy!’

Thankful that the mechanic had given it the all clear, I put my rucksack into the back of the camper with our other bags, jumped into the passenger seat, and we set off. I dug out the map and old cassette tapes from the glovebox.

‘So it’s Balloch we’re heading to first?’ I asked as I stuck on an old Fleetwood Mac greatest hits album.

‘Yep. You’re wanting to see Loch Lomond, aren’t you?’

‘Yeah, I haven’t been since I was about three or four when my grandpa took me there.’

The last thing I could remember was hearing Joe singing along to Go Your Own Way when I woke up to the smell of a new piña colada scented air freshener, rocky road, and a fresh coffee in a travel mug.

‘Wake up, sleepy head. We’re here,’ I heard Joe say from somewhere nearby.

I yawned, rubbed my eyes and fixed my beanie hat which had fallen down my forehead. We parked up in the campsite, ate two ham sandwiches each, then grabbed our rucksacks and headed to Loch Lomond.

I kicked the piles of little crinkled orange and brown leaves from under my boots and sipped my coffee as we reached the shore. Even on such a grey and damp day, the loch was still glistening. I had forgotten how vast it was, how it ate up the landscape. The water was a dark navy blue and so shiny it looked like glass that would shatter into pieces if I stepped on it. I craned my neck back to look up in awe at the hills and mountains tearing through the sky in waves of emerald and moss green that reached to touch the clouds.

I took out my camera and started to take some pictures when I noticed a shape floating in the water in the mist. As my eyes came into focus, I saw a small green fishing boat. Walking around on the deck, looking for something in the water, was that same old silver haired man. His back was arched as he leaned over the edge looking for something and his blue shirt filled with air like a ship’s sail. He had the same balding crown and soft silver waves at the back of his head but I still couldn’t see his face. I could have sworn it was him.

‘Look, there’s someone out there on a boat,’ I said to Joe as I pointed in the man’s direction.

‘What? Where?’

‘Right there!’ I pointed again.

As I blinked a few more times, the silver haired man and the boat blurred out of focus and dissipated into the mist.

‘I could’ve sworn…’

‘I think you’re imagining things. You must be going daft!’ Joe laughed as he walked further down the shore taking pictures.

I stood at the edge of the loch with autumn leaves clinging to my boots like milk-soaked cornflakes and I squinted my eyes to try to find the man on the boat. The surface of the water was as still as a sheet of ice, silent and solid, no ripples or signs of movement.

I asked Julie about the old man but she couldn’t remember. I went to Bella’s for coffee and breakfast for weeks after we came home but I didn’t see him again.

What do you think of ‘Little Lies’? Let me know in the coment section below.

Theatre Review: Trainspotting at Citizens Theatre

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Published by Glasgowist.

More than two decades after the original stage play of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was performed at Citizens Theatre in 1994, Harry Gibson’s theatrical adaptation returned on Friday. Directed by main stage director-in-residence Gareth Nicholls, this incarnation of what is arguably Scotland’s biggest cult followed story burst onto the stage with a fresh look and updated production that oozed style as well as substance.

Trainspotting follows a group of degenerate twenty-somethings in Leith who turn to crime and hard drugs in an attempt to escape the reality of social housing problems, dire unemployment, and miserable prospects during the 1980s heroin epidemic. While the original text is fundamentally Scottish, the universality of the issues explored within Welsh’s novel transcend ethnicity.

In his new production – in the middle of the build up to Danny Boyle’s highly anticipated sequel Trainspotting 2 – Nicholls pays homage to the film and incorporates handpicked quotes and stories directly from the novel. In doing so, Nicholls manages to create a shrewd mixture of the candy coloured aesthetics and dark imagery of Boyle’s hugely successful film with the intensified bleakness, gag-inducing gore, and black comedy of Welsh’s novel.

While the look and feel of the production honours and almost mimics that of Boyle’s film, the content of the play very much pays tribute to the original text as each character – not just Mark Renton – has their own moment to narrate in stripped back monologues lit only by a single bleak strip of florescent light. With just five actors in play, each superb cast member – except Lorn Macdonald as Renton – portrays one main and at least one minor character.

Unlike the film, the narration rotates between characters with Angus Miller as the devilish Sick Boy telling the novel’s version of how he sadistically shoots an English bull terrier which then violently turns on its stereotypical mod owner. We also hear from the excellent Chloe-Ann Tylor as Alison who gets some rather unsavoury revenge on sexist customers in what is originally waitress Kelly’s narrative in the Trainspotting chapter ‘Eating Out’. And the wonderful Gavin Jon Wright as the erratic, speed-infused Spud tells the iconic story of his accident with some soiled brown bedsheets.

In a pleasant but paradoxically unnerving surprise, the audience is also allowed a fresh insight into the complex psychology and strange vulnerability of the archetypical Scottish hard man, Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie. As Begbie takes the stage to tell his party piece – an emotionally charged account of how he attacked his pregnant girlfriend in a violent rage – Owen Whitelaw manages to draw out and express glimpses of guilt, regret, hopelessness, and fear from Scotland’s ultimate psycho. As Whitelaw fleshes out Begbie into a more multidimensional character through his vulnerability and his toxic fondness and fierce loyalty for Renton, Lorn Macdonald too shines in this production and is in league with Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of the articulate delinquent, Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton.

With extensive narration and soliloquies from Renton – in addition to his flailing, choking, foaming-at-the-mouth overdose and his hallucinogenic withdrawal sequence with a terrifying adult-sized dead baby Dawn – Macdonald evocatively portrays the incredible highs and apocalyptic lows of addiction.

With creative stylised choreography, innovative composition, a fresh dance soundtrack, and atmospheric sets – from a rustic heroin den littered with needles and a cot, to a slick moving London set – Nicholls’s production maintains yet reshapes the essence of Trainspotting in a fitting tribute to Welsh’s novel and Boyle’s film. In a show that makes the audience physically recoil and exclaim in disgust as Renton lowers into the worst toilet in Scotland, and laugh into a coughing fit at almost every Spud line, this reinvention of Trainspotting is a refreshing and inventive take on Welsh’s cult classic.

What do you think of Trainspotting? Let me know in the comment section below.

 

Preview: Trainspotting at Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

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Published by Glasgowist.

With the highly anticipated release of Trainspotting 2, expected to arrive at cinemas in February 2017, Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre is revisiting the original Trainspotting stage production, adapted from Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel.

Twenty two years after the first theatrical production of the story that defined Scotland’s 80s heroin epidemic for the 90s pre-New Labour generation was held at the Citizens, main stage director-in-residence Gareth Nicholls is putting his own arthouse twist onto the new production. It promises to deliver a fresh take on the cult classic that has been adopted by legions of rebellious teenagers and unsure 20-somethings since it first burst onto the scene in a blaze of vivid imagery and powerful invective.

Trainspotting follows the group of delinquent Leithers Mark Renton, Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson, and Danny ‘Spud’ Murphy, alongside their psychopathic so-called mate Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie. In what has become a modern Scottish folk tale, the group turn to hard drugs, scamming, and violence during a time of chronic unemployment and cultural boredom.

The new Citizens production promises to be more faithful to Welsh’s original text than Danny Boyle’s hugely successful film version from 1996.

Adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson and starring Lorn Macdonald as Renton, Angus Miller as Sickboy and Tommy, Chloe-Ann Tylor as Alison, Lizzie, and Dianne, Gavin Jon Wright as Spud, and Owen Whitelaw as Begbie and Mother Superior, this exciting new production is set to wow audiences and intensify the hype for the upcoming Trainspotting revival.

So, if you would like to have one last nostalgic look at Renton’s Converse lowering into the worst toilet in Scotland or Begbie’s blade slicing into powerless victims before Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle return in the Boyle’s sequel, nab a ticket for this sure-to-be sell-out show.

Choose Trainspotting at the Citizens Theatre from 14th September to 8th October. Tickets are available here.

Look out for my review of this show coming soon!

Stranger Things Review: ‘A Stephen-King-Style Compilation of Monsters, Superpowers and Nostalgic ’80s Horror’

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Published by The Huffington Post UK Young Voices.

With the seemingly never-ending list of films and TV series available to stream instantly online, it’s not hard to find your new Game of Thrones or Orange Is the New Black. But, in this instance, the creators over at Netflix have truly outdone themselves with the new horror drama that everyone is talking about: Stranger Things.

Stranger Things is essentially a Stephen-King-style greatest hits compilation of monsters, superpowers, nostalgic ‘80s horror, and the kind of spooky conspiracy theories that surround Area 51. All the right ingredients are there: a neurotic seemingly-crazy mother frantically searching for her missing child, a group of faithful outcast friends on bikes searching for the gate to a mythical parallel universe and the monster within, a strange otherworldly girl with superpowers who materialises from thin air, and a dodgy top secret government research facility headed up by a tall whitehaired man who gives just about everyone ‘the creeps’.

With elements of Stand by Me, Alien, and E.T., and even nods to The Shining and Carrie, this mini ‘80s sci-fi horror revival is so reminiscent of King and Spielberg that they probably have grounds to sue. But, somehow, amidst the crackling electrics and monstrous growls, we manage to forgive the creators of Stranger Things for this minor transgression because this eight-part wonder series is not only enjoyable, gripping, and watchable but it is late-night hide-under-the-covers binge-watchable.

Starring Winona Ryder in her long-awaited comeback as Joyce Byers, Millie Bobby Brown, a revelation, as the mysterious telekinetic Eleven, David Harbour as exasperated sceptic turned all-round-good-guy and hero Chief Hopper, the fantastic Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin, and Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas, the Stranger Things diverse cast provide an array of subplots to accompany the eerie and sinister disappearance of Joyce’s beloved youngest son, Will Byers.

As the series progresses and the evil force gripping the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, gets stronger, more characters are reeled in by its claws as the significance of Eleven’s Papa’s cruel experiments into other worlds becomes apparent. Like many sci-fi, fantasy and horror creations, Stranger Things does have its fair share of the kind of baby-extra-terrestrial-bursting-through-the-stomach-in-Alien moments that make us cringe and sometimes even chuckle. While these flaws in plot and production seem to partially let the series down, particularly in the dramatic opening and closing episodes, these exaggerated and foolish moments in hindsight seem quite appropriate considering that we are watching supernatural events through authentic jam-jar-thick ‘80s lenses. And what would the glorious sci-fi and horror of the ‘80s be without bad special effects and exaggerated gore and goo?

Following a climatic but still enigmatic and gripping conclusion, Stranger Things fans are rejoicing in the knowledge that Netflix have commissioned a second season which promises to tie up the loose ends of Will’s unearthly illness, Eleven’s true identity and her connection to the Slender-Man-looking monster that plagues the series’ characters, and the specifics of Barb’s fate. As we wait for season two, it’s safe to say that we’ll be binge-watching and re-watching this nostalgic supernatural delight until our bedroom lights start to flicker and the chains on our doors are unlocked by a ghostly invisible entity.

★★★★

What do you think of Stranger Things? Let me know in the comment section below.

Scran: Self-Published Series of Short Stories

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Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be awarded a Vacation Scholarship by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and chosen to be a Research Intern by the Research Interns at Strathclyde programme to research 21st century Scottish literature and to write and self-publish my own series of Scottish short stories. I worked on my creative writing research project this summer (and wrote a mid-internship blog about it) and now it is finally complete! My self-published short story collection is called Scran (a Scots word for food).

Here is a short blurb about Scran: a series of Scottish short stories –

Following Kayleigh through an encounter with a stranger in a Glasgow pub, Freya’s surprisingly amusing trip home to attend a family funeral, and Rebecca’s traumatic experience of her first ever hangover, ‘Scran’ is a series of stories exploring what it means to be an unsure 20 something living in Scotland in 2016.

‘These stories both amuse and move and announce Sophie McNaughton as a bright new voice in Scottish fiction…’ – David Kinloch

Scran includes three linked short stories, a glossary of Scottish terms used throughout the collection, a few Scots poetry extracts, a playlist so you can ‘listen’ along to the stories, a concluding critical reflection, a bibliography of the texts and resources I studied, and a foreword by Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing David Kinloch who supervised my project.

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You can buy your own A5

paperback copy of Scran here!

If you buy Scran, take a selfie with your copy or let me know what you think and use the hashtag #scranshortstories.

scran

What do you think of this project? Let me know in the comment section below.

Studying Abroad: Radboud Summer School in the Netherlands

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Summer school aan de Radboud Universiteit. Ik studeerde Nedrlandse taal en cultuur.

Earlier this year, I heard about Radboud University’s Summer School in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, after reading an email from Strathclyde about the programme. As I study English Literature, Journalism, and Creative Writing, I decided to apply to the Dutch Culture and Language class as I felt this would relate to the language and linguistics components of my degree. I was lucky enough to be among a small group of students chosen to receive a scholarship from Strathclyde to study a week-long programme in Nijmegen.

Yesterday, I came home after learning a lot about the Netherlands, meeting some amazing people, and having a great week in Nijmegen. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about learning Dutch because I hadn’t studied languages at all since early secondary school when I studied French and then had the option to drop the class in favour of Drama. Safe to say, I didn’t need to think too hard about picking Drama instead. But this course of Dutch Culture and Language was so much more fun than I imagined it would be.

The arrangement of classes was very relaxed and we probably spent as much time laughing as we did practising Dutch phrases and learning about bitterballen, Sinterklass, Koningsdag and much more. Our classes started from 9am and usually ended at around 4:30pm and although it was a short course, it was fast paced and very engaging – especially when we had copious amounts of ‘koffie’ on hand. I was also a little unsure of how much I would enjoy the experience of studying abroad because it was my first time living in student accommodation, travelling alone and/or with new people, and navigating my way around an unfamiliar place on my own. Luckily, I had no problems with finding my way around Radboud’s amazing campus and I didn’t even get the chance to start feeling homesick because our time in Nijmegen was jam-packed with classes and social activities including…

  • A welcome reception with free drinks upon arrival on Sunday night

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  • The official opening ceremony on Monday morning and a sports programme on offer that night
  • A choice between the Nijmegen city walking tour and a pancake dinner or a cruise down the River Waal and a pancake dinner on the ‘Pannenkoekenboot’ on Tuesday followed by a pub quiz in Cafe van Buren

  • A guest lecture on black holes and other phenonema in the universe by Professor Heino Falcke, followed by an all-you-can-eat BBQ on Wednesday night

  • Free time on Thursday night
  • And the closing ceremony and farewell reception on Friday

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From being in class, exploring the city, and talking to Dutch people, I learned about: the Dutch version of Santa Claus (Sinterklaas) and the traditions and customs surrounding Christmas in the Netherlands, the birthday calendar or ‘verjaardagskalender’ that some Dutch people keep in their bathroom at home, bitterballen and krokets and all things deep fried in the Netherlands, the complexity of Dutch grammar and pronunciation, the gesture of waving your hand at the side of your face when eating to show that you are enjoying your food, ‘Koningdag’ a.k.a. King’s Day, the Dutch political and legal systems, cycling in the Netherlands, and more.

We also spent time exploring the city centre and I loved the gothic architecture as well as the modern side of the Netherland’s oldest city.

Another great thing about studying in Nijmegen was meeting people from various different countries, cultures and backgrounds. In my class were students from the UK, America, Canada, China, Isreal and Palestine, and more. Even though my course was English taught and everyone spoke a good level of/fluent English, it was so interesting to listen to how everyone spoke and how our different accents and dialects interacted with each other. This aspect of the experience has really sparked my interest in linguistics and dialectal speech, and it is now something I’d like to look more into.

For anyone considering applying to Radboud Summer School next year, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The programme was so well organised and the tutors and staff were so helpful, enthusiastic, and thoughtful with everything from picking us up from the train station on our first day and offering us a free lunch, Radboud hoodie and goodie bag upon arrival, to the excellent social programme, certificates and group photos, and much much more. I’ve never really thought of myself as the type of person who would enjoy studying/living abroad so I was a little worried I might find the experience overwhelming or daunting but I had an amazing time and it has only encouraged me to travel more and apply for more opportunities similar to Radboud’s Summer School.

Studying at Radboud gave me a lot more confidence and independence when it comes to travelling and studying, and it made me realise what I am really capable of even when I’m initialled worried about not being in my comfort zone. Radboud is also a great environment for making new friends and meeting a variety of people from different walks of life which makes it an experience that really opens your eyes to attitudes and perspectives you might not have considered before.

Tot ziens!

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Have you studied abroad or are you considering applying to Radboud? Let me know in the comment section below.

 

 

Writing Diary: Mid-Internship Blog

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I am now half way through my summer project with the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland to write and self-publish a series of Scottish short stories. As part of my accompanying internship with the Research Interns at Strathclyde programme, I had to write a mid-internship reflective blog talking about the challenges and successes of my project so far. I found that keeping a weekly writing diary with notes of aspects I have struggled with and how I overcame those challenges really helped in keeping my project on track. You can read more about my project here.

Mid-Internship Blog

During the first half of my internship, my aim was to investigate twenty-first-century Scottish literature as a basis of research for my own Scottish short story collection. I planned to study various texts and adapt successful literary techniques in my own free writing in the early stages of my project, with particular focus on dialogue and dialectal language. I remained true to these objectives and further developed the plots I had loosely planned in my initial application.

I aimed to write three stories with the narrative rotating between three characters. I planned for each episode to be around 2,000 words long followed by a 2,000-word critical reflection. When I began the writing process, however, I exceeded my word count for each episode by around 1,000 words. Upon reflection, I decided not to be too strict with the word count because as the plot for each story developed and became more complex, it became clear that I would need the extra word count to tell each story coherently and in depth. So far, I have learned that, while planning is key, it is okay to deviate slightly from my original aims and for details to organically change as the plot progresses because this is a natural part of the writing process and something I shouldn’t beat myself up about.

Over the last four weeks, I have developed my skills in research and I have learned how to write authentic regional dialogue and how to craft distinctive and memorable characters. I have now completed a full draft of my series and the accompanying essay. I plan to spend the remainder of my internship doing further editing and  ensuring my collection is of the best possible standard it can be. Once I am satisfied with the outcome, I plan to self-publish the series into an A5 paperback book using Lulu.com and I will promote the published series online to increase exposure for regional Scottish fiction.

Are you doing any projects this summer? Let me know in the comment section below.

The Absurdity of Blood Donation Restrictions for Gay Men After the Orlando Shooting

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Published by The Huffington Post.

In the wake of the tragic mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, in which 49 LGBT+ individuals were killed and 53 injured, many questions have been raised about how this vicious hate crime was allowed to happen and how its kind can be prevented in the future. Gun laws in America have been debated ferociously in the last few years and even more so now as 13,286 people were killed and 26,819 injured by firearms in the US in 2015 alone. While gun control and background checks on gun buyers are being widely criticised, many have also been outraged following the shooting in Orlando for a very different reason.

In the aftermath of such a tragedy, it’s only natural for everyone, particularly members of the LGBT+ community, to want to do something, anything, to aid those who have been injured. A great way to help those still wounded and, in some cases, fighting for their lives in hospital is to donate blood, which many people in Orlando have been queuing up in streets to do. It is absurd, however, that one group of people is yet again being segregated in the process: gay men.

Despite the urgent need for donations, homosexual and bisexual men who have been sexually active within the last year are still not being allowed to donate blood; and, furthermore, are being refused the opportunity to show solidarity and much needed support for fellow members of the LGBT+ community injured in this hateful attack.

The outdated and discriminatory restrictions on gay men giving blood, which were established in the early 1980s as a panicked reaction to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, unequivocally show that homophobia is not something now only kept alive by a tiny minority of fanatics and religious extremists, but something that is deeply embedded within our society and our institutions. It shows the painful irony that the homophobia which motivated 29-year-old gunman Omar Mateen to open fire on innocent people is the same homophobia quietly ingrained in our health services that is restricting men who have sex with men from donating to those suffering as a result of this mass homophobic attack by so-called Islamic State.

At this very moment in America, it is easier for a member of the public to obtain a firearm capable of killing and wounding hundreds of people than it is for a sexually active monogamous gay man to donate blood.

 

Although there used to be a complete ban on gay men giving blood, these rules were changed in America on December 21, 2015, as the FDA issued guidance for the deferral of donations from men who have sex with men and allowed them to donate blood after remaining celibate for one year. While appearing to be a step forward in the eradication of these old rules which, according to the American Medical Association, were discriminatory and without a solid scientific justification, men who have sex with men are still being discriminated against based on their sexual behaviour, something that heterosexual men who wish to donate blood are not judged on.

On this basis, a heterosexual man who has unprotected sex with several partners would be allowed to give blood, while a homosexual man in a monogamous relationship would be refused. When examined from this angle, the restrictions on men in same-sex relationships giving blood still appear to be based on the stigma of sexual promiscuity attached to gay men, showing that the eligibility of gay men to donate blood does appear to be based on their sexual history while the eligibility to donate for straight men is not scrutinised in this way.

In the UK, our health service has similar restrictions on blood donation as the NHS Blood and Transplant service also have a year-long deferral on men who have sex with men giving blood. The NHS claim this decision ‘isn’t discriminatory’ and is not ‘based on anyone’s sexual history or sexuality’ but that the guidelines recommended by the Department of Health merely ‘reflect statistical risks for the sexual behaviour that increases the risk of virus transmission’.

 

While stating that the restrictions are not based on sexual history and then contradicting that statement in the same breath, we can see that our health services and organisations here in the UK, too, despite their objections, seem to be basing the eligibility to give blood on an outdated and backwards stigma attached to homosexual and bisexual men.

As some countries like Argentina have completely lifted the ban on men in same-sex relationships giving blood and have recognised that this decision is ‘scientifically and technically accurate‘, the restrictions on blood donations still in place in America, Britain and in many countries around the world serve as a reminder that religious and societal homophobia is continuing to cloud people’s judgement, fuel hatred and social stigma, and inspire violence.

As we come to terms with the tragic loss of life and continue to express our solidarity and support with the victims of the Orlando shooting in the face of mindless homophobia and terrorism, these discriminatory rules are being brought into question and scrutinised under the public spotlight now more than ever before, as we ask ourselves: what is the real reason why a monogamous gay man cannot give blood while a heterosexual man with an indeterminate number of sexual partners would be welcome to donate?

What do you think of the restrictions on gay men giving blood? Let me know in the comment section below.

moon child // Summer Update

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So, it’s not *technically* summer yet. But when it’s 30 degrees in Scotland, it is summer. My classes have come to an end and I (luckily) only had one exam which is all done and dusted, so I’m finished for third year and off until September.

Internship

Knowing I’d have a lot of time off this summer, I decided to apply for the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland Vacation Scholarship, a scheme we were encouraged to apply to in one of my English classes this year. The vacation scholarship is a scheme that students studying in Scotland in their third year of an undergraduate degree can apply for to receive funding for a research project during their summer break. I applied to do a creative writing research project and proposed to write a collection of Scottish short stories written in a variety of Strathclyde urban dialects following a group of friends studying in Glasgow. Writing in Scots is something I’ve always been interested in but it’s an area I haven’t had as much opportunity as I would like to study or practise. I outlined the plots for each story along with many other details of my project, submitted my application, and I’ve been awarded the scholarship!

I have now began my project and I am currently working on one of my short stories called ‘Cake’ which I’m really excited with so far. As well as writing the collection, I also proposed to self publish the collection and it will become available on Lulu, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble for anyone who’d like to buy a copy in August when the project is complete. You can read more about my Carnegie Project on my LinkedIn page.

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Summer School

As well as my creative writing research project, I have also been allowed the amazing opportunity by my university (Strathclyde) to study abroad for a week-long summer school at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands! I will be in Nijmegen in August this summer to study ‘Dutch Culture and Language’ for a week as well as several excursions and activities. While in Nijmegen, I will post daily, if I can, with photographs and travel/study blog entries talking about my experience of exchange study.

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Image courtesy of Ton Nolles via Flickr.

Are you doing any projects or studying abroad this summer? Let me know in the comment section below.

Essential Listening: Trainspotting Soundtrack

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Published by The Strathclyde Telegraph.

While the majority of motion picture soundtracks are too often composed of mere instrumentals and album fillers used to bridge the gaps and silences in a film, the Trainspotting soundtrack, however, is a sequence of landmarks in time through the music scene and tracks the trends and sub-cultures of the late 1980s to mid-1990s. The soundtrack’s evolution also signifies the developing character of Mark Renton and his journey through addiction with his group of friends in Edinburgh. From the synth-pop, New Romantics, and rock of the ‘80s, to the grunge, Britpop, and dance eruption of the 90s, the Trainspotting soundtrack is a cherry-picked collective of anthemic tracks that disorientate, unnerve, thrill, and electrify the viewer.

As the iconic opening sequence bursts onto the screen with Renton and Spud chased down Princes Street, the punchy beat of ‘Lust for Life’ by Iggy Pop bounces, matching the pace of the heroin addicts’ Converse trainers springing on and off the pavement with seemingly superhuman speed. The use of ‘Lust for Life’ in the opening seconds of Trainspotting immediately lets the viewer know that this isn’t going to be a warm, fuzzy, or relaxing film to watch, but that it is a film which is going to grip, shock, entertain and disturb them; essentially, it is a film that isn’t going to give you a minute’s peace.

 

The next track provides another telling detail of Trainspotting: it is a pretty trippy film. As Renton enters ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ for a scene that makes just about everyone dry heave, a seemingly surprising choice of song is used: ‘Suite No. 2’ from the opera ‘Carmen’ by Georges Bizet. Throwing a beautiful piece of classical music in with a hallucinogenic underwater toilet sequence amongst an otherwise punk dominated soundtrack, at first, seems a little disorientating. But this choice of track, which builds to a theatrical crescendo, only adds to the indie, black humour and kitschy irony of Trainspotting as Renton finally finds those precious lost suppositories.

Other classic hits are included such as ‘Temptation’ by Heaven 17, featuring during the club scene, which hypnotically melds into ‘Atomic’ by Sleeper, as Renton spots Diane for the first time and falls in love, to ‘Sing’ by Blur and ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed. Whilst these all flawlessly set the tone for the film’s gritty first act, the soundtrack – much like Renton’s character – has a turning point. As Renton realises he had to ‘find something new’, ‘Think About the Way’ by Ice MC signifies Renton’s move to the Big Smoke with a fast-paced montage of buzzing 1996 London; this illustrates Renton’s fresh start as well as the changing nature of Britain and the move from the depraved, Thatcherite ‘80s to the new Labour of the ‘90s.

Saving, perhaps, the best for last is ‘Born Slippy’ by Underworld, the sound that arguably defines Trainspotting. Accompanied by Renton’s closing monologue about really ‘choosing life’ this time, the euphoric techno anthem provides the perfect drug-infused final hit for an astounding soundtrack that will pound in your ears for days afterwards.

What do you think of the Trainspotting soundtrack? Are you looking forward to the sequal? Let me know in the comment section below.

Peer Assessment: Is It Really Helping Us Learn?

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Published by The Strathclyde Telegraph.

Students have an array of different responses to the subject of group work and peer assessment. Some relish in being ‘the leader’, the driving force of a project where they can showcase their creativity and encourage their team members. Some quietly enjoy group tasks simply because it gives them the opportunity to hide behind the work of others, and contribute little-to-nothing to a project and get away with it. Others, however, dread group work and roll their eyes at the idea of what can sometimes feel like juvenile projects that were more appropriate at primary school.

Through a series of studies carried out in 2012 into the effectiveness of group work and peer assessment as an aid to learning, Maryellen Weimer PhD found that: ‘Our hypothesis of better learning outcomes with peer assessment was not supported. In fact, the data suggests that the opposite pattern may exist’.

Many can understand the initial logic behind allowing students to assess, and provide feedback for, each other. This kind of tasks are designed to push students out of their comfort zone, to boost their confidence when speaking to different people, improve their presentation skills, and their ability to speak coherently to a large group; all of which are traits that are deemed desirable by employers. In this essence, group work and peer assessment would appear to benefit the student body immensely. Unfortunately, however, drawbacks still remain.

As many students will admit, there is almost always one member of the team who will contribute less to the project than everyone else in the group while still receiving an equal portion of the grade and recognition that the group will ultimately be awarded at the end of the task. The solution to this issue seems simple: tell the team member to get more involved, stop slacking, and contribute as much as everyone else. Typically, however, students will be randomly put into groups with classmates they may not know too well, and telling someone you barely know to buck up and work harder isn’t going to be the easiest subject to broach, especially for introverts who may find group work challenging enough in itself.

Another disadvantage of peer assessment – and perhaps the biggest one – is simply that students are not qualified to assess anyone’s work.

While feedback from classmates can be helpful, there is only so much that students can do to help each other. We are not qualified to provide critiques or criticism, and we are certainly not qualified to mark each other’s work. The aspect of peer assessment which arguably bothers students the most is in the instances where students are responsible for providing part of their classmates overall grade. While it seems that peer assessment to this extent is more of way for teachers to save themselves time rather than a tool to aid learning, students providing each other with a percentage that will go towards their final grade is something I cannot see the need for.

Not only could a student be unlucky enough to be graded by a classmate who provides overly harsh criticism and, therefore, receives a worse grade than they deserve, or unfairly awarded a better grade than their work merits by a classmate who marks leniently, peer assessment also diminishes the anonymity of grading that every student should be entitled to. When you know a tutor is grading your report, essay or project, you are safe in the knowledge that they do not know whose piece of work they are marking, and you know that you are not being unfairly discriminated against or favoured. But by handing the reigns over to students themselves who, in most cases, will know whose work they are grading, the door is opened for discriminatory assessment and, possibly, even bullying. The question also arises that: if students are peer assessing themselves and their final grades, then why have a teacher at all?

Peer assessment and group work can be valuable learning experience with many benefits. But it is important to remember that students can only help each other to a limited extent, and that under no circumstances is a student qualified to provide a mark that could impact another student’s final grade without the supervision and cross-marking of a professional.

What do you think of peer assessment? Let me know in the comment section below.

Best to Binge Watch: Father Ted

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Published by The Strathclyde Telegraph.

Timeless cult classic Father Ted is a quirky, kitschy ‘90s comedy (the brainchild of Graham Linehan who also created The IT Crowd) mixing the self-reflexive with absurdity, slap-stick, and digs at religious scandals and hypocrisies to create a truly original, stand-alone sitcom revived again and again by generations of comedy fans.

The Irish comedy follows Father Ted Crilly – the arguably sane one – living with the young, mind-numbingly dim-witted Father Dougal McGuire, elderly Father Jack Hackett – whose entire vocabulary consists of ‘drink’, ‘feck’, ‘arse’, and ‘girls’ – and their tea-and-sandwich-obsessed housekeeper Mrs Doyle. The four central characters live in the parochial house on the fictitious Emerald Isle in miniature, Craggy Island, where there are no local landmarks except a field that has ‘less rocks in it than most places’.

In the hilarious, surreal world of Father Ted, almost every character is a caricature with flamboyant, over-exaggerated features and mannerisms, from Mrs Doyle’s fierce insistence that everyone have a cup of tea – ‘go on, go on, go on…’ – to Bishop Brennan’s ever-angry, terrifying presence which exudes more of an image of Satan than a senior clergyman.

Spanning three series and a Christmas special, culminating in 25 episodes, Father Ted was relatively short lived but is jam-packed with countless golden moments of comedy. With episodes including: ‘Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse’, ‘Cigarettes, Alcohol and Rollerblading’, ‘Speed 3’, and ‘Entertaining Father Stone’, Father Ted is a show of calamity, unfortunate events, and sadistic yet light-hearted humour making the viewer’s sides split with laughter as we watch Ted’s failed attempts to get on television and live the American dream.

Iconic moments from the show include: a fresh-faced Graham Norton as Father Noel Furlong and his rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in a crumbling cave, a bomb on a milk float that’ll blow up when the milk float goes under 4mph, a whistle theft that rocks the island, the All-Priests Over 75s Five-a-Side Football Challenge Match, and – who could forget? – Ted and Dougal’s song for Europe, the incomparable, ‘My Lovely Horse’.

 

The show’s supporting characters also provide massive laughs with Father Larry Duff who has bone-crunching, life-threatening freak accidents every time Father Ted decides to give him a phone call; John and Mary who own the island’s only shop and seem like the perfect couple but fight like cat and dog when the priests aren’t looking; and Tom, the island psychopath who always wears a t-shirt saying: ‘I shot JR’.

Father Ted has also generated countless catchphrases from ‘down with this sort of this’, ‘careful now’ and ‘drink’, to ‘you were wearing your blue jumper’, ‘the money was just resting in the account’, and ‘is there anything to be said for saying another mass?’

As an ideal series to binge-watch on 4od, Father Ted – with it’s comforting, nostalgic, pre-millennial theme tune – is perfect for rainy days and lazy Sundays when all you want to do is curl up on the couch and have a bit of an ol’ farcical, ludicrous laugh.

★★★★★

What do you think of Father Ted? Let me know in the comment section below.

News: More Than Half of LGBT Students Experience Homophobic or Transphobic Bullying

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Published by The Strathclyde Telegraph.

More than half of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) students have experienced homophobic or transphobic abuse in further and higher education, according to a new National Union of Students (NUS) study.

The Pride and Prejudice in Education research into the extent of bullying and harassment experienced by LGBT+ students and staff at colleges and universities found that out of 1,505 respondents, 60% had experienced abuse, with a further one in 10 witnessing intimidating behaviour every day.

Out of 930 students and 575 staff surveyed, 78% also said they did not know who to go to if they experienced bullying.

Robbiie Young and Fran Cowling, LGBT+ officers at NUS, said: “It is deeply concerning to see how widespread the bullying and harassment of LGBT+ students is. Every student should feel safe while at college or university. They shouldn’t have to face name-calling and other bullying, or have to consider dropping out of their course because of the way they are treated by other students.”

They added: “NUS will be working with students’ unions to implement the recommendations in this report to create learning environments that are inclusive and welcoming for all LGBT+ students.”

NUS said the survey findings suggest that homophobic and transphobic abuse directed at LGBT+ students also has an impact on their learning and retention levels, with gay/lesbian and non-binary learners more than twice as likely as average students to consider abandoning their course.

Seth Aitken, Forum for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Equality chair, said: “This report clearly shows there is much to be done to foster confidence amongst both staff and learners, which seems to be particularly lacking when it comes to reporting bullying and harassment.’

The report calls for colleges and universities to: do more to prevent LGBT+ students from dropping out as a result of bullying, improve training and support for staff, develop inclusive curriculum content, and adopt zero tolerance policies for harassment.

Helen Carr, Head of Equality at the University and College Union, said: ‘While much has been done to address bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity in colleges and universities, there is no getting away from the fact that it is still a problem.’

Support for LGBT+ students at the University of Strathclyde is available through the Advice Hub and the Strathclyde LGBT+ Society. Information on how to report bullying and abuse based on sexual orientation or gender identity is available on the University of Strathclyde Students’ Association (USSA) website.

What do you think of this story? Let me know in the comment section below.

 

moon child // Creative Nonfiction Published by Quotidan Literary Magazine

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My second piece of writing published in the current issue of Quotidian literary magazine went live this week!

I’m so excited to have my flash creative nonfiction piece ‘Thunderstorms and Midge Swarms‘ published with Quotidian. You can now find this piece in the current issue section of the Quotidian website – along with my other published piece, short story ‘Sonder‘.

This piece of creative nonfiction is a little bit of an ode to ‘home’ in its various definitions to me; from my bedroom to Scotland itself and everything in between.

Here is an extract from ‘Thunderstorms and Midge Swarms’:

Two ex-smoker’s-coughs. The buzz of an electric toothbrush. The springing of bread out of a toaster. The click of a boiled kettle. Junk mail rattling through the letter box. Hailstones clattering against windowpanes…

But home isn’t just a house, the place where you sleep…Home is the glistening, sugar-gauzed scent of the crisp air the day after the Scottish rain. It is buskers and bagpipers in Buchanan Street. Gift shops in Arran. Fish and chips in Largs. Irn Bru and rolls n’ square sausage. Dour faces and dry humour. Pessimism and pride. Ferocity and friendliness. Wit and Ignorance. Home is Trainspotting, Braveheart and Rob Roy. Paolo Nutini, Amy Macdonald and Twin Atlantic. Home is singing/shouting Loch Lomond at the end of an 18th birthday party…

Click here to read the full version of my creative nonfiction piece ‘Thunderstorms and Midge Swarms’ on the Quotidian literary magazine website.

You can follow Quotidian on Facebook and Twitter.

What did you think of this piece? Let me know in the comment section below.

Glasgow Film Fest Review: The Forest

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Published by The Strathclyde Telegraph.

In typical horror films, the daylight offers a safe haven, free from scares and frights and bumps in the night. The Forest, however, set in the real life Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji, famously known as Japan’s ‘suicide forest’, manages to make the natural, the sublime, and even the harmless, terrifying.

Director Jason Zada creates a world in The Forest with its own amplified pulse; a world that throbs with its own presence from every flicker of movement in a blade of grass to every creak of twigs snapping under hiking boots. With stunning, crisp cinematography and micro close-ups of the fine details of the forest, suddenly even canopies and snails take on an all new sinister and threatening persona.

Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) stars primarily as Sara Price, an American woman, and as her complicated, troublemaking identical twin sister Jess, who Sara has been bailing out and protecting since they were little girls living with grandma. Straddling the line between supernatural horror and psychological thriller, The Forest follows Sara as she journeys across the world to Japan where Jess was last seen before she went missing.

Warned by the locals to ‘never leave the path’, Sara hires Aiden (Taylor Kinney), an American journalist living in Japan, and park guide Michi to accompany her into Aokigahara to find her sister, who she can feel and ‘hear’ is still alive.

Throughout the film, we are given many classic foreboding horror movie hints that Sara isn’t making sensible decisions: from her disregard of Michi’s advice that she shouldn’t go into the forest because she has a ‘sadness inside her’ which the legendary forest feeds on and ‘makes you see bad things’, to her refusal to leave the forest as night falls when they find Jess’s distinctive yellow tent, filled with her belongings, deep within the forest.

As the plot progresses, Sara becomes more detached from the world outside Aokigahara; she falls for the beautifully haunting forest’s irrevocable hypnotism, cabin fever sets in, and the line between reality and fantasy blurs. Convinced that Aiden has kidnapped her sister and plans to kill them both – a seed of doubt that leaves the audience, too, unsure if Aiden is to be trusted – and without help from Michi, Sara’s quest to find her sister becomes an obsession as the forest curls around her ankles, grips onto her legs and – quite literally – pulls her under.

The concept behind The Forest is fascinating and enthralling from the outset, and the addition of the real life macabre, ritualistic destination for the suicidal only adds to the drama and potency of the film. I did jump, gasp, and get ‘the creeps’ from this film. But, like many horrors before, The Forest, too, is touched with traces of the exaggerated and the implausible. I was able to sleep after seeing The Forest, but not quite as easily as usual.

★★★

What do you think about The Forest? Let me know in the comment section below.