Last night I went to a production of the Dylan Thomas play Under Milk Wood by Clwyd Theatre Cymru at the Northcott Theatre Exeter. I have always loved this play since I first heard the recording with Richard Burton playing the first voice. I rushed out to buy a copy and still have it. Last night’s production was memorable with an imaginative staging and I know has had some very good reviews. It is on tour so look at the website http://www.undermilkwoodtour.com for places and dates and go and see it if you can.
The real interest for any writer is Thomas’s use of language. Almost the first line ‘It is a spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible black, the cobblestreets silent and hunched, courters’-and rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack fishingboad-bobbing sea.’ makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The magic of a master of the English Langauge, whose descriptions paint such vivid pictures that there is no need of anything else.
And what about the imagination needed to create characters like blind Captain Cat, Rosie Probert and Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard. Apparently Thomas was worried because there was no plot, but he didn’t need one, just following the lives of these characters for a day is enough. It is the centenary of his birth this year and so it seems appropriate to dig out your copy, or if you haven’t got one, buy or borrow one, and read this magnificent work
I rewarded myself with some free time away from a computer on Friday when I went to the Exeter Food and Wine Festival. It provided some opportunities to watch people in a different environment from cafes and bars. In the large marquee’s the emphasis was all about the food. The behavior of individuals as they approached the various stalls varied; some were diffident and declined to look at whoever was manning the stall, others talked confidently about what they liked and why they were interested in a particular product. Among the crowds were the professionals looking for new products for their shops or restaurants, They listened carefully to the stall holders and also to customers who came up to buy. But the most fun was watching the professional chefs show off their skills in the cookery demonstrations. The top chefs are showmen, wielding knives as a stage prop and talking incessantly. They seemed to find it easy to build a rapport with their audience despite spending most of their time behind the scenes in their own restaurants. The one we watched Peter Gorton was a great raconteur and as he worked told tales about doing private dinners and on one occasion he had set the kitchen alight. The hostess was disappointed he hadn’t done more damage as she was trying to persuade her husband to buy a new one.
On the train home I watched a young man writing a letter -yes a real letter on real paper. When I sat opposite him, he was reading a letter written on pale cream paper with a decorated border. I assumed it was written by a young woman on notepaper given to her as a Christmas present. My imagination decided the contents were a plea to resume their relationship, a plea that from the firmness of the man’s jaw and the lack of any sparkle in his eyes I assume he was about to reject. He took from his brief case a folder containing notepaper and began to write. He was left handed and I noticed how his left hand curved round the top of the notepaper as he wrote, quite quickly from left to right. He held the pen between his thumb and forefinger with the hand above the pen. The position gave the appearance of hiding the contents of the letter as I remember children trying to protect their schoolwork from prying eyes. I recall that the word sinister comes from left handedness, and it did indeed seem a strange and secretive way of writing.
So my day out provided characters for my writing. Do other writers give themselves time just to observe?
Oh the popcorn. Well my favorite stall at the Festival was the Portlebury Popcorn Company.
I was away and without TV or internet access for over three weeks,so I have just caught up with the last two episodes. As they are both about the same story line I thought it was appropriate to write about them together. Although the story line made great drama, any attempt to be realistic was abandoned in these episodes.
Martha takes on the case of Seam McBride, a former boyfriend from her home town, who is charged with murder. At the beginning of episode 5 she tells him no barrister would agree to represent such a close friend, and then proceeds to ignore her own advice. The reason for not representing somebody you know well was illustrated when the names of people booking rooms at the hotel where the murder took place were those of other pupils in the same class as Martha and McBride. It was a piece of evidence that pointed to his guilt. She knew that, yet in order to keep defending him she had to keep quiet about it. The effect of that would probably be to mislead the court and that is unethical and puts her in breach of the professions’ code of conduct. Of course she would have known that information before the case started as the hotel’s register and bookings list would have been part of the prosecution case.
She also is so sure of his innocence. ‘I can tell by looking in their eyes if they are guilty or not,’ she says. She is so committed to the idea that the police make the evidence fit the case for guilt that she loses all objectivity. The discovery of the gun and of McBride’s jacket add to the weight of evidence against him and Martha really doesn’t know how to deal with this apart from accusing the police of framing her client. She really should have asked for the jury to be discharged so that the jacket and the gun could be forensically examined. She might then have found out that the gun was fired by a left handed man rather than the right handed McBride.
Recalling bent solicitor Micky Joy to testify he says that lawyers just play games in court and the first casualty is truth. Coming from a dishonest lawyer that was a bit of a liberty. I am sure though it’s what many people believe, but jury trial is not meant to find the truth but to establish guilt or innocence, in the belief that the system we use of testing the evidence by cross examination ensures that the guilty are convicted and the innocent go free. Most lawyers believe it works and that is the reason they so passionately defend our adversarial trials.
For the rest of the two episodes they reflected some of the life of a set of Chambers. For example the interest in boxing was quite common as young men were taught to box, often in clubs supported by Oxbridge Universities, in order to divert them from criminal activity. The allegation of sexual harassment against Billy showed the strong loyalty in the clerks’ room to a flawed but tremendously humane personality like Billy.
So is this the last of Martha Costello and Shoe Lane Chambers. Perhaps not, but I think most barristers even if they find the series too flawed to really enjoy it would applaud Maxine Peake’s support of their cause in fighting for justice4all against the current Lord Chancellor.
The party at Slightly Foxed Bookshop on Gloucester Road London SW7 was a great success. I really felt like an author as I read some small sections of the book for the guests. I’ve already had some great feedback from people who have read the book and it’s been getting 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon.
After listening to the talks in the Author HQ at LBF and hearing the questions people ask the commercial aspect of writing is very much to the fore- I suppose that’s not really surprising.
A successful writer of commercial fiction needs to write at least two books a year. I don’t think I can do that. I know if one writes a thousand words a day, in theory, one could finish a book in about three months, but then there is the redrafting and the editing and I suspect I am quite hard on myself during that process. Certainly Crucial Evidence took me over two years to write and eight drafts before I felt ready to publish it, and before the feedback I was getting from other writers, agents and publishers suggested it was well written enough. What they were unsure of was if there was a market for a courtroom drama/ legal mystery. I think what I want is to write something that other people enjoy reading. So far my novel is getting 4 and 5 star reviews and I do find that very satisfying, so perhaps that will do for me.
I have been at sea for over two weeks and without any internet connection. I’ve missed two episodes of Silk but I will catch up with those thanks to BBC iPlayer and see what Martha Costello has been up to. So wait for those comments in due course.
In the meantime a number of people have written reviews about my novel Crucial Evidence on Amazon and on Good Reads. Some of the comments confirm what I have long suspected; that many people have very little idea about how the Criminal Justice system works. In particular one criticism of the novel was that Cassie Hardman gave away too much information about the case of R v Barker, because he believed the the proceeding were private. I do wonder if that is because cases are rarely reported in full in the newspapers these days, although the case involving Rebekah Brooks has been followed fairly closely in the news and we are getting a blow by blow account of the Pistorius case.
Perhaps the Bar ought to do more to ensure the general public do understand the process and how important it is and then perhaps the public would be more supportive of the Bar in their fight against cuts to Legal Aid.
Incidentally Crucial Evidence is receiving 4 to 5 star reviews on Amazon.