Lessons from NaNoWriMo

This November, I did something a little crazy.

After a few years of placating my gently stirring curiosity with soothing murmurs of ‘that sounds interesting but I’ll try it when I have something to write about’ and ‘I’m so busy – I’ll do it when I have time to commit properly’, I buckled to internal pressure and signed myself up to NaNoWriMo.

What’s that, I hear you ask? NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. On 1st November every year, thousands of people put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) with the goal of writing 50,000 words of an original novel by 11.59pm on  30th November. That breaks down to 1667 words per day, every day for a month.

Is it a slightly bonkers endeavour? Yes. Clearly.

Was it worth it? Yes. Unequivocally.

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Review: King Lear


There is a history of women playing classic male Shakespearean roles; in the past few years, parts stretching from Hamlet and Julius Caesar to Prospero and Richard III have been taken on by a range of actresses at British theatres, from Maxine Peake at the Manchester Royal Exchange to Harriet Walter for the Donmar Warehouse. The part of King Lear, however, has remained almost resolutely male.

There are exceptions, of course. In 1990, an 80-year-old Marianne Hope played Lear in a production directed by Robert Wilson. Kathryn Hunter took on the role in 1997, earning mixed reviews for her portrayal. Yet, despite these notable performances, the concept is still treated as a novelty at best, and an ‘absurdity’ (as Hope herself pointed out) at worst. Glenda Jackson’s appearance in the role for Deborah Warner’s new production for the Old Vic, then, is doubly remarkable; not only is Jackson adding her name to the female Lear canon, but the production is the actress and politician’s first stage role in 25 years. As a result, Jackson’s casting has generated some serious theatrical buzz, with all eyes on her to see how she handles the quintessential older male role. As soon as Jackson strides onto the stage, however, voice cracking like a whip as she calls her daughters to order, the casting choice seems anything but absurd.

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On the stories we tell ourselves

Do you subscribe to Lenny Letter? If not, you should. Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s weekly newsletter compiles personal essays, interviews, illustrations and creative writing, and covers topics including politics, health, friendship and sex – usually with a feminist angle. It’s always engaging, informative and surprising.

Recently, Nicole Richie (yes, that Nicole Richie) contributed a piece about the impact of fame on her personal identity.

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-13-56-50From Nicole Richie’s essay in Lenny Letter

Her words sparked a memory. A few years ago, I had a conversation with an athletic friend about a recent injury he’d sustained that left his future sporting career in doubt. “The problem is”, he told me, “I’ve always thought of myself as the ‘sporty guy’. Now that’s been taken away, I don’t know what my story is any more.” His phrasing stuck with me. As a writer and consummate dreamer, I’m constantly telling stories – about myself, my loved ones, the characters in my head. My mantra is the classic Nora Ephron-ism: ‘Everything is copy”. But recently I’ve started to wonder if the stories we tell about ourselves sometimes do more harm than good.

Review: Yerma


I recently saw Yerma at the Young Vic, directed by Simon Stone. I’m a little late with this review (the play has been running since late July and recently closed) but it had a significant impact on me, and I wanted to share my thoughts nonetheless.

As Spanish speaker, I was nervous. Lorca is notoriously difficult to translate. His texts are rich with strong imagery and cultural resonances, and the rhythm of the lines heightens the emotional intensity of the language. His plays are beautiful to read aloud in Spanish; even if you can’t understand the words, meaning is conveyed through the flow of consonants.

I needn’t have worried; watching Yerma, I was thrown straight into the world of the play. Despite being written and set in Catholic Spain in the 1930s, it felt unnervingly fresh and relevant.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

As the play has now officially opened, I thought it was safe to share my thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’ve tried to #KeepTheSecrets as much as possible, but if you’d prefer to remain 100% spoiler free, please look away now!


As we approached the theatre, it was immediately obvious that we’d come to the right place. The queue stretching round the block was packed with beaming faces and bodies covered top-to-toe in Hogwarts paraphernalia – striped scarves in red and gold, ties in green and silver, billowing black robes, t-shirts printed with familiar quotes and even a handful of pointed hats. Then there were the accents – voices from states across America, from New Zealand, Australia, Japan. It seems there’s no ocean a Potter fan won’t cross for a fresh dose of The Boy Who Lived.

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On Bookshops


Bookshops are my happy place.

Nothing delights me more than perusing shelves, reading title after title, pausing to select the ones that intrigue me, to examine covers and read opening sentences, feeling the weight of the stories they contain, taking a moment to appreciate the work that’s gone into each and every edition.

Bookshops are my panacea, the mysterious elixir with the power to uplift, intrigue, excite and reassure. There’s nothing like the familiar sight of rows and rows of Penguin classics to settle my anxious mind.

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Review: Richard III

Ralph-Fiennes Richard III

Photo by Miles Aldridge

I have never devoted much time to Shakespeare’s history plays. When given the choice between the Bard’s real and fictional kings, I instinctively opt for the latter. Yet, despite my broader reservations, Richard III has always intrigued me; the first time I read the play, his curved back, seductive rhetoric and malevolent deeds captured the darkest recesses of my imagination. Naturally, then, when the Almeida announced their prestigious new production, with Ralph Fiennes in the title role, I happily spent a lengthy period on hold with the box office, desperate to secure a ticket. Thanks to their Under 25s scheme, I got lucky.

It takes a remarkable production to make three and a half hours of classical theatre feel like half that time. Fortunately, that’s exactly what director Rupert Goold achieves here, with the help of an outstanding cast and creative team.

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On Cooking

Joey Gif

I’m thinking about food.

Dinner. Buttery crab-stuffed ravioli swimming in a creamy tomato sauce. Breakfast. The salty, smoky taste of bacon, smothered in orange yolk. Copious hot, bitter cups of coffee. Lunch. Piles of brightly-coloured vegetables drowning in olive oil. The sharp tang of balsamic vinegar. God, I love balsamic vinegar.

My gluttony is relentless. If writing is my first love, food comes a very close second. Writing about food? Well, that’s the dream.

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