In which I review the year gone by 2014

As is traditional at this time of year, this is the blogpost in which I summarise the highs and lows of the year gone by in a slightly premature New Years Eve TV sort of a way.

We shall start with the things that have made me irritable/sad/discombobulated during 2014. They were as follows:

David Cameron. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The distressing realisation that not really doing paid work leads fairly directly to not having any money. Nigel Farage. The inexplicable fact that there seem to be people who don’t think Nigel Farage is a knobber. David Cameron. David Cameron’s large shiny forehead (I don’t know why – it’s not by any stretch of the imagination his worst quality but it offends me with it’s large, smug, shininess.) The lack of left-wingness amongst the traditionally left-wing bits of Parliament. Throwing away 50,000 words of novel 2. David Cameron some more. Getting a chest infection during the RNA Conference for the second year in a row. Cold sores.

 

But enough of the miserablism. Here are the things that have made 2014 awesome:

The Commonwealth Games. The Edinburgh Fringe. The general wonderfulness of family and chums. The exciting realisation that not really doing paid work leads fairly directly to having loads of time. Finishing the draft of novel 2 (at the third attempt). Getting through my presentation at the RNA Conference without having a major coughing fit. Laughing so much with my senior sibling at reviews of NessieLand on the TripAdvisor that I almost peed a little bit. The publication of Truly, Madly, Deeply and of Cora’s Christmas Kiss. Being a contender for the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award. Taking part in Rowan Coleman and Julie Cohen’s excellent writing retreat. Spending my birthday at Edinburgh Zoo, where you could almost totally see a panda if you squatted a bit and sort of looked sideways through the fence. Actually getting the new kitchen we’ve been talking about since about 2009. Not decorating the living room, because, you know, decorating is tiresome. Being invited to be involved in some fab short story collections. Almost perfecting my Giant Chocolate Fondant recipe – I’m so close, I tell you, so close. Zumba. And cake.

 

So there you go – some highs, a few lows, and no doubt lots of stuff I’ve missed out. That was 2014.

 

No blog next week because it’s Christmas Day and I shall be busy opening presents, and eating all the food. So have a fantastic Christmas/Hanukkah/Winter Solstice/time of just sitting quietly not observing any particular festival, and I’ll be back on New Year’s Day, full of resolutions and plans for 2015.

 

In which I tell you what I did on my holidays (part 2)

Yesterday I kicked off The Awesome Week of Daily Blogging (as I’m now totally terming it) with part 1 of my exciting adventures on holiday. So by the laws of numbers and counting and that, welcome to part 2 in which I will do some actual recommending and reviewing of a tiny percentage of the tiny percentage of Edinburgh Fringe shows I managed to see last week. In order to do this I shall split all 19 shows that I saw into entirely arbitrary (and probably poorly conceived) categories and declare a winner in each section. The Some Random Woman’s Blog Awards – trust me; all the acts at the fringe will be talking about them. Probably.

Category 1: Sketch Comedy

Contenders: Cambridge Footlights, The Reduced Shakespeare Company

Only two contenders in this section, and one of them isn’t really sketch comedy because it had a sort of over arching narrative, but these aren’t the sort of details that I’m going to let hold me back. It’s a tough one to call. I love the Reduced Shakespeare Company – their Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) is a thing of comic wonder, but this show, The Complete History of Comedy, lacked the same level of tightness and precision, despite a few very funny moments.

Cambridge Footlights I felt a bit sorry for – at least as sorry as you can feel for high-achieving, talented people who are half your age. The knowledge that you’re part of the group where Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Robert Webb, David Mitchell, Richard Ayeode etc. etc. started out must carry with it a certain amount of pressure. And to be honest, their fringe show, ‘Real Feelings,’ did follow Mitchell and Webb’s edict about sketch shows being hit and miss, but the hits were proper, big, guffaw-out-loud hits, so for that reason my first category winner is….. Cambridge Footlights.

 

Category 2: Stand-up Comedy but with some sort of additional element eg. characters, songs or a talking monkey

Contenders: Mitch Benn, Pippa Evans, Nina Conti, Cal Wilson

Now I did admit that the categories were likely to be poorly conceived. And indeed they are. I’m not at all convinced that these four acts are really comparable, but I’ve come this far, so I’m ploughing on.

The second problem with this category is that I basically loved them all. This is great from an audience-member perspective, but really bad from the point of view of writing insightful reviews, and even worse if you’re trying to pick a favourite.

Mitch Benn’s show is all about skepticism with songs. Pippa Evans talks (and sings) about trying to work out who she is. Cal Wilson explores a similar theme with character comedy based around how she might have turned out if she’d made different choices in life. And Nina Conti has a talking monkey. But her show is so much more than a woman with a talking monkey. She does a terrifying amount of audience participation – if you’re the sort who gets nervous when a comedian starts chatting to the people in the front row, then wait for the DVD. And it’s all hysterical, and it messes with your head. You know she’s a ventriloquist, so you know that all the words are hers, but you reach a point where you genuinely believe she’s surprised by what’s apparently being said to her. And it’s hysterically funny. I mentioned that already, didn’t I? Anyway, out of four fantastic shows, the winner, for pure nearly-wetting-self can’t stop laughingness is…. Nina Conti.

 

Category 3: Improvisation

Contenders: What does the title matter anyway?, Set List

What does the title matter anyway? is the Edinburgh Fringe show not in anyway based on the popular TV show ‘Whose line is it anyway?’ whilst being hosted by the same person, featuring the same cast and involving the same games. Apart from that it is absolutely definitely completely different in every way. And very funny it was too. Josie Lawrence stole the show with her ability to improvise songs at the drop of a hat, but the whole thing was really jolly good. Just like I remember it from the telly, had it been on the telly, which, for legal reasons, I’ll just reiterate, it definitely wasn’t.

Set List is ‘comedy without a safety net.’ Comedians turn up with no prepared material and have to improvise a set based on phrases, words and acronyms that pop up on a screen at the side of the stage. It was a fascinating show from a writer’s perspective as you got to see the creative process happen (or not) right in front of you. The were six comedians performing on the night we went and, as you’d probably expect, it was a mixed bag. Those who nailed it, notably Cal Wilson, properly nailed it, but overall the quality was patchy, and for that reason the winner is… What does the title matter anyway?

 

Category 4: Other Stuff

Contenders: And the Goat Remained a Goat, Tanya Byron, I Killed Rasputin

OK, so I accept the categorisation has really broken down. Now I’m comparing a cabaret show about a early twentieth century ghosthunter, a talk about young people and mental health from an eminent clinical psychologist, and a stage play about a Russian assassination. All righty then.

‘I Killed Rasputin’ is a play by Richard Herring about Felix Yusopov, one of the conspirators involved in Rasputin’s murder. It’s an interesting subject and an interesting, and surprisingly funny, play, with some excellent performances, but for me it was just a little bit too uneven in terms of the tone. In places I felt like Herring needed to trust his audience more. There was a slight tendency to overtell. The play ran to 1 hr 20 minutes, rather than the usual 1 hr fringe slot. Editing it down to an hour and reining in the overtelling would have been an improvement I suspect.

So that leaves two contenders – Tanya Byron’s interesting, knowledgeable, and refreshingly opinionated talk vs. a deeply weird music/magic show about a ghost hunter from Richard Wiseman and The Creative Martyrs. Professor Byron was fascinating but this is the fringe and I think it’s important that we recognise the importance of weirdness to the whole proceeding. So for weirdness, and for my single favourite funny line of the whole fringe (which I’m not telling you, because out of context it makes zero sense), and for including a talking mongoose, the winner is…  And the Goat Remained a Goat.

 

Category 5: Stand-up Comedy

Contenders: Bob Graham, Danny Bhoy, Lucy Porter, Shappi Khorsandi, Sara Pascoe, Susan Calman, Tom Stade, Andrew Maxwell

A big old category to finish with, and a really hard one to call. I think six of the eight comedians in the list are definitely in the running, so let’s be cruel and deal with the other two first. Bob Graham had some nice material in his set, but nothing that really set the room alight. Sorry Bob – you were perfectly decent but you’ve found yourself in a tough group. Tom Stade is also out of the running. Ultimately comedy is subjective. There were people at his show laughing their little hearts out, but it didn’t do anything for me, and this is my little corner of the internet where my word is law, so he’s out too.

Which leaves us with six, which is still way way too many, but they were all excellent. Seriously, if you’re in Edinburgh over the next couple of weeks and you get the chance, seeing any of those six is well worth the cost of a ticket. They’re all very very funny, and all have jokes or sections from their set that I keep replaying in my head and giggling to myself over. I’ve changed my mind about 48 times over who’s going to win this category, and it’s definitely down to Danny Bhoy or Shappi Khorsandi. Or Susan Calman. Or maybe Andrew Maxwell. Aaargh. It’s too hard. I’m just going to keep typing and hope my fingers pick one. And the winner is… Shappi Khorsandi. Probably. Definitely. But with honourable mentions to Danny Bhoy and Susan Calman. It was really really close.

 

So there you go. Overall I think I did ok. Nineteen shows, and only one that left me cold is a pretty decent hit rate, but these are my final Edinburgh Fringe recomendations. If you’re in Edinburgh and you want to see a slightly random, but very entertaining, cross section of stuff you should check out: The Cambridge Footlights, Nina Conti, And the Goat Remained a Goat, What does the title matter anwyay? and Shappi Khorsandi or Susan Calman, or Danny Bhoy, or maybe Sara Pascoe. Waaah. I’m just going to stop now. Bye bye.

 

In which I tell you what I did on my holidays (part 1)

Hello world. I’ve just got back from holidays, which is my excuse for the, otherwise inexcusable, lack of recent blogular action. This week that will be very much rectified with an unprecendented five blogposts in five days. Let the bugles be sounded and the batons be twirled in excitement, at least until about Wednesday when I will presumably become distracted from the whole endeavour.

Anyhow, let’s start as we mean to go on with not one, but two, posts about what I did on my holidays. First off I went to the Commonwealth Games where there was athletics and badminton and hockey and gymnastics and rugby sevens. Here’s an actual picture of actual Usain Bolt to prove I was there.

Usain Bolt (in the middle there, honest.)

Anyway, I’m not going to bang on too much about the Commonwealth Games. I like a bit of sport, and this was a very jolly bit of sport, but I’m guessing that those of you who are right-thinking enough to be interested will have watched it on telly for yourselves. Seeing the sport live is much the same but with a slightly poorer view and no red button for switching to iPlayer part way through.

What I am going to bang on about, however, is the Edinburgh Fringe which occupied week two of the holibobs period. I’ve never been to Edinburgh during festival season before and can only concede that that was a colossal error of judgement on my part. The fringe is awesome, and massive, and overwhelming, and weird. Really really weird in places.

Not a weird bit of fringe. An entirely normal bit of zoo.
Not a weird bit of fringe. An entirely normal bit of zoo.

EngineerBoy and I took a day off midweek to go to the zoo and watch Bake-Off, but still managed to fit nineteen shows into the remaining five days in Edinburgh. We probably could have done more, but not without being reduced to jibbering, entertainment-overwhelmed shells of human beings. We tried to work out how many shows were on at the fringe in total and gave up. There are over 400 fringe venues, many of which house multiple performance rooms, which each host shows throughout the day from morning until well after any sane person is all tucked up in sleepy land. We didn’t even scratch the top layer of the outermost bit of surface.

What we did manage to see was *deep breath*: Bob Graham, Danny Bhoy, Lucy Porter, Mitch Benn. Richard Wiseman & the Creative Martyrs in ‘And the Goat Remained a Goat,’ Shappi Khorsandi, the Cambridge Footlights, Nina Conti, Sara Pascoe, the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete History of Comedy, Susan Calman, What Does the Title Matter Anyway? (a show that bore no resemblance at all the TV show ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’), Set List, Tanya Byron, Nicola McAuliffe in ‘I Killed Rasputin,’ Cal Wilson, Tom Stade, and Andrew Maxwell. And most of them were brilliant. Only one was awful. If you come back tomorrow I shall be splitting all of them into entirely arbitrary categories, one of which will almost certainly be called ‘Other Stuff,’ and recommending my favourites.

In the meantime, as ever, if you want to read more by me, I have books. You can do buying of them here.

In which I undertake the traditional resolution making for the year ahead

Hello. Good morning and ahoy there my hearties. Welcome to 2014. I trust you have found it to be conducive to good cheer and ever so lightly flavoured with cinnamon so far, apart from the thing about it being flavoured with cinnamon. It’s a year. Years don’t really taste of anything, with the exception of 1994, which I think we can all agree was a more than a little bit minty.

Anyhow, given that that whole train of thought had somewhat got away from me, I’ve made the executive decision to start a brand new flavour-free paragraph so that we can all just move on. It is, as I believe I may have been wending my rather circuitous way towards saying, a whole new year, and traditionally at this point in the calendar I make a number of resolutions. Broadly speaking they are threefold:

1. Lose weight

2. Get over the driving phobia

3. Write more/better/more profitably/preferably all of the above.

And all three of those resolutions definitely apply this year, on account of how I totally failed to achieve 1. and 2. last year, and although there were some definite writing achievements in 2013, there is always further room for improvement. That means that my resolution making is a rather quick and speedy process. I’m pretty confident that I’ve got those resolutions locked down to come around every year for at least the next decade, which is marvellous because it frees up time and head space to get on with doing and achieving random things that you’d never think to aim for at the start of the year.

Last year, for example, although I had definite good intentions in the area of writing, I hadn’t thought of ‘Become the Cliff Richard of the kindle novella market’ as a specific aim, but I still managed to tick it off, when my little Christmas romance novella, Holly’s Christmas Kiss, went to no 1 in the Kindle short story chart and stayed there until Christmas Day. I had an actual Christmas Number 1. I shall now mainly be hanging out with the previously mentioned Sir Cliff of Richard, Noddy Holder, and that prison guard lady off of X-Factor.

Having your basic resolutions nailed down also gives you plenty of spare brain-time to really finesse your plans and systems for how those resolutions might be achieved. So far as the losing weight goes, I have constructed the most marvellously convoluted diet plan which involves dieting for 6 months in 3 week bursts over a 2 year period. And the worrying thing is that I totally have a rationale for why that is a good idea, based on actual science (or at least on things I have heard actual scientists say on telly, which I suspect might not be quite the same thing, but still, a plan is a plan so I’m sticking with it).

I also have a plan for the writing stuff to be done this year. It involves finishing one and a half novels and a novella, and getting back into teaching creative writing and offering workshops, and possibly a critiquing service for new writers. It’s almost certainly completely unrealistic, but I have a spreadsheet with all the different things I’m going to do marked on it and highlighted in a range of pretty colours, and making the spreadsheet was useful and not really procrastination at all.

So that just leaves the driving phobia, which is the only one where I don’t have a plan, beyond ‘try to sit in the driver’s seat without crying.’ Oh well, there’s always next year.

So, as I always ask you at this time of year, what are your resolutions? (And also, any of you who are budding writers please feel free to wave a hand via the Contact Me page if you’d be interested in workshops or courses at all.)