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Archive for May, 2013

Goodreads

As well as linking this blog to Twitter, I’ve now branched out into another branch of social media. This time I have joined Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/20682896-james-bicheno

From what I’ve seen I can make a list of all the books I’ve read (which might take some time), rate and review them. There are also groups there which look interesting and I can make friends with fellow readers and writers. So now you can see what the Read Through History Books look like!

I’m absolutely hopeless at writing reviews so that might be tricky but it all looks interesting so far. If anyone has any tips on how to use Goodreads then please let me know.

I’ve also sorted out a profile on the Historical Novel Society website. Take a look: http://historicalnovelsociety.org/directory/james-bicheno/ and check out the other authors there too!

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One Day, Three Exhibitions: Part Three

Now this post is almost certainly going to make some people insanely jealous (or well-jell as people say round this way). After rubbing shoulders with some of the wealthiest people in London I went back to the Victoria and Albert Museum to look around one of the fastest-selling exhibitions there have been: David Bowie Is… http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/david-bowie-is/

This exhibition celebrates the career of one of Britain’s most original and talented artists. A man who is proficient in several different arts: music, writing, dance, drama, drawing, the list goes on. Each visitor to the exhibition is given a headset which plays music, interviews and other soundbites. It starts with Bowie’s early life in London, discusses his influences such as Weimar Germany, space, art, fashion and mime and has interviews with fellow musicians, artists, designers and Bowie himself.

All around are books and records that Bowie would have listened to such as Nineteen Eighty Four and 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is a miniature studio space where a listener can hear studio chat and musical experimentation. Before the end is a small cinema where examples of Bowie’s acting is shown such as The Prestige, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Labyrinth. 

David Bowie Is… is rightly considered to be a fantastic exhibition and was the perfect end to a day of culture.


One Day, Three Exhibitions: Interlude

After strolling around the Victoria and Albert Museum until it closed for the day, I went out to stroll along Kensington High Street, rubbing shoulders with a load of tourists and some wealthy locals. I had two and a half hours to kill and hanging around the streets didn’t seem that appealing. Instead I went to the least expensive cafe I could find and ate a cheese and ham toastie, a slice of cake and a smoothie, which was quite nice (just as well as it cost over eight pounds!) and crossed the road to explore Harrods.

Harrods is not so much a shop but more than an institution. I strolled into Mr Al-Fayed’s emporium of expensive merchandise  and was most impressed at the presentation and how polite all the staff are. There is every fragrance known to man and a very substantial bookshop. I didn’t see any famous people that I recognised. I could have walked around holding a copy of Heat Magazine and held it up to customers’ faces but probably would have been asked to leave if I did.

The other thing Harrods is famous for is being one of the most expensive shops on the planet. I saw a pen that would set you back three thousand pounds for instance. What does this pen do? Does it do your writing for you via a telepathic link-up? Does it serve champagne from a separate cartridge? Launch laser-guided missiles at a target of your choice? Anyway, I didn’t buy it and instead went around the little art gallery they have displaying work by Andy Warhol and Ronnie Wood. Still, a very nice shop. I thought about having a cup of tea from the cafe but did not fancy the six pound price tag no matter how posh their teapots looked. I went to the National Geographic shop instead, where they had some very interesting photography on display.


One Day, Three Exhibitions: Part Two

After a breakneck tube ride the cultural cyclone continued, this time to South Kensington, home of expensive shops, Russian oil barons and some of the best architecture to have come out of the Victorian and Edwardian ages. The destination was the Victoria and Albert museum for the first of two exhibitions I saw there: Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and Russian Tsars: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/treasures-of-the-royal-courts/

With an audio guide narrated by David Starkey, the exhibition talks about relations between Tudor and Stuart Britain and Muscovy from the time of Ivan the Terrible. There are displays pictures of key people at this time and the gifts that passed between both countries which cost more than a pen in Harrods, but more of that later.

There were examples of herealdry, maps and armour (including a suit worn by Henry VIII in later life. It was big.) There was quite a bit of bling from Sir Francis Drake. Around the corner were portraits of Kings, Queens, Tsars, Lords and Ambassadors. There was a model replica of a chariot that was presented to the Tsar as a gift from James VI and I, the full-size one can be seen in Moscow. Also on display were water pots, ewers and firearms.

And, as I got to the end of the exhibition, before I walked through into the gift shop, I could hear there opening bars of David Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ float through the door. Why were they playing this? Come back soon and you’ll find out…


One Day, Three Exhibitions: Part One

On Saturday 18th May I went to London for a cultural tour de force. This consisted in seeing three major exhibitions in twelve hours. A mission not to be undertaken lightly. This spleen-rupturing excursion really has to be up there with other feats that push the limits of human endurance to… well to the limit, whether they be flying into space, running a marathon or eating a poorly-cooked vindaloo. Darting between one exhibit and that while giving enough time to appreciate what’s on display, reading the notes and making sure you’re viewing things in the right order is not an easy a task as it first appears.

But it’s well worth doing. A lot of hard work goes into making these exhibitions a success. Like video games, they are promoted as films with posters, trailers, blogs, even TV documentaries.

The first of the exhibitions I saw was Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum: http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/pompeii_and_herculaneum.aspx

Arranged like a house of someone that would have lived in one of these towns, the exhibition showed some of what was recovered after both towns were buried under heaps of molten ash. Everyday objects such as amphorae, furniture, decorations and some very suspect artwork were on display. There was also some very good animation, particularly at the beginning that explained the science behind the explosion and life in that region today.

There are also casts of some of the victims on display. This shows the human cost of a tragedy no one was expecting.

The exhibition lasts about one hour, although it might be longer with the audio guide. Well worth visiting.

Join us tomorrow for Part 2: Treasures of the Royal Court.


Vikings! The Untold Story

Last week I went on a trip to Edinburgh. Partly because I’ve never been there but always wanted to and because there was an exhibition that caught my eye: http://www.nms.ac.uk/our_museums/national_museum/vikings/vikings.aspx?utm_expid=4146892-1&utm_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nms.ac.uk%2Four_museums%2Fnational_museum%2Fpast_exhibitions.aspx

I had some time off from the day job owing so I decided to go up over Hadrian’s Wall for a few days. After a crisis with my camera which led to me parting with more money, I finally got to the museum. My writing account is taking a bit of a hammering so, if any agents are reading this and are thinking of taking me on, please get in touch.

The exhibition brought together objects from the museum’s own collections and several from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. Many of these were everyday objects such as locks, jewellery, horse riding equipment, and tools for house and shipbuilding. There were many pictures that showed the areas in Scandinavia where they would have lived followed by maps of where they travelled to, such as Russia, Britain, Ireland and America. There was a recreation of a viking ship with the nails held in the places they would have been hammered into (see the pictures on the website) and footage of recreations sailing.

All in all a very good exhibition and it’s a shame it’s finished now.


April Book Showers

The Read Through History has entered its fifth month. Let’s look back on what eggcelent works of literarture a not-so-very warm Easter had in store:

1) The Parthian by Peter Darman (http://www.peterdarman.com/) A story set about a Prince of Parthia who is enslaved by the Romans and joins the Spartacus rebellion. An interesting story which introduces the reader to a culture that is not written about very much but had a major relationship with the Roman Empire. Very readable but needs a bit of proofreading here and there.

2) Sharpe’s Trafalgar by Bernard Cornwell. This month’s Sharpe book see’s the Ensign get involved in the famous sea battle that destroyed the combined French and Spanish fleet. Being a Pompey lad I probably should read this as Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory is only a short walk from my house.

3) Marius’ Mules 1: The Invasion of Gaul by S. J. A. Turney (http://www.sjaturney.co.uk/) This story tells about Julius Caesar’s invasion of Gaul. The series continues through to Caesar’s expeditions to Britain.

4) Vespasian: Rome’s Executioner by Robert Fabbri (http://www.thehwa.co.uk/author/robert-fabbri) This is the second book in the Vespasian series about the man who became Emperor. Brilliant.

I have just started Manda Scott’s Boudica but more of that next month!

 

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Pompey Writers: The Literary Culture and Heritage of Portsmouth

St George’s Day is a time to stop and think about what makes you proud to be English. I don’t mean in a BNP/EDL kind of way, I mean a time to indulge in what an English person would consider to be the finer things in life. These could be endless cups of tea, bacon sandwiches, warm beer, cricket, football, dressing up as a knight from the Crusades and singing this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7fYVcg57Ak

Down in Old Portsmouth there was an event to celebrate, not only the day of our patron saint, but also the literary and cultural heritage of the Good Old City of Portsmouth. The man who organised this soiree of splendid scribbling, Jack Hughes, gathered together a range of the city’s authors at the Square Tower to present their work.

Matt Wingett kicked off proceedings with a talk about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his time in Portsmouth. Matt is the author of The Portsmouth Stories and has worked with The Three Belles, a World War Two themed singing trio and has edited the Writers to Watch Anthology, available at all good bookshops: http://www.lifeisamazing.co.uk/

Zella Compton was next with a poem about the Mary Rose. Zella writes a column for the Portsmouth Evening News and has had a novel, The Ten Rules of Skimming, published: http://www.zellacompton.co.uk/index.html

Lynne E. Blackwood served up a helping from her short story,  A Lesson in Dhansak. This was performed at a Festival in Brighton earlier this year.

Maggie Sawkins read a selection of poems around Portsmouth. Maggie is a founder member of Tongues and Grooves, a monthly poetry and music event in the city: http://www.tongues-and-grooves.org.uk/

Mr Tom Harris, a fellow Master of the Arts, took us on a journey to The Amber Room just before half time. If you’ve not bought this book yet I strongly advise you to do so now: http://tomdharris.wordpress.com/ Tom also read a few lines from another famous writer with Pompey Ties: Charles Dickens.

Anna Barzotti, one of the organisers of the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub, read from her short story collection Stories Beyond the Dirt Track, set in Italy. E ‘stato molto buono da ascoltare! For more information on New Writing South, have a look here: https://www.newwritingsouth.com/

Christine Lawrence read from her novel Caught in the Web. Very powerful stuff. http://southwickwriterwoman.blogspot.co.uk/

Charlotte Comley gave an interesting perspective of what some of the works of Charles Dickens would have been like if he was from Lancashire. http://aimingforapublishingdeal.blogspot.co.uk/

Richard Williams, a local poet, performed some of his work to us, including a very good piece involving Thor Heyerdahl which brought back memories of when I visited the Kon Tiki Museum in Oslo back in 2011.

Rounding things off was travel writer Tom Sykes who battled valiantly through the lurgy to tell of what sort of impressions people may have of Portsmouth, compared to his of San Francisco.

And on the boards were samples and tasters from other local scribes including Sarah Cheverton, Alida Burton, Will Sutton, Jack Hughes and me.

For more information on these writers, look at their websites. If you want to read some of the works of Jack Hughes then try these: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Order-of-Shadows-ebook/dp/B00A6BQPN4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1367060929&sr=1-1&keywords=Jack+Hughes and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Just-Before-Dawn-ebook/dp/B00A7CEY3U/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1367060954&sr=1-2&keywords=Jack+Hughes

This even was also broadcast on BBC South Today and BBC Radio Solent. Hopefully this will add weight to the joint bid with Southampton to become the UK City of Culture in 2017.