An interview with writer and blogger Nadine Banna @NadineBanna

Recently I wrote a review of a short story called The Ward, written by a fellow blogger Nadine Banna (@NadineBanna). Having found her story to be thrilling and extremely intriguing, I approached Nadine with the idea of a follow-up post featuring an interview with herself, to find out who, when and what inspired her to write and what makes her creativity tick.

“I was surprised how much words on paper could affect you.”

Growing up as a ‘huge bookworm’ Nadine loved all kinds of fiction and after reading each book desired to become a writer herself. When asked what really inspired her passion for writing she replied that being a huge Harry Potter fan she was surprised ‘how much words on paper could affect you’.

Having grown up in Cairo, Nadine went to an all-girl French Catholic school which did not change all through (what she calls) kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school (for us that would be nursery, primary and secondary school). I asked whether there was any specific event or reaction from this environment that encouraged her to write. She told me that she was asked to write her high school graduation speech which was her first real ‘piece’ of fiction. When asked what it was about Nadine stated that ‘It wasn’t really a speech but more of a story about young girls growing up inside the walls of a castle and wanting to get out of there as soon as they can to see the outside world, they had to make a deal with a witch called Time. They finally got out, but at a price.’ Nadine went on to explain that ‘All through my speech I could see her [Marina, (Nadine’s best friend)] and a lot of other childhood friends crying as they identified with the all-too-eager girls who wanted to finally leave the ‘castle’ but at the cost of losing their school friends. Their response and the nun who asked me to write the speech, she came up to me afterwards and hugged me and said to never hide my talent, that it was a gift and that I was meant to grow it. Their reactions towards my speech were amazing and her words and everyone else encouraging me to keep on writing has meant that I’ve never stopped since!’

“I was trying to see how different people would react to what I write and from their reaction see how I could improve my work.”

Nadine’s retelling of those events had me emotional and gripped to find out more, especially about The Ward which she published on her blog on the 22nd June 2017. Although Nadine hasn’t professionally published any of her books, she certainly hopes, in fact, plans to in the future. Speaking of publishing, I asked what made her publish The Ward on her blog and why she thought blogging was a good idea. ‘I started the blog in March [of this year] to try to build a readership and to get wider feedback on my work. I was trying to see how different people would react to what I write and from their reaction see how I could improve my work before taking the step towards professionally publishing. I used to publish my work on Facebook but the community was closed and restricted to people around me.’ Having read several of the comments about her short story and of those I got from my review of The Ward, this ambitious move definitely seems to have paid off.

“I am particularly fond of works of fiction that have an unexpected twist.”

The latter part of our conversation focused more on The Ward, the short story that I recently reviewed. I found that the genre of this short story was hard to identify, in fact, I thought it would be restrictive to label it as belonging to only one category and Nadine reassured me that that was the entire point. ‘I am particularly fond of works of fiction that have an unexpected twist at the end, that can make you revisit the entire piece to make sure you didn’t miss any clues as to the truth of the situation, for example Snape’s story in Harry Potter… I don’t think you can restrict this effect to one genre because it can be used in drama as much as in thrillers or mysteries.’

Nadine’s mentioned of Harry Potter and being a massive fan of J.K. Rowling myself I was compelled to asked whether this story had an impact on her work. ‘Oh definitely… as I was saying, Snape’s story was a big inspiration as well as Neville’s parents who ended up in a ward.’ Speaking of authors, Nadine mentioned that she was also a huge fan of Dan Brown’s mysteries ‘which heavily rely on this effect too.’ These books helped with elaborating the idea which she revealed stemmed from one of her dreams. I asked if she could elaborate further on this point, which she was more than happy to do, stating that ‘I dreamt that I was visiting someone in a psychiatric ward and I was told that I was the one who was sick. I liked the idea and further elaborated it with a richer background story and tried to make it more emotionally engaging.’

The popular response to this story meant that I had to ask whether she was planning to write anymore. I can confirm that she is! I managed to extract that the story will be called The Gift and that it is about relationships.

I finished the interview asking if she had any advice to writers and her response was ‘write, write and write some more… A finished imperfect piece is better than a perfect unfinished piece. I believe that feedback negative or positive is very constructive. But it is only the negative feedback that makes you notice the loopholes in your writing and would make you a better writer.’

If you have found this interview interesting like myself and found that you want to read more of Nadine’s work then just click this URL link to find more: https://nadinebanna14.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/the-ward/

Book Review: The Ward by Nadine Banna @NadineBanna

  • Title: The Ward
  • Author: Nadine Banna
  • Published: 2017
  • Rating: 4/5

The Ward tells the tale of John and his wife Clarisse. We are made to believe that Clarisse is visiting her husband in a psychiatric ward, however we are not told why. For the majority of the short story we are focusing on Clarisse’s efforts to comfort her husband but we’re left in suspense. With a surprising 360 turn of events we discover that everything we thought we knew was incorrect.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the genre of this story as it would be restrictive to categorise it as simply being a ‘thriller’, a ‘mystery’ or a ‘drama’ because it has elements of each conventions. This cross using of specific genres adds a certain elevation to the reading of the short story as the suspense and intrigue from this makes it even more exciting.  This is never more noticeable than at the beginning of The Ward. The use of the singular nominative pronoun ‘she’ restricts our understanding and knowledge of the events of the story. The repetition of the pronoun and use of simple short sentences adds a speed, quickness to the narration, further adding to the intrigue and thrill of the piece.

My initial thoughts when reading The Ward was that through the minimalistic information about the characters and events it meant that we were experiencing and following John and Clarisse’s journey with them. That we are experiencing these events for the first time just like the characters. The only way we begin to understand what is going on is through the description of the characters behaviours and use of adjectives ‘reassuring smile’, ‘reanimated by her sound’, ‘face lit up with a smile’. We begin to see a development and progress in the storyline and their relationship.

Furthermore, we are following the story through Clarisse’s perspective which adds a certain air of mystery, especially through the use of ellipsis. Her conviction that she was visiting her husband in a psychiatric ward and the use of ellipsis suggests that something is being left out either on purpose or by mistake of the character, either way it draws the reader’s attention to the mysterious element of the story. Later on, during the couple’s conversation about their son, the ellipsis adds weight to the emotion and tension. However, the repetitiveness of this device seems a bit excessive. At first it added to the atmosphere and suspense but after the first few it didn’t seem necessary to create this. However, the ellipses at the end of the story adds an emotional element, a sense that their heartache and psychological trauma within the narrative can’t be fixed.

Besides the overuse of ellipses and the occasional change in tense I really enjoyed reading this short story. It was beautifully written and the author has a real talent for making the read enjoyable.

If you want to read @NadineBanna short story the URL is: https://nadinebanna14.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/the-ward/

 

Book Review: Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne

  • Title: Doctor Thorne
  • Author: Anthony Trollope
  • Published: 1858
  • Rating: 4/5

Having seen the ITV’s mini-series of Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne last year I was inspired to read his novel.  Published in 1858, it is the third novel in Trollope’s series known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire. The novel starts with a recollection of events from the past – to the time when Doctor Thorne’s brother Henry had an affair and impregnated Mary Scatcherd, sister to Roger Scatcherd, a stone-mason. Roger becomes furious and murdered Henry, consequently he is imprisoned. Meanwhile, Mary gives birth to a baby girl. Doctor Thorne then advises her to marry her old fiancé and move to America whilst he cares and attends to the baby girl, named after her mother.

The novel omits twenty years and we are presented with a grown up Mary Thorne (we are told that she takes her uncle’s name). She has been brought up in the county of Greshamsbury and within the Gresham household, sharing lessons with the daughters of the local squire, Mr Gresham.  Mr Gresham married the daughter of an Earl, Lady Arabella and due to her extravagant lifestyle and his incompetency the family fortune is in ruins.

The principal story starts with Frank Gresham’s coming of age party (he is the eldest and only Gresham son). Foolishly, he announces his love to Mary and proposes.  This has negative effects as he is sent by his family to meet Miss Dunstable (a wealthy heiress) in the hope that he might marry money and restore the Gresham family to their former glory. Whilst Mary is banished and isolated from the Gresham’s household. Throughout we follow the trying tribulations of the two young lovers.

I’ve never read any of Trollope’s novels before so this was a new experience for me. Initially, I found his style of narration to be confusing. It’s a cross between the 3rd person omniscient narrator – who knows more than everyone else and who narrates events not from the characters internal thoughts but from a Birdseye perspective.  But at the same time he engages in an almost conversational style with the reader. This came across as kind of jarring (at least for me it was). I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be experiencing an intimate and personal retelling of the narrators opinions or whether I was supposed to be experiencing the story irrespective of this.

However, I personally would argue that Trollope utilises his narratorial voice specifically to guide the readers opinions, for example he states that the hero of the novel is ‘pre-occupied by the village doctor’.  Trollope goes on to argue that for ‘those who don’t approve of a middle-aged bachelor country doctor as a hero, may take the heir to Greshamsbury in his stead’. Although this seems to give the reader freedom of thought, it gives the impression, especially from Trollope’s tone that he is subtly and cleverly stating that any reversal from his idea of the hero is wrong. Again guiding the reader’s response to the novel and its events.

Furthermore, there were moments were his conversational style meant that the narration would sometimes drift off in an unexpected route, leaving you wondering what it was that was being discussed in the first place. However, once I got into the storyline I found this style to be rather comical which added a certain charm to his writing.

In terms of themes there are several that link and which are relevant to today’s society, such as political, social and gender issues. Politics and the voting system are at the heart of this novel which begs us to find the parallelisms to today. With the wire-tapping, allegations of voter fraud in the US Presidential elections, claims that the British electorate was misled about the impact of the referendum on the future membership of the EU and that accusations about the misuse of public funds against candidates in the French Presidential elections, Trollope’s novel  instead of being a form escapism seems to reinforce the idea that as a civilisation and as a country we have failed to improve and progress from the abuses of political power seen within this novel.

However, I think the biggest issues within this novel are that of the ambiguities within the gender and social class. Mary Thorne is considered an ill match for a nobleman like Frank because of her suspicious birth, her blood and poverty. Through Mary, Trollope questions what makes a gentlewoman, whether it is these aforementioned factors or whether it is her superiority of being, her mannerisms, her knowledge, intelligence and not superficial things like wealth.

‘If she were born a gentlewoman! And then came to her mind those curious questions; what makes a gentleman? what makes a gentlewoman? What is the inner reality, the spiritualised quintessence of that privilege in the world which men call rank, which forces the thousands and hundreds of thousands to bow down before the few elect? What gives, or can give it, or should give it?’

In an age where social and gender equality is becoming essential this novel provides a harsh truth about what it was previously like for women. There was neither opportunity for expressions of thought nor any way for them to stand against and speak out about male domination. Women were considered inferior and were expected to be submissive and passive. They were defined and referred to through their husbands social standing. Most importantly this novel details women who often underwent social humiliations, except those who were the exception to the rule, the rich heiresses like Miss Dunstable.

This was a brilliant read! If you’re looking for something comical and beautifully written but also thought-provoking then I couldn’t recommend this novel enough.

RSC Julius Caesar

In a year when politics is in chaos it seems only fitting that the RSC should launch a season exploring the disintegration of the Roman Empire. Angus Jackson’s production of Julius Caesar makes us view it as a historical event through the setting and costumes aligning themselves with the generally accepted and authentic tradition.  Whereas, they could have simply adapted the play to fit the 21st century, their decision not to, makes us, as the audience, work harder to find the parallelisms to our own society.  A clear, striking and relevant resonance emerges, so much so that it is unsettling to think that as a civilisation we haven’t managed to progress on from the cyclic pattern of overreaching and ambitious individuals and political divisions that cause bloodshed, ideological indoctrination, creates riots and rebellions and in this case incites the assassination of a leader.

Caesar, the unrelenting, self-assertive dictator figure is one that we are unfortunately too familiar with. Although I found Woodall’s performance of Caesar too tame a style for me, his ability to translate Caesar’s ambitious nature, his want to obtain absolute power over Rome is brilliantly subtle, creating more of a disquieting, manipulative than a forceful political figure.  We could easily replace Julius Caesar with the orange, fake tanned, orang-utan we now call our president.

With his proposed travel ban, blatant discrimination and Islamophobic behaviour and his ‘America first’ policy, which serves no-one but himself, it’s worryingly clear that he seems to be a reincarnation and he is clearly following the early stages and steps of other autocratic dictators like Mussolini, Hitler and Caesar who all brought untold destruction and chaos to their realms. Knowing all this I think that the timing of this production is brilliant. Perhaps seeing such worrying events in front of our very own eyes might help the world wake up and realise that we are in need of change within worldwide politics, not just within Americas.

However, the star of the show (for me at least, you’re welcome to disagree) was James Corrigan who played Mark Antony. His talent as an actor elevated his performance above the rest, making his character extremely convincing. Through him we are able to see the ambiguities, difficulties and complexities of a military leader who becomes a cannier political operator than anyone else. His skilled rhetoric, with his long speeches were effortlessly delivered by Corrigan who spoke clearly with tone and emphasis on key aspects. As a result he captivated both the actors and audience – it was almost as if you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium. I was following him word-for-word.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

I saw this production weeks ago and this post should have been completed then. I went into the theatre with all the excitement and anticipation that one has when they’re about to see their all-time favourite play from a different perspective. I had the mind-set that this was Hamlet but from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s standpoints. Although this is fundamentally true, I soon realised that it is so much more than that.

It details events that Hamlet fans will be familiar with, for example, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are summoned to investigate why Hamlet is acting so melancholic.  However, Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece of word-play examines the ‘offstage’ moments that Hamlet only alludes to, making it so much more than merely a spinoff of Shakespeare’s play.

The confusion of identity within the play spiralled off the stage into the minds of the audience. I’m still not completely sure which characters Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire played. Although for some this is an essential component that makes the comedy so fantastic (which Radcliffe and McGuire executed splendidly). For me, the comedy only masked a serious issue which provoked a serious consideration of how even within the 21st century, a time where acceptance and ‘equal’ treatment of all class, genders, races, etc. can’t prevent many facing internal and sometimes outward struggles to come to terms with their own identities.

The play, in my opinion, was a two-man show. I felt that the costumes, staging and the other characters could have been omitted and the overarching concerns within the storyline would have still shined through Radcliffe and McGuire’s performances. However, the time period of the costumes added to the confusion of the play. There were elements of period dress and clothing, such as jeans, from today which suggested to me that those within the play are suspended between the 15th century and now. Perhaps this is to emphasise the parody nature of the play? Or perhaps it is to reinforce the fast paced nature of the play and perhaps to establish the idea that these concerns are relevant within the plays setting and within our own society.

Radcliffe was perfectly matched with McGuire, their mirroring and fraternal bond presented the idea that the entire play balances around these two characters. Their talent adds poignancy to the philosophical questions presented within the play, such as the role of chance in our lives, symbolised in the coin-tossing. The return to and the discussion of the coin-tossing throughout the play, especially at moments of integral importance emphasises the key theme and questioning of how the world is governed by randomness, lack of free will and acute awareness of mortality.

 

 

 

 

 

NTL Twelfth Night Review

This is my first post. I’m new to this but I have been thinking about writing reviews for quite some time now. Exploring, reading, writing, analysing, etc. plays has always been an integral part of my life. It has previously been a time when I was most content (excluding reading novels/poetry all day long with a cup of tea by my side). Writing has also always been important to me. I always knew that I wanted to write, but for me, the problem was what do I write? I was faced with this dilemma when the editor of my local newspaper suggested that I start blogging or doing something that would get my work out there for any future employers. It wasn’t until this year, when I started university, studying an English course that is so diverse, that I realised critically discussing and forming my own opinions about books, plays, productions, etc. is what I’ve always been good at and what I’ve always enjoyed. I follow a philosophy that people should always do things that make them happy. So why shouldn’t this apply to what I write about?

What better way to start this new process, than to write about one of my favourite plays. Twelfth night is one of Shakespeare’s comedies. It is about unrequited love, both hilarious and heart-breaking. Twins are separated in a shipwreck at the start of the play. Viola (the female twin, dresses up as a man called Cesario) falls in love with Orsino, who is pining for Olivia. Olivia is falling in love with Viola but is worshipped by Malvolio/a. Sir Toby encourages Sir Andrew to pursue Olivia for her hand in marriage. If this wasn’t complicated enough, Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, enters (We need to remember that he is the spitting image of Viola) and everything falls to pieces. Sir Andrew challenges Sebastian to a duel (thinking it was Cesario/Viola), Olivia marries Sebastian (again thinking it was Cesario/Viola). And we haven’t even covered subplots like Sir Toby, Maria and Sir Andrews tricks on Malvolio/a, encouraging him/her to declare his love to Olivia.

twelfth_night_-_tamsin_greig_as_malvolia_image_by_marc_brenner

Photo by Marc Brenner via Twelfth Night Production Images.

The casting of this particular production was superb, with the highlight of Tamsin Greig as Malvolia.  She is such an instinctive actress, that the balance between comedy and reflective melancholy was brilliantly poignant. I think in making this gender swap, director Simon Godwin refocuses the attention on an issue that is so profoundly relevant and crucial to today’s society. Such as the contemporary issues surrounding gender roles and sexuality, and of accepting and understanding one’s true identity, even if it is out of the norm. Greig was able to make this journey accessible to every audience member by adapting mannerisms that are universally recognisable. Every gesture and movement, her costume of pristine black, her immaculately straight fringe and her obsessiveness for order and neatness, for example when she adjusted the topiary hedges by a centimetre in order for them to line up, brought to life this image of a repressed, closeted woman. Someone who is lonely and struggling to understand herself. To compensate for this she focuses all her attention on other things, something that Greig encapsulates to the minutest detail in her performance.

As impressive as this was, what was truly exceptional was Greig’s acting ability to develop and sustain the character arc. She manages to portray three different personae within one woman. It is truly exceptional to watch as the confined, repressed Malvolia changes after receiving the letter, supposedly from her mistress. Greig performance becomes more erratic and louder, almost as if Malvolia’s character is coming alive for the first time. The staging and use of the water fountain spurting water all over encapsulates this imagery of rebirth. Then, Greig gives another entirely different persona. One of fragility, vulnerability, that evokes true and for me never felt before empathy for Malvolia. The costume department was spot on in their portrayal of her; we see her as an outcast, her physical appearance with mud all over her, hair and make-up visibly dishevelled heightens our sympathy towards her. If this wasn’t enough, Greig took this to another level with her acting and gestures; we saw her character shaking and shrinking back into this shell of a woman. A poignant reminder of the cruelty to those who are deemed as outside of the norms. This melancholic undertone is never more poignant than Greig’s final line ‘I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you’. Leaving me feel some sympathetic for Malvolia then I ever have before.

The relationship between Antonio and Sebastian had an entirely new dynamic. Although the implicit homosexual love on Antonio’s side was given more distinction, I felt that it was more one-sided and unrequited. Sebastian’s body language and refusal of Antonio going with him on his search for his sister, felt slightly bitter, that the emphasis was on Sebastian’s love and concern for his sister and not Antonio. I felt that there was more anger towards Antonio for failing to save Viola from the shipwreck.

I think that one of the most important stage directions is at the end when Orsino kisses Sebastian thinking that it was his love Viola and calls her ‘boy’. It suggests that although he has been struggling throughout with the idea of falling for a man by the end he no longer cares. He has taken away all gender binaries and released that he has fallen in love with a person. This is such a crucial moment, one that we should learn from, especially in this evolving world.

Another noteworthy moment was the development of Sir Andrew’s character, played by Daniel Rigby. Everything about him, his acting, costume, body language, line delivery was spot on and for once he had actually presence and personality that instead of being an unnecessary add-on, he became an integral part to the plot and the understanding of the comedic and melancholic relationship woven into the fabric of the play.

Finally, the set design is original and inventive. The pyramidal design begins as the ship which splits in the middle, acting as a visible representation of a shipwreck. This, the lighting and sound all coincided to create one massive atmosphere but intense moment shared by the actors and audience. Furthermore, the way this design sections off into four quarters and the use of the rotational stage allowed for the movement across Illyria, between houses to flow naturally. This was something that I was initially concerned about – how to capture the passing of time and the movement over a large country. But the National Theatre outstandingly avoided any such difficulties.

I really do have nothing negative to say about this production. Simon Godwin’s vision is spectacular. Can I see it again?

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