A(nother) Absolutely Fabulous Rambling

My sister decided yesterday that she’s missed my Sunday morning blog posts. For those of you that hadn’t clocked, since the beginning of the year I’ve been posting a chapter of my novel a week at a time – my sister being my one avid reader. If you’d like to catch up you can read it HERE.


She’s decided to start giving me a subject each week, so that she has something to read every Sunday morning. Her first prompt is ‘Inspiring Women’.


Quite what she’s expecting from that prompt I don’t know. Firstly, she set the prompt at 4:48 on a Saturday afternoon, which doesn’t leave an awful lot of time to weave my straw thoughts into a piece of literary gold, but gosh darn it, I’ll try.


I don’t know if she wants me to write something that will inspire women, or wants me to write about some women who are inspiring. Maybe she wants me to write about her.


Well, she can go whistle.


Instead, I’m going to do what any good writer does when they’re given a topic to write about it, twist it around so they can write about something else entirely instead. Perhaps even something they were going to write about anyway.


Tonight I took myself off to the cinema to see the new Absolutely Fabulous film. I went with my friends Scoop – named so because of once accidentally scooping her own eye – and Dan – named so because that’s his name.


As an aside, it was only as I made my way to the cinema that I realised that after a few heavy drinks and a bit of a squint that short ginger Scoop and tall, blonde bouffanted Dan could probably pass for a bad Eddie and Patsy tribute act. Which then led me to worry that I might be mistaken for either Saffy or Mother.


It’s been four years since we last had some new Ab Fab, an Olympics special, which some felt had lost some of the magic of the earlier series. I still loved it.


But it did set us all up to be slightly nervous going into the release of this film that it might all be a little bit shit.


So, as the first scenes of the film roll out like Eddie out of a taxi, repeating a classic joke from the series, I did start to panic. However, soon the new jokes started coming and the ridiculous plot that you’d expect from an episode of Ab Fab kicked into gear.


The jokes themselves are comfortable, there are no huge belly laughs, and even the funniest jokes on paper likely don’t quite stack up, but it’s the performances by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley specifically that as always steal the screen.


Lumley repeating the word “Gabon” while Saunders and Julia Sawahla look on completely dumbfounded is likely to be the film’s most memorable moment, but there are plenty of other moments during the film where we and others in the theatre laughed loudly – even if I don’t really remember them now.


There are many celebrity cameos all the way through the film – so many that the end credits lists ninety percent of the character names as either ‘Herself’ or ‘Himself’ – but my favourites are Joan Collins and Rebel Wilson. Though Gwedoline Christie, appearing albeit briefly, manages to make more of an impression here than she does in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.


The film is essentially an extended episode of the TV series, the plot isn’t necessarily strong enough to hold a film, but the characters like the jokes are comfortable, and everything is reset nicely at the end of the film.


I saw someone on Twitter mention that seeing the film was like meeting up with some friends you haven’t seen in a few years – everyone has a good time, but largely because of the good times that everyone shared in years past, not because this latest night out was particularly legen-wait-for-it-dary.


Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone are exactly as you remember them from twenty-five years ago, they are out having fun, being horrendously offensive and generally doing what they want to do and not giving a shit.


These are women who at sixty (Eddie) and twenty-one (Patsy) are not letting their age or gender or anything else stop them.


If they aren’t inspiring women, I don’t know who are.


Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave


“War was declared at 11.15 and Mary North signed up at noon.”


That’s a wonderful first line of a book and helps the book set out it’s stall simply in one sentence, so that it can get on with the story.


Written by Chris Cleave, the genius behind Gold – a book about Olympic cycling that somehow made me cry – this is the kind of book that you’ll want a pen with you as you read so you can underline all the great lines.


Mary is part of the upper class of London, and the dialogue and inner monologue of the book is written in a clipped form that instantly makes you feel part of Mary’s world.


Gradually as the realities of war start to kick in Mary begins to mature, and while she never quite loses her ideological edge, she does become more aware of her place in the world.


As a rule, I don’t like books set during the war. It’s part of my whole historical fiction is just an excuse for the author to show off how much they’ve been able to research, and that often takes me out of the narrative.


(And yes, I appreciate the irony considering the fact that at least one of the chapters in my novel is set during an air raid in the Second World War)


But I am always willing to forgive authors that I like and give them a go, and boy am I glad that I did with Everyone Brave Is Forgiven.


While it didn’t have the same dramatic and emotional ending that Gold did, it is beautifully written all the way through with a range of characters that you care about, and a sense of real jeopardy.


It may be unfair to compare Everyone Brave is Forgiven to Gold, they are after all very different stories and comparing them is a bit like comparing strawberry ice cream with garlic bread. They both have wonderful qualities, both are completely different and you want them to be different. Garlic ice cream, anyone? A slice of strawberry bread?


But, what stands out in Gold all these years later is the story, I can’t honestly say I l look back on it and remember the writing – though surely it was great. If in five years time you ask me my thoughts on Everyone Brave is Forgiven I’ll tell you about the writing.


Very early on I captured a picture of a line of the text because I thought it was a lovely line, however looking back at it now, it ties in with what I was saying earlier on about the development of Mary as a character.


Mary is sent to work in a school when she signs up at the War Office, and when asked by the headmistress why she did sign up, Mary replies:


“I hoped it might be less exhausting than the constant rest.”


I do think that if the same question was asked of Mary the last time we meet her, she might have a very different answer.


Not that it’s all about Mary of course, there are several other characters, equally well drawn, equally compelling and Cleave weaves through their viewpoints in such a way that you can never be too sure who will survive and who won’t.


Even to the last chapter, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. That, coupled with the lasting image of two characters walking along the side of the Thames, both battered by the war, together, but still forced apart at the same time makes for a very memorable book indeed.


Scoring 4.4 out of 5, it climbs to the top of my 2016 leaderboard, and I suspect will stay there for some time


Everyone Brave is Forgiven is released in Hardback in April 2016