A Wagnerian night out

Last Saturday, my Dad, stepmum and I took in some culture – to be specific, Siegfried, the third part of Wagner’s operatic meisterwerk, Der Ring des Nibelungen, aka The Ring Cycle. It started at 4.30pm and finished at 10.15. That’s what I call a culture hit.

It was a semi-staged production by Opera North, at Leeds Town Hall – an impressive Victorian edifice which dominates the northern part of the city centre. I was a touch dubious beforehand, as I hadn’t been that impressed by my only previous experience of watching semi-staged opera, Candide at the South Bank some years ago. But it actually worked very well – with the orchestra on stage, the singers in front, and a screen at the back showing projections of not only the surtitles, but also some narration and an array of suitable images. The singers acted well and there were some very nice touches – like Fafner the dragon removing his red tie as he sang his death aria, symbolising the blood pouring from his mortal wound. I found the lack of a set and on-stage action meant that the music took, well, centre-stage, making me really appreciate the way Wagner weaves together his leitmotifs and uses the orchestra to both express emotions and show actions.

I was expecting operatic fireworks, a great sweeping epic of music, and certainly got that, but I had forgotten how much humour is in there as well. The young Siegfried starts the opera as, to be honest, a bit of a douchebag; his stupidity provided quite a few laughs, as did his duplicitous mentor Mime.

The only drawback to the evening was that, sitting in a crowded theatre on the warmest day of the year thus far, it was absolutely roasting hot. And it didn’t help that the whole first act is set in a blacksmith’s workshop, and the screen showed pictures of flames and glowing coals. We could certainly feel the heat from the forge while Siegfried made his sword.

When I told the world about this experience, via the medium of Twitter, one of my friends commented that she ‘didn’t know I was a Wagner person’. Well, I suppose I’m a pretty softcore Wagner person, having never even contemplated entering the lottery to get on the ten-year waiting list to get tickets to the Bayreuth festival. But I have been one for a long time: my Dad introduced me to the Ring at far too tender an age – at, I recall, about the same time he read me The Hobbit, leaving me with a lifelong confusion as to when Wotan is going to turn up in Lord of the Rings, or Bilbo Baggins in Das Rheingold. So it’s all his fault how I’ve turned out.

It was the first Wagner I’d seen for many years, and I had forgotten how much better it is live. Sadly I’ve already missed Opera North’s productions of the first two parts of the Ring Cycle, but I’ll be back next year then for the final instalment: Gotterdammerung. Which is German for Twilight of the Gods. You don’t mess with that.


NB: Daniel Barenboim is conducting The Ring in the Proms this year: the first part, Das Rheingold, can be heard on Radio 3 this Monday at 7pm. If this post has in any way inspired you to check out a bit of Wagner, that would be a good place to start. And it’s only short – by Wagnerian standards (3 1/2 hours).

Flash blog – exciting news!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had some exciting news brewing – and now that I’ve signed on the dotted line and it’s all confirmed, I can share it with the world. I am very, VERY happy to say that I am now represented by a literary agent – specifically, Meg Davis of Ki Agency.

I first met Meg at the Swanwick writers’ summer school in August 2012, nearly a year ago. I had signed up for a one-to-one session with her at the cost of £20 – which, it turns out, was perhaps the best-spent £20 of my life so far. To my surprise and delight, she really liked the first three chapters of my fantasy novel The Heartland of the Winter – and asked me to send her the rest. Of course, as previously chronicled here – https://ruthdehaas.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/the-heartland-of-the-winter-final-draft-version-2/ – the book needed quite a lot more work before it was ready to go anywhere near the light of day, and Meg’s advice helped me get it into shape. Then, a few weeks ago, I sent her the finished version -THoTW 2.0 (now with 10% more plot!). And the rest is history. Or rather, a lot of time spent trying to get my head around a) some scary-looking contractual language; and b) the concept that my book – MY BOOK – could soon be sitting in the inbox of an actual editor, at an actual publisher, together with a letter from an actual agent telling her it’s actually worth reading. Gosh.

I’ve been having a pretty manic time lately with both work and non-work, so I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet. Life goes on much as before, with the difference that I get a big grin on my face whenever I remember that I’ve got that little bit closer to my dream. Of course there are no guarantees of anything: securing an agent does not necessarily mean I’ll go on to secure a publisher. But it’s a step in the right direction. A big step.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped me reach this point – I certainly couldn’t have managed to finish the book without all your advice, encouragement, support, beta-reading, proof-reading and the occasional cup of tea.

What a fortnight!

Golly gosh wow, it’s been quite a fortnight. Since my last blog post, I have, in no particular order: been to Glasgow, had a tooth extracted, finished my novel again, gone on a very long and hungover walk in the Peak District, been very very busy with the day job, and had two bits of writing-related good news.

The first piece of good news is that I have won 3rd place in the Swanwick short story competition, details here: http://swanwickwritersschool.co.uk/news.asp?id=68&pgid=1

Swanwick is the summer school for writers which I went to last year and am attending again this August. The competition was for short stories on the theme ‘65 not out’ (because the school celebrates its 65th anniversary this year). Steering away from the obvious cricket reference, I tried to do something a bit different and, loosely inspired by someone I know, I wrote my tale in the form of a letter from a retired schoolteacher to one of her former pupils. ‘Dear Mary’ will be published in the Writing Magazine Competition Special October 2013. Congratulations to all the other winners, and hope to see you at Swanwick.

My prize is a year’s subscription to Writing Magazine, which isn’t quite as good as the 1st prize, (a free place at the summer school), but is a lot better than the proverbial slap in the face with a wet haddock. I’ve been entering a few competitions lately, and it’s great to have some success. Fingers crossed for those other competitions whose results are still pending…

The second piece of good news is more exciting, but I’m still just a little bit too paranoid that something is going to go wrong to want to broadcast to the world just yet. So it’ll just have to wait for a future blog post.

What next? Well, it’s 5 weeks until summer school starts, and if last year was anything to go by, it’ll be both inspiring and exhausting. Before then I have a busy schedule of work trips, visits to friends and family, barbecues, and a wedding. So I’m actually thinking I might give myself a little bit of a break from writing and try to recharge my creative batteries. But rest assured, I’ll be back on here to share any important news.