The Tortoise Soup Awards 2012

Dear reader, thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting the Tortoise Soup blog throughout 2012. The sheer number of views has amazed me and I know that this blog will continue to go from strength to strength in 2013. As this old year is shuffling away into the sunset let us reflect on some of the brilliant achievements throughout 2012. I am proud to present the inaugural Tortoise Soup awards!

‘The Last Of The Haussmans’ (National Theatre)
This remarkable debut play by Stephen Beresford had it all – tears, infidelity, betrayal, love, yearning, death and lots and lots of laughter. Julie Walters tour de force as the disintegrating matriarch was more than ably supported. A truly brilliant new play, that will surely become a future legend.

'The Last of the Haussmans' play at The Lyttelton Theatre, London, Britain - 18 Jun 2012

‘Cardenio’ (The Rose Theatre)
Cardenio is the ‘lost’ play of William Shakespeare, or so we are led to believe. For my mind it has much more in common with the Jacobean revenge tragedies of Thomas Middleton. Whoever wrote it, this Autumn’s production at the Rose Theatre was as spectacular as it was intimate. I urge you all to visit the Rose whenever you are in London. Just down the road from the Globe Theatre, the Rose is still being dragged back from the past. As such, it is still very much an architectural site as well as a theatre but it will give you a theatrical experience like no other. Well done to the Aporia Theatre Collective for bringing this difficult and blood soaked classic to life.


‘Rats Tales” by Carol Ann Duffy (Manchester Royal Exchange)
This is not just a play, it is a theatrical event. Nightmares mingle with fairy tales and the result is pure magic. It would have been impossible to separate this from ‘Last Of The Haussmans’ as the best production of the year. If you want to introduce children to the theatre, you could do no better than start here.

LS Theatre
There is national theatre, and there is regional theatre, but there is another tier that I call ‘local theatre’. The tiny companies that scrape together enough to put on productions at the smaller theatres that still exist across this country.
LS Theatre are a wonderful example of such a company. Based in Barnsley, South Yorkshire they have no shortage of ambition. This year has seen a range of quality productions from them, but the stand out was their ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’ musical. LS pushed the boat out and got in a bone fide West End star in Rachel Leskovac to play Audrey. Audrey 2 (the man eating plant) was just as impressive, and the whole show was a great demonstration of what can be achieved with a small budget but huge determination.


‘Coppelia’ (The Dancehouse, Manchester)
Manchester City Ballet did a great job in bringing Delibes magic to life at The Dancehouse. Airi Koike was particularly impressive, and I look forward to seeing her performances in future. Larger stages surely await for her.

‘The Ring Cycle’ (Royal Opera House)
Watching a ring cycle should be on your bucket list. I saw my first cycle this year and I was not disappointed. The cycle is an incredible achievement, both artistically and physically. Wagner’s music is so fast, so frenetic, so loud that to play 17 hours of it over four amazing nights must be unbelievably draining for the orchestra. Sir Tony Pappano cemented his legendary reputation with flawless conducting, and the huge cast stepped up to the plate in style. Which leads me neatly onto…

Bryn Terfel (Wotan/The Wanderer, Royal Opera House)
There is no bigger role for a bass, but with Bryn Terfel we were in safe hands. It is so hard to strike the right balance between complete power and complete vulnerability but Terfel was faultless. His performance in the final act of Die Walkure was emotionally charged as he sacrifices his own daughter to fate. As the final, beautiful note faded the woman alongside me kept repeating, ‘Oh, wow! oh, wow!’ That said it all.



The Lighthouse (Alison Moore, Salt Publishing)
This is a debut novel to cherish. A real page turner that is achingly crafted and where the prose is so beautiful that it hurts. Moore was unlucky not to clinch the Booker Prize with this one, but awards will surely rain down on her in the future.


‘The Moomins And The Great Flood’ (Tove Jansson, Sort Of)
There have been so many wonderful new books for children this year so why have I selected a book that was written nearly 70 years ago? Well although this was written in 1945 it has never been published in the United Kingdom before 2012 so it was eligible and a worthy winner. Jansson was the greatest children’s author of all time and this is a must read for all Moomin fans.

‘Some Things Matter’ (James Nash, Valley Press)
James Nash has reinvigorated the sonnet form in this wonderful new collection. Yorkshire’s finest poet examines the nature of life itself, distilling it into fourteen line vignettes that teach us what it is like to experience the world around us.


We have recognised some incredible achievements above. They all richly deserve the prestigious ‘Golden Tortoise’ that is winging its way to them. But, no review of 2012 would be complete without two special awards.

Cecilia Giminez
Spain has produced many great artists from Goya to Picasso. But this year introduced the world to a remarkable new talent: Cecilia Giminez. This octogenarian from Zaragoza decided that the priceless work of art in her local church needed a bit of love, a gentle restoration. She went to work on ‘Ecce Homo’ by Elias Garcia Martinez and the results brought the work right into the 21st Century. Cecilia seemed bemused at the uproar that her ‘repairs’ caused, but they do say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Thanks to Giminez the work went from ‘behold, the man!’ to ‘behold, the chimpanzee!’. At least she had a go.

Cecilia Giminez Spanish mural before and after

Cafe del Soul, Marin, California
Is this refreshing honesty or business suicide? Here is the report from the Marin Independent Journal. You decide.
“If I can’t tell the truth to my customers then why have a restaurant?” manager Sandro De Oliviera asked reporters in his ‘natural and organic’ Cafe del Soul in Marin County, California. “Our mission is to give every person who walks through our doors a sense of feeling better than they did before, and that means being honest with them. That’s why we put up a sign informing them that our kitchen is infested with German cockroaches, that we’ve been fighting a losing battle against them, and that we have reported ourselves to the Health Department.”
Bon appetit!

Thank you again, have a wonderful New Year. 2013 will be a very special year for me as I work towards the publication of my children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’. I hope that your year will be just as good! Please comment below and let me know what you think have been the highlights of 2012.


Tove Jansson: Writer, Artist, Genius

Tove Jansson was born in Finland in 1914. She is most famous for creating the ‘Moomin’ series of books but there is so much more to her talent. For my British readers there is a documentary about Tove Jansson broadcast tonight on BBC4 at 9pm (or catch it on the BBC iplayer), so I thought it was only right that I should pay my own tribute to a wonderful and unique talent.


As a child I was obsessed with the Moomin books. I was bought my first one, ‘Comet in Moominland’, at age seven and I was hooked. I bought them all and read them over and over again until the covers fell off at which point I saved up to buy them again. The first ever Moomin book, ‘The Moomins And The Great Flood’, has just been released for the first time in the UK and I have bought myself a copy as a Christmas present. I will be reading it eagerly this weekend.

The Moomin books inspired me to become a writer, and especially to write for children. They brought me so much joy and happiness that I hope that my book, ‘Tortoise Soup’, can have the same effect on my readers when it is released, hopefully, in 2013.

So what is so great about the Moonin books of Tove Jansson? Well the first thing to emphasise is the quality of the writing. Jansson’s prose is beautifully crafted and precise, it is like poetry that drips from the page. They are just as enjoyable for adults as for children as Tove weaves interesting philosophical elements into the stories. And of course, the plots themselves are great – full of adventure and excitement, romance and love.

The other joy of the Moomin books, of course, are the illustrations by Tove Jansson herself. Tove was a remarkably talented illustrator and she brings her words to life with stunning effect.

The Moomin books themselves would be enough to cement Tove Jansson’s position in the pantheon of literature: in my opinion they are the greatest series of books in children’s literature. But she also wrote some amazing work for adults.

‘The Summer Book’ is a moving and simply beautiful account of an artistic old woman and her young grand daughter spending summer on an isolated Baltic island. It deals with death, religion and love in a matter of fact way and leaves a lasting impression upon the reader. In Scandinavia it is rightly recognised as a Twentieth Century classic of European literature. Jansson’s short story collection ‘The Winter Book’ (also published by ‘Sort Of Books’) is also highly recommended.

Jansson was a great writer and illustrator, a philosopher and also a great human being. She filled her writing and art with her love of nature and her lust for life. Her legacy lives on, not least in Finland itself where there is a Moomin museum, a Moomin theme park and where Tove is featured on a coin. In Covent Garden, London there is a delightful ‘Moomin’ shop selling many varied Moomin products.

Do yourself and your children a favour, check out the wonderful work of this idiosyncratic yet magnificent writer. I will finish with some quotes from the great woman herself:

“Lie on the bridge and watch the water flowing past. Or run, or wade through the swamp in your red boots. Or roll yourself up and listen to the rain falling on the roof. It’s very easy to enjoy yourself.”

“It’s strange,” Moominmamma thought. “Strange that people can be sad, and even angry because life is too easy. But that’s the way it is, I suppose. The only thing to do is to start life afresh.”

“Twilight is the border between day and night, and the shore is the border between sea and land. The border is longing: when both have fallen in love but still haven’t said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing.”

“A theatre is the most important sort of house in the world, because that’s where people are shown what they could be if they wanted, and what they’d like to be if they dared to and what they really are”

“One summer morning at sunrise a long time ago I met a little girl with a book under her arm. I asked her why she was out so early and
she answered that there were too many books and far too little time. And there she was absolutely right.”

Christmas Poem – Santa’s Shelled Helper

Here is a poem that can be enjoyed by the young and the young at heart – learn how a little tortoise can help St Nick on his special night! Happy Christmas to all of my blog readers, God bless you all and have a very peaceful and joyous few days!


SANTA’S SHELLED HELPER a poem by Nicky Holland

Twas the night before Christmas and all round the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse –
Except for young torty asleep in his bed,
Who nodded, and slumbered, then raised up his head,
His sweet dreams disturbed by a faint Ho Ho Ho,
From a jolly faced fella a-covered in snow,
Who could it be that had now caught his sight,
And woke torty up on this Christmas Eve night?
His eyes were so friendly, his face it glowed red,
As he gently bent down and raised torty from bed,
‘Oh Santa’ thought torty, ‘I recognise you,
So all that I’ve heard it must really be true,
How you visit the houses of good girls and boys,
And leave them all presents, and sweeties and toys,
And maybe I hope’, and his heart ‘gan to swell,
‘That there may be a present for torties as well!’
‘My dear friendly tortoise’ said Santa to he,
‘I do need some help, so I’m glad I’ve found thee,
My poor reindeer Rudolph is tucked up in bed,
All full up with cold, so will you help instead?’
Torty was happy, his eyes opened wide,
‘I’m gonna help Santa’, he thought with some pride,
‘But Santa’ said torty, ‘how helpful am I,
For I’m quite small and slow and I simply can’t fly?’
‘Don’t worry dear shelled friend just leave it to me’
With a wink and a smile they flew up the chimney,
Torty was astounded as he gazed from on high,
With the house right below and around him the sky,
And parked right beside him a gleaming white sleigh,
With reindeers afore it all chewing on hay,
‘Ahoy there my reindeer, come meet our new bloke’
Said Santa, ‘for torty’s the kindest of folk,
Come Vixen, come Dasher, come Cupid come Dancer,
Come Comet, come Donner, and Blitzen, come Prancer,
Now my good and brave torty do not be afraid,
For on Christmas Eve, miracles are made.’
Santa wrapped torty in a coat made of gold,
That fitted most snugly and kept out the cold,
And all of a sudden his nose gleamed quite red,
And two tiny antlers popped up from his head,
‘Ho, ho little torty now that’s quite a sight,
So come guide our sleigh on this beautiful night.’
‘Oh Santa, you know that this torty will try’,
So saying he rose up and jumped in the sky,
‘I can fly, I can fly’ he shouted with glee,
The first soaring tortoise in all history,
He led them on bravely right through the night,
No longer quite slow, but faster than light,
And all thanks to torty by morning sunrise,
The presents were waiting for young eager eyes,
The darkness was ending and morning was near,
‘Whoah reindeer’ said Santa ‘dear torty we’re here!’
Santa removed torty’s gold cloak,
With a wink and a smile and a plume of red smoke,
And torty found with a blink of surprise,
A familiar bed was now before his eyes,
‘I’m back home’, thought torty, ‘oh what a strange night,
I got to help Santa’, he smiled with delight.
The door it creaked open, well was Santa back?
But no, it was daddy carrying a sack,
‘Happy Christmas my torty, I do love you so,
And here is your present so that you know!’
He reached inside and what did he produce?
A big, ripe, red strawberry full up with juice,
Then daddy stepped back – his mouth was agape,
Amazed at the tortoise sized, gold coloured cape,
That lay next to torty and fragments of snow,
And a card saying “Thank you from Santa and co”,
‘Well torty, my love, tell me what’s gone on here?’
But torty just winked and said ‘maybe next year!’

Author Tips: Giving A Reading In A School

As you are aware I am the author of children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’. Throughout the latter half of this year I have been searching for the ideal publisher for the book. As those of you in similar circumstances might be aware this can be a long and tortuous process. So far I have rejected one firm offer, but I have two publishers currently considering the full manuscript that I would be very happy to work with so hopefully I should have some good news in the New Year.


Although the book isn’t physically available as yet, word is out! As a result of the general schmoozing and networking that an author’s life entails I was invited to read extracts from ‘Tortoise Soup’ at a primary school last week. The event was a great succes. In fact they were so enthusiastic that they have asked me to go back and do another reading when the book is released, either in hard copy or on digital formats, so that the children can buy copies. For many authors giving a live reading can be a daunting prospect so here are my tips for making things run smoothly.

First of all you need to be comfortable with your book, with the sound of it. Don’t just read it in your head, read it out loud to yourself so that you are familiar with the rhythm of your words. This can also be a useful part of the editing process as it helps to root out any superfluous words and passages.

Now you are ready to choose the reading itself. If the audience is primary aged, as mine were, then my advice is to keep it short and snappy. The passage should be five to ten minutes at the most or else the young folk can start to become fidgety even if you have the most thrilling story in the world.

I chose two passages from different parts of ‘Tortoise Soup’ but with the same characters involved, this is another important point: choose a passage that doesn’t have too many characters or else the children will become confused. Use different voices for the characters so that the children can tell them apart: don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Kenneth Branagh or a Kate Winslett, as long as you can pull off a couple of accents.

Read your chosen excerpts over and over again before doing your ‘show’. It is great if you can almost read it off by heart and keep eye contact with the children, rather than be constantly looking down at your paper. Here is another helpful tip: stick to paper, keep it old technology. If you use slides, or Powerpoint presentations then there is always the very real possibility that it can go long. Paper never fails to load.

Bring something ‘extra’ to engage their interest. I am a ventriloquist and so I took along my tortoise puppet to play the role of Byron in a question and answer session – the kids love it. But there are other things that you could do – maybe you could hand out illustrations from your book or even give out a few personalised bookmarks (easily available from sites such as Ebay).

A question and answer session at the end is a good idea. Children are inquisitive by nature, and they will have lots of questions to ask after your reading. This to me was one of the most fulfilling aspects, the children were so excited and enthused about my book. It really did bring home to me that I had created something that children would love and cherish, and that is the greatest feeling in the world.

So if you get the chance to give a reading, go for it! Don’t be shy or nervous, your audience wants you to succeed and will be excited at hearing from an actual flesh and blood author. I hope that next year, after the publication of Tortoise Soup, I will be giving lots more readings. Maybe I will see you at one of them?

Here is an advance notice: this Friday, December 21st, the Tortoise Soup blog will be publishing my Christmas poem. I distributed it around my friends last year and the response was overwhelming so please check in here after Friday and I am sure that you will love it as well. Find out how Santa Claus himself is rescued in his hour of need by a tiny little tortoise. Ho ho ho!

Coppelia at The Dancehouse Theatre, Manchester

Coppelia is being performed at the Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester until 8th December, and of course Tortoise Soup was there at the opening night to give you wonderful cultured people the lowdown.


If you are new to ballet then this is an ideal introduction. The Nutcracker, of course, is a traditional Christmas treat but Coppelia also is full of festive charm. Composed by Delibes, the titular character is a doll that has been created by the sinister toymaker Dr Coppelius. Dr Coppelius dreams of nothing more than bringing this doll to life, and when a curious young woman, Swanhilda, and her faithless beau Franz invade his toy shop the dolls come to life one by one.

The Dancehouse Theatre, easily found on Oxford Road, is home to the Manchester City Ballet. They have an excellent roster of young ballet stars, and there were some excellent performances last night. Louis Merlo, in the role of Franz, had the audience on the edge of their seats, he could certainly shine in big parts in the future. Airi Koike was perfect as Swanhilda, her delicate and precise hand placements and captivating smile made the audience warm to her. She not only danced superbly she also acted the role from her heart. I am looking forward to seeing Koike shine in future performances.

It is the first time that I have seen a ballet danced to a pre-recorded soundtrack rather than being accompanied by a live orchestra, but this did not detract from the performance itself. It also ensured that the beautiful Delibes score was note perfect.

Coppelia was a delight, and perfect Christmas entertainment for younger viewers as well. Many of the audience will have gone home wanting to don their tutus and twirl around their parlours. If you have the chance, I would advise you to snap up a ticket to the Dancehouse while you can. This receives four tortoise shells, and is highly recommended.