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Posts from the ‘arts reviews’ Category

TV needs a new classification.

imageI got involved in a lively discussion on Facebook last evening. It was about TV shows and was between some of the UK’s most successful contemporary crime writers. I’m not surprised that crime writers enjoy their TV. Writing novels can be a very intense process and visual media can be a great way to unwind, whilst also stimulating the brain.

As viewers, we are a fussy bunch. The writing and acting must be razor sharp and believable. The characters perfectly drawn. But we are also in luck, because there are some fantastic shows available right now. From British offerings like Line of Duty, Broadchurch and The Night Manager to House of Cards, Homeland and The Good Wife.

Upon considered reflection, I decided that I need a new classification for these great shows. It’s all very well being given tips for binge-worthy box sets. But with my family growing up fast, and staying up later, I have diminishing opportunities to watch ‘adult’ dramas. However, I’m not the sort of person who needs blood, gore or bad language to make my viewing grown-up and challenging. This is where my alternative classification comes in.

Nothing appeals to me more than a clever, well written and compelling drama that my daughter can watch too. When I discover a show like this, I’m jumping for joy. The Good Wife is a classic example of such a production. Sassy, smart and sophisticated, there are only a handful of episodes I would deem inappropriate for a twelve year old. The West Wing was another of these and Designated Survivor, a show currently airing on Netflix, is one more to add to my list.

So, my new classification is for grown-up shows which are also child-friendly. This isn’t the contradiction in terms that it sounds. We are longing for the next series of The Crown, and will be catching up with The Good Wife spin off, The Good Fight, on More4 as soon as we can,  because they fulfill this requirement. I don’t want to have to send my daughter into another room in order to enjoy decent TV. We still watch the box together, however retro that may seem. And I would like to continue to do so.

It used to be that 10.30pm was the home of ultra gritty cop dramas. The 9pm slot was filled with more mainstream classics like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Morse. Nowadays, the grittier fare is ubiquitous and makes life difficult for discerning parents trying to limit our children’s exposure to life’s horrors.

Perhaps we could have a specific channel for these less ‘hard-hitting’ shows. They don’t have to be slow moving or the writing feeble. That’s not my point at all. I think there’s a real future for this kind of programme. There are far greater parallels between the generations than many of our contemporary television producers seem to think.

 

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The books I wrote in 2016

As a review of the year, this seemed the most obvious place to start. It’s nearly Christmas Day and time for reflection upon the year passed. It was a significant one for the world in general and in that context, not a great one.

But our own personal experiences tend to take precedence in our memories. For me, 2016 was a decent year. It was a challenge –  with our daughter sitting SATs exams and going up to secondary school, but these events bookended a gloriously hot summer; where our visits to the nearby east coast were reminiscent of the sweltering heat of the Mediterranean.

In terms of writing, it has also been a good one. I’ve not replicated the prolific production of 2014/15, but I feel that the four books I published this year have been amongst my best. I wrote a standalone psychological thriller in the Spring which I have wanted to do since the start of my writing career. I suppose to prove I could produce a novel outside of the serial format.

Yet, my DCI Dani Bevan series continued, with Hold Hands in the Dark and Dark Remedies being released at the start and end of the year respectively, which saw Dani dealt a series of tough blows in her personal life.

Imogen and Hugh Croft were not left out this year either. I produced an anthology of short stories in March which was inspired by the short stories of Agatha Christie. I wanted each tale to be an intricate puzzle in itself, where the reader could pit their wits against Imogen to solve the clues. As always, the Imogen and Hugh instalments have a hint of the golden age of crime to them, although solidly set in the modern age.

A completely new departure for me this year was the conversion of the first two Dani Bevan novels into Audiobook format. It was the first time I had worked with a third party and the experience was a revelation to me. David Monteath provided the voice over to the text of these books and captured the atmosphere perfectly, bringing the stories and characters to life. I hope this will be the start of a long new chapter for the Dani Bevan series.

I have the next book plotted and part of the research done. This will be the project that starts 2017, which I hope will be a creative and prosperous one for us all!!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

Meet the Team

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The Garansay Press has been in operation for just over three years now. We have just published our sixteenth book. So, I thought it was about time to properly introduce the team.

I am Katherine Pathak (far right of picture). I’m the author and head of media and marketing. I write the books, the blogs and the majority of the tweets. If you are communicating with any branch of The Garansay Press, you are likely to be interacting with me. My academic and work mini biog:

University of York, Institute of Education, University of London. Purchasing Assistant, Good Book Guide. Teaching History in several London schools. Full-time author.

Robert Currie (second left). Bob is the finance director at The Garansay Press. He is also a member of the editorial team. Now retired, he still finds himself book-keeping for several organisations and start-ups. Bob is our Mr ‘details’. Also my dad. Mini biog:

RBS manager and securities consultant (retired) Company Secretary (various)

Rakesh Pathak (centre of picture) Rakesh is one of our editorial team. A busy man in his other roles, his conscientious copy editing is invaluable in getting the best out of the final product. Mini biog:

University of Oxford, Institute of Education, University of London. Head of History. Author of IB textbook.

Susan Currie (left of picture) is our resident crime fan and aficionado of the genre. Sue is our most efficient copy editor and is expert at making sure my prose style remains tight and plot focussed. Mini biog:

Dean College of Nursing, Edinburgh. RBS (retired)

To find out more about The Garansay Press and our publications please follow us on Twitter @GaransayPress and like our Facebook pages: Facebook.com/GaransayPress Facebook.com/Katherine.Pathak

 

Scott and Bailey series 5. Required viewing for all modern parents.

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I’ve been catching up on the latest series of Sally Wainwright’s police drama, Scott and Bailey, this week. I’ve always enjoyed the programme, with its perfect blend of sharp writing and great acting. But what has really gripped me about this latest (and last) outing for the Manchester detectives is the intriguing modernity of the subject matter.

Bailey has recently returned from the Met to a temporary promotion within her former department at the Greater Manchester Police. Never one to waste time on diplomacy, Rachel manages to rub her colleagues and friends up the wrong way pretty much immediately, in one case with heart-wrenchingly tragic consequences.

The personal dramas are always beautifully played in this series but for me, what is particularly striking, is the subject matter tackled in this three-parter. The central theme is how the Internet and smart phones have changed the nature of crime. This topic is explored through the murder case being investigated by Bailey’s team alongside a storyline involving Janet’s sixteen year old daughter and her fifteen year old boyfriend.

From the minute this sub-plot began to unfold, I realised that I was watching something that was utterly required viewing for any parent with a child approaching their teenage years in the digital age. In the era of snapchat and Instagram, it was immediately obvious to me that Wainwright had captured a snapshot of the minefields that lie ahead for our children, and that I’d be a fool not to take very serious notice of what she had to say.

It takes an accomplished writer to tackle issues before they have entered the public zeitgeist. It also takes courage to make an extremely popular prime time crime show evolve in the fundamental way in which this one has. Gone is the fabulous Amelia Bullimore’s Jill, the fast-talking, no-nonsense DCI who delivered investigative procedure like a verbal Gatling gun. But she’s been replaced by a subtler, more melancholic humour which matches a series that is clearly set to be a dark one, with a nihilistic conclusion which will undoubtedly negate any hope of a future return for the pair.

Despite the change of tone and pace, this instalment is looking like it might be my favourite. There’s no necessity for a romantic interest to be added to the story of either lead character. Scott and Bailey are simply our protagonists, not required to be defined by their relationship with a man.

Scott and Bailey has always been my preferred of Wainwright’s dramas, with Happy Valley being too self-conscious in its quest for northern authenticity and in being ‘hard-hitting’, whilst Scott and Bailey achieves this aim apparently without effort.

This superior drama will be greatly missed, but at the same time it feels like the right moment to end the story. I just hope that Wainwright provides us with another series of the same quality in the years to come.

 

Photograph from The Radio Times.

Has Sunday night TV become quietly subversive?

Young_love_burns_alongside_the_Home_FiresTo glance at the schedules you may not think so. Period drama still dominates ITV’s prime time slots and the BBC gives us The Antiques Roadshow and a crime thriller at 9pm. So far so predictable.

But look closer and you will observe two prime time dramas that break the mould in their own way. The brilliant Undercover, airing its second episode last night, boasts two black lead characters and a successful black family at the heart of its narrative. For a BBC drama, this is groundbreaking stuff. Not to mention the excellent, original plot line that exposes in the most unapologetic and blistering manner the endemic racism of the Metropolitan Police of the 1990s.

Over on ITV at the same time is the second series of Home Fires, another favourite of mine. It seems like pretty harmless period fare to the idle observer, but Home Fires has a predominantly female cast. There’s no male lead in sight. It is the Second World War from the female perspective. Although not as hard-hitting as Undercover, in its own quiet way, it is equally as subversive.

What is also unusual, are two prime schedule dramas; one a thriller and the other about war, which do not include a parade of violence, torture or shocking stunts to keep viewers coming back for more. Both shows rely on strong writing and powerful performances by their cast instead. This is also subversive in its own way, violent drama for thrills having become the mainstream in recent years.

However this revolution has occurred in Sunday night telly, long may it continue. As viewers we want original, human stories, we like to be made to think and reasses our ideas about the world. We don’t object to lead characters being black, Asian or female. It’s the programme makers and commissioning editors who are frightened of that. Make this type of drama part of the mainstream, then no one will say it is subversive to produce top quality, representative and honest drama in the future.

The greatest challenge for Brits, is to say ‘I hate it’.

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I’m disappointed that this series of The Great Interior Design Challenge has finished its run. The show is a great favourite in our house. We enjoy the variety of the architectural designs the contestants take on and the ingenuity of their end products. But what became glaringly obvious in this second series, was the inability of the homeowners to tell the designers to their face that the plans they had for their own homes were not what they wanted or asked for.

in fact, the ultimate winner of the competition had left a trail of tearful and disappointed clients in her wake. But her ‘daring’ and ‘bold’ designs were hailed as a triumph by the judges. One poor chap was left with a small room painted a dark green that would have depressed the most optimistic of souls. After complaining that he ‘just wouldn’t be able to live with the colour,’ the man gained the huge concession of not having the ceiling painted green too.

You could sense that for many of those giving up rooms in their homes for the competition, the local painter and decorator would be moving in just as soon as the cameras rolled out.

But what fascinated me most, was how difficult the homeowners found it to express their dislike of the proposals set out to them by the designer. The most any of them could say was that ‘they were a little unsure about certain aspects’. These reservations were easily dismissed. Only in the final, did one of the homeowners have the gumption to stop work on her beautiful period flat half way through, declaring forcibly that it wasn’t what she wanted. We were cheering!! Then, of course, that particular designer won. Her bullying disregard for others was oddly viewed as ‘visionary’ and ‘brave’. Well, it was easy to be brave, she didn’t have to live with the end results.

So we learnt a few interesting things from the series. Firstly, and most importantly, we learnt to never employ the services of an interior designer. Most people are perfectly clear about what they want in their own homes. A trip to B&Q would do the job just as well.

Secondly, we’ve learnt that it’s important not to be too British when telling someone that you don’t like what they are proposing. Understating matters clearly isn’t enough. It’s why many of us fall prey to doorstep sellers and cold callers. We don’t want to offend or upset people. Well, forget that. Otherwise you’ll end up living in a dark green box, or with an extremely hefty redecoration bill.

How close should writers get to real life?

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Watching an interview with journalist Quentin Letts about his new novel ‘The Speaker’s Wife’, I was interested to hear him quite comfortably discuss how the current speaker, John Bercow, and his wife were the inspiration for the characters in the book although he stressed that the piece was purely fiction.

This statement fascinated me. Recently, I had looked into all the legal aspects of novel writing and publishing having now released 12 novels of my own plus several short stories. Quentin Letts made the issue of libel and defamation sound entirely clear cut. If it’s fiction, you can write what you wish. I suppose that as a regular columnist, often highly critical and ascerbic about certain individuals, he should know what he’s talking about.

My understanding of the issue was that it wasn’t so black and white. If you are basing a character in your published work on a particular individual, you need to take care not to mirror their life and experiences too closely.  You certainly must be careful about names. If you give a character in your book the name of someone you know, they might reasonably assume you’ve based it on them. A court of law  may also agree.

This doesnt mean you can’t use real life to inform your writing, but I would make each protagonist a blend of many characteristics, then they will shine out as believable and real to a reader. If you lift their personality directly from a living person then you’ve produced a satire or a pastiche, which is quite different from fiction.

Writing about true crime, sport or current affairs is another matter entirely and legal advice should be sought before embarking upon these projects.

Social media has led to a trend towards openness of expression in digital print, but libel laws still apply here too. So writers take note. We may seek inspiration from real life, but it is important to remain firmly in the world of the imagination with the stories we create.

No element of this piece should be interpreted as legal advice.

Forget Clarkson, what #TopGear really couldn’t survive without is the theme tune.

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It suddenly struck me, as my son was watching episodes of Top Gear that we have recorded from BBC3, that if Clarkson, Hammond and May go on to produce this spin-off car show, it won’t have the proper theme tune.
Now, I firmly believe that Top Gear can carry on perfectly happily without Jeremy. But the music? Forget it.
This realisation forced me to consider the importance of the theme tune to the success of a television programme. I wrote a blog recently about the ITV drama Home Fires. Whilst researching it, I was surprised by the amount of viewers who had commented on the choral score which accompanies the series. The music has been resoundingly popular and really makes the whole piece special.
The tune which book-ends the production shouldn’t make a significant difference to a programme, but somehow it really does. It’s one of the reasons why viewers get so annoyed with the ubiquitous trailers that interrupt the end credits.
So, here are some of my favourite theme tunes, without which, the programme just wouldn’t be the same:

Inspector Morse
I love this detective drama. The writing, acting and direction are superb and yet, without Barrington Pheloung’s score, which even included the piece of ‘Morse code’ at the start, it just wouldn’t have been the same.

Cagney and Lacey
I was too young to watch this gritty New York cop show when it first came out and had to go straight to bed after the theme tune, which is probably why it is so evocative for me! But I’ve watched all the re-runs since and although Tyne Daley and Sharon Gless absolutely owned the series with their terrific performances, it’s still that music which resonates with me.

The Onedin Line
Now, I really am too young for this, but I still know the theme tune and it sends a shiver down my spine whenever I hear it, which is exactly the effect I’m talking about.

Blackadder (Series 2-4)
The less said about series 1 the better, but the theme tune for the rest of the outings somehow fitted Curtis and Elton’s comedy perfectly. I loved the way the theme was modified to fit the historical period of each different series and the musical interpretation for the last series, ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’, was inspired. But who could ever forget that haunting final sequence, when the soldiers go over the top? Showing that sometimes, silence can be the most powerful accompaniment of all…

Perhaps because it was the decade of my television watching youth, the eighties seemed to be jam packed full of memorable themes from the ‘A’ Team and ‘Chips’ through to ‘Dallas’, ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Howard’s Way’. I’m sure there are many more. in several of these cases, the music was far greater than the programme itself! But I stick by my theory, unscientific as it is, that if you take a great theme tune away from a good show, it will seriously struggle to survive.

A walking holiday, with a generous helping of #art and #culture

I have just returned from a four day trip to the beautiful Peak District with my sister. Now, the merits of a sibling mini-break, without husbands and kids, is the subject for another blog entirely, so for the moment, I will concentrate on praising our wonderful surroundings.
The Peak District itself was a great discovery for me. I come from a family of keen walkers and our usual destinations are Scotland, Wales or Cornwall. It proved a revelation to discover that there are unspoilt hills and dales just a fraction of the distance away from my home in north Essex. The landscape of Derbyshire is sweeping. The undulating fields are delineated by a criss-cross pattern of ancient dry stone walls. It provides an oasis of calm between the many busy cities which encircle the national park.
Within this oasis lies the little village of Sheldon, just a couple of miles from Bakewell (of the tarts fame). This sleepy hamlet was the base for our stay. Our destination was Sheldon’s retreat, a charming stone cottage providing spacious and modern bed and breakfast accommodation. The place is extremely efficiently run by artist Jay Taylor and her husband Christian, who is a chef.
When we arrived for breakfast on our first morning, we were in for something of a surprise. The large breakfast room displays a selection of Jay’s original fine art which is of the quality that you would usually only find in a big city gallery. The tables themselves were adorned with her intricately painted stones, set off to great advantage by flickering candlelight. You get to enjoy a perfectly cooked breakfast in an atmosphere of calm and beauty. For folk like my sister and me, escaping our busy lives for a few days, it was absolutely ideal.
I have added a gallery of the photographs I took of Jay’s artwork and jewellery, but my amateur shots certainly don’t do her pieces justice! Please go to her website http://www.jaytaylor.co.uk to see her work in its full glory.
We had a fantastic stay at Sheldon’s retreat and I would highly recommend it. For artsy types like us, it was the perfect mix of the great outdoors married with a generous dash of art, culture and stimulating conversation. Just what we like.

Jay Taylor produces a wide range of original artwork and jewellery, so please refer to her own sites to discover more. She is on twitter: @JayTaylorArt
and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jaytaylor.uk
Thanks for a wonderful holiday!

But for now, it’s back to the book…

Is the front man (or woman) more important than the show?

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Don’t worry. This isn’t a blog about Jeremy Clarkson. Well, not directly, anyway.

The many twists and turns of the ‘Clarkson fracas’ debate has opened up the question of how important a single individual is to the success of a show. As a writer, I find this concept fascinating. It is almost like asking whether the Sherlock Holmes mysteries would have been as successful without the leading character (the answer to this being a very definite ‘no’ as Conan-Doyle was required to bring him back from the dead after an outcry from his readership).
But occasionally, a popular show, which would appear to utterly rely upon a certain acting star or lead character actually fares perfectly well without them. In my opinion, the appeal of Clarkson for most adults is that he does things that many of us would like to but aren’t allowed, such as driving sports cars or making politically incorrect comments without a care in the world. I’m sure that we’ve all wanted to land a right hook on somebody we work with. However, social convention and the laws of the land prevent us from doing so. I can understand why it appeals to many folk to see Clarkson do it for us. This time, though, the man has gone too far and in reality, it happened at just the right time.
This series of Top Gear had become a little tired and repetitive. The format is getting stale. What they really need is a new presenter to spice things up and create a new dynamic. Very thoughtfully, Jeremy has volunteered to fall on his sword and stand aside.
Personally, I think they’ll be absolutely fine without him. The joke was wearing off anyway. Which leads me to consider some examples of formats that have survived the loss of a supposedly ‘key’ character.

1. Silent Witness.
One of my favourite crime shows which I believe got even better after the departure of Amanda Burton in 2004. Sam Ryan was great, but Emilia Fox hit the ground running as forensic anthropologist Nikki Alexander, injecting a fantastic spark to the show with the sexual frisson between her and Harry Cunningham. And now that Harry and Leo have left, the series has undergone another transformation. It is pulling in more viewers than ever.

2. CSI.
Since first airing in 2000, this forensic crime show has been a worldwide success. But when William Peterson, who played the incredibly popular, Gill Grissom, decided to hang up his latex gloves in 2008, there were fears the show may not maintain its ratings. In fact, CSI still remains the most popular international dramatic series, with producer Jerry Bruckheimer realising that the format was a winner despite who was in the starring role. This led to the creation of a number of equally successful spin-offs.

3. The Story of Tracy Beaker.
Who knew that this long-running CBBC drama based on the books by Jacqueline Wilson could actually carry on without Tracy (played by Dani Harmer)? With a healthy injection of new characters whilst at the same time maintaining the spirit of the original series ‘The Dumping Ground’ was born, now being one of the most successful shows currently airing on children’s television.

4. Lewis/Endeavour
I have mixed feelings about this one. Inspector Morse was the programme that really got me into crime dramas in the first place. The plot, direction and performances were brilliant. For me, Lewis never quite got close to the original. The writing didn’t contain the same edginess and subtlety. It was all too pedestrian. But this new format was certainly popular with viewers and defied those critics who thought that the show could not go on without the late John Thaw.
Endeavour, on the other hand, could actually give its predecessor a run for its money. Shaun Evans is perfect as the young Morse. The scripts are tight and full of subtle nods to the issues of the times. There are complex clues derived from crosswords and a poignant musical score. As a companion piece to Inspector Morse, this outing comes the closest to matching its melancholy brilliance.

Along with the winners, there have been those experiments which failed. According to my parents, New Tricks has been on a steady decline since the original cast began to leave. The nail in the coffin being the departure of the wonderful Amanda Redman. Early 2000’s Sunday night Scottish drama Monarch of the Glen tried to limp on for a series or two after the main characters had moved on to pastures new. And arguably, The Archers has never been the same since Nigel fell off the roof.

So the answer is that a great show can survive the absence of a central character, but the programme needs to forge a brand new direction in order to achieve this transition and the writers will have to work extremely hard to make it a success.

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