Halloween Flash Fiction!

Tortoise Soup celebrates Halloween – that special night when the worlds of the living and the dead collide, when magic really happens, when evil curses crackle in the cold air. We celebrate with a piece of flash fiction especially for you, my dear reader.

Flash Fiction is a new literary form where a complete story is told in a specified, and very short, number of words. My halloween epic is exactly 500 words. Read and enjoy, you can even include your very own flash fiction in the comments below!  Don’t have nightmares and whatever you do this Halloween – don’t overfeed the tortoise!

Read on if you dare!!!!

Johnny was travelling for a month, he had left his beloved tortoise Tonka in the care of his thrifty neighbour Hoagie. Hoagie would do nothing for anybody, he kept old ha’penny bits to put in collection boxes. But Hoagie loved money and Johnny paid him well to keep Tonka in the style to which he was accustomed.

Hoagie had been given a list of food to give to Tonka, but the food was eating away at the cash that Johnny had given. He began to scrimp and scrape. The light was left on for seven hours instead of eight, and then six, five and four. Soon it was hardly on at all. He did not go out collecting weeds as instructed or feed succulent salads, he gave him scraps from his old plate. This mangy old tortoise is getting a taste for meat thought Johnny, he doesn’t want crappy old lettuce.

Tonka was neglected, and grew sad. His beautiful head plopped down onto his cold soil. Hoagie was shocked – if the tortoise died he would not get the extra payment Johnny had promised on his return in two days!

He went to a reptile shop and said: “I need my tortoise to grow big, strong and happy straight away!” The shopkeeper winked: “We have a special Halloween offer – tort pills, give him two a day – no more – and recite the magic spell! No more than two a day!”

Hoagie rushed home, Tonka lay listless. Two a day, he thought, oh no – I need him better by tomorrow! He fed him the whole bottle, desperately wolfed down. He read the spell given him: “Trot Aknot, Trot Aknot, Worg Gib, Worg Gib!” There was a flash of light, green smoke bellowed. Then nothing. ‘Twas Halloween night, children were knocking for sweets and treats. Hoagie was so mean that he switched all lights off and retired to bed. If only that puny reptile could get better, he thought, then I could really fleece Johnny!

Morning broke, he went downstairs – what a sight! Tonka was huge! Ten foot side to side, ceiling scraping! He screamed but too late. You fed me not, cared for me not, you bad man, Tonka thought. Now you will feed me! He opened his huge mouth, his pretty pink tongue wrapped around Hoagie and pulled him inside. Nom, nom, nom – misers sure taste fine, but his shoes were spat out.

The next day Johnny returned. “I love you Tonka, daddy’s home!”, he cried out. Love! Oh love that endures all, that conquers all. Love cures every ill and destroys evil spells. The word made all good again. Whoomph! Tonka was back to his usual small self. Johnny cuddled him, and gave him special treats. “Where is that miserable Hoagie, his shoes are here but he is not? Ah well, I had brought him a present but now we will share it ourselves.” Tonka and Johnny were happy together, friends forever. Hoagie had enjoyed his last miserable Halloween darkly alone.

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The Mighty Bawd!

Today the world famous Tortoise Soup blog will be reviewing ‘The Country Wife’, currently playing at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

The Country Wife was written in 1675 by William Wycherley and is one of the most famous of the ‘Restoration Comedies’. Restoration comedies date from the 1660s and 1670s, a period when the monarchy was restored under the new king Charles II. The theatres had been closed by the killjoy puritan government of Cromwell, but one of the first things that Charles did was to re-open the theatres. Playwrights such as Wycherley and Congreve revelled in their new freedoms and created complex and satirical farces that took the word ‘bawdy’ to new levels.

So lewd and lascivious, so openly revelling in sex and scandal, was The Country Wife that it went unperformed for nearly two hundred years. It was revived during the party loving 1920s from which date it has rightly been recognised as a classic of British theatre. The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester is a perfect location to stage Wycherley’s place. It is a beautiful, imposing theatre: traditionally victorian on the outside, yet relentlessly modern inside. Craft shops and a sumptious bar provide the perfect pre-theatre atmosphere before the audience enter the theatre in the round.

So, what did Tortoise Soup think of the play itself? I was very impressed that the Royal Exchange have been faithful to the original script. It is so easy to modernise restoration comedy, especially in this age of political and sexual scandal. This production stuck bravely to its guns, and both costume and design were firmly Seventeenth Century. This added greatly to my enjoyment of the play.

The cast were uniformly superb. Felix Scott was masterful in the lead role of Horner, the man who pretends to be castrated so that he can sleep with as many women as possible. Oliver Gomm was wonderfully energetic as the clown like Mr Sparkish and Amy Morgan was delightful in every way as the titular character Margery Pinchwife. By turns simplistic and scheming, she brought more than a touch of Joanna Page to the role and it was easy to see how she would enchant a man such as Horner.

Of course, it matters little how good the actors are if the writing is below par, but we need have no concerns on that ground: restoration comedies are fantastic entertainment and The Country Wife is at the very pinnacle of the genre. There is more bawdiness and bed hopping in two hours of this play than you would get in two years of Desperate Housewives. The denouement is frenetic and brilliant. The play is jam packed full of wit and if you don’t laugh uproariously at this production then there is no hope for you.

The language of the play is, of course, very much of its time. If taken at face value the use of many of the terms would be seen as shocking and brutal, there were audible gasps as one character threatened to carve the word ‘whore’ onto his wife’s forehead. The views on women are completely at odds with how we think now: for example a woman is compared unfavourably to a spaniel. It is important to recognise however that the words, like everything else in the play, should not be taken at face value – women and men are both the targets of Wycherley’s satire and both sexes are as scheming as the other.

Overall then, I have no hesitation in awarding The Country Wife at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre a prestigious Five Tortoise Shells! I had a fantastic evening from beginning to end and I recommend both the play and the theatre to all.
Please comment below, and tell me about any theatrical gems that you have seen recently!

Culture On The Big Screen

As my Tortoise Soup followers know, I am somewhat of a culture vulture. Give me a book to read, a play to watch or an aria to listen to and a broad smile spreads across my face. I blame a surfeit of culture for the ‘laughter lines’ that seem to be growing daily around the corners of my eyes.

I love to see live performances: whether it be drama or musicals at the theatre or opera and ballet in opera houses. Well now there is another way for you to enjoy a dose of the arts, and I heartily recommend it to you all: culture on the big screen.

Last week I went to watch the final performance of ‘The Last Of The Hausmanns’ at the National Theatre. This is the debut play from the pen of Simon Beresford and it has been a phenomenal success. I loved every minute of it, people were laughing heartily and at the end the audience around me stood as one to applaud the excellent cast led by the ever wonderful Julie Walters. During the interval, people popped into the auditorium for a drink and a light snack, or stayed in their seats reading a programme. I wasn’t at the National Theatre in London however, I was in the Cineworld movie complex two hundred miles to the north in Sheffield.

Once the lights have dimmed and the ‘action’ commences, you quickly become embroiled in the production itself. It is easy to forget that you are in a cinema so that when the lights come up again it is a relief to find that you don’t have to join the frantic throng heading towards the Embankment tube station.

Watching theatre at the cinema has several advantages: the seats are often cheaper, and all afford an excellent view; there is no need to book accommodation or spend money on transport; there is a more relaxed, informal, atmosphere; there is no need to book in advance to procure a ticket. For all of these reasons and more watching culture at the cinema can be ideal for beginners: a perfect introduction to the genre for people who haven’t previously experienced live drama, opera or ballet.

There are a growing number of cinemas that screen culture throughout the United Kingdom and abroad, both chains and independents. To feed the increased demand for cinematic culture, many companies are now providing live screenings or recordings of previously filmed events. I have provided links to some of these companies below:

The National Theatre:

http://microsites.nationaltheatre.org.uk/ntlive

The Royal Opera House:

http://cinema.roh.org.uk/

There are also regular screenings of ballet from Russia’s legendary Bolshoi Ballet and from New York’s Metropolitan Opera, so please do keep an eye on your local cinema’s listings.

So the next time that you feel the need for an oversized bucket of popcorn, why not settle back into your seat and watch some of the greatest theatre, opera and ballet in the world all for the same price of a ticket to see Final Destination 10?

National Poetry Day 2012

Poetry is a thing of beauty, a wondrous treasure that connects us with our ancient ancestors. For wherever man has been, poetry has followed. In 2012 we live in an ever shrinking world where new technological marvels spring up day by day, and where hundreds of books can be carried around on a small black and white screen. Yet, poetry is just as relevant as ever, it is more vibrant than ever. Poetry is thriving so let us all celebrate this special day: National Poetry Day 2012.

I love literature, as you all know, but poetry has a special place in my heart because of its universal appeal. I am always amazed by the people who come up to me and tell me that they write too. Sometimes they take out a tattered and treasured little book that they have written their own poetry in. Invariably the poetry is brilliant: direct and raw, straight from the heart!
I love writing poetry myself, and am glad to have hidden some little poems in my forthcoming children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’. The tortoise hero, Byron Tinker, is inspired to write poetry because he is named after a poet and his poem forms both the beginning and end of the book. Children love poetry, they love to learn and make up rhymes from an early age. We should cherish and nurture childrens’ love for poetry and writing as a whole.
This year I bought two modern collections of poetry, both very different but both very brilliant. One is called ‘Such Words As These’ by Ravenshead Press in which a group of unpublished poets submit poems tracing life from beginning to end in support of Alzheimer’s Research UK. A worthy cause and a worthy book – many of these small, intensely personal poems moved me deeply. I also loved Jamie McGarry’s ‘Dead Snail Diaries’ published by Valley Press. This book consists of poems solely about snails and slugs but it is achingly funny and fantastically well written using its shell-inspired verse to parody everyone from Eliot to Auden.

I also love the poetry classics: from the sonnets of Shakespeare to the labyrinthine brilliance of the aforesaid TS Eliot. Perhaps my favourite poet of all is John Betjeman, such a complex man but such brilliantly simple rhymes. I always have to pay homage by touching his statue when I am at St Pancras station.

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If I had the difficult task of picking my one favourite poem of all time however it would come down to either ‘O My Luve’s Like A Red Red Rose’ by Robbie Burns, ‘Ode To A Nightingale’ by John Keats or ‘Requiscat’ by Oscar Wilde. In the latter poem Wilde describes the feeling of loss that he suffers, and will always suffer, after the death of his beloved sister in childhood. It is the perfect description of grief, and of unfulfilled beauty from the greatest ‘all rounder’ writer of all time. Please tell me about your favourite poems below, but here is my choice as the greatest single poem of all time.

REQUISCAT by Oscar Wilde

 

“Tread lightly, she is near

Under the snow,

Speak gently, she can hear

The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair

Tarnished with rust,

She that was young and fair

Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,

She hardly knew

She was a woman, so

Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,

Lie on her breast,

I vex my heart alone,

She is at rest.

Peace, peace, she cannot hear

Lyre or sonnet,

All my life’s buried here,

Heap earth upon it.”