My husband wasn’t allowed to watch ITV as a boy slash teenager in the 80s. And he’s not from the poshest of families (no offence). But I understand this. I watched Blue Peter not Magpie. And I watched Swap Shop not Tiswas. But occasionally I would have a peek on the Other Side. A guilty pleasure.
No one can forget the anguish when Morecambe and Wise were lured away from the Beeb….
However. There were actually some gems that only now I can see as I emerge from the arms of Auntie, arms that are not as innocent, secure or loving as any of us once believed.
I used to watch the sitcom Agony (1979-1981) on a Sunday evening (always the worst evening with the prospect of a long week of school ahead). I was only a young teenager but I was really drawn to the characters and this other world that was quite unlike mine in Devon. It was about an agony aunt (Maureen Lipman) and two of the main characters were her gay neighbours. It was witty, sophisticated and intelligent (three attributes I would love to be able to give to myself, in my dreams). Looking back it was quite a trailblazer. Only now do I see that maybe ITV had more going right than the BBC.
Everyone knows how I feel about M & W and Brucie. So this is saying something. Bear with me.
Comedy and drama. Are the BBC really doing their best? Where are the successors to Our Friends in the North, Blackadder, House of Cards, The Office? Other than programmes with bonnets or Miranda Hart (and I do love MH) and Twenty Twelve, the Hollow Crown and Last Tango in Halifax … but … other than those … I think the ones to watch may actually be on … ITV. Think Broadchurch. This is the only drama to ‘get’ me in a way I haven’t been ‘got’ in a one time. And it had Olivia Colman.
Scott and Bailey, Coronation Street, The Last Weekend, Mrs Biggs, Leaving, Bletchley Circle, and if you want bonnets, Downton. And the true successors to Morecambe and Wise, Ant and Dec. OK, OK, I’m not saying ITV has got it all right. But I have to say, I am no longer a snob. And I don’t think I have ever been. I am just ‘out’.
And talking of ‘out’ and going back to Agony, I have been so happy to watch the new sitcom Vicious. Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Derek Jacobi and the iconic ITV sitcommer Frances de la Tour. I love it. I love its campness. But most of all I love its nod to the fact that these men have been an item for almost 50 years. And ‘Mother’ still doesn’t know… They are horrible to each other but they love each other.
And The Job Lot. I love it too. I worked briefly in Greenwich dole office and so I really appreciated this. Reminded me a bit of The Office and the US sitcom mockumentary Parks and Recreation.
So I am impressed, ITV. I might not like a lot of what you do, I might be a bit fed up of BGT and the X Factor but I appreciate the striving for better comedy and drama on our televisions screens.
Come on, BBC. Clean up your act and up your game. You can do it.
I am a huge fan of writing competitions.
Because they are a little oasis in the overwhelmingly vast world of publishing.
They are scouted by agents and publishers.
They have given me focus as a writer, assurance that my manuscript will be read and considered, and they have given me my breakthroughs.
So now I am trying to give a little back and am involved and connected with exciting and worthwhile competitions. If you are want to enter some writing competitions that could help you on your way then read this post.
I am concentrating on novel competitions as there are still comparatively few. In 2006 I won the novel section of the Yeovil Literary Prize with the opening chapters of The Generation Game judged by Katie Fforde. Now in its tenth year the closing date is May 31st so this one you have to be quick for. The novel prize is judged by Tracey Chevalier. There is also a short story and a poetry competition. I will always remain indebted to this prize and am so glad it is growing in status and reputation with an impressive alumni.
Next up, the Harry Bowling Prize. This competition is for novels by unpublished writers and this year there is a new flash competition. The closing date is September 30th 2013. I was runner-up with This Holey Life in 2008 and had a great time at the awards ceremony at MBA. This was affirming and gave me encouragement that I was on the right track.
So now a very special award, the Luke Bitmead Bursary for Writers. This is an annual award for unpublished writers in memory of Luke Bitmead who was Legend Press’s first novelist back in 2005. The first prize is a generous bursary and a publishing contract. I won the award in 2010 with The Generation Game which was published in August 2011 by Legend. A year later Legend published This Holey Life. Entries opened on the 1st May and the closing date is 2nd August 2013. Unlike the other novel competitions I am flagging up, the manuscript must be finished and the work of an unpublished author. The age limit is 16 and over so this allows a chance for a young person to enter. There is always a shortlist and some of these have also gone on to achieve publication.
And now some very exciting news: the inaugural Exeter Novel Prize run by CreativeWritingMatters and sponsored by Exeter Writers is now open for entries. The closing date is October 31st 2013. Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James and myself will be administering the prize which is for both unpublished and published writers for a novel not currently under contract with a commercial publisher. The shortlist will be judged by London agent Broo Doherty of Wade and Doherty and the winner will receive £500. There is a launch at Exeter Central Library on 27th June at 7.00pm, free entry plus cake, and a fabulous chance to meet other writers and find out more about the prize.
And one last competition but this time for a short story. I am honoured to be one of the judges for this year’s Hysterectomy Association’s short story competition. The closing date is 31st August 2013. Stories of up to 2000 word on ‘almost any theme related to women’. There are cash prizes but probably more importantly the first, second and third prize winners plus ten other writers will be published in an anthology.
And I must mention Words for the Wounded, a charity of which I am delighted to be a patron. The competition is closed now and the results will be announced on June 6th.
So I hope this has inspired lots of you to enter these competitions, all worthy and worth it. They really do help writers on the road to publication for which I am evidence…
But I want to finish with one of the best competitions ever. Crackerjack’s Double or Drop.
Yes, I do love game shows, so very excited tonight to be watching the final of University Challenge – it’s a looong series, been following for months and finally tonight we have a winning team: Manchester. (Surprise!)
Bamber Gascoigne was the iconic quiz master who hosted the programme from 1962 till 1987. (In 1987 I was an undergraduate at Lancaster but only knew answers to questions about Wham! or Evelyn Waugh, at a push, with a fair wind.) Since then Jeremy Paxman, aka Paxo, the demon interviewer, has been at the helm. He is not as student-friendly as Bamber. He is very scary. But I am just getting used to him after nearly two decades.
I am happy if I get a few questions right over the course of thirty minutes. In fact it gets quite competitive between my husband and me. He likes to think he is intellectually superior but we all know who has the brain in this house. Moi. At a push. With a fair wind. On a good day.
University Challenge might be elitist and academic but there is nothing wrong with spending half an hour in the company of boffs. And the happiness when you get an answer right is worth the humiliation of getting most of them wrong.
And not to mention this show’s place in our popular culture. David Nicholls’ wonderful novel Starter for Ten was made into a sweet film and was a memorable scene on The Young Ones… And a chapter heading in The Generation Game.
Well done, Manchester.
May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Only a few short days left and then I'll go back to... well, posting about very similar topics, actually. Anyway. You can catch up here.
The first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club.
And the first rule of effectively promoting your book online is that you do not promote your book online.
So anyone who’s come across my blog, you might gather that I am a strange mix of creature. Part mother, part feminist, part softie, part nut job. But you will also have noticed my love of telly. Nothing problematic about that.
As much as I respect the Beeb, I am a long time Corrie fan with at least thirty years of loyalty. I am also growing increasingly fond of ITV drama. Broadchurch had an unexpected hold on me. I will feel a little lost tomorrow. Or will I?
It’s good to be scared and spooked because it reminds you of the good things you have in life. But I like nothing better than to have a laugh. (As I am watching this, Father Ted is on More 4. Lovely Girls. Sublime.) And tomorrow evening I just might survive. After a double whammy of Corrie there is a double whammy of two new sitcoms on ITV. The Job Lot and Vicious.
I hope they are funny. I will certainly be watching.
Back along in February, I went to Jersey for the first time for a long weekend, flying with Flybe from Exeter, a brief but pretty flight, a rare sunshiny day letting us see the Channel Islands from above.
It was an interesting weekend. Both the landscape and architecture reminding me of Devon and Brittany, Britain and France. At times it was like stepping back in time with Sunday trading laws still operating and a surprising lack of traffic.
Mont Orgueil was an amazing castle to visit with its fascinating history, breathtaking views across the Channel and quirky art installations. For six hundred years, it protected Jersey from French invasion. But Jersey was invaded, in 1939 by Nazi Germany. It remained under occupation until May 9th 1945. Liberation Day is celebrated every year on that day (which happens to be my birthday). Unfortunately the war tunnels were closed as we were out of season…
Cafe culture, boats, golf: this is an island where maybe only the rich can live. But it was good to hang out on a sunny weekend and finally see the place where the 80s detective series Bergerac was filmed. Which, so it is whispered, might be making a return. I’m actually rather excited about that.
Jersey is a tiny island and you can get about it quickly (well not that quickly seeing as there’s a 40mph speed limit). Coves, beaches, fields, potatoes, daffodils, and Corbiere lighthouse, the first lighthouse in the British Isles to be constructed of concrete alone. A lighthouse that has saved many lives and seen countless beautiful sunsets.
But the best thing? The surprise of finding St Matthew’s Church, otherwise known as the Glass Church because of the glass work created by none other than Rene Lalique, said to be one of his greatest achievements. Stunning. An unexpected jewel.
Next stop Guernsey?
This is one of those books that you keep on the shelf (or Kindle file) that’s specially reserved for comfort and joy reading. You must have one of those too – stories just sitting there waiting for that moment when you’ve got a horrible cold, or someone’s been mean to you, or life gives you an even bigger kick in the teeth.
A Treacherous Likeness
By Lynn Shepherd
Published by Corsair
We began before thick in autumn fog; we open now in the fury of a west and winter wind. Above us high loose clouds drive across a steep grey sky, and beneath our feet the dead leaves are driven before the unseen air like ghosts from an enchanter. Yellow and black and pale and hectic red, they swirl in dry squalls into narrow corners and lift in sudden gusts from the muddy gutters.
In the dying days of 1850 the young detective Charles Maddox takes on a new case. His client? The only surviving son of the long-dead poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein. Charles soon finds himself being drawn into the bitter battle being waged over the poet’s literary legacy, but then he makes a chance discovery that raises new doubts about the death of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, and he starts to question whether she did indeed kill herself, or whether what really happened was far more sinister than suicide.
As he’s drawn deeper into the tangled web of the past, Charles discovers darker and more disturbing secrets, until he comes face to face with the terrible possibility that his own great-uncle is implicated in a conspiracy to conceal the truth that stretches back more than thirty years. The story of the Shelleys is one of love and death, of loss and betrayal. In this follow-up to the acclaimed Tom-All-Alone’s, Lynn Shepherd offers her own fictional version of that story, which suggests new and shocking answers to mysteries that still persist to this day, and have never yet been fully explained.
This is a hugely ambitious novel: its authorial narrative technique, its use of extensive research, its deft characterisation, its cohesive structure but most of all its central idea of weaving a fictional account into and around the factual gaps in the Shelley family’s story.
‘A Treacherous Likeness’ is a jolly good read. It is a tightly plotted, rollicking ride that twists this way and that way, with a pace Dickens would have been proud of. It has a very atmospheric setting of Victorian London, vivid descriptions and imaginative use of the senses – lots of fog and stench and poverty. The characterization is deep and believable, particularly of Claire Claremont and Shelley himself. They are complex and complicated. The use of diary entries and letters helps with this, giving the story an authentic edge and coercing us to believe the potential of this truth that Shepherd has constructed.
The tone and narrative style make the novel a clever pastiche of Victorian literature. This is no criticism as I have really enjoyed other novels like this – ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ by John Fowles and ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters, to name two. This is essentially a gothic melodrama about the Romantics. We travel from England to Italy in the company of legendary figures, with an omniscient narrator who propels us from the present to the past with great gusto and panache.
But … does this work for a modern reader? It draws attention to the writer at work. We can see the puppet pulling the strings. Contemporary novels guide us into a character’s consciousness and so it is strange to be under the control of this type of narrator, a Godlike being who can see into the minds of all the characters and who can leap through time with a magician’s touch. I’m still thinking about this…
There is no question that I enjoyed this novel. But, some doubts: What is the relationship between biography and fiction? Is it fair to cast Mary Shelley as such a villain? Others have queried her authorship of Frankenstein but the accusations in this novel leave me with an uncomfortable feeling, haunted by the ghosts of these real people whose lives were entwined with tragedy and a toxic mix of personalities and circumstance. Was Mary Shelley really this horrific? Do the living have the right to play God with the dead? I leave you with that thought.
Maybe you should read ‘A Treacherous Likeness’ and decide for yourself.
This review first appeared in Serendipity Reviews on 11th April 2013