Shakespeare
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MUSE OF FIRE

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The old blog has been a bit quiet of late – as you may or may not have noticed. I’ve found myself very busy. I’m getting myself an edumacation through an online university, which has been fantastic as I have rediscovered brain cells that have been tucked away for a few years and which have now come out to stretch their little limbs. Combined with my baking, and my arts & craft projects (what I like to call my “old lady hobbies”), as well as work, it has meant that my blog has been left to moulder in the corner of my life (before I began getting educated, I wouldn’t have considered using a word such as ‘moulder’, how fantastic). When I started my studies, I promised myself I wouldn’t neglect my blog but promises to myself are generally the only ones I don’t keep, so for those of you who enjoyed reading my thoughts – I’m sure there’s at least one of you out there (that’s you, mum) – I apologise.

Anyway, coming up in one of my units of study, I’ll be doing some Shakespeare. There will be no acting involved – it’s all literary, which is very lucky for anyone who may have come into contact with my “acting” (drama was not my best subject at school, but it did make me less petrified of standing in front of people). I was hesitant to do Shakespeare initially – studying modern texts hurts my head sometimes, let alone trying to comprehend something that was written over four hundred years ago and is written in what might as well be a foreign language to many, but I figure if I’m going to be getting educated on literature and writing, it would be remiss of me to overlook Shakespeare. The fact that his work has survived and grown in popularity over such a vast period of time speaks for itself and is evidence that he is an important point of reference for any aspiring writer.

This guy. (Wikipedia)

Anyway, I was trawling the Twitters yesterday and discovered a little documentary called Muse of Fire made by a couple of friends, Dan and Giles, who also happen to be actors. The guys wanted to understand where people’s fear of Shakespeare comes from, so they self-funded a little trip to find out as much as they could about the man behind the quill. They documented everything as they went and the result is this wonderfully entertaining film. It seemed pretty interesting to me and as I was soon to be looking at Shakespeare’s work, I thought I’d have a watch. Before I go too much into it, I just want to say that it was the most enjoyable documentary I’ve ever watched, and I’m a HUGE fan of Sir David Attenborough so that’s saying something. In fact I loved it so much and was so inspired by it, I felt it necessary to emerge from my blogging hibernation and share it with you all.

Made over a period of seven years, the guys travel here there and everywhere speaking to all manner of people about their thoughts on, and experiences with, Shakespeare. From actors such as Dame Judi Dench; directors such as Baz Luhrmann; scholars who have devoted much of their career studying the work of Shakespeare, like the wonderful Harold Bloom; right down to the average person on the street, Giles and Dan leave no stone unturned. There are many moments throughout the film that had me thinking to myself, “yes, I can relate to that”, or, “I’d never thought of it like that before”; there were others that had me giggling quietly to myself at my desk, my very favourite part of the entire film being when they were attempting to compose an email to Sir Ian McKellen (how do you even do that?). Then there are moments that make it clear the true impact of words on people and leave you feeling quite emotional. This was especially true of one scene taking place in a German prison, at which point I realised that the words of this one man not only transcend time, but also the personal situation of the individual reading them – Shakespeare’s words touch us all in different ways, but somehow have the same effect. While the main focus of the film is obviously on Shakespeare, it also serves as an excellent example of finding something you want to do and doing it, even when the money runs out, the car breaks down, and it takes a while to get a ‘yes’ from people. Because it’s not all roses for the boys, yet they pushed through and we are now left with a beautiful documentary that is testament to their passion.

HOW TO BEGIN AN EMAIL TO (SIR) IAN MCKELLEN
“Dear Ian.”
Sir Ian.”
“Sir -“
“Although he doesn’t like the ‘sir’, does he?”

What I discovered while watching, is that there really is no reason to fear the Shakespeare, at least not from a literary perspective – I’ll not speak for those brave enough to speak his words to audiences. It’s actually got me really excited to study Shakespeare now (I’m basically a Shakespeare fangirl, almost).  What can I learn by looking at his work intimately? How can I apply that to my own writing? How can I write so amazingly brilliantly that people read my words four hundred years from now? Ok, that last one’s a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea. I think back to when I studied Hamlet in high school and we went to watch a production of it at the Belvoir Street Theatre here in Sydney. I remember that the thing I found the most exciting back then was the fact that Hamlet’s mother was played by the “not happy Jan” lady (if you grew up in Australia, you’ll get that – everyone else, Google it) and the actor who played Hamlet, I believe it was Jeremy Sims, I had also seen very fleetingly on tv. Imagine a bunch of teenagers sitting in a theatre, whispers of “not happy Jan” echoing around the room as we realised who Hamlet’s mother was, which I am sure she had NEVER heard before, and giggles of shock as Hamlet shouted his lines up into the audience, with one smarty pants saying his line for him when he paused just a fraction too long between lines. I don’t know that anyone else’s first experiences of Shakespeare were like this, but looking back now, I realise that it was perhaps this way because it was something we were essentially being forced to learn and therefore we cared little for it. The fact that we were young with next to no life experience meant that we were unable to relate to many of the themes which no doubt compounded our disinterest. I wish now that I had a greater appreciation for it and was able to remember it better.

Where am I going with all of this? Well in a very long winded and round about way, I’m encouraging you all to watch it, as soon as possible. I hear you asking why, so I’ll tell you.

  1. If you love Shakespeare, the documentary will reaffirm your love for him.
  2. If you hate him, you’ll hate him a little less and possibly have a better understanding of what he’s all about.
  3. If you’re not particularly fussed either way, you’ll be very entertained for an hour and a half and you’ll probably learn something, which is always good.
  4. Finally, if you need any other reason, think of the purchasing of this film as an act of charity, because Dan could really use a new car – if he doesn’t already have one.

They have a Twitter here, https://twitter.com/museoffirefilm, and a website here, http://www.shakespearefilm.com/. If you’re in Australia and feel inclined to watch, you can get it on Vimeo, otherwise I think the rest of the world has it available on iTunes (but not Australia because we’re a bit backwards).

If there’s anyone reading this that has already watched the film, or watches it based on reading this (which would in all honesty shock me), I would be very interested to hear your thoughts. OR I would love to hear some other first experiences with Shakespeare – did you love it or could you have imagined nothing worse?

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Cover Recreation – April 2014

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Early again for this month’s cover – but only because there’s hot cross buns on the cover!! And we all know that you need to eat as many hot cross buns as you can while they’re around. These ones are Sour Cherry Hot Cross Buns – so yum!

I had some trouble setting up for this one – I didn’t have a rack big enough to put the round of buns on, so had to improvise and change it up a bit. They’re also not the best looking buns around (I think I got a bit sloppy with rolling the dough into balls) but they taste amazing and I made them myself which only makes them taste better. The recipe called for dried sour cherries, but I couldn’t find those anywhere, so I experimented a bit and bought a jar of morello cherries from the preserved fruit aisle at the supermarket, rinsed them under water to get most of the sweet syrup off them, dried them, put them on a tray covered in baking paper and put them in the oven which was preheated to the lowest temperature setting (whatever that is) and in this way I had my own dried cherries after about 3 hours! I could have let them go longer, but got impatient! As with last month, the recipe for this one isn’t available online, so if you want to make these ones specifically, you’ll have to head out and grab the magazine. Otherwise, they have this one here which looks pretty good too! Happy baking :-)

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The Lighthouse at Byron Bay

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Last weekend we were lucky enough to attend a beautiful wedding at the lovely Byron Bay. The wedding was Saturday afternoon, so my boyfriend and I decided to drive to Ballina to look for a black shirt for him to wear to the wedding, as he hadn’t packed his. So in the car we got and began driving towards Ballina, but we hadn’t even been in the car for 5 minutes when we drove past a sign that said “LIGHTHOUSE”. I’d not ever seen a lighthouse before so my lovely boyfriend agreed that we could go check it out.

It was lovely. Being situated on the most eastern point of Australia, it has some amazing views over the ocean and even back inland, looking over the town of Byron Bay. We spent nearly 45mins up there in total I think. There’s a great little cafe just down from the lighthouse that we had a great coffee from. They also sold ice-cream there – I couldn’t imagine anything better than sitting on a bench on a hot day, looking out over the ocean, and enjoying a cold ice-cream!

Anyway, here’s a few photos I took. I only had my iPhone on me, no big camera sadly, but I plan on going back very soon so hopefully I can get some better photos!

Semifreddo and sorbetto in watercolour
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Cover Recreation – March 2014

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I’m a bit early with this month’s cover, mostly because the recipe for these two amazing desserts isn’t available online, so if you want to try them for yourself, you’ll have to head out and pick up the Gourmet Traveller magazine. But you can see a photo of the cover here.

This month’s cover is graced by two delicious frozen desserts: the first is a chocolate-torrone semifreddo, and the second is passionfruit mint sorbetto. After my little photo shoot yesterday, my boyfriend and I had a flavour each, he the chocolate and I the passionfruit. It was quite warm here yesterday, so the sorbetto was lovely and refreshing and I have it on very good authority that the semifreddo is very rich and you could definitely just do with one scoop. So there you go. If you do decided to make at least the semi-freddo, torrone is an Italian nougat which can be soft and chewy or hard and brittle. I used the soft version in here and I bought it online from Enoteca Sileno (based in Melbourne), but I’m also told you can get it from Harris Farm Markets and in Sydney the Norton Street Grocer sells it. It’s quite expensive so you might be able to swap it for some regular nougat, just make sure you get a nice soft one as I think that’s best.

I had lots of fun with this one. I didn’t really have anything that as similar colouring to the cover so I went and bought a couple of bits and pieces. The lovely patterned saucer holding the sorbetto is part of a cup and saucer set I got from Myer and the small platter holding the semifreddo is also from there. It was white when it came home with me and I painted it gold, as well as the (plastic) teaspoon in the photo and the little ice cream cup holding the sorbetto. The cups I picked up from the party section of a cheap homewares shop. So this week I’v learnt that if ever I’m looking for a certain style of dish, or any tableware really, and I can’t find it, I should just find something similar and slap some paint on it!

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The finished product. I quite like this one, except for the sad ice cream cone in the back!

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February Book Review – The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

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I’ve been finding myself reading quite a few books lately that are set in or around the periods of the World Wars. What they have all had in common, is a great focus on how the war changed the people who took part in them. But what they didn’t really focus on, was the difficulty these people – particularly the men –  had interacting with those who were virtually untouched by the war once they were home. What could these men say to people who had not seen any of the horrors they had seen? How could they be expected to carry on with their everyday lives? This is especially true of the men who returned to Australia from the war. Being so far removed from the action, the most that the residents of Australia saw of the war were the men who came home with limbs missing, physical scarring and mental scarring.

Painted in Waterlogue

In The Light Between Oceans we are allowed into the life of a man returned from the First World War. Hailed as a hero, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia, to a country full of people who don’t really understand what it was like in Europe. He doesn’t view himself as a hero and is plagued by memories of the war – of death. The only peace he can find is as a lighthouse keeper and he is eventually posted at one of the most remote lighthouses there is, on Janus Rock off the coast of Western Australia. It is a life spent in solitude on a small island surrounded by the wild seas, with only the occasional trip to the closest settlement by boat, Point Partageuse. It is there he meets Isabel, young and carefree and aside from the deaths of her brothers in the war, virtually ignorant of the atrocities and hardships experienced in Europe. They are eventually married and Isabel joins Tom on Janus Rock where the population is now two. Life carries on, Tom and Isabel have their ups and downs but for the most part, little happens on the island and they have next to no knowledge of what happens across the ocean in the rest of the civilised world. But their quiet lives are changed the day a boat washes up on the island, bearing a dead man and a crying baby. Tom and Isabel have reached a turning point in their lives and the consequences of the decision they make on this day are not apparent until many years later, when they finally find out the true history of the baby they found on the beach.

Stedman does a fantastic job of getting into the mind of a man returned from war. The location of the novel may be fictitious, but the mental state of the man is not. Many men came home virtually unscathed of mind and body, but for every one who managed to get on with their lives, there were those that just could not get through a day without suffering through what they had experienced on the battlefield. For me, Tom Sherbourne was in the middle of these two extremes. He managed to function every day and get on with the job, but he still remembers friends lost and is unable to spend too much time around people that weren’t there. I think he feels the sense of pity from many and the idea that he is a hero appears almost repellant to him – a hero does not kill people and a hero would be able to save his friends. The fact that he takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on an island that is basically cut off from the rest of the world, speaks volumes about the sense of isolation he feels from the people around him. I suspect that this feeling was applicable for many of the men who were in the war. I think that it would be hard to feel part of a community after being changed so much by experiences that were beyond the comprehension of many others. I didn’t particularly like the character of Isabel very much. She grows rapidly from girl to woman in this book and experiences hardship which would change any woman, but she has little sense of right from wrong and really brings to life the phrase “beware a woman scorned”. Her treatment of her husband in the latter stages of the book is what really turned me against her. I sympathise with what she goes through, but I can’t understand the mentality of her actions towards Tom. It is hard to care for a character who can end up being so cruel.

All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I wouldn’t say that it’s better than all the other books I have read that are based around the same time period, but it certainly focuses a little more on the return to society of many of these men. It’s all well and good to write about the war and tell of the hardships faced in the trenches, but it is enlightening and refreshing to read about what life was like after the war. For many, that’s when the battle really began. But this book is also about right and wrong and the line which can often be blurred between the two. It is a book about the decisions we make and the consequences they have. The smallest action have have the biggest consequences and often small decisions have a bigger role to play in the grand scheme of things. It is a book that tells us to choose our actions carefully.

RATING – 8 out of 10. An enjoyable debut novel from the author and I hope that her future novels are just as good.

WHO SHOULD READ IT – If you enjoy historical fiction by Fiona McIntosh (The Lavender Keeper, The French Promise) and Kate Morton (The Shifting Fog, The Secret Keeper), then you will definitely enjoy this one.

WHO YOU’LL LOVE - I can’t say that I found any of the characters particularly loveable, but I did find the character of Tom Sherbourne the most complex and interesting. I think that the lack of characters (due to the isolated setting) has worked in the authors favour, as she has been able to just focus and build on the two mains, making them as realistic as possible.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?