Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Dancing Queen (reprise)

Well of course I went to see it again. Besides, I'd promised the kids...

The oldest one was the last to finish school, so as a treat last week, we went to see Mamma Mia! straight after she'd broken up.

And do you know what? I think it was even BETTER second time around. True I didn't laugh quite as much because I knew all the jokes (although Julie Walters still proved to be the funniest thing in it), but oh god that wow! joyous fun factor was even better the second time around.

And I forgot to say last time that I LOVED the stag night guys dancing in their flippers to Lay All Your Love on Me, and that Colin Firth's rendition of Our Last Summer was incredibly touching (and he can sing - well better then Pierce Brosnan at any rate).

It's also interesting watching a musical, which I have seen on stage twice being interpreted by non musical folk (although apparently Meryl Streep has a singing background). The dancing wasn't always very fluid - Meryl Streep's movements are sometimes a little stiff - and Pierce Brosnan tends to sing with a pained look on his face, but I think because they're actors they capture a lot of the pathos better then the stage actors do. Second time around I found Pierce and Meryl's duet of SOS really touching. While the scene with Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfreid singing Slipping Through her Fingers had me crying again (yes, yes, I know utterly wussy, but with four daughters I can see that moment really clearly.)

And of course, being as I write romantic fiction for a living, the ending was just great. Although the TRUE romantic hero of the film has got to be the greek islands of Skiathos and Skopelos where it was made. If EVER a film would make you want to go island hopping, this is the one...

I also made a mistake in my first post about Mamma Mia! in saying that the cast dance through the Greek village to the title song. They don't, they do it to Dancing Queen, and it is one of the many toetapping moments of the film, so I leave I give it you now for your delectation and delight. (And see if you can spot the Benny Anderson cameo...)

And if you HAVEN'T seen Mamma Mia! yet, what's stopping you?

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Dancing Queen

I have a confession to make. When I was fourteen, I hated Abba. Being more of a headbanging rock chick manque kind of girl, I just didn't get them at all. The suits. The corny lyrics. The whole shebang. My best friend at the time was a keen fan and insisted I was missing out. But nope. I wouldn't be convinced.

When I met my husband I discovered he was a closet Abba fan (well you had to be in those days, they just weren't cool). So much so he watched Abba the Movie, twice, sitting through the programme again. That's a tad obssessive I thought, but remained unmoved by his pleas that I couldn't see that they wrote really really great music.

It wasn't till the 90s, when I saw films like Muriel's Wedding and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, that I suddenly saw the appeal. And making up for lost time went straight into full nostalgia fest and bought Abba Gold. It has been known for my husband and I to come back from a night out and dance to that album for hours. It has also been known for me to do Gimme Gimme a Man after Midnight on karaoke. But alcohol usually has to be involved for that...

Several years ago when I was still immersed in a world of small children and nappies and the chance for a night out in London was fairly slim, my niece persuaded me to see Mamma Mia! the musical with her. I have to confess I wasn't quite sure how they'd make a musical based on Abba songs, but from the moment they pushed the rowing boat on the stage and I realised it was called Waterloo, I knew I was going to enjoy myself. Which I did. I think that occasion was only the second time in my life that I'd danced in the aisles at the theatre, but NOT to dance would have been criminal really.

I saw it again a couple of years back, and it was just as much fun second time round.

So as soon as I realised that they'd made a film of it, I was determined to return the favour and drag my niece to the cinema.

And boy oh boy. Did it live up to expectations.

Meryl Streep is just brilliant as Donna, combining comedy and emotional fragility wonderfully. Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are hilarious as her best friends. Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth (as you have NEVER seen him before) and Stellan Skarsgad also entertain as the three possible dads for Donna's daughter Sophie. While Dominic Cooper (who is rather cute). and Amanda Seyfried who play Sky and Sophie are also really great as the young romantic leads.

What I think I enjoyed most about this though, was that for once we had a love story which features a middle aged couple - the older characters in this have infinitely more to say and do then the younger ones (much as I enjoyed their story too). It's so rare to see that from Hollywood, and I have to say I was nearly dancing in the aisles again when Julie Walters launched into Take a Chance on Me.

Mamma Mia! is fun light summer froth, with great music, and wonderful dancing. It reminded me just how wrong I was to think all those years ago that Abba were crap. They weren't. They wrote fantastic memorable songs, which hit the spot emotionally Meryl Streep's version of The Winner Takes it All was just heartrending, and Slipping Through my Fingers is not only on my soundtrack for Strictly Love, but has huge personal resonance for me as my oldest daughter grows up far faster then I'd like. Just as in the stage show, the film camps up the songs with hilarious results from Does your Mother Know? to a fantastically tenous Chitiquita. And the scene were all the Greek women come out of their houses to join Meryl and co dancing to Mamma Mia! is brilliant.

Mamma Mia! might not be to everyone's taste, but I loved every minute. In fact, I loved it so much, I might just have to go and see it again...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Music and Lyrics

I've blogged about this before, but as I am feeling my way into the new book, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the way I use music when I'm writing. Plus sharing with you two of my current favourite songs.

It's been my experience, both when writing Strictly Love and it seems to be happening again now, that a character whom I wasn't expecting to have too much to do with has suddenly upped the ante and wants a much bigger part.

In Strictly Love that character is Rob, who starts the book as a serial commitment freak and who ends it... well I won't tell you how his story ends, you'll just have to read it and find out won't you...

But, when I started Strictly Love it was Mark's story I wanted to tell - he being the dentist hero who popped into my head first. Then I found my way to Katie, and then Emily. But Rob. Rob, was just supposed to be the happy-go-lucky best mate, who came along for the ride. Except he wouldn't let me do that to him. The more I wrote him, the more depths I found, which is a great experience for a writer.

I can't remember which way round it happened. Whether I heard this song on the radio first and had that YESSSSS!!! moment that told me this was HIS song, HIS theme..., or whether I started writing Rob and realised he needed a song all his own, doesn't really matter. At some point I found a song for Rob. And boy did it help me write his story.

The song in question is Feel by Robbie Williams and I share it with you now. I can't do a lot of clever high faluting music criticism because a) I am about as musical as a stone and b) I find a lot of music criticism quite pretentious.

But... for me, always when I'm drawing on songs, it's the depth of emotions that the song calls from me that helps me shape my stories and characters. And this song is so heart tugging and poignant, and makes me want to wrap poor little Robbie Wiliams up in my arms and say there, there (even THOUGH my head is saying, bad idea girl...), that is seems to sum up Rob's particular set of problems.

He starts the story as a bit of a jack the lad, a commitment phobe who enjoys women but who will never settle down. But behind the smile there is inevitably a great deal of pain. I've known blokes like that and enjoy their company. But I'd never want to marry one. I hope by the end of the book if you're a woman you might consider marrying Rob. And if you do, this song is why...

The current book is going to be a Christmas story. It is somewhat more ambitious in structure then anything I've attempted before. I'm using flashbacks. Yikes. And four characters in two locations. Double Yikes.

To start with I was going to go for three storylines, following the fortunes of Gabriel, a shepherd who starts the story as his wife leaves, and Marianne who moves to the country only to get dumped. Their strand of the story takes place in a fictional village I've based on the place where my mum lives in Shropshire, while the other strand is following the fortunes of Catherine who lives in London. Catherine and I have a deal in common, as we both have four children. But I hope that's where the resemblance is going to end. I gave her four children, mainly because for plot purposes she needs a great deal of chaos in her life, and believe you me four children do that to you.

Once again, Catherine's husband Noel was going to be an also ran, a necessary but secondary character. However, like Rob, he was having none of that (my characters certainly like bossing me about), and as soon as I started writing Chapter One he took over and said, hey what about me. As background material I watched It's A Wonderful Life for the first time. Inexplicably it was one of those films I'd always meant to see but never had (can't think why as I adore James Stewart), and when I did see it it blew me away entirely. And THEN I really got what Noel's story was going to be. In some ways it's at the heart of the story, and is going to pivot round a very important scene towards the end of the book (this also always happens to me when I'm writing - I have a scene in my head from the very beginning which occurs near the end, but has immense significance for the outcome of the story. I've never tried writing that scene first, though it's very tempting, but I think I need to live through the story myself before I get there).

And THEN... I heard Neil Diamond's new song Pretty Amazing Grace and it blew my mind, and I realised this song is at the heart of Noel's story. Like Feel it sends shivers up my spine and takes me into the soul of who I want Noel to be, and what his problems are. I'm not sure if I've explained that very coherently. But that's sort of the way it seems to work for me.

So here it is (along with Love on the Rocks, as an added bonus)

I defy you not to have the hairs on the back of your neck rise...

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Squee! Squee!

Squeeing is another new word I've learnt recently, courtesy of all my blogging DrWho friends. I am definitely squeeing out loud about this.

The designers at Avon have done me proud once again and come up with this fantastic cover, of which I am inordinately fond. I have literally just recieved it and was so excited I had to put it up here straight away...

Squee. Squee.

I wish I could dance like they clearly can...

Cinderella goes to the ball

One of the characters in Strictly Love, Katie, frequently feels like Cinderella deprived from going to the ball. I know how she feels. It's rare for me to get out these days, and when I do I don't often stray too far from my own doorstep.

However, last night Cinderella got to go the ball in the shape of the Harper Collins annual summer bash at the V&A. Thanks to two splendid friends who looked after three of the children for me and an equally splendid husband who got home in time to take the oldest swimming before picking everyone else up, I was unusually able to go up to town.

To celebrate I put on my Cinderella type dancing shoes, which look a bit like this.

Or rather, I put them on in the girls' loos when I arrived. I don't think I'd have made it off the platform without breaking my neck if I hadn't. As it was, I gingerly made my way up the steps from the loos, and hobbled down a marble floored corridor hoping that I didn't look as much of a prize prat as I felt. Il faut suffre pour etre belle, must surely have been written by a man...

As I arrived I noticed rather a lot of photographers standing on the steps of the V&A. I was just about to cut through them when I realised this person was prancing about in the middle of them. Whoops!

So I scurried around the back of the pack. If you spot a woman in a red dress in the background of a picture of Gok in the next issue of Hello! That'll be me then.
As it happens, this year's party proved fine fodder for celeb spotting (I'd call them zedlebrities - a fine word I borrowed from Danuta Kean to use in Strictly Love, but none of them were really Zlisters, so that wouldn't be fair.)

Within minutes of hobbling my way into the crowded garden where the party was helped (the crowd gave me a good excuse to hobble looking slightly less of a prat), I spotted good old Tory Boy himself and his wife Ffion...
Actually, while I thought he was a pillock as Leader of the Tories, I did come to respect William Hague hugely after listening to him roundly trounce Teflon Tone several times at the Dispatch Box at PMQs, and his book on Pitt the Younger is brilliant. He's a very clever man, and methinks in years to come the Tories may well regard him as the Greatest Leader they never had.
William and Ffion were soon joined by this person

who was extremely glamorous in the flesh. I did wonder how well they knew each other - is there a kind of celeb club, where you are forced to talk to people you don't like but have to as ordinary joes like me are too embarrassed to speak to you?

Mind you, if that was the case, then this person would have been speaking to them too.

I can't quite see Hague and Baddiel doing fantasy football together....

Or this person either.

He was forced to talk to his agent all night long. My agent and I stood next to them for ages and she kept daring me to speak to him. I could possibly have wangled it when he was joined by Freya North, who I met earlier this year after she won the RNA award.
In the end though I decided it was more gracious and grown up not to bother celebrities, and just get on with the business of the day, namely drinking the plentiful champagne on offer, while chatting to lovely booky people in beautiful surroundings.
Cinderella not only went to the ball. She absolutely had one.
So my thanks go out to all those lovely people at Harper Collins for not only inviting me but making it all happen.

And to all the wonderful Avon team, who are so much fun.
I do wish my feet weren't aching quite so much though...