Friday, 24 April 2015

Stories matter

Sarah Agha & Gehane Strehler. Picture by Robert Workman
I wish I could dance as well as the cast of Operation Magic Carpet. (I am an extremely enthusiastic, though also terrible dancer, sadly.) There have been some really lovely new reviews of the play, from Catherine Love who says, "Stories matter. And so does this one." Of course I agree with her. And there's more too...

"Captivating"—John Nathan, Jewish Chronicle

"A well-paced play full of humour and colour, it keeps children glued to their seats"—Dunia El-Zobaidi, The Arab Weekly.

I also talked about the play on Midweek with Libby Purves.

It's on at the Polka Theatre until May 24th and I would love you to see it. Of all the plays I've written, this one probably means the most to me. Rosamunde Hutt has directed it with so much warmth and flair and sensitivity, and the cast have all brought such passion and commitment to it—and energy, which is not easy, doing two shows a day, what with the massive fight scene I threw in. Here are some lovely things people have said on Twitter too.






































Tuesday, 14 April 2015

No, this is 40

A couple of years ago I watched This is 40 which was very funny but also felt like it should be called How Not to Turn 40. I kept thinking about it in the run-up to actually turning 40, which I did this weekend. And it was lovely.

It involved salted caramel cake and lots of love (from so many people; I am very lucky), Kate Bush on repeat and dancing to A-ha (Take on Me, obvs), blowing about on Parliament Hill, finally reading Elena Ferrante (Days of Abandonment: wow), grown-up (sturdy, unsmashable) glassware, radically and controversially moving my poster of Wuthering Heights out of my bedroom (sorry, Heathcliff, but it was time), Japanese popcorn tea (surreal but very good), and watching Operation Magic Carpet with my mum and grandma (we all cried). Afterwards, there was wine and hummus in the Polka Theatre garden in an unexpected burst of sunshine, and lovely speeches, and the whole company singing Happy Birthday.
Adam Youssefbeygi, Jason Eddy, Hemi Yeroham & Sarah Agha
Picture by Bob Workman
And now the first reviews are in, and they're lovely:

"A modern story fit for the Thousand and One Nights...I definitely recommend that you take the magic carpet from Wimbledon to Baghdad"—Judith Conyers at Essential Surrey

"Joyful...with a few thrills on the way and perhaps a sentimental tear or two. There is something here to make its young audience think"—Howard Loxton at British Theatre Guide

"Highly imaginative and humorous...dealing with serious contemporary issues, such as cultural identity amongst immigrant families...a well-paced, humorous, thought-provoking, well-written and performed play suitable for all the family"—Mumsnet Merton

"Operation Magic Carpet at Polka Theatre could be the story of so many children who've been forced to leave home and live in a new country, or children born in a country foreign to their parents. Their loneliness and struggle for identity is often overlooked by adults who are trying their best to fit in...A fantastical adventure...A beautiful production with the actors being the real heroes, they convey all the magic of the Arabian Nights...exciting for the young audience and endearing and entertaining for the older ones"—Curious Mum

"Entertaining...pleasingly explores both the tension between cultures faced by immigrants and the power of story"—Susan Elkin at The Stage

"Funny and unarguably charming"—Flossie Waite at Children's Theatre Reviews

The best review of all, though, was from a small boy who, when Sarah Agha and Gehane Strehler started bellydancing on stage, got up and joined in, in his seat. Apparently he is autistic, hasn't been to the theatre that much, and just wanted to. And his dancing was one of the joyous things I've ever seen.

On top of all this, How to be a Heroine got a really lovely, considered review in the LA Review of Books (complete with another epiphany story at Top Withens).

The protagonist of Judd Apatow's film is in denial about her age—she even puts 38 on her cake instead of 40—but I don't feel that way. I'm happier than I've been in a long time. So maybe this is 40.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Knowing where you come from so you know where you're going

Adam Youssefbeygi and Sarah Agha. Picture by Bob Workman
I've been friends with Maddy Costa since we were eleven, so I jumped at the chance to have a big old chat about theatre with her for Exeunt magazine. We talked about Operation Magic Carpet and lots, lots more, and especially knowing where you come from so you know where you're going; Maddy's family are from Cyprus and her daughter is just starting to make up her own stories about her journey, as we all do, I think.

In the picture above, Yusef (Adam) and Nomi (Sarah) are seeing if a watermelon is ripe; in rehearsals, they used a beach ball, but this is much more like it. (And it is papier maché, made by the fabulous designer Sophia Lovell Smith).

Oh and here are Yasmin (Gehane) and Sinbad (Jason) buying and selling in the souq...
Gehane Strehler & Jason Eddy. Picture by Bob Workman
And here, below, are Sinbad (Jason), the Genie (Hemi) and Nomi again (Sarah) setting sail...
Jason Eddy, Hemi Yeroham & Sarah Agha. Picture by Bob Workman
which feels appropriate, because the play has just set sail and as I'm writing this now, it's having its sixth performance...I don't know why it should feel odd that it's on and I'm not there, when it doesn't feel odd not to be there while people are reading my book, but somehow it is. Odd but also very, very good. I'm excited to see it again at the weekend, and if you would like to see it too, all the details are here....and it's a seven-week run so there is plenty of time!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

More American reviews—& the march of March

How fast is March going? It doesn't feel possible it can already be the 19th, but it definitely is, because today was the day of my event with Anne Sebba and Alex Clark at the Daunt's festival, which was so much fun. Anne writes biographies about real heroines (some more heroic than others) so we got into some fascinating discussions about what heroism really is; and Roz Dineen wrote the whole thing up on the TLS blog. At the weekend, I was at the brilliant Bristol Women's Literature Festival, curated by feminist powerhouse Sian Norris, on a panel with Helen Mort, Michéle Roberts, Amy Mason and Sarah LeFanu, talking about women writing today, and getting into some really knotty debates about what it means to be a woman writer, how we define ourselves, the choices we make, the creative communities we are part of, and, of course, what it's like to actually write. Though we had a lot of trouble defining that.

I've also been in and out of rehearsal for my play—opening SOON! More on that very soon...

I've also had some more lovely American reviews, and here, in no particular order, they are...thank you also, as ever, to everyone who has reviewed the book on Goodreads and other places.

"Addictive"—Patricia Duffaud at The Book Bag

"Like having a heartfelt conversation about life and favourite novels with an avid, well-read best friend"—Jenny Hagerty at AustenProse

"How to be a Heroine is a smash"—Grace Labatt at Santa Fe New Mexican

"Insightful critical...memoir of a lifetime of reading"—Jennifer Vega on Effusions of Wit and Humour

"Ellis rejects the notion that life just happens to women"—PopMatters

"Her love of literature, coupled with a warm, engaging style, makes this feel more like an enjoyable book conversation with a friend than some attempt at armchair literary criticism"—It's a Hardback Life

"The book every reader wishes they had written"—Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick on the Barnes and Noble blog

"Full of the same charm, wit and warmth befitting any good Jane Austen protagonist"—Kristen Zory King at Vegas Seven

"Nostalgic, clear-eyed, critical"—Dana Staves at BookRiot

Fascinating and enjoyable"—Kaitlyn at A Comfy Chair

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Snowdrops at Haworth

I'm just back from an amazing week in Haworth, researching my book on Anne Brontë; here are some snowdrops in the graveyard, lit up by moonlight. It's been lovely to come back to more very nice American reviews for How to be a Heroine from Patricia Duffaud at The Book Bag, from Jenny Hagerty at AustenProse and Grace Labatt at Santa Fe New Mexican. I was also chuffed to get a mention in Sarah Seltzer's piece about remixing heroines, and a fascinating-sounding play in New York, and to make this fun list of books Leslie Knope would have on her shelves.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Five Best Spinsters

I loved writing this piece on five best novels about spinsters for the Wall Street Journal. It's really an excuse to bang on about Lolly Willowes and West Riding again.