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Access to History

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A lot of our access to history is through films. Gladiator. The Deer Hunter. Elizabeth. Saving Private Ryan. All good films. But is this particular access to history enough and is it okay?

From minor to major historical inaccuracies, it is important to remember that some scenes are pure conjecture or simply changed altogether, and from artistic license I can appreciate this.

But does Hollywood and others have a responsibility to teach us truth? It doesn’t have to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth, some things can be tweaked. But it shouldn’t contain major inaccuracies especially if the film or tv show claims to be based on a true story.

In the film Elizabeth it depicts a scene where Queen Elizabeth I is shown to be less than England’s Virgin Queen, by showing a sexual romantic relationship with Dudley. Other films invent characters altogether.

Historians are governed, try as they might not to be, by their personal thoughts and about the times they write in. History is generally, and stereotypically written by the victor. And there is a whole branch of the study of history called historiography – of why people wrote in the certain ways that they did – what influenced them. The same can be said of directors and screenwriters.

Directors and screenwriters are also governed by the same impulses as newspapermen: to sell. And if invention gets bums on seats in the cinemas to watch their film then they’ll do it right? The issue I have comes from the level of invention and the amount of the story altered. A primary example of this – which drives most, if not all, historians round-the-bend, is the mythological story of the romantic relationship between Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. According to a letter by Smith written nine years after to Queen Anne of England, Pocahontas did save his life in the new world of America in 1607. But no evidence exists that they went onto have a romantic relationship – nor a relationship of any kind; and this is not even including the fact that Pocahontas would have only been ten years old at the time of John Smith’s landing at Jamestown in 1607. But time and again directors and movies makers overlook this crucial inaccuracy and make a movie out of it, claiming it to be, like Terrence Malick’s The New World in 2005 (starring a fairly laughable Colin Farrell as John Smith) based on the true story.



Audiences get annoyed and can feel cheated when movie makers change key parts when making a movie based on a book. Those in the movie industry have an artistic licence that shouldn’t be taken too far. Can you imagine if they’d gone against the ending of the final Harry Potter novel and Voldemort had been triumphant instead of Harry? No. So why do historical films, which importantly claim to be true stories, appear at times to be exempt from this? I don’t honestly mind if attention to detail items are changed or overlooked – the breed of the dog for instance at the beginning of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator starring Russell Crowe, didn’t exist yet. But it isn’t a super integral part. But adding characters, changing truths, and relying on mythology are not ok.

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Many people in the world don’t read history. Many people don’t study it at school, or doze through their lessons, thinking that the study of the past is not important. But some of them may watch historical films, even if it is just to see for example the rippling oiled bodies of the actors in 300.

And that may be their only access to history. And honestly I think that these people are in the majority. So should movie makers have some sense of responsibility to tell the story as it really was? They needn’t be worried about changing things to make the film more exciting. How does the popular saying go? Truth sometimes is stranger than fiction.

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How to keep on blogging

If you’ve got a blogging routine, say twice a week like me, then there must be times when staring at the blank screen you realise that you’ve got nothing really to say – or certainly not something that you’ve already said before.

So how do you leap over this hurdle by finding something interesting enough for people to read?

The simple answer is…I have no idea.

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You can have your list of what you normally would blog about and other ideas tumbling about in your mind, but what happens on those days where the words just don’t feel right.

Much has been said about writer’s block – but what about blogger’s block?

I guess the way to tackle it is just to get on and blog. Strive through the blockage.

One.  Update your fellow bloggers. Something you’ve done. Something you’ve achieved.

Two. Write a book review (not helpful for those who have a book review blog). It doesn’t have to be long. A couple of sentences will perhaps do. Perhaps write about the book your reading now.

Three. Is there anything interesting going on in the world today?

Four. Any forthcoming events or news items.

Five. Any interesting historical events that can be tied to the month or precise date?

Six. Why not say a bit more about yourself? Keep it as personal or not as you like.

Seven. Talk about the latest film you’ve seen or your favourite TV show

Eight. Write a list of what you want to achieve in the next few months/years. i.e. 30 things to do before your 30.

Nine. Have a good old moan about something. What’s really getting your goat at the moment?

Ten. Go out and do something interesting. Then tell you blogger friends about it.

Eleven. Start a blogging theme. A to Z of blogging. Start at A and work your way through the alphabet blogging about something which begins with the letter A….B…..C….and so on.

Twelve. Write and blog your own list just like I have today! Sneaky!

But this doesn’t exactly tackle the problem head-on. I guess if you can look through this list, or any others, or even write your own and still can’t find something to say then perhaps don’t. Leave it for a bit and then come back to the blogging world when you’ve got a fresher mind.

Just don’t stay away too long though!!

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We’ve been around for a year

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Last Tuesday, April 1st, my community library – well the community library where I work – celebrated its first birthday.

Back in November 2012 the local council authority decided to close some of its libraries as a cost-cutting measure after they were given a huge amount that they had to save. Of course, the council didn’t say that this was the reason – they never do – but rather that it was part and parcel of a restructuring and modernisation of the library service. Pull the other one. But it’s not about that any more.

Upton Library was one of those ear-marked for closure and after about a year of uncertainty the countdown to closure began.

Then in March 2013 a local community, not-for-profit organisation called UNEF (Upton and North Elmsall Forum) received the keys to the building to take over the running of Upton Library transforming it into a community library hub running as a library as well as a community and learning centre and even had a small cafe installed serving hot and cold food and drinks.

Myself and another librarian were brought in to oversee the running of the community library on April 1st 2013. After several ups and downs and the huge task of getting the library back up and running, including putting over 7000 books onto the new catalogue system manually, the library made it to its 1st birthday.

The achievement is all the more remarkable given the trials and tribulations we’re been through getting it running and keeping it running.

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But the hard work has paid off. The library is running excellently and we’re providing more services for the small community, which has been neglected for years by the local council authority. The feedback that we have received has been overwhelming enthusiastic and highly praiseworthy of the fact that we’ve kept the library open (a massive life-line for some people) and that we’re doing it so well.

Of course, our success could never have taken place without the grit and determination of the UNEF directors who fought to take it over, as well as the volunteers, some of whom have been with us from the very beginning. The dedication that these volunteers have brought to the project is outstanding. And I give them my thanks and appreciation for their monumental efforts.

<< I would have posted sooner, but for some reason I’ve found myself to be super-busy this week and this has been the earliest opportunity that I’ve had to blog about Upton Community Library’s achievement. >>

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On 27th March 1922….

On 27th March 1922 in the village of Bitton, Gloucestershire, Ronald Gordon King-Smith was born. He is better known by his pen name Dick King-Smith, prolific writer of children’s stories, most famously The Sheep Pig (UK) or Babe the Gallant Pig (US).

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After serving with the Grenadier Guards in Italy during the Second World War, he became a farmer for 20 years before turning to teaching and writing. His first book was published in 1978, called The Fox Busters. He went on to write over a hundred books.

Some lovely quotes by him:

From his books:

“That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.”
― Dick King-Smith, The Sheep Pig

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“Patience is a virtue,
Virtue is a grace.
Grace is a little girl
Who would not wash her face.”
― Dick King-Smith, Lady Daisy

 

From the man himself:

“Much as I love ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and the works of Beatrix Potter, I never dress my animals in clothes. They behave as animals should behave, with the exception that they open their mouths and speak the queen’s English.”

“Writing my books is like handing out presents. Giving children pleasure gives you a wonderful sort of Father Christmassy feeling.”

“One of the nicest things was that the actor who played Farmer Hogget on-screen was the image of the man I had in my head eight or nine years before, right down to the last eyelash.”

“The single nicest thing I think about my success is not the critical acclaim or the money – it’s the tens of thousands of letters I get from children all over the world.”

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Disappointing ‘Must-Read Books’

Must-read book lists are everywhere. And the majority of the books on them are well worth reading. But what about those ones you read but didn’t enjoy. Is it fair to feel let down and cheated? With all the hype and buzz about apparent excellent ‘classic’ books, is it fair to assume that everyone will enjoy it? The simple answer has to be no.

Everyone has different tastes when it comes to life; reading included. One person may have loved one book or one film for instance, and another loathe it. We’ve all got our own opinions haven’t we? We’re all not bound to like the same books. But Must Read Books go beyond the simple recommendation between friends.

I’m saying this now so I don’t get shot down when I reveal two ‘must-read’ books that I didn’t enjoy. I was disappointed with them both, the second I found frankly irritating. And yes I did feel cheated. I’d settled down to really enjoy them, thinking that I would. But turning the final page, and reading the last sentence, well I felt utterly let down.

Number One disappointing ‘Must-Read’ is The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

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Number Two disappointing ‘Must-Read’ is The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

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I can’t really go into why I didn’t enjoy them: I just didn’t. And I know that’s not very reviewy of me.

I can’t be the only one who has been let down in this way?

What books have you been disappointed with?

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Book Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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Now Tinker Tailor Solider Spy has been on my personal ‘to-read’ list for ages. And so has the author John Le Carre. Le Carre is just one of those authors that has to be read, in my opinion, at least once. The same goes for the likes of classics like Charles Dickens, or Jane Austen. ‘Modern-day’ writers like Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, Stephen King and Salman Rushdie also make this list (as do many many others).

So I finally picked it up the other day and gave it a go. And I realise now why it was on my ‘must be read’ shelf. It is one of the best thrillers I have ever read. It has layer within layer that keeps you intrigued and gripped from the very off.

The opening line, “The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races, Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all.”, is full of intrigue who is Major Dover, who is this Jim, and what is Thursgood’s?

Set in an era where men wore buttoned-up suits and spoke still fondly of the dwindling British Empire, and in the midst of the Cold War. This is shown beautifully through the style of his writing.

Truthfully, I watched the film starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley before I read the book. However, I couldn’t really remember the film at all, and which actor played which character (apart from Oldman as Smiley) and I couldn’t remember the ending. So my imagination wasn’t tainted by watching the film first. Of which I am glad.

The novel is a dense puzzle where espionage, anxiety and paranoia are key players. It is a wonderfully complex novel with multiple layers to discover as George Smiley delves deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the Circus to uncover the mole. Dragged from sudden retirement Smiley uses all his expertise to ferret out the mole, while constantly looking over his shoulder in his paranoia that his training afforded him. And like Alice in Wonderland he cannot guess how deep the rabbit hole goes: into the very depths of the Circus.

Simply brilliant. Wonderfully complex. A definite must-read.

This is the first Le Carre novel that I have read, and it most certainly will not be the last.

4 out of 5 stars.

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Books to Read Lists Galore

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed but there are so many book recommendation lists out there. So many lists of books people tell us we have to read. And I’m sort of exhausted by it – but yep I’m my own devil because I do go through them and check them out.

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16 Works That Ernest Hemingway Thought a Young Writer Should Read…..Top Ten Books to Read for Writers You Need to Read Now….30 Books to Read Before You’re 30…..Books to Read Before You Die (a Google search for this will bring up loads of examples)……the list literally goes on and on.

These lists are a good tool if you’re stumped what to read next – or if you’re looking for a recommendation for a book that has been given a glowing review. I use the BBC Big Read from all the way back in 2003 - http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/top100.shtml – if I can’t decide what to read next – this is never usually a massive problem for me.

But I don’t agree that they should be followed verbatim. Read what you want to. Read what you enjoy. And throw in a couple of these apparent ‘must-reads’ when you want too. For the most important thing a writer should do – apart for write a lot…is read a lot.

I think the problem with them is the apparent insistence that you must read all the books on this list if you want to call yourself a writer or if you like to read. 

Use them as a guidance only. The important thing is to read.

I think my main issue is that there’s just so many of them. You can’t possible follow them all.

 

[True - the authors of these lists probably are just condensing down what they think a person should read and probably don't think that you should work their way down the list religiously - or maybe they do.]

 

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