Wednesday, 15 June 2016

We are Orlando

  I've had over four days to try and attempt to dwell on the heartbreaking events that happened over the weekend. Yet I still struggle to find words. I open up every form of social network and find all manner of people exclaiming their disbelief, their anger, their pain. I wondered whether it was worth writing anything at all, whether I would be regurgitating what has already been said by others across the globe. But then, I thought, an echo of the same idea is what gets people noticed, gets people talking, gets a seed planted firmly in the brains of others. So what exactly do I have to say?

   I say that I'm stunned, and still in shock of this viscous, uncalled for attack on the LGBT community. Clubs like Pulse have offered a place of sanctuary and shelter for those who felt shunned from the outside world, a place to feel free and unrestricted. Where you could be anyone you wanted to be. No one cared what you wore, how flamboyant or introverted you were, whether you danced or not. You were widely accepted for you. Places like Pulse opened their hearts to the LGBT community and gave them a home to freely express their identity when the outside world chose to ignore it. A safe haven, if you will. But now, thanks to a man whose institutionalised homophobia and denial of his own sexuality lead to the deaths of over fifty brothers and sisters, our sanctuary has been wrongfully taken away from us. As a gay man, I have never felt more accepted, or more welcomed than in a gay club. People who have strong presupposed ideas of a gay club or bar, truly, have no idea what it's like to walk down the street in fear. Fearing that you may walk too feminine, or fearing to hold your partner's hand, or kiss his cheek. In our many places of sanctuary, we could shed that fear like a bird shedding its feathers before it takes flight. And oh how we would soar into the night, uniting with our brothers and sisters, dancing, drinking, laughing. We felt comfortable, we felt safe. Now, I feel more scared than ever. I'm scared that rash homophobic and xenophobic attitudes still exist in the world and I'm scared that it's terrifyingly easy for people to act on them in the worst way possible. I also fear for the younger generation of the LGBT community; those who are still living in the closet, struggling to come to terms with themselves.

   But do you know what I find more scary, and truth be told, downright exhausting? Bigots like Trump, like Firage, like Julia Hartley-Brewer, ignoring the plain, obvious facts and jumping for the "IT'S MUSLIM TERRORISTS ATTACKING PEOPLE" card. This was the worst mass killing of LGBT in the western world since the Holocaust. THE HOLOCAUST. Yet, people gloss over this blatant attack on our community, because they still choose to not acknowledge LGBT people as part of their society. Yes, we have marriage equality but it doesn't end there funnily enough. We deserve the right to be acknowledged in society, to be equal. Yet we aren't. We are still considered inferior in many ways, we deal with internalised prejudice and torrents of homophobic abuse every single day. I repressed all of my feelings during my teenage years, after suffering from countless amounts of bullying or name calling. Being gay was to be something disgusting, to be diseased and isolated. I suffered in silence for a long time, before finally coming to terms with myself, accepting who I was and being brave. I grew older, and saw a rally for change. I met more LGBT people, talked to them, listened to their stories. We united through our pain and past experiences to look forward and pave the way for social change. Sadly, cases like this prove how far we have to go to reach true equality, communities have united in grief for Orlando globally, yet I still feel like we are outcasts. Straight people, can sympathise of course, but will truly never know the grief and outrage our community is feeling at this moment. A lazy like on Facebook, or sharing one picture on Twitter isn't enough.

   Interestingly, I wonder how long it will be before everyone stops talking about this. I noticed an awkward silence, or a pregnant pause, in the room whenever I mentioned it at work over the last few days. Yet, Paris, or the current Football riots between the England and Russian fans, were, or are topics of conversation that never seem to go away. If this was a massacre in a fairly well known state school, I feel things would certainly be different. There's always something to flesh out, or discuss. On Tuesday, only one newspaper made the shooting its front page. One. To repeat myself, the worst massacre against LGBT people in the western world since the Holocaust and it wasn't even front page news to most. I guarantee by next week, it'll have faded into the background. As Raven-SymonĂ© beautifully pointed out, society comes together in love to grieve and for what feels like a brief moment, we are united, but how long does it last? We discuss the importance of the community, the distressing issue of Gun Control for, say, two months, before everything digresses to how it was before. People say LGBT people are their family too, but how long for exactly? How long were you Charlie? How long were you Brussels? People are forgetting that this is not the first time we have experienced a hate crime, nor I'm sure it will be the last. We have always needed your support, and to get it after such a brutal massacre feels...disappointing. Why did we have to let over fifty people, the youngest at twenty two, be slaughtered in, essentially, their home, for you to wake up and realise we have always needed your help?

  But, I can't ignore the love and support I have seen, regardless of whether it's been ongoing or not. Seeing Old Compton Street bristling with people all tightly packed in together, was breathtaking and so, incredibly moving. A friend of mine wished how she hoped the shooter had been alive to see the thousands pouring in from all over America to donate blood to the victims of the massacre, so that he could see the overwhelming amounts of love and support going toward them. Love will always triumph over evil, hatred and bigotry. Though I know this may anger some people, or get people talking, I stand by every single point I've made. I have wrote this from the heart, because this IS personal. I have learned to fully embrace myself and embrace others, I shall never stop being joyful, or proud to be who I am and love who I love. Life is to be lived fully and fabulously, and for our fallen brothers and sisters, I mourn but I salute you. We will never forget and we will shout as loudly as we can to get our voices heard. Your lives won't have been lost for nothing when we stand united as a family, because we are Orlando. 

Thursday, 9 June 2016

In Conversation with Giovanna Fletcher

Packing out an entire Waterstones is certainly a fine achievement, but with the radiant smile and gentility Giovanna Fletcher conveyed with her adoring fans, she never once seemed overwhelmed by the experience. Giovanna, wife to Tom Fletcher, is now an established author, actress, presenter, blogger and mother of two (recently obtaining the title of mother of the year) and she was in town promoting her newest book, Always with Love, a sequel to her debut novel Billy and Me. I was fortunate enough to be allowed a brief interview with Giovanna after the signing, in which I had planned to discuss her newest book, how being a mum influences her writing and, perhaps most importantly, the all-round importance of Nutella (it's very important!).

   However, due to a tight time schedule I have to share my alloted interview time with a fellow journalist, and I arrive into the room as the interview has already begun. After seeing Giovanna interact with the massing crowds downstairs and from her many videos she uploads to YouTube, it was utterly charming to see her radiate with such delicate positivity and kindness, not once did her beaming smile slip from her glowing face; it was hard not share the same amount of optimism. I settle quietly as the lovely Giovanna refers to her blogging routine, greeting me with that adoring smile.
  "I can just rest easy knowing that by Thursday night it's all done, all ready to go and scheduled to go up 9 o'clock Monday morning and that I'm all up to date. I've actually started doing this new thing with lists, I'm obsessed with lists!" she chuckles. "I write down everything that I've got to do and I get such pleasure in crossing it off, like even do something like go to the toilet and later go ting! cross it off the list, knowing that I've been productive." Her laugh is truly infectious, and immediately Giovanna strikes me as a humble, regular person, unaffected by her popularity or fame, she gets the same pleasure of ticking things off a list as would you or I, I personally, LOVE a good list. Anyway, I digress!

    We note that she's actually halfway through her current book tour, before heading up north to Chelmsford and Lakeside and finishing off in Milton Keynes. My fellow journalist, Thea, asks if that's the furthest north she's travelling, to which Giovanna nods. "This time with a newborn at home, I don't want to travel too far! I mean, I even have to carry my pump everywhere I go, it's not the most glamorous of booktours!" she exclaims, her laugh carrying the room.  We ask whether she has visited Reading before, to which she squints her eyes in deep thought, searching for a memory. "I must have done with Mcfly when they did the theatre tours a few years ago, but otherwise I don't think I have.

   "It's been lovely being here though, it's just so nice to always look up and be greeted by another smiley face!" she beams, unveiling her very own smiley face. It's hard not to fall in love with Giovanna, her charismatic charm and down to earth manner make the interview feel as casual as a chat with an old friend in a coffee shop, one that you could natter with for hours on end and put the world to rights. "Well, your turnout was pretty impressive, you actually beat John Barrowman's crowds a few weeks back!" Thea says, evoking a look of surprise matched with a smirk on Giovanna's face.

   "Honestly, it's just so so lovely to have such support, and coming to promote not just one book, but with a whole set, it's just so unbelievable." We turn toward the book itself, which I had finished that day, as it follows the continuing relationship between Sophie May and her boyfriend Billy, a very famous Hollywood actor, and the difficulty in maintaining a long distance relationship. It's very charm and familiar nature instantly appealed to me and I take no delight in telling Giovanna this, how I particularly resonated with a specific passage explaining how it's sometimes okay to stay where you are, and not be carried away by the world or feel pressured to move, find somewhere new. To someone who is having to move home in less than 10 days, it was reassuring to say the least. Giovanna beams at me, a mixture of happiness and her own humbleness, I feel that my words have actually been taken in by her. "That's great, it's always about what you want from life, do what you want to do not what anyone expects of you, it sounds like you read it at the right time" she says softly, still beaming. I can't help but beam back.

   We ask if Giovanna had any idea on how much impact her books would have on people, to which she sighs slightly, not badly, but more of sign of being overwhelmed, "Not at all! I started writing without knowing what would happen, I wrote Billy and Me for myself really and then the pressure really started after I signed the book deal." She explains how on her second book, a separate story entitled You're the One that I Want, she really felt the pressure and felt that she couldn't replicate the success of her debut. "I'd wrote about 16,000 words, stopped, had a major meltdown for a couple of months thinking 'I can't do this, it's a total fluke', then luckily I spoke to my agent in a very emotional email, and her advice was simply write from the heart, because that's what you do! So I sat down, and just got over myself really!"

   Giovanna on Lorraine 

Thea asks about Giovanna's writing influences, as a mother of two, things may be different now as one writes about what they know and what they see around them.
   Giggling, she responds "Well my characters haven't had children yet, but with everything that happens in life I guess it makes sense to incorporate those particular events into your writing, so maybe at some point, hopefully!"

 I ask about writing the sequel, whether after four years was it hard getting back into the mindset of Sophie, Billy and all of the other characters after four years away and having two children in that time. Pondering, she gleefully says it was more difficult getting into Sophie's head as Sophie was her debut. "After writing a short story and a separate novel, my writing style had changed a lot, so it was about going back, putting my 'Sophie head' on, and once I found her again, I found it so enjoyable to be back in Rosewell Hill and to be back with those characters, seeing them in completely new, different places, so it wasn't too much of a gear change."

   Interjecting, I bring up her video posts, uploaded weekly which are little snippets into the lives of the Fletcher family and are probably the most heart warming videos ever. In one video she sings edelweiss over a baby monitor, and I bring this up so I can tell her what a beautiful singing voice, and how it helped send my new kittens to sleep. "Aww" she beams, "we actually had three cats, one sadly passed away a few years ago, around the time Buzz was born actually."

  Thea asks with a smirk, " Then I guess it makes sense to ask, who's the bigger distraction, the cats or the kids?"

Smirking back, Giovanna dwells on the question, and uses her hands in a showlike manner when explaining her answer, "With kids, they have their routine and you know how to deal with that, the cats however.." she shakes her head with a feigned vexation yet continues to grin, "As soon as I sit down at seven to write and I'm all ready to go, Leia will come in bump my head, bump my hand, delete stuff that I'm writing-"

  "Cats LOVE Laptops don't they?" I exclaim, joining in with her laughing.

  The interview is rounded off with myself giving Giovanna a little jar of Nutella, bearing a little custom HANDS OFF label I customised for her and finally getting a picture. For the rest of the evening, I have a permamant smile besmerched on my face. I have caught the infectious charm, kindness and oozing optomism of Giovanna Fletcher and I feel that it won't be fading anytime soon. Truly, a delightful, humble and caring person.

Always with Love £8.99
Available now

Friday, 3 June 2016

Review | X Men: Apocolypse

"Well, at least we can all agree, the third one is always the worst" chuckles Sophie Turner's Jean Grey after sneaking out with her peers to go and see Return of the Jedi. Whether this a sly dig at the poor reception of 2006's X Men: The Last Stand or a eyebrow raising self assesment of the very film presented, Bryan Singer creates a film that zips along nicely with plenty of fun to be had, but ultimately struggles to overcome an uneven pace, the bar set high by its successor Days of Future Past and a villain so lacklustre that feels wasted on the very talented Oscar Isacc.

   The film follows the establishment of En Sabah Nur, better known as Apocalypse, as he awakens from a millennial sleep and deems the world around him as inferior, so with the help of his four hoursemen, he plans to bring...well, the apocalypse. Alongside that, Singer gives us new incarnations of the mutants we know and love as they learn to control their powers and, importantly, learn how to function as a unit in order to become X Men. After a strong opening that racks up the tension and sets up Apocalypse to be the intimidating, imposing villain we want him to be, he, disparagingly falls back into the shadows. He is literally given NOTHING to do except utter a few sentences about how disappointed he is by the world. Though, I think the character itself isn't particularly strong so Oscar Isacc is only doing the best he can in a role that doesn't require much. What breaks this monotonous stretch is the youthful additions to the cast, such as Tye Sheridan's Cyclops or Kodi Smit-McPhee's Nightcrawler; even Even Peters is back as Quicksilver, continuing to steal every scene he's in. This youthful energy injects a fresh attitude back into the franchise, making you feel excited for future films to come, seeing how all these characters interact with one another and form those pivotal relationships with one another. Singer has fun with the kids, harking back to the early days of Singer's X Men franchise, though some characters are clearly imposed onto the film to please the fans rather than add anything to the story, see Jubilee for example.

   Though, not everyone's characterisation adds to the film or evolves. 
 James McAvoy slips back into the comfortable role of Professor X, ever so much fading now into the background but still has shining moments in his scenes with Jean, though his character isn't given any more thought or insight as it might have done in previous films. Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique is truly a bore to watch as her character is given the same is-she-good-or-is-she-bad dilemma, which worked in First Class but after three films just becomes tiresome. Sometimes she just stands on the ground not particularly doing anything. Think back to the first X Men with Rebecca Romijn, she moved with such poise and such grace, from the arch of her feet to the tip of her toe and proved that she wasn't to be messed with. Lawrence just stands and talks at people, which is questionable, and potentially shows that the writing team simply do not know what to do with her any-more.  The same dilemma is forced upon Magneto who, aside from a powerfully moving scene early on in the film, is predictably shown to waver back toward the good side. He loses any sense of real threat or menace, especially as a recruit of Apocalypse.

   Which brings me to my next point of how much Apocalypse's horsemen were severely underused. I didn't care at all for Ben Hardy's Angel, however I was so excited to see a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) kick some butt, but they're rendered useless. The latter packs a physical punch or two but lacks anything in the form of humanity or a shred of emotion, and it did annoy me slightly how out of everyone's practical, well calibrated costumes, Psylocke's (albeit very faithful to her costume in the comics) was the only one that felt a little sexualised. But I digress. They run around doing everything for Apocalypse, though he's meant to be this all powerful being, and he just stands and watches. It feels so far-fetched and just downright silly, and interjecting moments of light funny relief with the kids in amongst Apocalypse planning to destroy the world feels so jarring, creating a massively uneven tone throughout the film. The uneven tone contributes toward an uneven pace, which is more obvious in a very slow middle act taking place in a Weapon X Facility (featuring a very ferocious cameo), it halts proceedings and takes an unnecessarily long time to get things moving again, and even then things feel a little lifeless.

   Lacking the gravitas and tonal variation of its proceeder, X Men: Apocalypse still has enough fun moments and nods to its source material that make it worth watching, but it still struggles with a weak and underdeveloped villain.