Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (and the eleven-year-old girl)

Harry Potter has been a part of my life ever since I was an eleven-year-old girl. One who, I will freely admit, wasn’t a huge reader. Books never really interested me before Harry. I had read books, but I was more of an explorer than a reader. One that went outside and always came back with cuts, scratches and a story. The type that played with dinosaur toys and Pokémon cards. I also really enjoyed the Nintendo 64. In fact, when I was seven I was told by my teacher that I would never be a writer, because I had never really taken to reading. For the record, she didn’t just randomly announce this in class; she was scolding me for purchasing a fairytale book, rather than a proper “three-hundred-pager” from the school magazine. I was confused; I didn’t see the problem with my five-hundred word story. After all, fairies were the creatures that existed in my back garden, in the big old oak tree and beyond that, in the fields past the road to Mary’s house. I just wanted to know more about them, and that’s why I bought (with my pocket money) the unexpectedly controversial book. I didn’t tell her that though, I just sat in silence and listened to what she had to say. My teacher had told me that I wasn’t a reader, and to a child, a teacher’s words define who you are. So for a long time after that, I was Karen, the girl who didn’t read. Karen, the girl who wouldn’t write.

With this in mind, I was a child who jumped onto the Hogwarts express a bit later than most; I remember the film being released, and because of the hype surrounding it, I decided to sneak into my sister’s bedroom and raid her bookshelf. That’s when the obsession began, and only increased as the years (and books) went on. Eventually, when the books came to an end, I remained an ardent fan, only I slowly began to forget about how much Harry and his world meant to me. I just sort of… grew up.

That all changed when I went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child over the weekend. Now, before we go on, this won’t be a blog post that is (Tom) riddled with spoilers, so fret not. I’m a good keeper of secrets! I’m also very aware of how lucky I was to see it, and I’m not about to spoil it for anybody else. What I will say though is that I was captivated by the friendship of Harry’s son Albus, and young Scorpius Malfoy. It was something I could relate to, and, in that moment, the memories of my love for the books and the characters within them returned. From the moment the play began I was delighted, and also just a little bit teary; it reminded me of my childhood, when the books came to me at a time I needed them the most.

I found Harry at a very uncertain point in my life. It was over the summer of 2002, just before I started secondary school. It was a tricky time; my old friends had all gone in different directions and I discovered that I had a long summer of loneliness of ahead of me. Being lonely is a pretty hard thing to come to terms with for anyone, let alone a child. I also worried about everything. Spelling tests. Family life. Report cards. School. Everything that I could think of, and invent a worry for, I would do just that. I wasn’t the type to talk about these worries either. So Harry became my friend, and his world a place of solitude where I could escape from anything that was on my mind. The only thing Harry couldn’t do was stop time, and eventually the day came when I was standing in front of those pristine, glass doors of my pristine and fancy new school. Like going to Hogwarts, I figured it was only a matter of time until, like Harry, I found friends.

I wasn’t a child that could fit in easily; my brown socks always fell to my ankles; my hair never stayed in place; my locker key was attached to a curly keychain that I could access at a moment’s notice; and I always kept all my books in my bag, for fear of being late. I even remember falling backwards down a set of stairs and, looking a bit like an unfortunate turtle, found it hard to get back to my feet, all because of the weight of my bag. So I guess you can say that I found school… stressful. Hard. Sometimes impossible. The teachers were brilliant, though.

And despite my hope of finding my very own Ron and Hermione, I found it hard to really communicate with the other girls in my class. I spent the initial weeks of secondary school life feeling quite isolated, so I kept returning to my books, night by night. Soon, walks on the beach with my Mum turned into hours of her listening as I talked and talked and talked about Harry and his adventures. It was easier than telling her about what was happening, or most importantly, what was not happening at school.

Then one day I sat beside a girl I only knew by name. She had amazing hair and really big eyes. She was an artist and also had really lovely handwriting, and I started to understand why our English teacher raved about her work in class. I had tried to suss her out about a week before that, but I didn’t quite know what to say. So I just sort of laughed when she did, but I had absolutely no idea what I was laughing at, so I sort of had to shuffle away, before I was included in the conversation. I remember being very distracted from my classwork, desperately trying to think of a good conversation starter. I couldn’t really think of one though, so I just opened with the only thing that meant something to me:

‘Do you like Harry Potter?’ I said.

At that point, she lowered her pen. Slowly, she turned to face me. ‘Karen,’ she said, ‘I love Harry Potter.’

That was it. Just like magic, I had a best friend. That’s how it happened for Albus and Scorpius too. Their friendship was easy, just like ours.

The weeks went on and my love for Harry Potter grew, only this time encouraged by the new friend in my life. I loved when she would come to school with magazine cut outs that related to Harry Potter, as well as stories that she would hear about potential plot twists. I would also regularly find letters posted into my locker (36B, for any curious soul), where she would, a) scold me for being late and b) fill it with other lovely messages, most of them Potter-related. Reading it in full would usually make me even later for class, but for her, I never really cared.

Like Albus and Scorpius, you would never find one of us without the other. I even remember calling her most days after school, because time in class together was never really enough. We often swapped letters that we wrote to J.K Rowling, and the treasured responses we got in return. The years went on, we grew up and so did Harry and his universe, but our friendship remained as strong as ever. I remember buying her Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because she couldn’t attend the midnight launch, and sneaking it through her window in the middle of the night. I remember her writing messages all over my French book, usually filled with jokes that only we would understand. I remember us deliberately slapping each other in the face as we tried to remember the French for right (droite) and left (gauche). We once ate an entire packet of fudge for breakfast, but made sure not to tell our Mums. We would hang out at the arcade, and we would also go on walks around her estate. We were obsessed with Converse. We loved reenacting famous scenes in movies. That was our friendship. One that was easy, fun, and built on a foundation of magic.

As Harry entered a new chapter in his life, so did we. In our fourth year in school, we drifted apart. Not for any major reason, it just was another crossroad in our lives. We grew older, and focus shifted more towards the future. What would happen beyond those pristine glass doors. We still chatted and laughed like normal, only not as regularly as we used to. I did miss her, especially when the final instalment of Harry Potter was released in 2007. As we said goodbye to Harry, we said goodbye to each other, and a year later we were in separate colleges, following completely different lives.

We always stayed in touch though, and recently met for a coffee. She’s getting married now, to a boy I remember her telling me about when we were fifteen (she passed me a note in class, and told me he was “cool and funi”; I found that note recently and laughed). Of course we chatted about Harry, and I told her that I was going to see the play. When I was sitting in the auditorium, I turned to my sister and said that I wished she was there to see it.

So thank you, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for reminding me about how much I loved Harry and the characters he shared his world with. Thank you for introducing me to two new inimitable characters, Albus and Scorpius, who reminded me of a friendship that I will cherish, forever and always.

The characters had grown into adults, just like us. To watch this play meant the world to me, as all I could remember was the eleven-year-old girl, that once read about an eleven-year-old boy who lived under the stairs. See Harry as an adult, made me realise how far we’d both come. That was a long, long time ago now. A lot of things have changed since then. I’m a few inches taller, for example, and I don’t have as many scratches, and playing on the Nintendo makes me feel dizzy. I’m also a writer, lecturer, and writing tutor who loves to read books. And, for the record, that five-hundred-word fairytale was absolutely brilliant.

The images in this post came from some lovely fan art found on Pinterest

IT: The clown that has your heart overruling your head

Warning, this blog post is utterly spoilerrific. 

Everyone is talking about IT. Reviews have been steamrolling in, praising the film for a successful adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel. What I enjoyed in particular was the fact that it was a horror film with a story. Essentially, it was a coming of age adventure tale that, by chance, featured a child-eating demonic clown.

This is a notable deviation from the old horror film format. We’re used to seeing a scary ghost/monster terrifying a group of unfortunate souls, many of whom are devoured throughout the course of the film. Consequently, it makes it hard for us to get attached to them, seeing as we know that they have, essentially, been created to be killed. I’m not saying that every horror film is like this, I’ve seen many examples with some very well established characters and stories (Netflix’s Hush springs to mind). Having said that, this is a rarity, so it’s interesting to watch the growth in this genre in terms of character and story development.

This is where my problem lies with IT. Our leads are not the usual suspects. They are a group of children, each with an individual and bright personality. With this in mind, my ability to enjoy the film was hampered by the first scene; the infamous moment where little Georgie meets a horrific and bloody end.

My internal conflict lies here, and so, it has become a battle between my heart and my head. Here they are, broken down into two very obvious subheadings.

My Head

In terms of screenwriting, this is why they killed (and showed the death of) little Georgie:

  1. The writers needed to establish rules

We needed to see that the children had nowhere to hide. This was a demon that could appear in a drain, during the day, and even in the presence of an adult, who was standing just feet away.

2. The fear was necessary

In order to believe that children are really in danger in a horror film, we need to see it happen. Pennywise falls victim to the ‘more you see, the less terrifying it becomes’ concept, so the only way to heighten the tension, was to fear losing the children. What makes it worse is the fact you can’t help but grow fond of the Losers Club; each member is loveable in their own way. So, by seeing the death of little Georgie (who might I add, was as cute as a button), we completely understand the horrific consequences of falling into the clutches of Pennywise, and we don’t want our young heroes to suffer the same end.

3. We needed to hate Pennywise

Seems strange I know, but it’s a valid point. If we didn’t see what he did, then we couldn’t hate/fear him as much as we do throughout the film. It’s very quickly established that he summons a child’s worst fear, but the moment you see Pennywise himself, you know the end is nigh. So when the children see him, we get horrible flashbacks to poor little Georgie, and immediately hate seeing that evil clown and his red balloons.

4. We needed to understand Bill’s motivations

Bill’s a good kid. Filled with guilt and missing his brother, yes, but an all round good egg.  He does lead his friends into danger on countless occasions, and had we not seen little Georgie die in the way he did, we would have mistaken his anger for utter stupidity. Instead, we completely understand his motivations, and we root for him right to the end.

My heart 

As a writer, I understand why the writers and director decided to show Georgie die. Nevertheless, it deeply upset me to watch it happen. As a result, it prevented me from fully enjoying the ride, because I was too traumatised by the opening scene. I spent quite a lot of the time feeling anxious, rather than spooked or thrilled, because I really didn’t want to watch another child get killed. The writers did what was necessary, and their choices showed a both skill and experience in screenwriting, but due to my own personal reaction to it, I was incapable of really enjoying the film. Perhaps if I watched it again, I might be more prepared. To be honest, all I wanted to do was chase after that clown armed with a giant rubber shoe and hurling some cream pies. I doubt that feeling will change, even on a second watch.

Pennywise, it’s your turn to be afraid!

Culture Night and Disappear Here

Hi all,

Just a little update on Lady Death! I was delighted to hear that there will be two more screenings coming up this month, so catch them if you can:

Culture Night, Belfast (22 September 2017)

On one of the biggest cultural highlights of the year, Lady Death will be screened at the fantastic BeanBag cinema, at 5:30pm. Come along and join us, it’s going to be a blast!

Disappear Here Film Festival, Ballyliffin (22-24 September 2017)

Lady Death will also be screened at the first ever Disappear Here Film Festival in Ballyliffin, Donegal. Date and time to be confirmed, so keep an eye out on their Facebook page for more updates. It’s a beautiful spot for some movie-watching, so if you’re looking for a fun (and scenic) way to spend your weekend, this is the place to be.

A piece I wrote a lifetime ago. Hope you enjoy!

Celtic Cross

Lots of interconnected

Rings of folly light that glimmers

Just beyond Apollo

Where the Tiny Titians descend

Like Fionnula, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn,

Upon a cross of convoluted lines and swirls.

I was told it was made by faeries

Who danced in celebration upon

Buttercups and daises

At the notion of my presence,

And so they gathered their trinkets from the stars.

With a hammer and a petal they shaped its ridge

Its vertical height and horizontal partner that

Collide in battle

Ares rages like a foul unruly dead.

I was told it was a guardian

The symbol to keep me safe

And so it is a lifeline to depend.

Apollo in its ever glowing tide

And roars its lightened colour to the sand

Three centuries shall pass, around her Aiobh shall cast her light again.

Film Devour

Lady Death is on the go again! This time she’s heading to Film Devour. Many, many thanks to the lovely team at Film Devour for screening our film. I personally can’t wait to see it back in Belfast – back to where it all began.

Deadly details below. Come along (if you dare)…

Film Devour 23

Black Box, Belfast
Wedensday 5th July 2017
Doors 7:00pm
£5 door tax

www.filmdevour.co.uk
@flimdevoursff

Skulduggery is back, and everything has changed…

This blog post has been left deliberately vague to avoid spoilers. Saying that, if you haven’t read books 1-9, it might be a bit close to the bone*.

I  would be a big fibber if I said I hadn’t been counting down the days until Skulduggery reached the bookshelves. Anybody who knows me has, I’d say, a fair idea of my love for the skeleton detective and his partner-in-magic, Valkyrie Cain. As a fan, I can get swept away in the world and the characters that inhabit it. As a writer, I can only aspire to one day do the same in my writing.

(Now, before I begin, I am fully aware that this is a children’s book. I am also fully aware that I’m all grown up. In my defence, the back of the book does say “11+”, so add a couple of pluses and I’m there… )

The tenth instalment was aptly called Resurrection. Of course, the title is a major plot-point of the book, and it’s also quite a clever choice given Derek Landy’s temporary hiatus from writing anything to do with the Skulduggery universe. Now, I do think book nine ended the series perfectly. Ending the first series (first being an important word here) with the word “magic” beautifully mirrored book one, when young Valkyrie first began her adventures. Throughout this series, she drastically changed as a person though, given her ever growing strength and also, the devastating consequences that came with it.

For this instalment, Derek Landy made it clear that this was an entirely new series, so I was curious to see if it would feel like a separate entity from its predecessors. He most certainly achieved this; this new book suddenly feels more aware, more sophisticated, and most certainly, like our young hero Valkyrie, more grown up.

Overall, it has a much darker atmosphere. Valkyrie is not the girl she once was, Skulduggery is not the same skeleton, and their relationship has changed as a result. The characters, while feeling familiar, are not the same, and you’re left feeling as if something’s just not quite right. This may sound like a negative point, but it’s actually a testament to Landy’s writing skills. Remember, this series is meant to be different. Landy challenged himself to reinvent an already established world, and he was successful.

This leads me to my previous blog post, “Go Read a Children’s Book!”, where I discussed what is considered appropriate for children’s literature. This is a book that does exactly what I think should be done for children; not hold back. There can, at times, be a misconceived notion that certain topics are a bit of a taboo in children’s literature. In general, there is an impression that the world is a bit too scary, or too confusing for children to really digest.

That’s not the case though; children are plucky, intelligent souls, and this is something Landy recognised. In this new book, he had “grown up” themes of murder (most foul) and politics (most fouler), as well as matters of mental health, sexual diversity,gender fluidity and religion. With this in mind, what I really enjoyed about this particular book, was that Landy just wrote about these concepts and that was that. There was no needless explanations, no spoon feeding of ideas – from the first page he thrust his readers into a new, yet familiar world of magic and adventure, led by wonderfully colourful characters. He did this knowing that his young fans would would understand and accept them.

“The world is bigger than you know, and scarier than you might imagine. The only currency worth anything is being true to yourself, and the only goal worth seeking is finding out who you truly are.”  ― Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant

I particularly appreciated this in terms of respecting people’s individuality and diversity.  Through his books, and Resurrection in particular, Derek Landy advocates a kinder world, through an amazing, multifaceted universe that children adore. Writing can be a very influential tool, and by encouraging a non-judgemental outlook on life, means that our children, and our future, will be the better for it.

*Bone – intentional, obviously.

Write to Refuge

I was very lucky to be asked to write a short story for Oxfam’s Write to Refuge last year. I have decided to post it up on my blog to advertise the upcoming event in Carnegie Library,  15 June at 7pm. There will be a reception with live readings as well as a photography exhibition that inspired each creative response.

I am very proud of this short story. Oxfam’s Write to Refuge is such an amazing cause that highlights the refugee crisis in a very creative and inspiring way. Had I not have taken part I would not be as aware and informed of the crisis as I am now. If you can make it down to this event I would highly recommend it. Read the story by clicking here!

Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival

I was absolutely delighted to find out that Lady Death had made the official selection for the first  annual Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival in the beautiful town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. So, if you happen to be in that picturesque part of the world, then come along! It’ll be screened on Friday, June 9th at 2pm at the beautiful Mauch Chunk Opera House. Also, for more info on the festival, check out there website.

(I’m aware I used the word “beautiful” a lot in this blog post… but seriously, google the festival and the town, then you’ll understand. You’ll understand…)

Writing Showcase

My Newry writing group have a showcase coming up in June. I think it’s important that, with the end of every big writing year, everyone gets the opportunity to show off their work. It gives us, as a group, the opportunity to come together to celebrate their achievements, as well as offer a taster of what’s to come.

If you find yourself in the Newry area, then come to Bellini’s on Saturday 3 June. There is this vast misconception that writing is a very isolated career (or hobby, whatever category you happen to fall into), but that belief is so far from the truth. We’re a very social bunch. Any excuse for a party, really.

New short story online!

Apart from an exciting new addition to my blog (to be announced soon), I am going to take a temporary hiatus from short story and flash fiction writing, just so I can get some serious work done. So, as a little treat, I thought I’d post up another short I wrote a while ago, called “The Box”.  Read it by clicking here.

PARENTAL WARNING: It contains adult themes, so I don’t want to see any little eyes reading it. Reach for a Roald Dahl book instead.

Enjoy!