Category: Inspiration


Image result for Pink Ranger gifWhen I was a child I was obsessed with Power Rangers. Many weekends were spent high kicking and karate chopping in the garden attacking imaginary Zed Putties. My favourite ranger was the Pink Ranger. I thought she was awesome and kick-ass. I didn’t even think about her suit colour or the fact I was a different sex to her.

I just thought she was great.

My mum and dad did not approve and I was bluntly pushed towards the blue ranger with all the subtlety of Rita Repulsa’s transition to Dad-Eye-Candy in the new film. (Whole different blog post there.) But regardless of what my parents thought, I still thought she was great and, in a very child-like way, she was a bit of hero for me (until I grew out of my Power Rangers phase).

And then as I got into my teens the Doctor came along, bringing with him a range of heroes and role models for me to fantasise about (Errm…excuse me. Not like that.). How awesome was Rose? Loyal and quick-thinking. Donna Noble – hilarious, sensitive, self-less and selfish at the same time. Awesome characters – I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t like them just because I’m a guy.

I was sixteen when Torchwood started and I was instantly obsessed. Part of the pull for me was the relatable characters – including Gwen and Toshiko, both fearless and flawed, making terrible decisions but fighting their way back on top and learning from their errors, however painful.

I didn’t think that because they were women I shouldn’t admire them. And who wouldn’t want Storm’s powers in X-Men? She’s brilliant!

So, my point is, it shouldn’t matter what gender your favourite TV character is. I’ve got girls in my class who love Spiderman, but somehow that is a bit more acceptable in society than a boy who likes Wonder Woman or Elsa or Clara Oswald. It shouldn’t be. One girl in my class LOVES Doctor Who, she’s actually obsessed with Matt Smith and David Tennant. If a six year old child is able to look past gender then so should adult fans of the show. A female Doctor has been on the cards for long time and, judging by how incredible Missy turned out to be, I’m looking forward to seeing Jodie Whittaker’s take on the time lord. A role model is a role model and gender should not be a factor. We admire these characters for their personalities and their responses to various situations, so there’s no reason we should be discouraging boys from watching Doctor Who now that the main character has changed sex.

Image result for Doctor who female gif

Last weekend I finished my first ever set of reports. It was a scary process, reviewing each child’s progress and writing my little summary at the bottom. It gave me a chance to think about each child, how they’ve grown, their little quirks and characters, and how they might continue to progress next year. Dangerous territory for a Sensitive Sidney like me.

My biggest fear in September was that we’d reach this point of the year and the children will have learnt nothing! Thankfully, that isn’t the case, and each one has progressed in their own way. They’re not alone, as I’ve picked up a few pointers for my own personal development too. I always knew that organisation was a key to this role, but I underestimated just how organised I needed to be. We’re talking way beyond the Monica-Gellar-Organised that I operate with. I’ve certainly upped my game this year and still feel like I’ve got a way to go.

Despite all the courses and meetings and observations and paperwork, my biggest learning curve has come from the children. It’s fascinating to see how their brains work and, as well as lots of laughter, we’ve had a lot of ‘wow’ moments too. I’ve learned so much about how a child thinks (and I’m sure this is far from the end of my learning) as well as how I operate. They’ve taught me that there’s no point being stressed or grumpy or miserable because it all works out in the end. On the (rare) days that I’ve stomped into work under a thunder cloud, they’ve helped me bring the sunshine back by 9.15am. When I’ve been flapping round amongst the paperwork, they’ve calmed me down. And on the days where I’ve felt like I couldn’t carry on, they’ve sung a song, told a joke, pulled a face, or come out with a cracking one-liner that has made me remember why I became a teacher. They always make me feel proud.

What has surprised me the most is just how much I’ve loved being in the foundation phase. I was tentative at first, being so used to working in KS2, but this is definitely my jam. I love the scope for fun (as well as learning) and watching the children grow and achieve has been a privilege. In September they were fresh into the system, coming in from Reception where things are a bit less controlled, but they settled in quickly and now they’re heading into Year Two with an exciting enthusiasm for learning and being creative.  We’ve had tears, hysterical laughter, wails of despair, cheers of joy, a missing aubergine, a magical postman, giant toilet paper, a wandering tortoise, terrible jokes, the odd tantrum, silly faces, serious faces, grumpy faces,…

…And at the end of it all, I’ve realised I really don’t want them to go.

 

 

A few weeks ago I had a burst of inspiration. I was adding to old material and creating new work for what felt like a whole week solid. It was just pouring out of me and I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) stop it. The last few weeks that wave of creativity has truly crashed and become a pathetic dribble of vague ideas, all due to that frustrating mess of distractions – life. In the past, when I’m struggling, I find I can take inspiration from music. I’ve said before that music is a large part of my life and, aside from the stuff I might sing along to in my car, I’ve got a bank of music I turn to if I want to jump-start a story in my head. Below are five of, what I think, are the most inspirational musicians for writing (as well as providing dramatic soundtracks for your day….or am I the only one who does that?)

Murray Gold – I’m a Doctor Who fan and Murray Gold’s soundtrack comes with a whole TARDIS full of inspiration. Tracks such as ‘The Master Tape’, ‘The Majestic Tale of the Madman with a Box’ and ‘The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble’ are awesome kick-starters for a dramatic showdown or fully-charged finale. A lot of Reset was written with Murray Gold’s series 4 soundtrack blasting in the background, particularly tracks from latter episodes. Not only has he composed some deliciously dramatic pieces, but his tracks, such as ‘The Dream of a Normal Death’, ‘Goodbye Pond’ and ‘The Long Song’ can also be beautifully poignant. I’ve used Murray Gold’s music to inspire my own work but I’ve also played it many times in the classroom to inspire creative writing (and the children always love it). It’s also worth noting that Gold has composed some wonderful incidental pieces for Torchwood, such as ‘Death of Toshiko’ which always makes me a bit damp around the eyes.

Scala & the Kolacny Brothers – I first heard their take on U2’s ‘With or Without You’ some years ago on an advert for Downton Abbey. It was such a haunting piece of music that I had to find out more, and I’ve since added their versions of ‘Use Somebody’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Every breath you take’ to my writing playlist. Nothing quite tops ‘With or Without You’ when it comes to sending shivers up your arms, though.

Michael GiacchinoLost was one of my favourite TV shows and, apart from the bonkers characters and quirky mysteries, I loved it for its music. My favourite piece of incidental music from Lost is ‘Moving On’. I love how it rises and falls, from soft and gentle to a breath-taking crescendo that just makes you cry! (It’s also great for calming down rowdy Year 6s, I’ve found). Giacchino is also behind some amazing scores from films such as Up and Jurassic World.

John Williams – Speaking of Jurassic World/Park, I had to include the film’s original composer, who created that iconic theme tune (and, alright, I may have been guilty of playing it at full blast as I’ve driven around Wales). Whether you’re into dinos or not, it’s really difficult not to get excited when the music swells. Of course, Williams is also famous for the Star Wars soundtrack, which is equally as inspiring for dramatic writing.

Alan Menken – Responsible for creating some classic Disney tunes, I had to include Menken’s work. Regardless of the catchy songs, Menken’s back catalogue of instrumental scores alone is worthy of this list. From The Little Mermaid to Tangled , Menken has created many breathtaking pieces of music. One of my favourites is ‘Transformation’ from Beauty and the Beast. (Close your eyes, have a listen and feel happy!)

The new trailer for series 10 has landed and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s been a while since the Doctor was on our screens (except for the Christmas special) and I’d forgotten just how much I love this programme. With the latest hype over the new series and a new Doctor on the way, it’s all change, and my excitement has been regenerated. I’ve spent Sunday watching some of my favourite episodes (be warned – NuWho only.  I only started watching in 2005. Sorry!) and I couldn’t resist revisiting some of the most gasp-inducing moments! I cannot believe I’ve only ever blogged about Doctor Who once – ridiculous! Allow me to rectify that.

(Oh and I’ve split this blog into two parts. Partly because it’s massive but also just to be uber-annoying. Enjoy!)

Number 15 – Daleks! Bad Wolf, Series 1.

We’d already seen one Dalek in NuWho and, perhaps I was naïve to think we wouldn’t see them again for a while. Just as we were recovering from Rose being murdered on live television, we were even more shocked to discover she is alive, but being held in a Dalek fleet ship. The cries of ‘Exterminate’ were genuinely terrifying. This episode also revealed the story arc of Bad Wolf. I remember being totally blown away to discover the messages Rose had left the Doctor throughout the series and had to re-watch immediately to spot them all over again. I think this is when I really began to admire RTD’s work….

Number 14 – The Doctor is killed, The Impossible Astronaut, Series Image result for the impossible astronaut gif6.

There was something about this series that felt very different from the start. We knew one character was going to bite the dust but we didn’t realise it would be The Doctor, who was murdered at the side of Lake Silencio. Watching him get shot in the distance as Amy, River and Rory react in horror was very grim and a moment that haunted us for the rest of the series. (Note: The clever resolution in The Wedding of River Song should also be mentioned. Well done. Bravo. *claps*)

Number 13 – Skaro and Davros, The Magician’s Apprentice, Series 9.

Well we didn’t see this one coming. The opening story of series 9 was packed with twists and cliffhangers. Davros’ return was kept a secret until transmission, a decision which certainly paid off. The moral focus of the storyline, as the Doctor struggles with the decision to rescue or abandon the young Davros, kept us thinking throughout. The moment Skaro materialises around Missy and Clara was also a skin-tingling moment and refreshing to see other characters react in horror to a reveal, rather than the Doctor.

Number 12 – The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, Series 9.Image result for the zygon invasion

Two of my favourite episodes to date. Subtly topical, this double bill acts as a sequel to the 50th anniversary episode and explores what happens when the 20 million Zygons hiding as humans on Earth begin to revolt. The parallels drawn between modern political issues make for a thrilling and thought provoking set of episodes and Peter Capaldi shines during a powerful speech on fairness and consequences of decisions. We also have the return of fan-favourite Osgood, who acts as a welcome source of morality in what can be a pretty grim set of episodes. Another underrated story that deserves much more praise.

Number 11 – Eleven Regenerates, The Time of the Doctor, Christmas special.

It’s a bit annoying that Eleven happens to revert back to his younger state before Image result for eleven regeneration gif amyregenerating, but that aside, another powerful moment. Murray Gold does it again with an excellent score. The riff of ‘The Long Song’ as Amy reappears to the Doctor still brings a great big lump to my throat. And then he takes off his bow tie! Who would have thought such an action would leave millions in total despair?! But, I think what really pushes your emotional buttons in this scene is the Eleventh Doctor’s last speech…

‘I will always remember when the Doctor was me.’

You can’t help think there’s a bit more Matt Smith in that speech than the character he’s playing.

Number 10 – Amy and Rory’s deaths, The Angels Take Manhattan, Series 7.

Just when you thought Amy and Rory have survived their final episode, Rory is touched by a Weeping Angel and sent back in time to live out the rest of his life. A devastated Amy sacrifices herself to be with Rory and the Doctor is left bereft. *sniff*

Number 9 – The Master Returns, Dark Water, Series 8

Trapped in the Time War way back during The End of Time, we thought we’d saw the last of The Master. So, it was quite a shock to discover Michelle Gomez’ bonkers Mary Poppins-esque Missy was in fact The Master in female form. Gomez injected new life into the character and plays Missy with devilishly mad style. Even though she’s ‘bananas’ we can’t help but love her….even if she did kill one of the Osgoods.

Image result for doctor who to be continued gif

Half term. I’m sat in the window of my apartment at a newly created workstation strategically placed so I can look out over the busy road, the commuters bustling through the train station and those handsome Welsh mountains in the background. I’ve been meaning to set this spot up since I moved in almost 15 months ago but only now have I managed to take action.

The last half term, in October, was a bit of disaster. I don’t have a good track record when it comes to half terms. Christmas, Easter, the Summer – they’re all great, but it’s these week long holidays in between that I can’t seem to handle properly. I always end up with cancelled plans or no plans at all. I just can’t do half terms! This was one, however, was going to be different.

For a few weeks I’ve felt myself bubbling. Frustration tightening a knot around my waist (but for more of that, see last week’s rant!) and I knew that this half term I needed to fix it. The most prominent activity in my busy schedule is ‘writing time’. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to grab quality writing time. A run of a few hours where I can lose myself in an idea. In fact, since September I have only managed to write for the odd hour here and there. And that’s not enough for me.

Saturday night, I settled down in my new spot and began to type. I’ve barely thought of anything else since. I seem to be having some sort of inspiration overload. Closing the gates on work for a week has unlocked a boxful of ideas and I am loving the luxury of time.

My first project to hit was the big one. Reset. I’ve been working on this since 2010 and I’m finally at the stage where its feeling polished. It’s ready. It’s my pride and joy and I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed it.

After a few re-workings of Reset, I bounced over to my second pride and joy – After Caitlyn. Shorter than Reset by a country mile and totally different in tone and style (hmm…perhaps I need to squeeze some poetry into this week) but I couldn’t be prouder of this story. Although it brought unwelcome reminders of the real-life elements that run through the story, I enjoyed being reunited with these characters and adding tweaks to the story here and there. This one is almost ready.

A project that has taken me by surprise this weekend is something I didn’t think I was ready to do. In September, I agreed to lead Performing Arts Club at school. We have lots of fun and the children are buzzing with creative ideas and energy. When the time came for us to consider our big production I was adamant I didn’t have the time (or the energy) to write it. We’d have to order a script in. End of.

Well, here I am, 16 pages into an epic tale of Welsh Myths and Legends. I have to give credit to the children for their inspirational passion. I just couldn’t stop myself and I hope my script provides them with the material they deserve.

And on top of all that, I’ve even had time to re-visit that sitcom (the sitcom that’s not a sitcom. Don’t worry, I’m just as confused as to what it is at the moment) I’ve been talking about for years. If I can get the pilot done by the summer, I’ll be very happy.

So, I’m at an inspirational peak. I find myself thinking about a Reset sequel in the car and those first stirrings of excitement leave my fingertips tingling. I listen to a soundtrack – RENT, some of the most raw, evocative lyrics you’ll ever hear – and I start to think about the characters in After Caitlyn. I look down at the road bringing people to and from my town, and I start to think about a new project altogether, the characters already having a blazing row in my head. I finish The Girl on the Train and I’m in awe of the storytelling. This is what I want to be capable of. My mind is bursting with ideas and I’m relishing the process of channeling them into words. I’m feeling creatively rejuvenated and after a very dry few months, it’s about time too!

 

‘The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.’

I remember reading those final words nine years ago and feeling utterly lost. I had grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione and when they finally left my life I mourned them. All these years later, I experienced the same feeling as I finished my re-read of the whole series – a testament to the power of Rowling’s work.

Hallows is not only the perfect ending to an epic story, but a heartfelt love letter to fans. It has everything. Everything! Just when you think Rowling can’t cram any more action packed twists, emotional reveals or heartwarming nostalgia into the book, she pulls something else from her bag of tricks.

I could easily write an essay listing all of the fanstastic moments within Hallows, but I’m going to try and fit it all into this one post.

It’s always been clear that Rowling has the upmost respect for her fans, but I think Hallows is solid proof of this. It can’t have been easy, tying up a story that spans seven books featuring hundreds of beloved characters, but Rowling tackled this with perfection and her hard work shines through every page. I first read this book when I was 17.  I raced through it in just a few days and it never left my side. 9 years later, I feel like I was able to appreciate it even more, taking in every reference and moment but still rarely straying far from my copy.

Hallows is littered with references from previous books – characters, locations, events, objects – it’s almost as if Rowling has challenged herself with squeezing every ounce of Potter into one book. Saying that, the references never feel unnatural or forced. It’s a great feeling when you recognise or revisit something. The visits to the Chamber of Secrets, the Forbidden Forest, the Shrieking Shack, Godric’s Hollow, The Ministry of Magic and Gringotts Bank all bring back welcome memories of the previous stories, like revisiting a childhood den.

But Rowling doesn’t just re-tread old ground. This book ventures out of Hogwarts and sees our friends journey around Britain. Plenty of new characters turn up, including many that have been mentioned before but never seen. Xenophillius Lovegood, Ron’s Aunt Muriel and Tonk’s Parents all make long awaited, if brief, appearances, each progressing the plot in some way.

From weddings, to duels, to undercover missions, to breaking out of a bank on the back of a dragon – the story rockets a long, hopping from tense scene to another. Soon, we’re back at Hogwarts, where the magic all started, for one final battle.

It’s not all fun though. The stories have got progressively darker and this is book with the highest death rate. Hedwig and Mad-Eye start us of in dramatic fashion as they bow out during an airborne battle , leaving us distraught pretty early in the book. The pang of losing Hedwig, Harry’s loyal owl, matches the foreboding doom that comes with Mad-Eye’s death, who was Harry’s last remaining protector. Many characters are picked off throughout the book as the drama escalates but one of the most painful deaths is that of Dobby the House Elf. Loyal friend to Harry since book two, Dobby’s final heroic act is followed by tragedy as he is hit by Bellatrix’s knife (making us long even more for her demise! First Sirius, now Dobby!). Dobby’s death is a beautiful piece of writing, a moment that will have life-long fans snuffling into their pages.

I’ve said before that Rowling is incredibly skilled at writing dark, tricky themes for younger readers. These books tackle so much – death, torture, discrimination, power, teenage angst and jealousy. The list is endless. The scene where Bellatrix tortures Hermione is particularly harrowing to read, not to mention the earlier chapter where a snake is found to be inhabiting Bathilda Bagshot’s corpse. We’re not dealing with Enid Blyton here. Rowling flexes her talent by including these dark moments but never over stepping the mark. She doesn’t mollycoddle her reader, she exposes them to the dark side of the world, but always stops just short of traumatising her reader. I find that incredible.

However, to counter that darkness, Rowling sends a very strong message on the power of love. Love as protection has a strong presence in Hallows particularly that of a mother’s love. Harry’s survival is all down to his mother’s sacrifice for him as a child and Lily Potter’s presence is certainly felt throughout the final book, even more so at the end where she appears to Harry to reaffirm her support of him. Narcissa Malfoy also protects Harry, in a surprising move, by lying to Voldemort in order to protect her own son. So desperate to save Draco, she buys Harry the time he needs to overthrow Voldemort. And then there’s Molly Weasley. I think every reader cheered when she fatefully cried ‘NOT MY DAUGTHER YOU BITCH!’. Mrs Weasley’s fearsome protection of her daughter leads to her killing one of Voldemorts closest companions, Bellatrix (hooray! Justice for Dobby!).

Another kind of love is revealed as we learn that, after all these years, Snape was in love with Harry’s mother and has been protecting him as penance for (accidentally) playing a part in her murder. Snape is one of most wonderfully written characters as his true intentions have never quite been known from book one, but now the truth is out it all fits in to place. His whole story arc is a testament to the subtlety within Rowling’s writing. Snape’s patronus is revealed to be a doe, the same as Lily’s, and in book six we hear small references to Tonk’s patronus changing to reflect her love. Rowling plans every single detail.

I’d forgotten how much I loved these books and just how much they meant to me as I was growing up. Re-reading them over the last few months has transported me back to my teens and I’ve found myself looking forward to my pre-sleep read every night. Rowling makes you care about these characters and the world they inhabit, making it the perfect form of escapism at the end of a long working day. When I finished Hallows, I was eager for more. I spent last night searching Pottermore and can’t wait for the eighth story to be released in July. If its predecessors are anything to go by, it’s going to be amazing.

As a writer, I find Rowling’s dedication, subtlety and ability to make the complex accessible so inspiring and hold her high on my list of role models. As a teacher, I can see the endless lessons these books can teach children, generation after generation. As a reader, I find them utterly magical, with a story I can revisit over and over again, and still find something new. I really can’t imagine life without these books. They bring just as much comfort and wonder to me now as they did ten years ago. They have become classic books which will be read for many years to come and I hope Rowling realises just how many lives she has touched with her stories. She has brought magic to an ordinary life, and for that I’ll always be thankful.

 

 

 

I’ve got a phobia.

Now, it’s not Whales or lifts or peas or anything like that. (I am genuinely wary of those things but this fear is far more serious. I class this as another level of terrifying.)

It’s not something I really thought about until I was a teenager. Then it slowly started creeping in and over the last couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. The resulting thoughts have given me nightmares, pushed me to the verge of panic and had me questioning my every action.

I’ve got a phobia of turning into my mother.

Well, sort of. It’s a fear of turning into either of my parents, but many would agree I am more like my Mum than my Dad (*shudders as he types*). We’ve had a turbulent relationship. I won’t air the details publicly but I left home when I was eighteen and I vowed never to go back. Eight years on, we’re still in touch, thankfully the relationship wasn’t damaged completely, but it’s not your average mum-son set up. I would never want to upset her, but she bloody winds me up at times! (as I’m sure, I do to her). It didn’t bother me as a teen but as I’ve grown up it is something that hurts me, as I start to realise just how important that mother figure is in adulthood as it is in childhood. At 26, I still find myself in situations where I just want a mum. Thankfully, I have plenty of surrogates.

My mum has many positive attributes – she can be very thoughtful and funny and, when I was ill a few weeks ago, she came to my flat and cleaned! But, as I’m sure she’ll agree, she can also be very difficult. I find myself querying whether or not it’s inevitable. Will I one day realise I have morphed into one of the people who created me? Will we share adjectives? Will people think of me as they do her? Will I behave as she does? The thought of turning into either of my parents, is not very appealing. I want to be Me.

I’ve got a friend who has expressed similar concerns. His mother was not very kind to him as a child and he ended up leaving, just as I did. He’s still in touch with his mother, but communication is very rare, and he often finds himself avoiding her just to maintain a quiet life. His mother is a trouble-maker. She is notorious throughout the family for causing upset, chaos and drama. She appears friendly and fun to those on the outside, but she is far from kind to those who are close to her. She talks down to her elderly parents and makes very little time for them. On the rare occasion my friend visits, she sits texting on her phone or reading through facebook, barely acknowledging him. At Christmas, my friend was the only one of her children to visit her, and she spent a lot of time in a funk that she wasn’t out partying with her friends but was instead begrudgingly sitting through a meal with one of her sons – a ‘waste of time’ if the others weren’t there! She made many comments about not needing family and being happier on her own. This has left my friend feeling pretty low and he can’t help feel that pang of envy when he sees other people doing things with their families. He longs for a good relationship with his mother – to be able to share things with her, ask for her advice and take her for meals to spoil her – but he knows that is not going to happen because the relationship is too badly damaged. His mother is just not that kind of mum and that sometimes leaves him feeling like an outsider, especially on occasions like Mother’s Day.

Me and my friend were talking recently and the fear became very real. The thought of turning into that person fills his blood with ice. To be regarded as his mother is would be too much to bear and he worries that he might struggle to resist his genetic destiny. He worries that over the years he will push people away and become the lonely person his mother has become. He worries that, without knowing, he will begin to treat people as she does.

Many times I’ve opened my mouth and my mother comes out. I remember the time I laughed and my Grandad told me I sounded just like her.  I remember the time I delivered a sarcastic comment to my brother and clasped my hand over my mouth in horror, because that is just what Mum would say. Are these just things we have picked up from being around these people or are their traits infused in our blood? Is it genetics or environmental?

My answer is…I don’t know, but I suppose I need to accept that, naturally, I am going to pick up my parents’ traits. Good and bad. I might be very thoughtful, but I might also become obsessed with whinging about the weather (it WILL be cold in the Winter! Why complain?!). I might be very jolly around my friends, but I might also be grumpy and unsociable at times. I hope that I can take on board their positives and pick out the good from those around me. To tell the truth, I don’t spend much time with my parents now that I live alone, and I’m far more likely to see my Godmother, or the caretaker at school who wants to adopt me. Is it possible that I can become like them? Bubbly, fun and full of kindness? Can I magpie traits from others as well as my parents? I don’t see why not.

I think my main worry is that I will take so much from my parents that I won’t end up being Me.  I’ll be a mash-up of Mr and Mrs H. I hope that, in years to come, when I’m no longer here, I can be remembered for being a product of the goodness of both of them. But, most importantly, be remembered for being Me.

With last week’s sad news about the brilliant Victoria Wood, I wanted to share my top five Wood moments. Writer, actress and stand-up comic – her talent was endless and she’s a huge loss to the entertainment world.

Number 5 – Dolly thinks she’s accidentally taken Viagra.

I loved Dinnerladies when I was growing up. I would sneakily stay awake and watch it quietly in my room. I loved the relationships between the characters and, although I was only around ten at the time, I would grow up to recognise those characters in everyday life. Victoria had a skill for creating characters that were so rounded and real. One stand-out moment – and there were almost too many to choose from – is from ‘Christine’ when Dolly thinks she has accidentally taken Viagra after picking up the wrong mug of tea, resulting in a hilarious, warbling, anxiety-ridden tirade from Dolly. I have had the pleasure of knowing a real-life Dolly and I always chuckle to myself and think of her during this scene.

‘What will it do to a woman? Where will it go? What will happen when it gets down there and finds there’s nothing to pump up! It’ll be like a range rover going top speed into a cul-de-sac!’

Brilliant performance from Thelma Barlow, and brilliant writing from Victoria.

Number 4 – ‘I might have to smash your face in with a tin of beans.’

Again, from the episode ‘Christine’, this deadpan delivery from Bren stands for Wood’s talent as an actress as well as a writer. In Bren, she has created a character who we can all empathise with. She’s witty and kind but not without her faults. Bren is down to earth. Everyone knows a Bren. She mixes up words and slips in ‘do-dahs’ and ‘thingmajigs’ like so many people I know (including myself). Bren is continuously thoughtful towards others, even those we who don’t deserve it, like her mother, who constantly takes advantage of her. Bren is the hub of the canteen and an underated comedy character.

Tony: So you’re not pregnant then.

Bren: Not unless sperm can get through a sash window.

Number 3 – The Large Woman in a Cake Shop

I chose Victoria Wood: At it again to study as part of my A Level English Language course. I had to watch the DVD over and over again and write a transcript of it. It was hilarious and even though I had to watch it so many times it never got old and I still laugh about it today. I still think about the following gag whenever I go into a cake shop.

If you’re big in this country, eating is a very shameful thing. You can’t imagine this scenario in England: Big woman goes into a cake shop and says ‘I would like a cake please. It is for me. I am going to eat it myself.’ It couldn’t happen, could it? She would have to go in and say ‘Erm…can I have a cake please? Erm…a woman has collapsed two streets away and, erm, I think it’s a diabetic coma. On the other hand it could be head injuries, in which case, I’ll eat it myself.’

Number 2 – Two Soups

I don’t need to say much about this one. It’s just brilliant. Written by Wood but with cracking performances. Enjoy.

Number 1 – The Ballad of Barry and Freda

Z and I were only singing this last week. Fantastic lyrics and a very catchy tune. Be prepared to have this stuck in your head for the rest of the week. Have a listen, it’s a treat!

It’s amazing how much Victoria has contributed to the entertainment world. She has made me laugh so many times and will always be one of my comedy heroes.

This week it was announced that viewing a live theatrical production will no longer be a requirement of some GCSE Drama courses as of September.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that I think that’s rubbish.

How can students be expected to value and appreciate the magic of the theatre without ever stepping inside one? I go to the theatre regularly and the pre-show buzz and atmosphere is just as exciting as the performance. It’s all part of the experience.

Exam boards have said teachers may opt to show students recordings of productions instead but, in my view, that is no substitute for the real thing. Yes, recording of works released by companies such as National Theatre Live are an excellent resource for our schools, but students still need to be given the chance to witness a live performance.

When I was studying Drama at A Level, our class adored those theatre trips.  Those visits gave us invaluable insights into the workings of the theatre as well as broadening the content of our viewing. We’d sometimes organise trips between us but that would always be to see a musical, so we missed out plays. The trips organised by our tutors were always plays by the best authors and companies. Our tutors introduced us to incredible work that we might not have chosen to see ourselves. I remember seeing The Overwhelming by Out of Joint theatre company. It was such an intense piece of theatre that I still think about it today. If my tutors hadn’t organised that trip, then I wouldn’t had that opportunity. (It also featured Andrew Garfield – Spiderman!)

Those trips also gave us an excellent chance to bond as a group. We were preforming together regularly so it was important that we all got along and doing something that we all loved gave us the opportunity to get to know each other. So it benefitted us socially too!

Most importantly, watching a live production enables the craft to be modelled for the students.  They need to see the control of an actor in character, the energy of an ensemble and, most of all, the hard work that goes into a production! Recordings can deliver a shade of the emotional impact of a play but, in my opinion, nothing beats sitting in a theatre and immersing yourself into a world.

If exam boards want to cut the live viewing then surely this move is akin to training teachers without putting them in the classroom.

I’m never one to be out of Oz for long. Hot on the ruby heels of my re-read of Wicked, I took a twister back into Maguire’s Oz in his sequel novel, Son of a Witch. Like Wicked, I’ve found Son to read better each time I re-read. Although it does lack some of the magic of the first book, fans of Maguire’s Oz won’t be disappointed as his trademark darkness is still evident.

The story starts with a mysterious stranger, later to be revealed as Lirr, suspected (but never confirmed) son of Elphaba, being admitted to the same mauntery where he was born. Liir has been the victim of a strange attack, leaving him comatose and inches from death. He is nursed by the silent Candle, who uses her musical skills to lure his mind into reverie where the truth about the attack is revealed.

We’re taken back to the moment Wicked ended, seconds after Elphaba’s death. In these early chapters, we get to spend time with those familiar travellers from Baum’s novel, though they turn out to be bitchier than originally thought! Their bitter quarrels and the Tin Man’s sassy advice to  Dorothy (that she should invest in a leash for Toto) provide plenty of humour before events turn pretty bleak.

The re-appearance of Glinda is very welcome but Maguire taunts us with the idea of her becoming a more prominent feature and adopting Liir. Unfortunately for both the thought is far too fleeting and Glinda is soon off to her country retreat. Obviously a favourite character from the original book, Glinda’s short and sparse appearances in Son are refreshing, with Maguire still proving he is capable of mixing the familiar with the new. Glinda is still as air-headed as ever but it’s touching to see her so affected by her friend’s death. Her loyalty to Elphaba remains apparent through her support of Liir.

As for our protagonist, Liir transforms from the pathetic, mild-mannered child lingering around Elphaba’s skirts, to a brooding and angry young man, emotionally blunted by the vagueness of his past, his own self-loathing and loss of his (poor) mother figure. By the end of the novel Liir has expressed many of the traits which made Elphaba such a strong hero. He is determined in his quest to find Nor. He shows very little sentiment for others, or himself, and his desire to make some sense out of a very messy situation binds him to the reader. One of the strongest themes of Son of a Witch is that of relationships and, in this story, Liir becomes part of a very modern love triangle. Whilst Liir does love Candle, the mother of his child, he also has a touching relationship with Trism, Minor Menacier for the Ozian Army. Remembering that Son of a Witch is now eleven years old, with Wicked being published ten years prior to that, Maguire’s portrayal of relationships, sexual fluidity and that idea of indecisiveness over our desires is quite contemporary. Liir never actively questions his sexuality – it isn’t an issue of whether he likes men or women, it’s whether he loves Candle or Trism or both! Maguire should be admired for putting a bisexual (or pansexual, it’s never really clear which) character at the heart of his work. By the end of the novel, the reader is left feeling equally torn over which lover Liir should be with. Both relationships are written so delicately and naturally that it is clear both sets of couples care very much about each other. However, at the end Liir is left alone, with both his partners missing, therefore leaving him unable to come to any arrangement. His attentions, instead, are focused on his daughter, who he has found wrapped in blankets and hidden in the barn, abandoned, for reasons unknown, by Candle. Maguire certainly is the master of the cliff-hanger with that final line – ‘She cleaned up green’. Does this confirm Liir’s parentage as he carries the green gene? Will history repeat itself now another green child lives in Oz? Will the child live up to her grandmother’s name? Maguire sets up questions as fast as he answers them.

Another thing that strikes me about Maguire’s work is his ability to mix the familiar with the unknown. Oz is painted in Baum’s book as this wonderful, magical fantasy land, whereas Maguire blends that beautifully with familiar elements which makes Oz appear imperfect and closer to our world. Creatures such as Draffes and Tsebras are often referenced and briefly described, making it clear, without deliberately stating, these are just Giraffes and Zebras, but given a new name in a new world. The mauntery has never been directly referenced as a nunnery but through Maguire’s descriptions the comparison is clear.

As expected with a sequel, Son of a Witch ties up a few loose ends from Wicked but also introduces more questions for the third book. Princess Nastoya is finally released from her human body and sent to death. Maguire tackles Nastoya’s story with striking truthfulness, commenting on her decaying body, diminishing mental state and foul smell in way that creates a tight anxiety about our own mortality and the idea of being trapped in life whilst longing for death. The story progresses rapidly, with few references to events from Wicked and Baum’s original Oz. On the road to the Emerald City, Liir bumps into an old crone and her companion, a young boy named Tip. Tip appeared in Baum’s original sequels to Oz and it’s thrilling to see Maguire continue to reference Baum’s original work. Readers of the full series will also know this is an early hint at a future story thread to be tied up in the next two novels.

Overall, Maguire’s sequel provides a welcome return to his vivid but twisted land of Oz. Though it may just be shy of reaching the dizzying awesomeness of Wicked, Son of Witch still dazzles with its story of frustration and belonging. Liir is a suitable replacement protagonist but, pleasingly, the shadow of Elphaba still looms. Fans of the first novel might be frustrated at the inevitable death of Elphaba, but her presence is certainly felt throughout the second book, not just as Oz recovers from her actions, but as her (suggested, never confirmed) son steps into her boots, dons her cloak and takes flight in her name.

Six thousand strong, they cried in unison, hoping that the echo of their message would be heard in the darkest, most cloistered cell in Southstairs as well as the highest office in the Palace of the Emperor.

“Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives!”