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Monday, 23 April 2012


Happy St. George's Day, Shakespeare's Birthday and World Book Night! (Phew - 'tis a lot to get in!).

At the moment, I haven't been as regular as I often promise I will be (on the blogging front, mind), mostly because I'm finding multitasking to be a bit of a pain. I've got my teeth into the novel and hope to complete a first draft before the summer is out, which is no mean task, seeing as I have the habit of reading and rereading everything I've written before continuing where I left off. That's great when you're at the first chapter, but not when you've got 50,000 words under your belt.

I've put a lot of things on hold but, like the weather of late, I have a feeling it's all about to break. So, once again, I'll be attempting to leave smaller gaps in between updates from now on.

I was about to add some cool fact about St. George, patron saint of England, but Wikipedia seems comprehensive enough in his case. I didn't know until today, for instance, that  George was born in Syria Palaestina which, I believe, is now an area comprising Israel/Palestine, Lebanon and, of course, Syria.

As a child, I learnt all about the dragon legend;
they made us draw George, sword and shield and all
while the teacher created a monster from green sticky-back plastic
which she attached to the wall...

The problem with fire-breathing dragons is they're neat little foes -
and once you have a fearless knight in sparkling armour,
striking a cheesy pose
it's easy for him to spot them and lance...

But taking a glance outside the fiction
I can't envision the terror
faced by those who inhabit the West Bank,
Palestine or Syria,
where daily frictions and deep-rooted convictions
often explode...

The road to peace cannot be mapped
or charged through with horse power
and these days you cannot slay dragons
without blowing hope to smithereens...

I don't mean to go off on one,
my point should have been simpler and not overdone.
St George, for me, is a reminder
that we create these heroes - these saviours -
in a world where there are none.

(okay, it's a freewrite and not that great but I hope the sentiment comes across)


Well, seeing as it's his birthday and all, I remembered something from my school days... I always read a lot - and from an early age - but despite liking Macbeth, Richard II and Romeo & Juliet when we had to study those plays, I othewise avoided Shakespeare. At school, I found the sonnets we had to analyse particularly boring (I mean, what kind of a chat-up line is "Shall I compare thee to a summers day" when you live in unpredicatable England??) and the language too reminiscent of the King James Bible, which I also felt got too much props.

Everyone seemed to put Shakespeare on a pedestal, even though, apparently, much of his work couldn't be authenticated. And while, on the one hand, I had teachers extoling his virtues for having created new words and appropriating vernacular language, every attempt by others at modernising the language in his plays often met snooty derision. Baz Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet came out while I was studying for my GCSEs - and even with all the guns and gangs, at the time, I was disappointed that they kept his language.

So then, one day, we were given an assignment - to redo Act III, Scene I: the death of Mercutio. I know I kept the original (and it should be in a box somewhere under the bed, so I'll dig it out some time if I can find it). Using the instrumental for Busta Rhymes's Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See, I retold the entire scene through rap...

I can't remember it all but it started with something like this:

This old scene begins with my mate Benvolio
Hanging with his homie and G Mercutio
Runs into old Tybalt and meets Petruchio,
Big no no.... etc

And then the chorus:

If you really wanna start in Verona
You better don that bullet-proof vest
Don't be putting my threats to the test
Or you'll find a massive hole in your chest

I remember I did three whole verses of it, start to finish. My teacher, refreshingly, took it quite well, and subsequently became a good fan of Busta Rhymes. Meanwhile, I hung up the mic for a while...


With my early efforts at dramatising Shakespeare in mind, it was really good to see Hip Hop Shakespeare on stage at World Book Night tonight. Let's just say their lyrical skills are much more developed than mine were at fourteen.

Earlier in the evening, several authors read extracts from their work - and from others'. At some point, I followed a woman who was giving out books for free, and winded up with The Time Traveller's Wife, which I shall read in due course, and hopefully enjoy and pass on. Then there was music, and more Shakespeare - and then I had to go...

Fiona Bevan
I won't comment much more as I'm pretty tired... But, a year on, it's good to see other countries, such as the US and Germany, joining in with WBN. I'm still worried, however, about the way we look at books, even though I count myself among those who've made snooty comments about ebooks and the Kindle et al. in the past. And while I still prefer actual tangible books - bendable pages, spine and all - and don't possess an electronic reading device (unless you count my phone), I know it's not good enough to fetishise the book.

Books in themselves aren't the be all and end all of humanity; it's what's inside them. Stories have been told throughout history, orally, through ballads and through plays, through carvings on walls, designs on cloth and through highly ornate writings on scrolls and, finally, paper. Adapting them for the digital age shouldn't be something to be afraid of.

Of course, I advocate reading books - and performing and listening to poetry - writing is the media that chose me long ago and I find most allows me to express myself. Reading an actual book, compared to a digital one, involves more of the senses and so, for me, is much more of a memorable, complete experience. Using language - as opposed to just music or drawing - enables us to communicate more effectively, and expand our knowledge more quickly. But that doesn't necessarily make the place of the book sacrosanct. And it shouldn't make us denigrate other forms of communication; they can reach places that books can't.

Anyway, I'm going on... More tomorrow, maybe...    

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