Tag: Chester

#WriteHereWriteNow: How to write reviews

I was reading an interview with Danny Baker last week.

You may remember him as the man from those Eighties TV ads for Ariel, the hungover wingman to Chris Evan’s Britpop benders in the Nineties or the first one voted off last year’s I’m A Celebrity.

But, back in the summer of ’76, he was one of the Depford punk-rock gunslingers behind the legendary punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue. No, really.

And he had a motto for his early reviews of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, notes scribbled under a hail of spit and stale beer down the front of the moshpit.

“Sometimes right, sometimes wrong; always certain.”

Could we all learn from Baker’s juvenile chutzpah?

Here’s the issue: when it comes to writing reviews, it’s easy to be dull. Reviews are, essentially, a form of features in style yet it’s a format many even experienced writers struggle with.

Try this one, a review of the new Titanic hotel by the Belfast-born writer Glenn Paterson — a writer I admire.

Does it inform? Does it entertain?

Reviewers tread a fine line between information and entertainment. After all, most people reading reviews have no intention to ever buy the album/ see the film/ eat at the restaurant.

It’s a vicarious pleasure.

And the writers that tend to stand out are the ones with a distinctive voice, as well as in-depth knowledge of their specialist subject.

Think the late A.A. Gill of Sunday Times restaurant reviews fame, or Charles Spencer’s description of Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room as “pure theatrical Viagra” in a 1998 Daily Telegraph theatre review.

Gill died of cancer last year and, indeed the critics generally are dying off in the face of celebrity bloggers.

The media commentator Peter Preston laments this in today’s Observer. He writes:

“I think that, in small but important ways, critics help civilise journalism.”

This month at #WriteHereWriteNow we will consider the art of the critic.

Before the meeting on October 26, let’s try to write a 150-word review of something — a TV programme, a film, a new CD etc.

Can you channel a youthful Danny Baker to establish your voice?

Be right, or be wrong; be always be certain.

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Tortoise Magazine writing workshop at the Good Life Experience

A phone call out the blue.

It was the nice people from Tortoise, Chester’s independent magazine.

They had a stand at the Good Life Experience, the annual festival of, well, good life, taking over Hawarden for a weekend each September.

And they were thinking of running some writing workshops to encourage visitors to react to the sights, sounds and, in particular characters at the festival.

That’s where I would come in.

So it was last Saturday was spent running three workshops during the day [that’s group one with me, above].

We encouraged wannabe bloggers and writers to explore the festival site in search of a good story and a even better soundbite.

I had adults, kids, creative writing students and fledgling mummy bloggers amongst others.

But they had one thing in common: they all did us proud.

From a profile of a dog portrait photographer (yes, that is a thing) to two schoolgirls saving the world from plastic (check out Kids Against Plastic), it was a rich source of material.

Okay, I missed the set by Michael Head as I was working but it was great fun and we had loads of nice comments afterwards, such as:

Look out for the edited compilation of stories in the next issue of Tortoise magazine.

Nation of Shopkeepers: Chester for the Daily Telegraph

I’m always on the look out for story ideas around Chester. My daughter spotted this antique doll shop and the interview with the owner was fascinating. This story first appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Mo Harding, owner, Dollectable, says:

“I was born in Cheshire and, after running a hotel in Manchester for years, we were looking for a new business based around my love of antique dolls.

I had always loved dolls but my parents told me I was too old for them when I was 12.

We found this Tudor townhouse in Chester, dating from 1621, in the early Eighties. Originally we wanted to make a doll museum upstairs but the building is Grade II listed and needs a lot of work.

As far as we know, it’s the last remaining shop of its kind in the UK.

Early days

I started collecting pre-1930s dolls when my husband, Steve, was working the antique fairs. I still remember my first one. Polly was a German doll from around 1900. She had a lovely face.

Sometimes you look at a doll’s face and it’s just like a painting.

The heyday of doll making was from the 1870 to 1900 with best dolls made in France and Germany. Most of the dolls in the shop are Victorian.

Children played with dolls differently in those days. They brought the dolls out on Sundays and girls learnt to sew by making clothes for them.

Prized possessions

Every doll in the shop has a story. Henrietta is wax doll with beautiful boned underwear; she belonged to a suffragette. We also have some rare items.

The twin French dolls from the 1870s, both with glazed china heads, are worth upwards of £2500 each. A Shirley Temple doll of the American child star, dating from 1934, is one of our few American dolls.

We have travelled the world to international doll fairs and auctions. When you find a rare doll, it’s still an incredible buzz.

I’d sell the house and the car rather than loose my dolls, both the stock for the shop and my private collection at home.

I’m still always searching for the ultimate doll. I’ve wanted a Schmidt, a French doll from around 1870. They would sell at auction for around £18,000.

Future plans

We hope my daughter will take the business forward eventually, maybe creating a website and taking us onto social media.

My granddaughter loves my Victorian doll houses, too. But there are no plans for retirement yet.

I still love decorating the window every Christmas with a themed display and half the fun of running the business is the community of like-minded people at the auctions.

For me, you are either a doll person or not. It’s a way of life.

A doll person would never dream of collecting teddy bears.

 

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#WriteHereWriteNow: How to make the most of direct speech

We love direct speech.

As writers, nothing brings life to our work more the actual words people say.

Quotes, dialogue, comment — whatever you call it. We need the words of others to add emotion, opinion and drama.

Just try reading a book by the journalist and author Jon Ronson.

The man behind The Psychopath Test and others has made a career out of using direct speech to optimum effect.

But quotes mean handling interviews and therein lies the issue: sometimes interviews go wrong.

Try this clip, for example. Unluckily for the Channel Four News presenter Krishna Guru-Murthy, this car-crash celebrity interview has since gone down in history.

Next step forward Rhys Ifans. The Ruthin-born actor became legendary for all the wrong reasons a few years ago after a magazine interview turned into a study in interview hell.

Handling interviews is not easy and a skill only acquired through practise over time. That, and making mistakes.

We’ll be discussing how we use direct speech and how to get the best out of our interviewees at the next #WriteHereWriteNow meeting at Storyhouse, Chester.

Share your experiences and join the conversation before the next meeting by posting below.

Over to you …

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