A literary mystery; memorable characters who are all too human live and breathe in a vividly painted landscape, set mainly in Britain during the Seventies, a time when the old school tie network still prevailed. The scene is set as biographer Nigel Lush's latest (and only official) commission nears publication. His subject, Sir Maurice Brearley, served in the trenches of World War One, was instrumental in arming Britain for World War Two, and in retirement, was the founder of "Magnificent Britain", an annual "Best in Britain" garden competition. So far, so average. However, Nigel's last minute meeting with a dying man reveals a serpent in Sir Maurice's past.
This novel works on three levels. Readers are transported to the grandeur of country estates reminiscent of Brideshead Revisited. The author's descriptions vividly portrays the splendour of these great houses and gardens. Likewise, the scenes painted of London during the Seventies are wonderfully atmospheric and reminds us of an era when society sought to break free of the staid restrictions of class, social and sexual hypocrisy. Sir Maurice Brearley, recently deceased, together with his much younger (trophy) wife appear to epitomise the old guard. But then Nigel learns of a dreadful crime committed during the First World War, a crime which Sir Maurice helped cover up in order to save his own reputation.
Having clawed his way up from a terrace house in Lewisham, to an apartment in one of London's grandest squares, on the back of so called "Pop-Biographies", Nigel has fame and fortune. However, he is convinced that exposing the true nature of Sir Maurice's sinful past will bring the literary respect he craves; Nigel gets to work as an historical detective, so providing readers with a second theme of mystery.
Paradoxically though, apart from a few close friends, Nigel keeps his own emotions and desires a tightly guarded secret.
For me, this is where "Magnificent Britain" transcends the historical and mystery genres. It holds up a mirror to human frailties. Despite his faults, Nigel becomes very real, with fears of failure and ridicule, combined with ambitions to be accepted as a "serious" writer, and to find personal happiness: These sentiments are universal. The friendship between Nigel's housekeeper and the support he provides for her daughter is touching and poignant. But now moderate success as an hagiographer and a family man is thrown into jeopardy as Nigel uncovers the truth about "Magnificent Britain". He is faced with a stark choice: maintain the status quo or attempt to expose Maurice? By keeping quiet about the dreadful truth, Nigel will become an unwilling accomplice to Maurice's "crimes" and condemned to live with his own lies.
Finally, we hear from Sir Maurice himself, in the form of a diary. In addition to reliving the horror and outrage of WW1, Sir Maurice lays bare his own soul, and there is one final surprise; a completely legitimate twist that I dare any reader to predict. This third timeline added yet another dimension to the novel and marks Michael Murray as a gifted author; one who enables readers to suspend time and enter a different world, and really care about fictional characters who are so true to life, they actually exist.
"Magnificent Britain" is an exceptional novel, one I intend to re-read, and would highly recommend to friends and fellow readers.
When Michael Murray was a student at R.A.D.A. he was told by his drama tutor, "You do not learn lines: you study a part".
But how do you study a part?
In "Learning Lines?" Michael describes the principal dramatic elements that writers use to construct their scripts and which actors need to know in order to understand and learn a role. He shows you how to interrogate a script for evidence to build a character; analyse your scenes; divide your role into its units and objectives; and identify the sub-text. With this knowledge you can then learn your lines authentically instead of rote-learning them. Michael considers the memorisation process and how it can be used to optimise the learning of lines and describes his own practical step by step approach to learning a role using scripted material he has written specifically for the purpose.
Michael has many years' experience as an actor (under his Equity name), drama teacher, writer and director; he is a Drama in Education specialist and has an M.A. in Education. He uses his knowledge of drama and teaching methods to provide you with oral and written exercises and techniques that will enable you to embed your lines deep in your being so that you can forget about them and not just "act" but "be".
If you've ever thought there must be a more stimulating and effective way of learning lines than simply rote-learning, then this is the book for you.
If you're an aspiring actor or drama student the book will be particularly useful but it should also interest those who intend to write or direct and all who are interested in literature and the drama.
Detective Chief Inspector Tony Forward's hobby is directing amateur theatricals.
His latest production for the Sandleton-on-Sea Players is "The Cherry Orchard".
It's nearly midnight and he still hasn't completed the dress rehearsal. Then duty calls: a man with fatal head injuries has been discovered in a remote bay on the East Yorkshire coast.
The man's name is Mark Coulson and he's the Headteacher of a local primary school. But no-one seems able to explain why this respectable, professional man was at such an isolated spot so late at night. His wife is the most mystified of all.
Why were Mr Coulson's pockets empty? Sergeant Wilmott believes robbery was the motive. But if the killer had stolen Coulson's car keys why is his car still parked nearby?
Was Mr Coulson murdered by a jealous boyfriend or husband? That's what DC Diane Griffiths thinks. But Mr Coulson's Chair of Governors says he was a boring man whose only interest was his work.
With such a baffling case to solve how can DCI Forward find time for "The Cherry Orchard"?
The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.
Sharon guards a dark family secret.
Barbara is fighting to save her marriage.
Zoe is trying to sort her life out.
Louise is desperate to be recognised for who she truly is . . .
Unaware of the profound effect it will have on her and the rest of the village, estate agent Sharon Makepiece arranges the sale of Leefdale's Old Rectory to Dylan Bourne, an art therapist and professional artist.
The Old Rectory is the finest house in Leefdale. Its renowned gardens are crucial to village plans for winning the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for the fifth consecutive year.
Barbara Kellingford's father, Major Howard Roberts, is chairman of both the parish council and the Magnificent Britain sub-committee. While Barbara struggles to hang on to her husband, a top Tory politician, her father is embroiled in a bruising struggle of his own with the new people at The Old Rectory.
Zoe Fitzgerald is a drama therapist. Her role is to change lives, yet it's her own life which needs to change most.
Louise Makepiece is determined to realise her dreams. But first she has to force her mother to leave Leefdale!
Dylan Bourne's new job is killing his Art. And his romantic obsession seems to be affecting his judgement.
Barbara Kellingford knows that time is running out to save her husband's political career.
Meanwhile, the tabloids are circling.
Leefdale. A story of inclusion and exclusion; local and national politics; press intrusion; the healing power of Art and the complex nature of love.
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Michael Murray is a superb story-teller. His descriptions are luscious and his characters totally believable. Even the least attractive elicits some sympathy, whilst the favourites are allowed to have flaws and double standards. The staff of the inclusion unit exercise their responsibilities with excellent care and insight - even Major Roberts' gardening tips could prove useful to any amateur gardener. "Leefdale" is well-researched and beautifully balanced, often leaving the reader not quite sure what to expect next. A very good companion volume to "Magnificent Britain". Can't wait for his next book!
From Nylon Frocks and Cotton Socks
to Carrier Bags and Nutty Slack,
Cabbage and Semolina
is a kaleidoscope of recollections and family stories drawn from a happy childhood in 1950s Britain.
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