Blood Angels

Acting and Ferret Farming Made Simple

(Cross-posted from Wordpress).

One of the earliest memories I have is of those little china animals that used to come out of Christmas crackers. Do you remember them? They were awesome. I particularly remember a horse, rearing up on its hind legs, and a cheeky little red squirrel. I loved those little animals. I coveted those little animals.

When I was about seven, I collected these, and other miniature things and kept them all in a shoe box. (Weirdly, there’s totally a children’s story hidden in that sentence, isn’t there?) I would take those animals out of the box and, feeding what was probably early onset OCD, arrange them in a variety of ways: colour order, height order, alphabetical order… and then one day, I have this very clear memory of using them to put on a show for my dad.

Someone had given me a book of nonsense verse and there was a particular poem – I wish I could remember it – that tickled me. So I used these little china animals to act out the poem. I distinctly remember the poem calling for an old man, so I made a beard for the horse out of cotton wool. I think he had to fall down some stairs. (It wasn’t ‘You Are Old, Father William’. I’m almost sure it was an Edward Lear poem, but I’m damned if I can remember it now!)

What I did was tell a story through acting.

A few days ago, I put up a lament on Facebook about how I was sad that due to Life taking over, I had to drop acting as a career choice and enter the real world. I love acting. I think it’s why I enjoy live role play so very much. The chance to be someone else and put Sarah on the shelf for a while. Since I put that post up, I’ve had a number of wistful thoughts about the subject and this morning, the Thought Train pulled into Epiphany Station and I realised that there are many similarities between acting and writing.

In both cases, you’re telling a story. A play is a story. It has characters, it has plot, it has exposition, it has Events. You convey emotion. It has dialogue. I love writing dialogue, I have to admit and I think that’s a direct result of the acting, of actually picking up words on a page and breathing life into them. Use of punctuation can inject a comedic pause, or add tension every bit as much as missing a beat can do. Writing something like this:

“I don’t know why I did it,” he said. There was an awkward silence.

“But I did.”

…has the same effect as inserting a dramatic pause. (Dramatic paws. RAAR. Sidenote explanation: one of the course books when I was studying drama originally had the best ever title. ‘Acting and Stagecraft Made Simple’. It was so much use that we called it ‘Acting and Ferret Farming Made Simple’. It waxed eloquent about the use of the dramatic pause. Which naturally evolved into paws).

A lot of people enjoy books filled with long descriptions of people and places. I prefer those that give you the bare minimal description – enough to fire your imagination – and plug the gaps with excellent dialogue. Terry Pratchett was a master of comedy dialogue. When his books were adapted so masterfully by Stephen Briggs for the stage, they worked perfectly. I prefer to let my imagination hear what’s going on. Again, I think that’s a side-effect of my inner Thespian.

I love learning lines of dialogue. I can recite great long passages of it from a variety of things. Shakespeare, TV and radio shows, films… I had a bet with someone once that I couldn’t learn and recite ‘The Jabberwocky’ in an hour. I won the bet and never forgot it. I can still remember my lines from the school Mummers play that I was in when I was… nine. I used to learn my lines AND the lines of other people. I remember once that during a performance of The Winslow Boy, the chap standing opposite me completely forgot his lines. The prompt, who was half-deaf to start with and lived in a hollow piano (true. This is true. I can’t even…) wouldn’t have heard his pleas for help, so in order to keep things going, I just warped his lines into mine and he picked up the thread without any of us missing a beat. Improvisation fun times. (Again, I cite LRP, yer honour).

Directing is something else entirely. As a director, you are even more in charge of the story telling. It may be hard to believe that having someone standing in a particular place, or wearing a certain expression, or maybe letting their fingers brush wistfully over a bottle on the side can make all the difference to conveying personality quirks, but it really, really does.

I’ve not done much in the way of directing. I think part of me is terrified of the concept. Having been an actor, getting plucked from where your feet naturally take you when saying a line and being told to stand over there, it fills me with cold dread to make those calls. I happily invite thoughts from people who direct. How hard is it to make that transition from reacting to the lines you’re speaking to reacting to watching those lines being spoken?

On stage, characterisation is about more than how you act and how you say the words. It’s about what you don’t say. About what you barely hint at. It’s those things that make a character accessible, believable. In books, such quirks could be people who chew their lip when they’re thinking. In a book, you can convey inner processing more easily than you can on stage.

The more I contemplate this subject, the more I realise that my acting energies channel themselves now into my writing, into LRP events, into online role play fora… so maybe the actor in me isn’t lost forever. Maybe the actor in me is simply approaching the art in a different way.
Blood Angels

Dear Mum (2015 Edition)

Dear Mum

And around it comes again. Fifteen years since we lost you, fifteen years that have gone by both in a rush and which have dragged. So many changes, so many good times, so many lows.

Life, they say, goes on after you lose someone and that's certainly true. But the pain - whilst it may fade - never really goes away. When Jamie collected his GCSE results, when he did so well, I was heartbroken that you weren't there to share in his success. I was sad that you will never get to meet him as he is now: a nice, sweet, kind young man with a wicked sense of humour not so far removed from yours.

I have been quite low these past few days with the build-up to today. I know it's a self-fulfilling prophecy to make myself sad before the event, but I've woken up this morning and after a moment of reflection have realised that I'm actually OK today. OK doesn't mean I don't miss you, I miss you several times a day, every day. What I wouldn't give for an opportunity to talk rubbish on the phone with you again. But I learned a long time ago that lingering on 'I wish' won't help the healing process.

Struggling to find my Christmas head this year. However, as it's... Today... the tree will go up tonight. I suspect that may help me locate some of my Christmas cheer. It's for you. It's always for you, and Jamie always insists on having that little fibre-optic tree you bought for him the year you died. He puts it up in his room and in his own words, 'it's like having a piece of Nanna with me'. For a boy who wasn't even two when you died, that's immensely touching.

This year's not been without its highs and lows, but when you do an annual letter, you start to realise that's not so unusual. I'm hoping it'll end on a high, because I'm quite fed up of being sad. Some stuff happened over the last twelve months that's really dented my sense of self-confidence and it's a hard thing to come back from... but I'm trying.

Fifteen years.


But... I will put a smile on my face and work through today, as I've done every year since December 10th, 2000. For the people around me it's just another day, and that helps to put things into perspective. But for this moment of heart-pouring, of letter writing and communication with memories, it's just you and me.

Love you, mum. Always did, always will.

Happy Christmas!


Blood Angels

Dear Mum - 2014

Dear Mum

Well, here we are again. Another year’s gone by and if I’m honest, there’s not all that much that’s changed. You’re still not here and fourteen years later, that still makes me alternate between sad and angry. I didn’t sleep well last night; the wind was lashing the rain against the windows and I could only lie awake thinking of you. This means I’ve woken up feeling a little on the gloomy side. I have to spend a day at work and I’m fairly certain it’ll only take one person to observe that I’m ‘a bit quiet today’ for it all to come out. I’ll try not to, though, there’s a colleague who lost her own mum earlier this year in that same sudden way we lost you. It’s far more raw for her than it is for me and I try, at least, to be considerate.

What has happened this year that’s worthy of note? Well, I’ve had two more books published, including the Plantagenet one I mentioned to you last year, and another Space Marine tale. I’ve decided to take a writing break, though. I essentially wrote four novels back-to-back over a two year period and tying that in with a day job means I was pretty wiped out.

Ben and I went back to LRP this year. I still can’t get over the warm welcome – people’s genuine pleasure and kind words made me a little tearful. It was great to go back without the pressures of trying to please all the people all the time (when it’s a fact that when it comes to LRP folk, you can’t please any of the people any of the time). I had fun.

Jamie took his first GCSE in the summer: Core Science, for which he got an ‘A’ grade. I was pretty proud of him, I can tell you. He has the rest to look forward to in 2015; and he’s received his conditional offer of a place in sixth form to do his A Levels. He has plans to go to University and study biomedical engineering and I believe he will completely do that. He’s that type: sets his mind to something and *bang* achieves it.

He’s sixteen in February. Practically an adult.

I took up a twelve-month secondment which I started in September. I’m hoping wholeheartedly that it becomes permanent, because whilst my previous job was pretty enjoyable, this one is better suited to my skillset. However, it will be what it will be and in the current economic climate, it’s good to have a job at all. I’m grateful for that, and the fact that I can provide a roof over our head and feed us every week.

There’s been some bad stuff this year as well. None of it as bad as this day fourteen years ago: I consider that the benchmark for ‘bad stuff’, but some of it so hard to deal with that I cried for days. I’m still pretty sad over some of those matters, but I think I’m coming out the other side. The short version is that the lessons learned from various things that have happened this year are: I should learn to trust my instincts, I should say how I’m feeling sooner rather than later, and that there will always be people who don’t give a damn about how their behaviour might affect others.

Back to the good: we have good friends in Lincoln and we spend lots of time with them and they spend lots of time with us. I’m starting to think that, once Jamie goes off to University and I’m no longer tied to the North East, I might well start giving thought to a relocation. Again, it will be what it will be – the housing market isn’t exactly a seller’s place just now, but I’ve been in this house for ten years (this week!) and I know that my mortgage statement should be a pleasant surprise this year.

We’ll be putting the Christmas tree up later, the ritual of the last fourteen years that I have come to insist upon. I’ll pop by the supermarket and get mince pies and we have a bottle of mulled wine in the house. Tonight, I will remember you – although I do that all the time anyway – and be grateful for the fact I got to spend so many years with you.

For the first time in a few years, I’m getting a little bit teary as I write this. I think it’s probably my cue to stop and go to work. I will be thinking of you and missing you.

Always love you, mum.