Murder. Sheer murder.

Kenneth Branagh made a great Benedick and Frankenstein but his interpretation of Poirot in the 2017  film  Murder on the Orient Express is just dreadful. The one saving grace in the whole film was Olivia Colman, whose relationship with the Judi Dench character was credible and developed on screen beautifully.

The Maid in Murder on the Orient Express

I could bear Johnny Depp as the foul, paranoid murder victim, but there is little else to recommend this version in preference to reading the book or watching the sublime Albert Finney version of the film.

The joy of Agatha Christie’s writing is the formula she sticks to – Poirot is stern but likeable (he’d never wave a gun around) and the solution to the crime is only revealed in a final denouement, not drip-fed in case the audience gets bored. And don’t get me started on Christie’s lack of chase scenes. I can’t think of a single one in all her books. Certainly not down a rickety scaffold bridge on which is precariously balanced a train full of people.

Film adaptations can be wonderful and, indeed, I enjoyed Branagh’s Frankenstein so it’s not the man himself. There are just too many differences from the book and from Poirot himself as a literary construct. The train derailment and bridge pursuit were laughable, as was the somewhat random profusion of guns. The whole point of a murder mystery is to see if you can reach the solution before the detective and the heavy-handed laying on of clues made that impossible. The line-up of suspects at the denouement (such as it was) was, I suspect, more to keep all the A-list Hollywood celebrities happy than to ease the narrative.

Two hours I’ll never get back.

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Celebrating writers

It’s not often that I get together with fellow writers, but yesterday I had lunch with two freelancers I’ve known for many years. On the way to our lunch, I took in the memorial to Agatha Christie, which was erected by St Martin’s Cross in London’s West End in 2012.

Memorial to Agatha Christie

That gave me pause for thought – I may never have such a formidable marking of my presence as a writer, but we all have a part to play. I like the fact that it was the 60th anniversary of The Mousetrap in London and the great writer’s legacy lives on.

I’ve never believed in ranking writers. We’re all different. We all have our own styles and foibles. There are some I sometimes prefer to Christie, and some I will never again read (naming no names), but the act of writing brings something out of every individual that makes that endeavour and the results should never be completely ignored.

Christie once said: “Your criticism is bound to be that you yourself would have written it in such and such a way, but that does not mean that it would be right for another author. We all have our own ways of expressing ourselves.”

It is undeniable that Christie is the best-selling novelist – selling around 2 billion copies at the last count. Worthy of a memorial in central London, then.

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The definition of pathetic fallacy – thirty years on

When I awoke on the morning of 16 October 1987, it was to devastation across the country. Fortunately for me, it only meant a bin flung half-way down the street. But it was a significant time in my life – my relationship was in tatters and I didn’t know how to get out of it. A few months later, I had succeeded (with the help of his infidelity) in moving on and was travelling the world.

In 1988, I took a road trip across the States, met another man (which similarly ended disastrously) and moved to Hong Kong, albeit briefly.

The storm that raged on the night of 15/16 October 1987 was somehow pathetic fallacy for what was happening in my life and I guess that’s what often happens with great events, that they become very personal.

The storm that raged in my life was positive in the end and the pictures posted by the National Trust show how some of their land was hit badly, but has recovered. See the pictures here in a great piece from The Guardian.

Of course, there was real tragedy that night, 30 years ago – 18 people lost their lives and their families will remember today very differently. It’s a relatively small number, but sad nonetheless for every one of them.

 

The Firth of Forth in October

A family celebration took me out into the Firth of Forth. Despite a little wind, it was a beautiful afternoon that ended in a stunning evening as we returned towards the Forth road bridge. The work that went into creating the structure took the lives of several men and it helped join up the north of Scotland to Edinburgh and on into England. An amazing feat of engineering.

Early evening skies

Too busy to think – until now

September was a great month. I achieved so much once I returned from holiday on 6th.

The view from room 352, Rithymna Beach

This was my view most mornings for that first week – a stunning holiday in Crete with a prime view. I was fortunate in finding quiet spots away from people to read and think.

Fortunately for my business, but unfortunately for my creativity, within days of my return, I was embroiled in three or four big projects. As we start October, I’m seeing the wood for the trees and hoping for more thinking time (albeit perhaps on a tighter budget!).

Last night, I had the chance to hear a VERY good (and old) friend perform at Hitchin’s Club85. Edgar Jones has always been a phenomenal sax player and it was a delight to hear him with Kitty La Roar as part of her new quartet. We caught up briefly before the show – a great way to end a busy month.

Kitty La Roar at Club 85, 30 September 2017

Coming soon – ‘Vita & Virginia’

Gemma Arterton

Exciting news from the world of film, as filming begins on ‘Vita and Virginia’, starring Gemma Arterton (‘Their Finest’) as Vita Sackville-West, Elizabeth Debicki (‘The Night Manager’) as Virginia Woolf and the truly fabulous Isabella Rossellini (‘Blue Velvet’).

The film is based on the love letters of Woolf and Sackville-West, co-written by British director Chanya Button and Dame Eileen Atkins, whose Mrs Dalloway screenplay was both stunning and award-winning.

When the two subjects of the film met, Vita appears to have set her cap very firmly on seducing Virginia in London of the 1920s.  Director Chanya Button says: “Vita & Virginia will be a fresh, provocative study of creativity, passion, sex and sexuality; and it offers an exciting opportunity to bring the story behind the creation of Orlando, one of Virginia Woolf’s greatest works to life in a bold, vivid, contemporary way. With my lifelong passion for Woolf’s writing, it is a great privilege to be working with such brilliant women as Gemma and Elizabeth, to bring the lives of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf to the screen.”

How the literature and the relationship will be handled makes this an eagerly awaited release.

Russia – a century on

The history of the Russian Revolution has always been fascinating and for most of us it took shape in the form of Anastasia. What was a fairy story (as it turned out) born from the tragic killing of the entire royal family is mentioned in passing in the latest stunning exhibition at the British Library.

‘Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths’ is a fascinating exploration of everything leading up to the murder of the Tsar and his family, and all that followed.

For me, the most telling elements were the audio extracts of diaries and first-hand witnesses. This is a real story of real people, entwined in huge social and political change.

If you have the chance to visit, the British Library is always worthwhile, and the extra cost of this exhibit is worth every penny.

Especially one hundred years on, and with Russia still making the news most days.

Best business insight of 2017 (so far)

When you’re addicted to business books, it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.  There’s always nuggets to be dug out. Or is that too many metaphors?

In 2017 so far, I’ve read eight business books. More than one a month and yet I’m still not a millionaire and about to retire. But the one book that’s provided the best insights so far?

How to Stand Out by Dr Rob Yeung

The insight which struck me in Rob Yeung’s How to Stand Out came in the conclusion. Page 218, if you’re checking.

He says: “Insight does not lead to improvement; it’s implementation that does.” Obvious. But sometimes we need reminding about the obvious. It’s no good having the best ideas in the world if you’re not following them through. And having too many ideas might be stopping me being successful – they’re not all getting implemented, or they’re all being half-implemented.

If, as Yeung also says: “it’s the application that matters”, then applying ideas one at a time is probably the way forward for most of us at the sharp end of small businesses. In my case, it’s also applying one metaphor at a time.

Taking that time to apply ideas and insights – implementation – is top of my To Do list for the rest of 2017.  I’d be interested to know where you’ve found your best insight so far in 2017. If you haven’t found one yet, give Yeung’s book a try – I have seven others I can recommend, if you’re stuck.

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Celebrating all that is Hitchin

Hitchin Festival 2017 has begun.
Whether you like music, art, fitness, shopping or racing plastic ducks up the River Hiz, there’s something for you in July.
There are walks and talks and too many concerts for one person to get to them all. There’s even a dog show, our usual street food delights and a buskers day.
If you work in the town centre, there are seven free lunchtime concerts in St Mary’s, so grab some culture in the middle of your busy day.
I’m not on commission (I wish I was!), by the way.

Download a PDF of the Hitchin Festival 2017 programme

Another Day in the Death of America

No matter how many times Guardian journalist Gary Younge says his book ‘Another Day in the Death of America’ is not about gun control, the inescapable truth is that the power of the gun lobby has a great deal to answer for. As do we all, for the deaths explored in Younge’s book are not only caused by a single fatal bullet. These ’10 young lives lost to gun violence’ are largely in the wrong place at the wrong time, when they had little option to be elsewhere.

Most parents want the best for their children. Most of us do all we can to help them have better lives than we do ourselves. For some families, breaking out of the cycle of poverty and vulnerability is just impossible. Which is where inequality really comes in.

Younge talks about inequality a lot. He was born close to where I sit and write this and where I was growing up at the time, although a white girl in Hitchin almost certainly had a different life to a black boy in Stevenage. At 17, he taught English in a school in Sudan before university and training as a journalist. He’s an extraordinary writer and his experiences around the world – most recently in the States before returning to the UK – feed his writing. This is a man who’s not afraid to state his case and who displays a humanity when talking about these children. It’s a harrowing and thought-provoking book.

In his Afterword, Younge says: “People have to take personal responsibility for what they do and live with the consequences. But societies have to take collective responsibility for what they do and live with the consequences too.” In the days and weeks it took me to read this book, children were killed in Manchester, adults at London Bridge and many, many families in the Grenfell House fire. I hope we can take collective responsibility for it all.

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