From the Wilde Side: Inside Reading Gaol

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For the first time ever, Reading Gaol has been opened to the public, particularly poignant as it coincides with a magnificent Artangel – Inside: Writers and Artists in Reading Prison, an exhibition of new works that have been created in response to the prison’s architecture and history. Leading artists, writers and filmmakers that include Steve McQueen, Marlene Dumas, Nan Goldin, Robert Gober, Jeannette Winterson and many more have produced work that has been installed in the prison cells, wings and corridors.

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At last I saw the shadowed bars

Like a lattice wrought in lead,

Move right across the whitewashed wall

That faced my three-plank bed,

And I knew that somewhere in the world

God’s dreadful dawn was red.

From ‘The Ballad of Reading Goal’ by Oscar Wilde.

I have to admit, it was a spine-tingling moment to stand in Prison Cell C.2.2. – no matter how much it might have changed (or not!) over the years since 1897 when Wilde was released from his two-year sentence. I also still find it difficult to believe that the prison was only closed in 2013!

For much of his time there, Oscar was not even allowed to write, but with a change of Governor, was eventually given access to enough paper to complete De Profundis, a letter written to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.

“Inside the great prison where I was then incarcerated, I was merely the figure and the letter of a little cell in a long gallery, one of a thousand lifeless numbers, as of a thousand lifeless lives.”

From De Profundis, 1897. Oscar Wilde.

The current exhibition provides audio recordings of De Profundis from Colm Tóibín, Patti Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Neil Bartlett, Kathryn Hunter and many more.

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The books that Oscar requested and was eventually allowed to have in his cell. He deliberately avoided asking for any titles that might have been viewed as contentious.

You can check out further details of the ‘Artangel’ Exhibition HERE

The Fantasy Dinner Party Question…

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So, for my Irish Women in Film Series, I’ve been asking the featured ladies to name six guests that they would invite to their fantasy dinner party. Why? Because it’s fun, but also because their choices can give us an insight into a person’s influences.

I’ve had a few queries since as to what my fantasy dinner party guest list would look like, and it’s a lot more difficult than you might think to narrow it down…to make it easier, I’ve eliminated anyone still living, as, life is funny that way, and you never know who you might meet!!

So from Rock and Roll Heaven, Marc Bolan, Elvis, Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain. Phil Lynott and Jim Morrison will have to go on the reserve list, I’m afraid, and from the film gang, Montgomery Clift, Brando, Dean, River Pheonix, Audrey Hepburn and Paul Newman...

Of the ones I have picked, I would expect each of my fantasy guests to bring a few of their own fantasy guests in for the after dinner drinkies…so long as they each bring a bottle!

It’s my party and I’ll cheat if I want to…

So here goes…

Ella Fitzgerald. Well if you are going to have a singer at your party, make sure you invite the best! And she could always bring Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra along!

Countess Markievicz…because I want her inside story on the 1916 Rebellion, and I would fully expect Pearse, Connolly and the gang to gatecrash!

Robert Mitchum. Bad boy Number One! ‘Night of the Hunter’ and ‘Cape Fear’…need I say more?

Bette Davis…from the moment I saw ‘Jezebel’ when I was nine years old, I have been fascinated by her…what a woman, what a life, what a career!

Oscar Wilde…because I would imagine that he has GOT to be the best conversationalist ever to grace this planet…a man before his time! And he could bring along Sheridan le Fanu, and his old rival in love, Bram Stoker…Wilde dated Stoker’s future wife, Florence…now there’s a story!

John Cassevetes. Such an interesting and complex man, a pioneer in the world of independent  film making…I could learn a thing or two from him! And, er, Falk, Gazzara and Rowlands would be very welcome too!

Quite a frustrating exercise overall, so many influential peeps, so little dream time!!

And who would be on yours???

Featured Image: Copyright Errol Farrell. 2012

On Inspiration…and why everything truly is copy

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“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

So wrote Anne Lamott, an author I had vaguely heard of before reading that quote. An accomplished writer, I discovered that her non-fiction work is greatly influenced by her own struggles, best described by the author herself;  I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh.

I posted Lamott’s quote on my Facebook page a while back, and a writer friend responded with another quote, from the late and great, Nora Ephron:

“Everything is copy.”

Indeed, and the wonderful Ephron elaborated on, for what is to me, and obvious truism, in the introduction to her novel, Heartburn, when she wrote of becoming the hero, rather than the victim of the joke.

I am sure that many of us can identify with that?

I can, for certain. Not that I advocate dusting down tomes of snotty, tear-stained journals of youth and regurgitating a narrative of some exquisitely nostalgic pain-ridden experience. Nor indeed, some vengeful tale of ridicule to spite the target of your blame…though, it has to be said that all is fair in the land of fiction…so whatever floats your boat!

I never kept diaries as a kid, and even today, as a devout scribbler, I find that the most trying times are the ones that are impossible to write down, at the time anyway. We all know people, some who don’t even consider themselves to be writers, who do manage to  record their experiences, however traumatic, putting pen to paper throughout…until coming out at the other side of it, as someone told me recently, they would not have remembered or been able to describe what happened to them so vividly, had they not been writing it down as they experienced it.

Recorded on paper or not, with distance, time-passing and maturity, and perhaps with a third-person narrative, stories of self can come to life in three-dimensional worlds that make meaning of experience, and hopefully generate empathy and connection with others.

Removing the shield of author, and stripping away the mechanisms that hide the fragility of a human being alone, we know what we experienced, and we know how it felt. How we looked out at the world and the people in it, how we continue to do that. The difference between being a child as opposed to being an adult, is that, as the former, we are powerless to our fate, and powerless to change anything. Becoming the latter enables empowerment to not only steer our own course, but more importantly, to change our ways of thinking, reacting and of just being.

We can decide to be weak, or we can determine to be strong, and to analyse our past to the point of not wallowing in the soreness of it, but in recognizing how our experiences have shaped us…and perhaps, to step outside of it all, and look back in; the spectator.

For the writer’s inspiration, this is gold.

 Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. [Oscar Wilde]

For the writer’s soul, this is life.

Photograph is the copyright of Errol Farrell. 2012