Saturday 28 February 2009

What a difference a generation makes . . .

Update on the Literary Biblical References quiz.

With scores of between 6 and 10 from those who responded (to whom many thanks for taking the trouble and for some interesting comments), I thought it would be more pertinent to Andrew Motion's fears to consult members of the current generation of students. So I asked my 15-year-old daughter to give it a whirl.

She has revealed her score in the comments to the original post .

Hmmm. Beginning to see what you mean, Mr M!

I've asked SD#1 to get her friends to have a go and let me know how they fared.

Meanwhile, further scores and comments from anyone - of any age or religious persuasion - will be most welcome.

How much is our enjoyment and understanding of fiction, poetry and drama enhanced by our ability to pick up biblical allusions and references? And how much diminished if they simply go unnoticed? Is The Bible in (or as) Literature something that should be actively taught as part of the English curriculum in schools and on English degree courses (see Logophile's comment on the original post)? And if not, then is this a vital chunk of our cultural heritage which is going to be lost forever (and apparently pretty quickly so)?

And, all you writers out there: is the Bible still mined for literary purposes? Have you ever deliberately or unconsciously used biblical metaphors, allusions or references in your work, or plundered the Bible in other ways (eg for the titles of novels)?


Friday 27 February 2009

The (m)useless blogger

Utterly overwhelmed by work this week, to the detriment of absolutely everything else, including walks on TBTA/M/E. So the dog and I are both fatter and waddlier than ever.

Have given up chocolate for Lent - from vanity (weight-loss attempt) rather than piety, I'm afraid - which makes working long into the small hours of the night rather less tolerable than would otherwise be the case.

Can't think of anything interesting to write - largely because my brain is so overtaken by work worries at the moment that it's incapable of extraneous thought. But, just to keep my muse-free Musings going somehow, here are some more pics from my stroll around the Tollesbury marshes last weekend.

(That's Mersea on the horizon in the pink pics, by the way. The red lightship is owned by Fellowship Afloat and is home to the Tollesbury webcam.)

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Muddy Musing for the Day

Had such warning signs been hammered into the pavements of the City of London, rather than languishing unheeded in the Essex marshes, might the Current Economic Crisis have been averted?

Monday 23 February 2009


*The Beach on Saturday Afternoon.
Views of West Mersea from various points on the sea wall at Tollesbury (shown in pink on map below).
A quite unbelievably beautiful, warm, spring-like day.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Is the writing on the wall for English students?

Andrew Motion is worried that students of English literature are are not familiar with the Biblical references which inform so much of the canon of English poetry, prose and drama. And, indeed, still forms a rich source of inspiration for the titles of contemporary books and plays.

I must say, I tend to agree with our Poet Laureate. Though, equally, I freely confess that I didn't score 10 out of 10 in this quiz . . .

If you tell me your score, I'll tell you mine!

Monday 16 February 2009

All at Sea

Fans of first-rate radio drama might be interested to know that Colin MacDonald's new play, All at Sea, will be broadcast on Radio 4 today at 2.15 pm.

David Murdoch is on a post-redundancy cruise in the Indian Ocean when the ship runs into trouble off the pirate-ridden Somali coast. The cast includes Maynard Eziashi.

This highly topical thriller has been produced in an astonishingly short space of time. Colin told me on Friday:

I was only commissioned to write it on the 22nd December. It was written (somehow) between then and now, and recorded at the BBC studios in Glasgow on Monday and Tuesday, edited on Wednesday and Thursday ... and goes out this coming Monday!

It will be available to UK listeners on iPlayer for seven days.

Saturday 14 February 2009

Valentine's Day Interview - Lucy Hopegood, photographer

After a long absence, I’m delighted to be resurrecting the Musings Friday Interview.

Except that, clearly, this one’s a Saturday Interview, because who wants a Friday 13th Interview?! Not me. And certainly not the subject of this post, photographer Lucy Hopegood.

And anyway, what more appropriate day for a celebration of wedding photography than Valentine’s Day?

Lucy’s love of photography began when she was given her first camera at the age of 17 and more recently this enduring passion has evolved into a dynamic business.

* Lucy, what made you decide to turn your love of photography into a business opportunity?

It was really the frustration which I think a lot of people experience when doing a job which doesn't really suit them, a gradual and growing feeling of being in the wrong place. I had been offered a place to study photography at university but at the last minute switched to law. I suppose I was trying to be sensible.

Of course, law proved to be fascinating and subsequent jobs were stimulating and challenging but deep down all I really longed to do was to take photographs. I would spend hours devouring style magazines, colour supplements, photographic journals ... anything that fed my passion for photography.

Eventually, this slow drip of frustration became an avalanche of dissatisfaction and I jumped ship with my camera to establish Lucy Hopegood Photography. I can honestly say I that I am happy every day to have done this.

* Your portraits and wedding photographs are so much more relaxed than traditional studio shots. And most of them are taken outdoors, aren’t they?

Yes, there are two reasons for this: First, I have always enjoyed the photograph as a whole ... settings, textures and colours are, for me, an integral element of a good portrait. In addition, I dislike the deadening effect of flash photography and virtually never use it. Obviously, it is an essential and effective tool in stylised fashion photography but for most portrait and wedding photography natural light produces the most beautiful results. Shooting outside enables me to harness natural light, in all its varied and dramatic forms.

Second, many people find photographic studios stifling and intimidating. Both the once-fashionable cluttered interior look and its modern equivalent, the stark white background, have no meaning for most of the people plonked inside them. Instead, my clients choose a favourite place that makes them happy. The freedom that flows when the confines of the studio are abandoned is evidenced in the resulting vibrant, joyous images.

* How would you describe ‘lifestyle photography’?

Clients want elements of their portrait to reflect their interests and to tell the observer something about their lifestyle. Interestingly, this has much in common with traditional painted portrait commissions. I have photographed clients with their chickens, horses, on boats, in their classic cars, etc: they want these essential elements incorporated into a beautiful record of a time in their lives.

However, it should be said that despite the relaxed nature and informal impression of lifestyle photography, good results demand a level of direction and structure from the photographer.

* How do you go about creating such a delightful rapport with your subjects?

The most vital aspect is time. There is nothing more likely to cause tension and, as a result, stiff photographs than clients feeling rushed. I never undertake more that one shoot in a day and I take as long as is needed.

Some shoots take three hours, others a lot longer. Clients need time to relax. The vast majority of people (including me) think that they hate being photographed but it's amazing, given time, how often I see the most tense client really start to enjoy striking poses.

Again, I should emphasise the importance of people being happy in their surroundings. The seaside is always a success, there is something very freeing about the combination of water, sunshine and wind and, of course, the easy availability of ice creams doesn't hurt either.

* Presumably, you have to be particularly patient with young children?

Actually it's not just the smallest children who can be demanding. Recalcitrant teenagers aren't always keen to be in front of the lens either. Some love it but others hate the very thought, especially if they have been persuaded to wear something they dislike with grandparents in mind. I always make sure that they call the shots for a proportion of the shoot, wearing what they like etc, as a pay-off for the bits they may dislike. Little children need regular breaks and snacks, so I always factor these in. If they need a nap, we have coffee or lunch and begin again a bit later.

* On which note, have you worked much with animals?

Yes, many of my shoots involve pets of some sort – clients want them included because they feel like members of the family. I once did a shoot with a wonderful family on their yacht with two delightful dogs in nautical t-shirts taking centre stage. It was a fabulous shoot and great fun once I had conquered my landlubber nerves. A more recent shoot included a large, much-loved duck and a few years ago I had to point out to a red-faced husband that he had chosen more photographs of his cat than of his wife!

* How do people choose the shots they wish to purchase?

Once I have edited the results of a shoot, I visit the client at home and we spend time viewing all the images. It helps to decide first who each photograph is for and what format the finished product should be in. It takes some time and I never rush my clients. I would hate them to feel pressurised. At the moment, I am offering a disc option for both portraits and weddings which, of course, removes the need to choose images, since the client keeps them all.

* Do portrait clients generally select just one shot or a whole series?

Most choose a wide selection. Storyboards are enduringly popular, in both frame and album format. This simply means a selection of images which tell the story of the day – detail shots of hands or feet, etc, are really effective in this format when interspersed with other full-frame photographs.

It really is the case that storyboards have the power to captivate and enthrall – some families come back for a new version when they have another child. At the other end of the spectrum are clients who have a strict budget and will only be buying one or two frames. I always believe that they are entitled to the same service and time in order to produce a treasured image, and of course, I store everything on disc which means that more can be chosen at a later date if desired.

* So lifestyle portraiture isn’t just a financial investment but an emotional one?

Exactly. We spend more money now than ever on transient pleasures like holidays and dining out etc. Whilst such treats are undeniably enjoyable, memories of them fade. Buying innovative, contemporary lifestyle portraiture is an emotional investment. Like Proust's madeleines, meaningful photographs can evoke a lifetime of intense memories.

* You’re holding a special exhibition of wedding photography at Glemham Hall in Suffolk later this month. Tell me more about that.

Yes, it's a very exciting collaboration for me. Glemham Hall is a stunning red brick Elizabethan mansion set on a large country estate between Woodbridge and Saxmundham. It is a beautiful wedding venue and I am thrilled to have been invited to exhibit there between 28 February and 1 March. The hall, grounds and marquee will be open for wedding viewings and I will be exhibiting my work and talking informally to visitors on both days. In addition, there will be a free prize draw to win my wedding services, including pre-wedding shoot, attendance and photography on the wedding day itself and a disc of wedding photographs.

* How do you approach a wedding commission?

My style is unobtrusive, and I aim to be as discreet a presence as possible. It is crucially important not to obstruct the smooth running of the day and I liaise closely with caterers, florists, musicians, etc to ensure that we work together. We all want the same outcome: a happy and successful wedding day.

As I am shooting, I think about the visual story that I am going to create in the finished album and aim to capture the small details as well as the more obvious moments of the day. I love photographing the wedding preparations before the service, and this period of building excitement often yields the most magical pictures.

Some couples ask for the service itself to be photographed and, again, a discreet presence is crucial. At the reception I advise that group photographs are kept to a minimum to enable the bride and groom to enjoy their party without being taken away from their guests for too long. I always work with a trained assistant whose job it is to help organise shots, change lenses, etc, so that I can concentrate on doing what I love most: taking great photographs.

* And you offer a pre-wedding shoot as well. How does that work?

For me, this is an essential element of my wedding services. Some months before the wedding day, I will meet the bride and groom at a place that they choose and spend time photographing them together. It is great for me because I get to know them better before the wedding and the advantage for them is that it inspires confidence. Having seen the pre-wedding shoot images, they start their wedding day knowing that I will take stunning photographs of them and they come away with a lovely record of the special time before they were married.

* And in addition to the Glemham Hall prize draw, you’ve a couple of other special offers on at the moment.

Yes, that's right. Those who book their weddings before 31 March 2009 will enjoy an edited disc of all their wedding photographs in addition to the album included in the price. Lifestyle portrait shoots booked in spring 2009 are priced at £100 shoot fee and £380 for an edited disc of over 50 beautiful photographs. This makes the lifestyle shoot more affordable and removes the need to choose particular photographs over others.

* Finally, Lucy, what, for you, is the essence of making a good photograph?

Good photography is not just about technical ability, though this clearly plays a part. More, it is a love of people, an eye for detail and a keen enjoyment of creating the most beautiful images imaginable.
Thanks Lucy. You can find Lucy’s website here – email her at info[at] for further information about any of her photographic services.

The Glemham Hall website is here and the special wedding exhibition is open from 28 February until 1 March.

Portraits of Lucy by Jonathan Doyle.

(Click on photos to enlarge and see them to best advantage.)