Review of Wicked the Musical *contains spoilers*

Once upon a time, Elphaba (Elfie) was born with the unfortunate affliction of being bright green, seemingly because her mother was a cheating harlot who got drunk on potent green liquid and slept with a mysterious, flamboyant man* who was far more exciting than her husband, the Governor of Oz. Her sister, Nessa, was born with an un-named disability caused by milk-flower consumption (did their mother not learn from her herbal dabbling the first time?) leaving her wheelchair bound. Clearly disabilities were a big part of the theme, as the whole show was signed for the deaf by an incredible woman who stood at the edge of the stage for the entire three hours of the show.

The girls get sent to a Hogwarts-esque witch and wizard university, where we meet Elfie’s roommate, Glinda – the spoilt, popular one (blonde, ditzy, completely vacuous but OH SO NICE, except when she humiltates Elfie at the ball by making her wear a witch’s hat…) In contrast, Elfie is a bright-green dorky outcast, shunned, even, by her sister who is taken under the headmistress’s care. Elfie soon becomes suitably outraged when she discovers that animals are being marginalised and no longer allowed to speak or have proper jobs (‘I’m the token Goat’ says professor whatshisname, the history teacher, in one of the many humorous moments of this show). Glinda soon realises her error, and joins in with Elfie’s awful dance-moves, encouraging everyone else to do the same. She then gives her a Sandra Dee style makeover, by removing her glasses and un-plaiting her hair. Wow – who knew that green girls could be so good looking?

Cue ‘handsome but stupid’ Preening Prince who appears on the scene, capturing the heart of both Glinda and Elfie, not to mention every other girl who crosses his path. Cue devastation of munchkin, Bok, who wanted Glinda for himself. No chance mate, and to be honest you could do better… like Nessa, Elfie’s disabled sister… except he only asks her out as a favour to Glinda, so that’s never really going to work out. Besides, the Preening Prince is not actually a thick as he looks, he’s just weak… and thus never confesses that his true love is weirdo Elfie.

It soon becomes apparent that the green geek, Elfie, has special powers… hence she is whisked off to meet the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and of course is mildly disappointed when he’s just a fat bloke with a sketchy American accent, hiding behind a terrifying giant gold robotic mask with glowing eyes and a growling voice. But lo and behold – Oz doesn’t want to use Elfie’s powers for good… he wants to continue his reign of terror and oppression and get all animals back in cages and have the accidentally created flying monkeys to act as his spies… ‘No, no…’ cries Elfie, realising what a total mess she’s made of it all with the spellbook written in an unreadable language. So she runs away into the wilderness of the Land of Oz, vowing to fight for animal rights and minority creatures.

Much, much later… Elfie returns home and grants her sister’s wish of making her able to walk, but his leads to the miserable munchkin attempting to do a runner… followed by a bodged spell by Nessa, stopping his heart, and a remedy by Elfie, rendering him with a wooden one and a tin body… Elfie, having screwed up AGAIN while trying to be good, does another runner and decides she might as well be Wicked… The leaders of Oz do a great PR job, with the help of the Tin Man, twisting events to make it look like Elfie purposely hurt everyone, including the caged lion cub she liberated while still at school… leading him to become withdrawn and too cowardly to even appear on stage.

The Wizard’s PR chick (also head of the uni and in support of all evil plans) whips up a tornado, causing a house to land on top of Nessa, killing her… Elfie turns up – devastated – especially when she realises that ‘some farm girl’ called Dorothy has stolen her sister’s fancy jewelled shoes… so she finds her and kidnaps her and remains Wicked… even when the Preening Prince turns up, who loses his life trying to save her *sob*

Glinda appears, and realises that her prince was never her prince – he always loved Elfie, and she vows to do good work and never to tell anyone Elfie’s real story… leaving her to be melted by Dorothy’s bucket of water. Glinda returns to Oz to sort the place out, getting rid of the evil headmistress/PR woman and helping to re-instate animal rights.

It’s a bittersweet ending, with Glinda the Good in charge of the kingdom of Oz, but she’s got no friends and her fiancé is dead. But she’s cool with that. Because she just wants to do good.

So it’s all yay to the strong women – sisters doing it for themselves. Except for the shocking twist ending where it turns out that Elfie faked her death and ran off with her best mate’s fiancé, the Preening Prince, now humbled, since she turned him into a scarecrow.

🙂

Note: *The mysterious, flamboyant man that gave Elfie’s mother the green liquid was in fact – the young Wizard of Oz – aka, Elfie’s real father! Shock!

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Yesterday I went with my husband and my parents to see Wicked at The Apollo Theatre in London. I had really no idea what to expect, other than that I knew it was some sort of Wizard of Oz spin-off, a backstory to the witches. What it was actually about was bullying, acceptance, trust and empowerment of women… it was also brilliantly made and very funny. Recommended.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – Mel Sherratt #FollowTheLeader

ftl

Mel Sherratt‘s latest novel – the much anticipated follow up to Taunting the Dead – is a corker. Not just a perfectly executed, entertaining read for crime fans, it covers a topic that many people will relate to, but not many have the courage to talk about.

Bullying.

I’d like to hope that some people never experience bullying of any kind, whether it be at school, in the workplace, online, or even from family and friends. If you’re one of those people, you’re one of the lucky ones.

So here’s a very brave and personal post; Mel’s story, told in typical Mel fashion. From the heart.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

by Mel Sherratt

I’m often known for wearing my heart on my sleeve. And sadly I’ll never have a poker-face as my emotions are written all over it. But one thing I do have is courage. Writing a book about a serial killer who is one step ahead of the police while he seeks payback for his bullies – was it my therapy because I was bullied? In a way yes because it gave me an outlet to show how bullying can affect individuals. But mostly no – it just gave me a licence to twist and say ‘what if’ a lot more than possible reality. Well, hopefully!

We all know a bully, and we all know of someone who has been bullied. Let me share with you my experience. It started several years ago when I became ill almost overnight. I was then ill for years, with major surgery once a year for three years, eight emergency admissions to hospital via an ambulance, tests, scans, more tests, scans. If I could walk at all without passing out in pain (still not sure what that was all about), I walked with a limp. I couldn’t sit at my desk for long periods, and if I did I would often get up and pass out. My life became one long haul of dragging myself through a week of full-time work without passing out, getting home and that was it. I couldn’t even walk around the supermarket to do the weekly shop. It was during these times that my writing became my sanctuary.

It turns out that a fall in my early twenties resulted in the bottom disc of my spine being crushed beyond repair, damaging lots of nerves with it. Now, degenerating with age, my spine is curving to the right and putting pressure on my hip and I have permanent nerve damage – plus it seems I had three lots of surgery that I didn’t necessarily need. Since then, I’ve learned to live with the pain. Sadly I’ve had to forgo my love of killer high heels, but it’s a small price to pay.

During this time, when I was at my lowest, one person in particular mistook my condition for weakness. I was working at senior officer level, and in a nutshell, one of the manager’s made my life hell. I would work on a project for weeks on end and then be told it wasn’t necessary, nor was it good enough. I would be ‘spoken to’ in the manager’s office for hours (I’m talking three or four hours at a time) and told over and over that I needed to buck up my ideas. I would be sent to meetings with all the wrong paperwork, or not be given the relevant information I would need to complete a report, and then be told I was incapable of doing research. I was warned in front of other staff, criticised in front of other staff and was made to look totally incompetent continually. I was tripped up on every occasion possible. Why? I think it was because a project I had worked on had been a success and I’m not sure it went down too well.

I made a complaint through my union rep, other staff did too but sadly nothing happened. During the last three months before I left, I was sat in a tiny office on my own across from this manager. Up until that point I’d always shared an office. The atmosphere was so bad that none of the other staff that I worked with would dare come in to me as the manager would appear and ask what they wanted. It was awful. They were the lowest three months of my entire working life. Being constantly told that nothing I did was good enough, nor gaining any help when I asked for it was soul-destroying. Finally, I was made redundant as part of that manager’s ‘restructure.’ Honestly, I have never been so glad to be finished in my life – I would never have given that person the satisfaction of leaving.

On my last day, I didn’t feel that I could go in. Why should I? To sit in that room again for eight hours, all alone, with no one daring to speak to me for fear of repercussions? I’m not sure how I got in that day, pride I guess – I wasn’t going to lower myself to their standards by not showing up. But what I will never forget is as everyone was saying goodbye to me, my manager took my id card and went into a room closing the door in my face until I had left the building.

Looking back on the situation, I think I must have been one hell of a strong person to stick at it for four years, plus go in to work every day of those last three months. It made me into the person I am now. Yes, I am emotional but that’s me and I won’t apologise for it. I am a strong woman, kindof an underdog if you think about it. But actually, I’d like to thank my bully for making me into a stronger person. Yes, I have my down days but ultimately I know I can always get back up again. I have a fantastic set of friends, and I work for myself – no office politics for me.

So maybe that’s why my serial killer Patrick’s story seems so raw. Two wrongs most certainly don’t make a right, and of course this is fiction, but I wanted to show how someone damaged by bullies could be affected. Yes I write about a serial killer – which is a rarity in real life, thank goodness. But also, in Patrick, as well as understanding what he was doing, I wanted readers to understand his rationale for his justification – he thinks what he is doing is right.

And maybe it will make people think just how our actions might affect another person’s life and mental state.

*

Thank you for sharing, Mel. That was a brave post.

Now, at the risk of sounding like a Jeremy Kyle researcher: Have you ever been bullied? Do you want to confront your tormentor? Perhaps you’ve been a bully, and you’re ashamed and want to apologise, but you’re scared. You can tell us in the comments, no need to mention any names. Get it off your chest. And if you need help, clicking here might be a good start.

*

Mel Sherratt has been a self-described “meddler of words” ever since she can remember. Since successfully publishing Taunting the Dead and seeing it soar to the rank of #1 bestselling police procedural in the Amazon Kindmelle store in 2012, Mel has gone on to write three more books in the critically acclaimed The Estate Series and Watching over You, a dark psychological thriller.

She lives in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, with her husband and her terrier, Dexter (named after the TV serial killer, with some help from her Twitter fans), and makes liberal use of her hometown as a backdrop for her writing.

What’s in a date?

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 15.16.39I wasn’t sure of the best way to follow on from my previous post. It was a tough one to write, but I’m glad that I did. My mother-in-law passed away peacefully on 17th January – as my husband pointed out – “a date that previously held no significance… until now”. One that will be etched in our memories forever. Along with 9th February – the date of the funeral.

The older you get, the more significant dates you accrue. When you’re a child, it’s all about 25th December, your birthday and the days that the school term starts and ends.

When you’re a teenager, it’s the date of the first kiss, the first date, the first gig, the date your exam results thump onto the doormat, filling you with excitement and dread.

When you pass those heady days, it’s on to adulthood – where you add dates of starting work, wedding anniversaries, children’s birthdays, and, if you’ve been lucky up until then, anniversaries of friends and family who have sadly passed on. Once you get to a certain age, it seems like these dates increase with an inevitable frequency.

As time passes, you somehow learn to cope.

I’ve got a lot of significant dates coming up this year. The date that my first novel is released, the date of my first ever book festival as an author, my mum’s 60th birthday, some long awaited holidays, a friend’s wedding, the date we move into our new flat. All good things to look forward to. Things to be excited about. Things to remind me that life is for living, every single day.

And that’s what I intend to do 🙂

Starting with my next post, where I hope to share lots of book related news!

Some thoughts on life

Hello. Some of you might have noticed that I haven’t been around much lately. Some of you might not have noticed at all, but that’s fine: everyone is busy with so many things – family, work, non-work projects, hobbies, friends, life. In truth, I’ve felt a bit lost since the summer, for various reasons. Life has seemed a bit muted at times. But this is not a post about me.

On 1st December, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She is 68. Far too young, in my eyes, for this. To cut a long story short, it all kicked off in July, and the eventual diagnosis was the result of several months of what we thought were unrelated symptoms, blood tests, hospital procedures, time spent bedridden, and two hospital stays – the second one, leading to where she is now – which is a nursing home – where thankfully, the staff are all fantastic. I won’t even comment on how traumatic the 6-week hospital stay was, for all of us.

My mother-in-law is a very loved and popular person. She worked (right up until the day her leg swelled up and she had to turn round and go to the doctor instead of work) as the main receptionist at the Officer’s Mess at a military base for over 30 years. She has organised accommodation and collated bar bills and laughed and joked with the highest of ranks, including royalty. There isn’t a person in her home town who hasn’t heard of her. She is known for her sunny disposition and her love of a glass of wine. She is someone who will be missed at every single party forever more.

They didn’t want to give us a timeframe – the consultant was very reluctant to do it, but when pushed, he suggested ‘3, maybe 4 weeks’. The senior nurse said quietly ‘I think you’ll get Christmas’. So all of December’s plans were shelved – we moved from our flat in London to my husband’s family home. We cancelled holidays and events (although we did make a couple of trips to watch football matches, both for light-relief and as something that she liked hearing about, and I made a mad secret dash to visit my own family between Christmas and New Year, arriving just in time for dinner and some much-needed hugs). We’ve spent most of our time, instead, with my brother-in-law, who had been looking after her alone for several months, and was noticeably feeling the strain. He had help from his mum’s friends, but we weren’t able to be here due to my husband’s job, which was 5h away. After several stressful and exhausting weekend trips, we made the decision that he would finish his contract and we would stay close to his mum, all of us making daily trips to her bedside, chatting, reminiscing and trying our best to support each other through it all.

It is now 11th January, and although weak, and mostly sleeping now, she is still fighting on. We did indeed get Christmas – where family and friends crowded around her while she held court from her bed, wearing a paper hat and a big grin while she opened presents and sipped a small glass of Prosecco. Then we got New Year’s Day, where the same friends and family gathered, but she was a bit weaker by then. No Prosecco. We were just glad she was still able to sip her apple juice through a straw and eat some soup. We’ve had my brother-in-law’s birthday, where she managed to eat a tiny sliver of chocolate cake, which she pronounced ‘lovely’. The state of the bed was less than lovely with all the crumbs, but no one really cared about that. Now she is at the stage of being fed ice cream and syringefuls of iced water or cranberry juice. She sleeps more and more, her wakenings more and more garbled from her morphine-induced dreams. But her pain, for now, is under control, the moments of frightened agitation have abated – mostly – and that’s really all we can hope for, as we try to carry on with as much normality as we can – me, my husband, and his brother, living in the family home together, waiting, every night, for the dreaded phone call.

In the meantime, we need to try to live our own lives. Luckily, I can work from home a lot of the time, and after a long break where my head just couldn’t deal with it, I am starting to fit in a bit of writing now and then. I’ve been reading, sometimes, but not reviewing – and I know I have missed lots of exciting book news. But it can wait. My publishers are gearing up for the release of my book in March, and there will be lots to do before and afterwards, but I have support both for the writing side of work, and my day job side of work, and I am getting there.

We will all get there.

It’s not all doom and gloom – there is a lot of time for reflection, catching up with friends in the area, walking in the countryside. I’m grateful to everyone who has contacted us via phone, email, text and private messages, sending their love and support. Thank you for thinking of us.

We are trying to look to the future. It will be a strange and difficult time for us all – afterwards – but all we can do is stick together, and stay hopeful that we can move on, but never forget the life and the love of a strong and beautiful woman.

Devil’s Knot: The True Story of The Memphis Three

I’ve just watched an extremely harrowing film called Devil’s Knot. Hadn’t heard anything about it and knew nothing of the true story behind it. Mark Kermode at the Guardian says that this adaptation brings nothing new… well, it did for me. As I said, I knew nothing about it. In the film, three eight year old boys go out on their bikes one afternoon, and they don’t come back. Not long after, the boys are found. And what happens next is a fascinating journey into truth and lies, a community bound by grief yet too quick to resort to mob mentality. Even the kids…

Soon three teenagers are arrested and charged in the throes of ‘satanic panic’, but something doesn’t stack up. A lot of things don’t stack up. Evidence goes missing. Statements are ignored. The judge throws the book at the three accused, with one sentenced to death for a crime he insists he did not commit. You won’t get any answers at the end of the film, but you’ll get a lot of food for thought.

You can make up your own mind about the ‘facts’ – presented in Mara Leveritt’s 2002 book (which I am now dying to read), or from the point-of-view of the accused (and eventually acquitted), Damien Echols… or of course, from the various sources on the internet (for example: this).

The film has an average rating of 5.8 on IMDB. This is usually the only site I use to decide whether to watch a film or not, but have found recently that the reviews (normally 7+ is a dead cert for quality) are not stacking up for me. See ‘Bad Neighbours’ for example (one word review: appalling). So despite the low score, we decided to watch… I was crying within 15 minutes. This is not a light film.

Anyway, I urge you to watch this, if only for the heartbreaking performance from Reece Witherspoon as the mother of one of the murdered boys – and the tenacity of Colin firth as Ron Lax, the private investigator who tried to get justice for the accused; and to prove the point that quite often, fact truly is stranger than fiction.