“King Lear” (BBC Drama): Play Review

A new performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear recently caught my attention as I was looking through the programmes on BBC iPlayer. This performance is still available online for another sixteen days, so I suggest that you check it out!

lear2.jpgAn Overview

Title: King Lear.
Playwright: William Shakespeare.
First Performed: 1606.
Director: Richard Eyre.
Length:
115 minutes.

King Lear is composed of two, interwoven narratives. The main narrative concerns itself with the king, who, in his old age, decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. This was a common tale in Elizabethan England as issues of legacy, promoted by the queen’s lack of children, were popularised during this period.

In the play, Lear decides that he is going to give the most land to the daughter who claims to love him the most. His first two daughters, Goneril and Regan, conform to this way of thinking and tell the king that they love him more than words can describe. Yet his youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to play this game. She tells Lear that she loves him, but that she will also love a husband, should she ever marry.

This enrages Lear so much that he banishes Cordelia from his sight, marrying her off to the King of France without a dowry. This act has serious repercussions, though, as Lear begins to fall into a state of madness. Meanwhile, his remaining two daughters plot to overthrow him, tired of his constant presence, as well as the noise of his hunting parties.

As you can expect in a Shakespearean tragedy, this all ends in bloodshed. Yet this is not only the blood of Lear and his daughters, for there is a secondary narrative that runs through this play. Gloucester, Lear’s ally, has two sons: Edgar and Edmund. The latter son was born a bastard, and he holds a grudge that causes him to disrupt the other characters, punishing both his father and brother for, in his opinion, failing to value him as a true member of their family.

The Drama

The BBC’s adaptation of King Lear is an interesting one, as, although it keeps to the original Shakespearean script, it is set in modern times, beginning in the heart of London. For the majority of the drama, this fusion of the old and new has a very powerful effect, as it allows the producers to add their own spin on Shakespeare’s play, without having to tamper with the original script. For example, as Gloucester helps Lear to escape from his vengeful daughters, he drives him away in an ambulance, which emphasises the sense of urgency in the play, as well as alluding to Lear’s madness.

lear-e1528143099752.jpgYet this fusion of styles does sometimes come across as confusing, and I wish, at times, that some changes had been made to the script. After all, in this drama, the fool, who mysteriously dies in King Lear at the end of the first act (some scholars claim that Shakespeare forgot about him), is shown to die of something that resembles hyperthermia. He goes into the ambulance with Gloucester and Lear, yet never comes out. This is an interesting addition to the play, as it reveals how the fool has essentially sacrificed himself to keep Lear company. The only issue is, at the end of the script, Shakespeare refers back to the fool’s death and has Lear tell everyone that he was “hanged”. The BBC drama keeps this line in, which makes the whole event seem rather confusing. After all, the fool is not hanged; he dies in the back of an ambulance.

Another interesting addition that the drama brings to King Lear is the use of the horseshoe. Lear appears to replace this horseshoe for his crown as he wears it upon his head at the height of his madness. He holds onto it throughout the drama, which emphasises how he is clinging both to his need to rule (this was what originally angered Goneril and Regan, as Lear failed to realise that, once that he had given them his land, he had no power), and also to his insanity.

I also appreciated the addition made to Gloucester’s secondary narrative. After the earl’s gruesome blinding, he is guided by Edgar (who is in disguise), hence the famous quote:

Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind  –  Shakespeare, King Lear.

In the play, Gloucester appears to die, unaware that it is Edgar who sits at his side, protecting him, yet in the BBC drama, Gloucester reaches out his hand to feel Edgar’s face. As he strokes it, he appears to recognise him, which provides a much more satisfactory ending to the Earl of Gloucester.

My Conclusion

There is a lot like about this adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. It has an incredible cast that includes Anthony Hopkins (Lear), Emma Thompson (Goneril), Emily Watson (Reagan), Jim Broadbent (Gloucester), Jim Carter (Kent), Andrew Scott (Edgar), Karl Johnson (the fool) and Christopher Eccleston (Oswald). With this cast, it is inevitable that there is also some fantastic acting in this drama.

There are a few interesting features, such as the horseshoe and the modern setting, that appear to add something new to the original play. Yet while I do recommend this drama, I did think that the mix of the old and new, although interesting, did make the story a little confusing. It is therefore perhaps a good idea to watch this drama, only if you already have a vague idea of what King Lear is really about.


Thank you so much for reading! You can view a list of all my reviews here.

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“The Duchess of Malfi” (RSC Performance): Play Review

I recently had the pleasure of attending the RSC’s production of The Duchess of Malfi in Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s taken me a few days to get around to writing this review only because I wanted to reread the original text first, but now that’s all done and I am eager to share my thoughts on this rather controversial play.

Book.jpgA Bit of Context

Title: The Duchess of Malfi.
Playwright: John Webster.
First Performed: 1613/1614.
Published: 1623.
My Edition: 2007, Oxford UP.
Length: 2.5 hours / 131 pages.

John Webster wasn’t hugely famous during his lifetime, but that’s not particularly surprising, given that one of his competitors was none other than William Shakespeare. Nevertheless, Webster’s plays are nowadays treated with a fair amount of respect, both The Duchess of Malfi and his earlier play, The White Devil, considered to be excellent examples of what a tragedy should be.

The White Devil was generally rejected by critics; at the time of performance, Webster referred to his audience members as “asses” who would always prefer a “new book” to a “good book”. He may have actually had a point, though, as the play was originally performed at the Red Bull Theatre, which wasn’t exactly known for well-educated audiences. It may have simply been that The White Devil was too complex at the time, for The Duchess of Malfi, which was performed at a theatre associated with a much higher class of attendees, was reviewed extremely positively.

Set.jpgInterestingly, though, The Duchess of Malfi would never have reached this audience if it hadn’t been for Webster’s number one competitor. Whilst he was writing the play, Shakespeare and the Kings Men were performing Henry VIII. During one of these performances, an onstage cannon was misfired, which caused the famous Globe Theatre to burn to the ground. Whilst, from a historical point of view, this was devastating, it actually earned Webster his fame. The Kings Men, who had been hired to perform The Duchess of Malfi straight after Henry VIII, were moved to the Blackfriars Theatre, which is where the play met with its sympathetic audience.

Plot Overview

The plot of The Duchess of Malfi revolves around a rich family living in Italy. The Duchess, whom the play centres around, has recently lost her husband and is warned by her two brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal (he is given no other name in the play), that she cannot marry again. They worry that, if she does, she will damage their reputations along with her own. This is the reason they give, anyway; in reality, they are probably worried that, by marrying again, she will be giving away more of their fortune.

Words.jpgSo, the Duchess decides to get married anyway. Her argument is that she is still young and that she has a right to raise children, but she may also want to simply defy her brothers. She chooses Antonio, her steward, and they are married in secret. Her brothers don’t suspect anything until the Duchess’ belly begins to grow.

They hire a man named Bosola to spy on the Duchess. Eager for potential rewards, Bosola offers the Duchess a fruit known to instigate labour. After eating the fruit, the Duchess runs offstage complaining of stomach pains. Bosola is suspicious, and, eventually, discovers that the Duchess has given birth to a baby boy.

He sends word to the Duchess’ brothers who condemn their sister and instruct Bosola to discover who the baby’s father is. A large portion of the play is taken up with this question, during which the couple have two more children together.

The Duchess fears that Bosola is growing suspicious of Antonio’s relationship with her, and so accuses Antonio of theft. She believes that this will trick Bosola, as he would not believe her capable of incriminating her own husband. For a while, the trick works; Antonio is banished, but he is still alive. Bosola then admits that he greatly admired Antonio and that he was very sad to see him leave. The Duchess believes his sorrow and, moronically, tells him that Antonio is the father.

She and the children meet with Antonio in exile, but Bosola has already written to her brothers. The Duchess and her two younger children are imprisoned in her palace whilst Antonio keeps their eldest son safe. Ferdinand then tricks the Duchess into believing that he has butchered Antonio and her children, creating wax bodies to insight a form of insanity in her. Not long after, he instructs Bosola to strangle the Duchess, and she, along with her two youngest children, are murdered.

Antonio, meanwhile, has been summoned to meet with the brothers at the Cardinal’s palace. There, Bosola, Ferdinand and the Cardinal incite what can only be described as a bloodbath. All of these lords are reduced to murder, Ferdinand, wracked with guilt after the death of the Duchess, even murdering his own brother. It is dark, gruesome and undeniably a tragedy. The only relief is the return of the Duchess’ eldest son. He walks on stage and the surviving characters, including a close friend of Antonio’s, swear to protect the child in honour and in memory of his parents.

The Performance

The RSC did a fantastic job of modernising this play. It was horrifying, exciting and slightly disturbing which, in my opinion, is what The Duchess of Malfi is all about. There was a lot to it, and they made a fair few changes to the story, but what I most want to talk about is their focus on gender, visual effects, and the ending of the play.

Programme Pitch.jpgGender Issues

From the very beginning of the performance, it was evident that we, as an audience, were spying on a memory of the past. The set took the form of a sports pitch, which painted a picture of both the play and of Jacobean England. There was also a disfigured, upside down bull in the corner of the stage. This shadowed over the entire performance and, like the sports pitch, became a constant reminder that the Duchess was a lone woman in a distinctly masculine world. The first suggestion of this isolation was a visual one; ethnic differences separated the Duchess from the rest of the cast, both her gender and appearance isolating her from her fellow characters.

These feelings are only intensified as the play begins. In the original version, the first scene depicts Antonio discussing his travels, yet in this version, the Duchess is the first character on stage. She walks in completely alone and sets about attacking the bull. She wrestles with it, attempting to remove it from the stage. Ultimately, however, she fails. This reflects her struggle with the masculine world around her. She fights with her brothers and their many spies, but, when it really comes down to it, she is just one person, and she’s too weak to push the bull from the stage.

Skins.jpgHer weakness is emphasised by the musical numbers that interject the narrative. The dancers, who represent the soldiers in the play, create a distinctly masculine image. They swing from bars that relate to a gym environment and overcrowd the Duchess. Later on in the play, Julia, who becomes romantically involved with the Cardinal, sings a solo, which allows the audience to focus on the Duchess and the power of women. Even at this moment, however, the song is disturbed by the entrance of the soldiers. They creep from various angles and emphasise the idea that this is a masculine world; even when the Duchess believes she has outwitted her brothers, they, along with the masculine establishment, can overwhelm her.

Visual Effects

There are many secrets in The Duchess of Malfi, the biggest of these being the identity of the Duchess’ husband. It’s all about treachery and betrayal, as Bosola serves only himself and Ferdinand, in his madness, murders his own brother. A visual element used by the RSC helped accentuate these themes, and this was the Duchess’ wig.

Throughout the first act, the Duchess was not seen without this wig; it made her seem taller and thus more powerful, but as we entered the second act, the wig was removed. She physically became smaller as she became less powerful. Yet the wig represented more than a loss of power; the Duchess also lost her secrets. In the first act, she and Antonio were kept safe by the secret of his identity, but once she reveals this secret, she must also reveal her true appearance; in other words, she has nothing else to hide.

Stage.jpgIf you’ve heard anything about this performance before reading my review, then you will be expecting me to mention something else here, so let me indulge you. There was a certain visual effect used in this performance that is not easy to forget. The bull that I mentioned earlier served not only to represent masculinity in the play, but also to be the cause of a huge amount of fake blood.

At the start of the second act, the brothers stab the bull, which triggers a small amount of blood to seep out from underneath it. This spreads across the stage during the act and a small amount of blood soon becomes a rather large amount of blood. During the final scene, every actor is dripping with fake blood, having slid and splashed around in it for much of the performance. It’s messy and actually a little distracting; the front row of the audience even had blankets handed out to them to help protect their clothing.

It was a powerful effect but, as I said, perhaps a little too distracting. The best bit about it had to be how the blood crept forwards throughout the performance. By the end, however, it was just out of control, which may reflect the chaos on stage, but is a little unnecessary. Do not misunderstand me; I really liked the addition to the play, because it made The Duchess of Malfi just as shocking to us, as a modern audience, as it would have been to Webster’s original audience. Nevertheless, I think there was just a little too much of it; that’s all. It was powerful at the beginning, but people were actually laughing towards the end – they weren’t watching the deaths; they were just watching the blood coat the actors’ clothes and spray out into the audience.

The Ending

Up until this point, I’ve been mainly positive about the RSC’s interpretation of The Duchess of Malfi. I liked the addition of the dances and the music, and I thought that the body of the bull brought a lot to my reception of the play. Yet there was one thing that I wasn’t quite happy with, not because it wasn’t creative, and not because I didn’t understand the statement that it made, but because it didn’t make sense.

Programme Cover.jpgAs I mentioned earlier, Webster’s original play ended with the return of the Duchess’ eldest son. He appeared on stage and the remaining characters swore to protect him. This provided an element of hope in what was otherwise an extremely bleak ending. Similar appearances can be seen in some of Shakespeare’s tragedies, such as, in King Lear, where Edgar promises to provide new hope for his kingdom. The RSC, however, decided to get rid of this moment. They removed the son’s entrance and instead ended the play with the numerous bodies that remained on the stage.

This in itself could be quite a powerful message. By removing hope, the directors of the play plunged its audience into feelings of despair and uncertainty. This is a powerful effect and actually summarises The Duchess of Malfi quite nicely. BUT and this is a big BUT: the story didn’t make sense! Antonio leads his son offstage, and then he is never seen, or mentioned, ever again. No one asks where he is; no one even mentions him. It is as if the directors are encouraging us to forget that he ever existed, but he did… and then he didn’t. It was, unfortunately, a frustrating ending to a fantastic performance.

My Conclusion

I may simply be being ignorant here, but I can’t seem to find any sort of age rating for the RSC’s performance of The Duchess of Malfi. This, in my opinion, is pretty bad. I seem to remember a rather small-looking child sitting opposite me as I watched the play. This seemed a little strange because if this was a film being shown at cinemas, it should have been certificated as an 18. It wasn’t only the fake blood that did it; there were sexual assaults, dead children, and more violence than I can even list.

Sign.jpgIt was a very adult performance and the RSC didn’t hold much back. Personally, that made me enjoy it all the more, because it made the play shocking. As I mentioned before, Webster’s original audience would have found the play shocking, due to the simple fact that, in it, people die on stage. Nowadays, we, as a population, are more accustomed to brutality, so to reach the shock that would have been experienced at the time, performances need to be even more brutal.

I really enjoyed this play; I appreciated how it wasn’t just a retelling, but actually brought something more to the story. Other than the rather frustrating ending, there was nothing that seemed out of place compared to the original story, even though it was modernised through song and dance. The actors outdid themselves and the overall experience was fantastic. I saw it in the Swan Theatre, which is rather small, and this made the actions on stage all the more gruesome because I felt less like an audience member, and more like a part of the play. It really was a great piece of drama and probably the best live performance that I have ever witnessed.

Blood

Pryon #6 – Déjà Vu

Here we are with the next part of “Pyron”, a short story I have been writing across a series of blog posts. To read part one, please click here, or to see the whole story so far, click here. Thank you so much for reading this story, and I hope you enjoy this next part!


It took Linyeve a few moments to realise that the ropes which had bound her to the kitchen stool had now fallen away. Kanalin mustn’t have tied them properly, and it had been Ana, not the ropes, holding her there.

She got shakily to her feet, heart pounding. She didn’t particularly want to look at the family that had been slammed against the back wall of the cottage, but she could hear a sniffling sound, which surely meant that at least one of them had survived.

10729399_588407701288852_670404928_n.jpgTurning slowly on the spot, she saw Jakob, Kanalin’s five-year-old son, crawling towards her.

“Help,” he said thickly, eyes wide.

As she looked into the boy’s eyes, Linyeve couldn’t not go to Kanalin and her daughter, but with every step she took, thoughts of the black storm clouds above flashed before her eyes. There wasn’t enough time; if she wanted to escape, she needed to leave – now.

Jakob started to wail.

Linyeve decided not to waste any more time; she ducked down and placed two fingers against his mother’s neck, whilst probing her daughter, Kyla, with her other hand. The girl didn’t move; her small head had taken the full force of the blow, and Linyeve could see a dark, sticky substance trickling down the back of her head. She bit back her cry of horror as she pressed her fingers down harder on Kanalin’s neck. Please, she thought desperately. Just one of them. Let one of them live.

There was a pulse.

It was faint, but it undeniable. Linyeve took a few calming breaths and detached Kyla from her mother, laying her gently on the kitchen table.

“We’re going to leave,” She said to Jakob. “I’ll bring your mumma, but I need you to come with me, okay?” Eyes wide, the boy nodded, and Linyeve, gritting her teeth, began to drag Kanalin from the room. She was surprisingly light for a girl of her age, and Linyeve managed to drag her from the cottage without too much effort.

Outside, she saw the full might of the storm clouds. From this angle, she was even able to see a deep, crimson glow burning in their midst. She quickened her pace, hauling Kanalin across the cobblestones with every ounce of strength that she possessed.

“Why’s the sky like that?” Jakob was asking as he bobbed along at Linyeve’s side, but she didn’t have the breath to answer him.

guille-pozzi-435747-unsplash.jpgThey were just reaching the outskirts of the village when they heard the first screams. Linyeve didn’t stop or turn around, but she sensed Jakob’s hesitation and called out to him.

“Fire!” he was shouting. “There’s fire!”

“Jakob, move!” She shouted, and there was something in the tone of her voice that made the boy run out in front of her, leading the way out of the village.

Linyeve could feel a heat at her ankles and, before she could stop herself, she glanced over her shoulder. The fire was licking through the streets, long, scarlet flames reaching down alleyways and straight through homes. She wasn’t imagining the screams this time; she could hear them quite clearly as they rang through her ears and poured into her mind. Then, quite suddenly, she was back in Little Bringleton, and she was watching her home burn. Her grandmother was still asleep in her armchair, her knitting left idle on her lap. She didn’t even notice the flames; she was too deaf for the screams to wake her, and then it was too late – for her, for the village, and for Linyeve, too.

“Help!”

Linyeve was jerked back to the present by Jakob’s scream, and she pulled his mother a little further across the stones. The fire was reaching out to them, though, and it was then that Linyeve finally accepted what she had always known: it was too late. The fire was already upon them, scorching the backs of her ankles and tearing through her hair. She closed her eyes against the heat, swallowing back the horror that threatened to engulf her. There wasn’t enough time. They were never going to make it. She’d hesitated for too long, and now she was going to die.


Thanks for reading! The next part of “Pyron” should be with you in the next few days.

Picture Credit: Photo #2 was by guille pozzi (Unsplash).

Stowaway

This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. With only 150 words and this week’s prompt word, “crate”, this competition gives its winner free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award, which boasts of a prize of £1000! Although this is not a lot of words to demonstrate any writing prowess a person may or may not have, this competition runs weekly and is a chance to interact with different writers. I hope you enjoy!


There hadn’t been a quiet day at the docks of Kellford Town for almost ten years. It was the centre of business, with people bustling about, merchants flooding in, and goods overflowing from every stall. It was a hubbub; a bursting collection of noise, colour and people.

There were women calling out, desperate to sell their flowers; beggars waiting for the inevitable clink of a dropped coin; and strong-looking men busy loading crates from one ship to another. These were well-built crates, but heavy.

Perhaps they were even heavy enough for a little extra weight to go unnoticed.

I nestled down in my crate, listening to the noise all about me. They’re too busy, I thought. They’re rushing around out there with their money and their noise, but by the time night falls and the docks finally clear, only then will they realise that their little serving boy has disappeared.

Word Count: 150.

Guess How Much I Love You

This short story is for the purposes for the competition at Creative Writing Ink.

annie-spratt-210644

“This is important, Daniel,” Selene hissed, slapping her husband with the playsuit she clutched in her sweaty palms. “If it’s pink then we’re making assumptions about her future, but if it’s blue we’re doing that, too! And, you know, I was reading a report that suggested that green has military links, and–“ she stopped short to give her husband another slap.

“I know I’m going overboard,” she sighed, putting the pink playsuit back onto the pile in front of them. “I just…” she sniffed, hiding behind her curtain of thick, red hair. “I want this to be perfect… I want everything to be perfect.” Daniel smiled, putting his arms around his wife.

“Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh, I know that it’s important,” he paused, “but maybe not that important.” They smiled at each other, and Selene began to laugh, too. Daniel placed his tanned hand over his wife’s stomach. “The decisions we make now won’t stay with her for the rest of her life,” he smiled. “She’s not going to want to be a soldier because she once wore a green outfit, and she’s not going to be angry at us by conforming to stereotypes and buying,” he paused to pick up the pink playsuit once more, “a pink one”.

“I just…” Selene sighed, taking the playsuit from Daniel to look at it properly. “I want her to be happy, Daniel, and I want to do everything humanly possible to make that happen.”

“I know,” Daniel sighed too, hugging his wife tighter to him. “You want our daughter to have everything that you didn’t have.”

***

Selene stared down into her daughter’s tightly sealed eyes, shuddering with the power of her emotions. She was so tiny, so fragile, and so beautiful.

“She’s perfect,” smiled Daniel from the side of her hospital bed. Selene smiled back, but she didn’t raise her head to look at him; she couldn’t take her eyes off the fragile life form that she clutched in her arms. She was certain that, if she looked away, even for a moment, her daughter would disappear into a tiny, billion atoms, or Selene would wake up, and find that she was still alone in her dusky attic room, hugging herself to keep warm.

Suddenly the image of her daughter before her was tarnished by her memories, as her emotions hit her hard, causing her to loosen her grip on the baby. Daniel rushed forwards and caught her, but Selene barely noticed. Her head lulled back uselessly onto her pillow as images began to flash across her mind.

She was a little girl again, living alone with her mother. She’d never known her father, but her mother was always there. She cared so deeply for Selene that it seemed to break her; she worked tirelessly, barely sleeping, barely even sitting, and yet the money was never enough. Selene’s father had taken everything from her mother, and left her in so stricken a state of poverty, that, Selene now believed, her mother never expected to recover from. They rented the top floor of a block of flats; it wasn’t a complete flat, with only a kitchen and a bedroom, but it came with the attic space that Selene’s mother had attempted to furnish into a room for Selene. They lived, not content, but together, and Selene couldn’t ever remember being unhappy when she lived there.

That fateful day came though, and Selene no longer did live there. A car crash. It was so simple a thing, so common, so seemingly trivial, and yet it ripped Selene’s mother from the world and left her alone. She sat in her attic space, having fled from the police that waited in the room below, and cried more than she had ever thought possible. That had been the worst moment of her life, and, as she was stirred back into consciousness by her nurse, and tilted her head to glimpse her daughter in Daniel’s arms, she knew that this was the best. She would do everything to make sure that her daughter lived the perfect life.

***

­­­

Annabel sat sprawled out on the bigger of the two sofas, eyes closed and mouth open. She sang to herself, thinking about school, thinking about the weekend, and waiting for her dad to finally walk through the door.

She opened her eyes just as she heard the key turn in the lock, and raced out to meet him.

“Alright, alright, champ,” Daniel laughed, pushing her off him so that he could walk through the door. “don’t panic, I’ve got the chips.” They feasted in front of the telly that night, and Annabel got to choose the film. They laughed together, and flicked chips at one another. One time, Annabel hit Daniel right on the nose, at which point he wrestled her to the ground and tickled her all over. Then, at last, he let out those dreaded words:

“Okay, champ, time to go and get ready for bed.”

“But Dad,” Annabel complained openly.

“It’s too late already,” Daniel chortled, ruffling her hair. Annabel sighed and got up to leave, but she found herself pausing in the doorway, her back still turned to Daniel.

Annabel,” he threatened.

“What happened to my mum?” Annabel asked, turning back around to face him. His smile drooped, eyes closing for a few minutes. Annabel waited awkwardly in the doorway, afraid that she had done something terribly wrong. Daniel sighed, and then patted the patch of sofa beside him.

“Come here,” he said, and smiled again, but this wasn’t his usual smile; it was strained – broken. As Annabel came to sit beside him, he reached over to the bookcase, and pulled, from the very top shelf, which Annabel was too small to reach, a very thin book.

“This,” he began slowly, “belonged to your mother.” He handed it over to Annabel, who read aloud the words, “Guess How Much I love You”, and then turned over the page to see two inscriptions, one on top of the other. The first was addressed to a Selene, from her mother, and the second, to Annabel, from hers.

“It was given to your mother when she was a very little girl,” Daniel continued, solemnly. “It meant a great deal to her, and when you were born, she decided to give it to you.” Annabel turned dusty page after dusty page, looking at the strange illustrations of rabbits, and endearing quotes as the little rabbit’s mother explained how much she loved it.

Annabel smiled, but still did not understand.

“Where is she?” she pressed, looking back at Daniel. He rubbed his face with his palms, then leant towards Annabel, placing a tanned hand on her arm.

“When you were very, very small,” he began, “your mother was desperate to give you everything that you could possibly want. You see this house – how big it is? I couldn’t give you this, Anna, but she did. She worked so hard for you, so determined to give you everything that you deserve. She loved you so much, but–“ Daniel clenched his fists slightly, his fingers digging into Annabel’s arm. “She made herself ill, Anna.”

Anna stared at him, eyes wide.

“She died, didn’t she?” she asked, a strange sense of numbness falling over her.

“Yes, Anna, she died,” Daniel sniffed, hugging his daughter tightly to him. “But she loved you so much, just like I do, and that’s never going to go away.” He wiped his eyes and thrust the book back at her. “I want you to keep this book, and whenever you’re feeling alone, scared or miserable, I want you to read it. Your mum loved you, Anna.” He kissed his daughter on the forehead, and took her hand as he led her up to bed.

He tucked her in, turning off her bedroom light before he crawled into his own bed, sobbing silently into the darkness. Annabel lay awake for hours that night, finally getting up and turning her light back on. She reached for the book left on her bedside table, and examined each image, turning the pages with extreme care. As she, too, cried herself to sleep that night, her tears landed heavily on the book, meeting much older tear stains, that had existed long before Annabel. When she finally fell asleep, she still clutched the book tightly to her; she lay in a ball, hugging her knees to her chest, as her thick, red hair, sprawled across the sheets.

“Wuthering Heights”: Book Review

IMG_1713.JPGWith its complicated themes and layered narrative, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is renowned for being one of the leading novels of the gothic genre. It is undeniably a fascinating read, if only due to the numerous character and plot interpretations that can be had from it.

However, you should not take this book on if you’re not prepared to be fully committed to the storyline. Lockwood, a seemingly unnecessary character, is, in many ways, merely a device for the story to be told through, and yet the first few chapters resolve primarily on his impressions of the Wuthering Heights building and its inhabitants. Arguably, this gives depth and a better understanding to the isolation that Heathcliff and his family experience, but, in many ways, the gripping story of Wuthering Heights doesn’t really begin until after Cathy’s death, and the relationships within the next generation become steadily more intriguing. One thing must be made clear, though; this is not a generic love story. It is not a cheerful, upbeat novel in which readers have no choice but to expect a happy ending.

Wuthering Heights is a brutal insight into the class divisions and xenophobia of the Victorian Era, its narrative intrinsically linked to themes of envy, betrayal and revenge. Some critics would even go as far to say that the famous couple, Cathy and Heathcliff, never really had a mutual love between them; perhaps Heathcliff’s insanity produced an entire relationship for his deprived mind to obsess over; perhaps our impressions of the perfect, untainted love between them are, in reality, completely deluded.

Story Starters: A Collection

My biggest problem as a writer has always been sticking to one story after I create the initial opening; it’s too tempting to move onto something new and more exciting! Here’s three story starters, varying in length, that I’ve, at some point, abandoned.

1) This opening story sentence is for the purposes of the writing competition at: Writer’s Digest, with the brief of a maximum word count at 25 words, and the picture prompt seen below.

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A snowy owl swooped low above the forest, invisible against the white trees, and ignorant, for little did it know of the danger lurking there.

2) The flames roared high above them, great waves of smoke towering higher still. They choked and coughed as they ran, ducking and diving around the broken infrastructure that now surrounded them. Time was running out; they were already scorched and burned in more places than they knew, the agony of their wounds occasionally causing them to contort their steps as they raced onwards. Great chunks of wall and ceiling were crashing around them, too, wires dropping down into the fiery mass and sparks exploding from every direction. The reality was that they had entered hell itself, and every runner accepted that fact with a bleak resolution. There was no turning back, and, chances were, there was no escape. Hell had become the endless corridor of fire that they now faced, and they were all too aware of it.

3) The sirens were louder than they should have been. Even before her body crumpled and collapsed onto the pavement, they were there with us, ringing in our minds and pounding in our hearts. Craig was bent over her, muttering to himself and beating the ground with his fist. Little Pete was at his side as usual, waiting for the directions that would never come again. I didn’t need to crouch over her as they did, though, because I knew. In reality, I think we all knew, even before we’d hit her; we’d known even before she’d been lit up in front of my car headlights and Craig had fought to avoid her. There was no use checking her pulse or breathing rate. There was no point, because Kelly Holmes was dead, and we’d killed her. We were murderers.

“We should run,” Craig breathed, turning to face us in the half-dark. “The sirens don’t mean anything. They could be hours away yet.”

“I agree,” Little Pete piped up instantly, not even allowing a breath between Craig’s suggestion and his own sycophantic plea for attention. I shrugged, but I doubted that they could see the slight movement in the darkness. I wasn’t going to run. I didn’t want to run. I was a murderer. I had to stay and face the police, no matter how devastating that would be.

“Dan,” Craig persisted, ignoring Little Pete. “We need to go, now.” I swallowed hard, feeling braver in every new cry of the sirens.

“Then go,” I whispered, looking not at Craig and Little Pete, but at Kelly. She was beautiful even now, her long, dark hair a mess about her shoulders and back, and her slender, ghostly form almost shining in the light from the surrounding street lamps. I’d known her since she was little, from when we’d played together in my back garden. She was dead now. She would never breathe again, never laugh, never smile. She was simply gone.

“Dan, they’ll get you!” Craig whispered, his voice slightly incredulous. I could not look at my best friend, though. He wasn’t like me. He wasn’t feeling this like I was. He felt only fear, whereas I felt only loss, grief and a furious, biting sense of self-hatred. I had done this. “Dan, you know what that means!” Craig persisted, shaking my shoulder now.

“If you want to run, run,” I snapped, looking at Craig at last. “Save yourself. You better hurry up, though. It’s been too long already.” Craig stepped back slightly, confusion edging its way into his fear clouded mind. He looked at Little Pete then, suddenly lost and vulnerable. Pete looked back, and suddenly they were no longer leader and disciple, but two scared boys: criminals.

Without another word, they took off, running in the opposite direction from the houses and sirens beyond them. There were fields not too far off, and after that, the forest. If they made it that far, they were safe. It was said that fugitives and criminals caked the trees themselves, living amongst the branches and leaves on the earthy floor. I used to have nightmares about the place, but for Craig and Little Pete, it had just become the last hope. Maybe, just maybe, they would be okay.

I looked back at Kelly then, and my heart shuddered to a halt, too.