Interview with Siena About her new children’s book – Why We Walk
It was a pleasure to interview Siena – the author of Why We Walk, a Canadian who writes stories for young children that are relatable and entertaining for children the world over. This one is suitable for 1-6 year olds. You will find out why it was written, her passion for people walking and the environment, how she puts her books together and how the writer/illustrator working relationship came about. Finally you will find a little about how Siena felt when her first book got published and how she had to convince her family.
First, find out about the blurb and then onto the 5 questions in the interview.
When we walk we see things that we would have missed if we drove. Things like birds, cats, & squirrels. When we walk we have fun spending time together. We talk and learn how walking can help to care for our planet. Join Siena and her dad as they walk to school and discover every little step counts.
This is the second book in the Siena’s Stories series. The first book, The Dance of the Snow Tractors, was named a top book for children in the automobile category by Newsweek magazine.
Now onto the interview…
You have a clear passion for walking and inspiring young children to get outside to walk, what inspired you to write the book – Why We Walk? Also, what is your favourite types of places to walk?
This book was my first idea for a book. It just came to me when my daughter asked me that simple question while we walked to school. I like to walk and really enjoy birdwatching. I walk almost daily for exercise and enjoy trying to find my favourite bird, the cardinal.
What inspired you to care about the environment?
I grew up on a small island off the coast of British Columbia and learned about sustainability at an early age. I also saw the destruction of the land by the mine my parents worked in and the clear cutting of the old growth forest by a nearby logging settlement. It seemed like every year the clear cuts got closer and closer to my island and they were ruining the amazing view I had of the surrounding forest and ocean from my window. I will always remember waking up early to eat breakfast and watching all the stars in full view without the big city lights.
I also have fond memories of the many times Green Peace ships would visit our settlement and share their stories.
Do you find that by writing children’s books about walking and how this helps the environment then rubs off on adults. I had a primary school teacher who had a passion for the environment in the 90’s and a lot permanently rubbed off on me and positively impacted my thinking. Do you think books like yours has a real impact for the longer term how children think as they grow into adults?
I have faith that children today are much more aware of how their parents polluted the planet and will take measures to combat climate change. My book will be a small reminder. I also believe technology will help them along the way. I used to work in the power electronics industry and have first hand experience with solar, wind and micro hydro installations. They are becoming more affordable everyday. I tell my daughter that even small simple changes like LED lighting will make a huge difference over time.
You have an illustrator – Shannon Wilvers. How did this working relationship come about and can you give a little insight into the process of you both working together to create a finished story?
I had come up with the idea for my book a few years ago but I cannot draw. I do collect original comic book art and have a side job selling movie memorabilia at comic conventions. At the various shows I met a local comic artist (Geof Isherwood) who also teaches art at a local technical school. I discussed the book with Geof and he introduced me Shannon who was his student at the time.
I use Microsoft Powerpoint to write the books. I create a slide and put in the text. Next, I insert a personal picture or a picture from the internet as reference for Shannon. When I am done, I send the file to Shannon. She creates a storyboard and we fine tune the art and text.
Your first book – The Dance of the Snow Tractors, was named a top book for children in the automobile category by Newsweek magazine. How did that make you feel and how did you celebrate?
I was over the moon. I had a hard time convincing my family and friends that I was serious about writing these books. Newsweek helped bring them over to my side.
Interview by Louise with Tani Hanes
about Puppily Ever After.
Puppily Ever After, which I reviewed and awarded it with 4 stars, is a coming of age story, set around a pet shop, with romance and strong values within the themes. At the end of the interview, there is a link to my full review.
Thank you very much Tani for the opportunity to interview you about Puppily Ever After. Thanks also to Cherry Publishing for setting up the interview.
I have 5 questions in total, covering the book, being an author and drawing a little about Tani’s teaching career.
Puppily Ever After is a coming of age story, what inspired you to write within that age group, what are the positives and the challenges you encountered?
I wanted to write about a woman who didn’t end up subjugating herself to a man, even if he was a good man. So many coming of age stories these days are about young women who find true love by compromising on something in themselves and believing they’re happy to do so. I’m not saying they’re not, but I wanted to write a story where she comes out the other side whole, even without the possibility of being with a man.
Puppily Ever After is essentially set in a pet shop. Do you have any pets? If so, can you tell us a bit about them, if not would you like any?
I’ve always had pets, and adopting animals is very important to me; it’s something I put in nearly everything I write. I’m horrified by the lives some of these innocent creatures lead, and always want to do by part to help out. I currently have two cats, both feral rescues (one of them was actually born in my backyard!) [I can provide photos if you want]
There are strong themes that weave through the book, such as staying true to yourself, your values and dreams. How important do you think these values are for people in the real world, do you stand by them yourself, if so, can you give some examples how you do that?
I think these values are crucial to today’s youth, especially to today’s young women. Too many subjugate themselves to men, believing that’s what they’re supposed to do. I don’t know that I necessarily have taken my own advice, but I always knew I wanted to be a parent and a writer, and I never let anything deter me from those things.
What drew you to writing romance as opposed to any other genre?
I’m a girl lol, even if I am a middle-aged woman. I love romance, I love HEAs, and I love exploring the themes in the dynamics between people who are falling in love, because of certain things or in spite of them.
You were a substitute teacher for 15 years, do you still teach and has your experiences working in education inspired any parts in particular in your books?
Unfortunately, I no longer teach, and I really miss it. The first series I ever wrote was based on a certain boy band going on hiatus and my students really flipping their s*** about it. They wanted me to write a wish fulfilment story about a girl and a boyband and have the love story, at least at first, be perfect. And the main thing they wanted was that the band would never, ever, go on hiatus lol. So that’s what I wrote.
I am delighted to present an interview I conducted with Robert Graham –
author of The Former Boy Wonder.
Robert Graham has published novels and short stories as well as having a play performed by Contact. He also teaches creative writing in Liverpool.
The Former Boy Wonder is a compelling book that covers first love, mid-life crisis and the challenges of the relationship between fathers and sons. It also features lots of music as the main protagonist was a music editor.
I have 4 questions about the book itself, covering the eras it goes through, the father/son relationship, the fascinating inspiration and of course the music.
Thank you to Robert Graham for agreeing to be interviewed and thank you to Isabelle Kenyon for being instrumental in setting it up.
Now onto the interview…
What inspired you to set your novel in the 1970s, 1980s and 2010s?
The novel has two narrative strands, one of which takes place in the early 2010s, when the protagonist, Peter Duffy, is about to turn 50. This landmark birthday makes him look at the dying of the light and wonder if his life – which in any case is falling apart – is as good as it gets. He’s contemplating his own mortality. I chose the early 2010s simply because I began writing the novel in 2012 and looking around me for details of the place and time was all I had to do to make the setting convincing to the reader. The second narrative strand is set when Peter’s a student. If he turns 50 in 2012, that will mean that his student days will have been the early ’80s. Even though I’m a few years older than Peter, setting that strand then meant I was familiar with all the cultural references, the signifiers of the era. Given these dates, he would have been a teenager in the 70s, which I was, too. All of which is to say, I didn’t have to research any of the eras in which the book takes place. This was helpful, as I did have to research quite a few other things, including being an Art student at Manchester Poly (I studied American Literature in Norwich), working in television in the ’70s (Peter’s father is a TV star at that time) and London, specifically Notting Hill, in the ’80s.
You have a very informative website about your writing and inspirations. You talk about studying a handful of novels but it sounds like you particularly studied The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier. Why these authors in particular and what impact did this have on your writing in The Former Boy Wonder?
Because of the crisis Peter is experiencing as he approaches his 50th birthday, he begins to remember his student days and long for his first love, Sanchia Page. I studied The Great Gatsby and Le Grand Meaulnes because both share this theme with TFBW: lost love. Both feature a romanticised account of a young man falling in love for the first time and both hang on an older man longing for that first love.
In Le Grand Meaulnes, the debut of Yvonne de Galais, the woman the hero of the book falls in love with, is delayed. To help me give Sanchia’s entrance maximum effect, I studied the build-up to her first appearance. The journey that will eventually bring us to Meaulnes’ coup de foudre is stretched out over twenty-two pages, when it could easily have been covered in two. Fournier withholds the key moment of the novel’s first act for as long as he does to generate tension, engage readers and, with specific details at the party, prime them for the arrival of a magical creature. Details such as a treasure chest of children’s trinkets, a Pierrot, coloured lights, and plangent music give the party a fairy tale quality. With this steadily delayed entrance, we have the sense that Meaulnes is passing through a dream-like setting and being drawn inexorably towards something mysterious. When Isabelle finally appears, Meaulnes’ great moment arrives, and he falls headlong in love.
In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, the narrator, meets Gatsby at a party where, although it isn’t phrased in that way, he falls in love with him. The dramatic beginning of this love story is equally delayed, as Fitzgerald takes his time building up to Gatsby’s first appearance and keeps him offstage long enough to intensify the reader’s desire to meet this romantic character. Just as Fournier delays Meaulnes’ first encounter with Yvonne for twenty-two pages, Fitzgerald builds up to the arrival of Gatsby over the course of forty pages.
I tried to apply what I had learned from Fournier and Fitzgerald about delaying the debut of the object of affection. The first suggestion of Sanchia Page is on p 13 of TFBW. She’s next mentioned on p 27 and then on p 46 and doesn’t make her first appearance until p 51. At the end of their first scene together, she introduces herself: “My name’s Sanchia.” This is a direct steal from Fitzgerald’s novel, where, when Nick meets him, the eponymous hero says, ‘I’m Gatsby’. In my defence, I would quote the novelist John Updike who said, “My purpose in reading has ever secretly been not to come and judge but to come and steal.” I steal and I almost always have. I’ve learned that all artists do – and that it isn’t cheating. Halfway through the writing of TFBW, an article by the novelist Julian Barnes appeared in The Guardian. In it, he said evidence had emerged that, while writing The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald had carefully studied Le Grand Meaulnes. The article then went on to examine some of the ways in which he used Fournier’s novel as a model for his own – which encouraged me to keep on doing what writers have always done: steal.
What inspired you to write about the relationship between a father and son?
I particularly wanted to write about my experience of losing my father when I was a child. My father passed on when I was 8. In the novel, Peter’s father abandons the family to go to London and seek his fortune when Peter is 9. I wanted to write about the experience of growing up without a father and longing for the one I lost. Freud said that a 16-yar-old boy’s desire to be affirmed by his father is stronger than his sex drive. So, I knew I had a subject matter with dramatic potential. I wrote about the experience of being a father of a teenaged son because I have a son and he once was a teenager – and the experience of being a father is one of the most important relationships of your life. With Peter’s relationship with Jack, his son, I mainly wanted to get a few laughs, so any time Jack appears, my aim was to make the things he says to his Dad funny.
Lastly, for a bit of fun and because music is huge in The Former Boy Wonder: What music do you like and why and do you remember the first piece of music you bought?
As you say, music looms large in this novel, but I always tried to avoid Peter having an opinion about any of it. I don’t think a novelist’s opinions about music are of much interest to a reader. (In fact, a novelist’s opinions about anything aren’t of much interest to a reader.) On Spotify, there’s a TFBW playlist and it gives an indication of my tastes. Some of the tracks on it I played to get me in the mood to write a particular scene (Roxy Music’s “All I Want Is You”, for instance); some are there because their theme coincided with one in the book (for example, Leonard Cohen’s “I Can’t Forget”); and some because they had a particular function in the book: the morning after he loses his virginity, Peter puts on Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge”.
It’d be great to able to say that that the first record I ever bought was the Velvet Underground’s first album or The Fall’s only hit single, but the truth is it was Sandie Shaw’s “Monsieur Dupont”. Not so cool.
Interview with Stage Actor/Author/Goodwill Ambassador – Ronald Rand
Today it gives me great pleasure to share an interview with you all, that I conducted with actor Ronald Rand. He is an actor, author and goodwill ambassador. Ronald Rand has appeared in many theatre plays, his latest is Let It Be Art about the life of Harold Clurman, which he tours worldwide. He is also the founder of newspaper – The Soul of The American Actor. His book is Solo Transformation On Stage is available now to purchase and includes a forward by Stephen Lang, most recently famous for playing/voicing the part of Miles Quaritch in the Avatar movies by James Cameron. The cover quote comes from the actor Christopher Plummer. Thank you very much Ronald for allowing me to interview and for your fascinating answers about your author and stage life, as well as telling a bit about being a Goodwill Ambassador. Ronald Rand also interviews some acting greats. Discover a bit about this too, as well as some photographs Ronald Rand has kindly sent over and granted me permission to use.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome Ronald Rand onto my blog. So, let’s begin…
You wrote a book that enlightens audiences to the art of solo performance. I’ve seen some actors do this in the UK, such as Simon Callow and Julie Hesmondalgh. I always come away wondering “How do you learn all those lines and how does the way you feel going out on stage differ to that of having a full cast around you?”
Ronald Rand: First, I would like to thank you for this special gift and privilege for this interview and to answer your questions. Congratulations on having such a very fine blog, Bookmarks and Stages.
Well, when I first began acting, I had to have been around six years old, and of course, I was worried like many actors are, about forgetting my lines. Thinking it was all about memorization. But as the years progressed and I’ve worked more and more as an actor, over time I’ve learned that the lines in a play are a natural extension of a person’s thoughts. And if they’re well written by an excellent playwright, they should roll, as The Bard said, “trippingly from the tongue,” because they’re connected to the action of what the person is doing. When I have had to learn lines to perform in a different play other than my solo play, I learn them through their connection to what the person is doing each moment to get what they need.
In my solo play, LET IT BE ART! Harold Clurman certainly has a lot to say but the words he says come as expressions of what he needs to say at the moment as a natural action in his storytelling. Because I bring Harold Clurman to life after a two- hour transformation process in what I refer to as the ‘creation room,’ not a dressing room, when Clurman arrives, he’s not coming on a stage, he’s arriving at his apartment in New York City and very soon he encounters three of his students (who are actually the audience). And the things he says are a natural extension of him living his life, just the same as you do when you’re talking to others in your daily life. What you’re saying is certainly not lines in a play.
You see, in his reality he’s returning from having seen a play in Brooklyn and he’s merely going on with his life; he’s not coming on a stage. As the actor inside I’m aware that, of course, it’s a stage but Harold Clurman couldn’t care less, he’s in his apartment living his life. I still have to make sure that he’s where he’s supposed to be, and hopefully he will say the words that are in the play when they need to be said. Do I have any idea that he will? I never know for sure, since he’s living his life completely.
When you ask about having a full cast around me. Well, actually Harold Clurman is talking to three acting students in his apartment (a part of the audience), and at another time in the play, he ‘breaks the fourth wall’ and talks to a group of actors who have come to the first get-together when the Group Theater was born in 1930, (which is also the audience.)
And throughout the play, through Clurman, you meet Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, Alfred Stieglitz, Stella Adler, Clifford Odets, Constantin Stanislavski, Aaron Copland, even Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. That’s a pretty amazing cast! So there’s all these vibrant folks coming to life on his journey through his life. So, in a sense, you might say, there is a ‘full cast’ but they’re not around “me,” they’re with Clurman, and when he heads off to the theater at the end of the play, that’s when I return for the curtain call.
What prompted you to write a book about the transformation of an actor into the person who they are going to play? I must say it is absolutely fascinating as there is so much to explore and I’ve only ever seen this a little in the film and play – The Dresser.
Ronald Rand: Thank you so much for your kind words. SOLO TRANSFORMATION ON STAGE: A Journey into the Organic Process of the Art of Transformation came about because of the pandemic. I was in the middle of my 20th year touring in my solo play, and I had completed a performance of LET IT BE ART! at The Ritz Theatre in Sheffield, Alabama to a sold-out audience. They actually stayed almost as long as the performance for the question-and-answer period which I always have at the end of the show. This was in late February 2020, and after that my tour was shut down and I was sequestered like everyone else.
Well, one day I was sitting at my desk, and I thought there has to be some way that I can reach out to people since I can’t do it on stage, and it occurred to me that perhaps I could contribute by sharing the organic process I go through using the Art of Transformation, and share how Stanislavski’s acting chart, ‘The Method of Physical Actions’ makes it possible.
Now I know there’s certainly several books written by actors, some who talk about their process and their life acting on the stage. However, there’s only a few about the art of solo performance, which is a world unto its own. But I think my book is the first to go through an organic process and the transformation necessary to create your own solo show. But more than that, it’s about how to make your dreams come true drawing upon the richness of who you are.
I believe it’s important for the actor today to realize that transformation is necessary. I see so many actors play elements of themselves acting like they’re somebody else, but transformation takes many years through learning about one’s craft and gaining a mastery to bring to life another human being on the stage.
It’s really a never-ending discovery process to sustain a performance for an hour or longer requiring great discipline, focus and a continual stream of storytelling. That’s why I wanted to go into this kind of process more deeply through SOLO TRANSFORMATION ON STAGE, and reveal how I use Stanislavski’s ‘Method of Physical Actions’ chart. The same chart he gave to my teacher, Stella Adler when she studied with him in Paris in 1934. She was only American to study for over five weeks with him, and she brought his chart back to the Group Theatre in America.
When I was fortunate to study with Stella Adler for over five years, I gleaned great insights from her teaching which helped me understand the chart in a deep way, and I have tried to bring forward many of the insights through my master acting workshops.
Still, there is always something mysterious about what takes place inside what I refer to as the creation room because for me that’s where creation begins to allow another person to come so that they can live their life through the playwright’s creation. Did I have any idea that this process would evolve this way when I began working on the role of Harold Clurman? Certainly not. At the very beginning, I looked at Clurman as a role or as a character. But I’ve come to believe there is no such thing as a character. There is only the person, a human being who must come and live their life. And I have to allow creation to occur by being an open and willing vessel.
You say that Harold Clurman chose you and you became passionate about his ideas. What were the ideas that then gave you the impulse and drive to bring his life to the stage?
Ronald Rand: I think I first became fascinated by the Group Theatre back in high school when I was studying acting with an excellent drama teacher, David Feldman, at Coral Gables High School in Florida where I was born and grew up. Feldman was a dedicated and unusual high school drama teacher, giving us exercises by Boleslavsky and Michael Chekhov, talking about the Moscow Art Theatre and Vakhtangov, showing us films by Elia Kazan and Sidney Lumet, talking about the impact of the Group Theatre and what they did that changed the course of the American Theater.
The productions we would act in had to have been on the same level as those Off-Broadway. All of this had a great impact on my life at the time. When I completed high school and travelled to New York City and studied with Stella Adler, of course, her great impact was to show us the size an actor must rise to inhabit the great roles. I had to throw out pretty much everything I had been doing before since so much of had to with imitation and indicating, now it had to be based on creation and truth. Through her great art of script interpretation, we’d learn how to dissect a play and be an instrument and be in service to the playwright’s work. This is what the actor is responsible for.
And at the same time, I was fortunate to study with Harold Clurman. Every moment transformed my very being through his overpowering passion, his pulsating vibrating thoughts, revealing all the possibilities of how to see life, and acting and what the theater is capable of.
Did I have any idea at the time that I would write a play and bring to life Harold Clurman? Of course not. But later when I read in the introduction to Clurman’s book, The Fervent Years, Stella Adler wrote that she feared that the legacy of Harold Clurman might be lost, and I thought that would be a great tragedy.
That’s what led me to consider writing a play about Clurman. But I actually began a play about the Group Theatre instead and ended up playing Clurman in many staged readings across New York City for several years trying to get it produced. It was finally produced at Northern Illinois University. After that, maybe it was a voice inside that directed me to now write a play about Clurman. But even after reading and re-reading everything he wrote, looking at my notes from my classes with him, watching videos of him, I had to sit down, put everything aside and ask him: “What do you want to say?”
All of a sudden, the floodgates opened and the words that needed to be said came.
So, this is one of the secrets of writing your own show, tapping into the subconscious, and listening. I have to believe that’s why I was chosen to bring his passion and humanity alive, not only for audiences in America but across many different countries. Because what he has to say to us is universal and necessary to hear, especially today.
You talk about the person you are portraying being almost like an extension of yourself and you transform into the character you become, do you ever feel that this influences or affects parts of your own life and how do you separate the two as the psychology, Affective Memory, and molecules that you talk about in your book come into play?
Ronald Rand: Certainly, there’s no question bringing Harold Clurman to life through my play, LET IT BE ART! for over twenty years has had a great influence on my being. It’s also an enormous responsibility to allow his vibrancy and dynamic passion, his great humour, and humanity to come alive in every single moment.
When I decided to dedicate my life to sharing Clurman’s great being, it was after I had worked in numerous films and television shows, but now I made a deeper commitment that I couldn’t work on any production that reflected any kind of negativity, evil or destruction. I have to allow myself to be in a state of affirming the best in our humanity in order to embody Clurman.
Every decision we make in our life, our choices every day is a reflection of our moral values, and we should strive to bring forth love, beauty, and art in all its richness.
And at the same time, we’re always surrounded by invisible molecules moving around us. When I wave my hand through the air, or communicate Clurman’s great passion on stage, everything’s traveling across a sea of molecules. Everything we see, all inanimate objects are made up of invisible molecules, even though they look solid. So, we have to understand and appreciate how it’s all a flow we’re a part of and allow for the greatest energy to come forth, a willingness to affirm our deepest humanity to help others on this planet through the talents we’ve been given. That’s our responsibility, and why transformation becomes all the more necessary to be a vessel in service so that another human being can live and breathe and come and tell their story.
You have advice to always take time and stop between performances, how does this aid your next performance? How do you keep performances feeling fresh for you and the audiences?
Ronald Rand: Sometimes as a performer we’re called upon to do eight performances a week. At other times it so happens that there may be a larger break between one performance to the next. When that occurs, one has to find ways to constantly refresh and refuel one’s persona and keep one prepared, ready for the next performance; it’s always like being ready to run a marathon. Being in a state of readiness is the way I exist because this is my life’s calling which I will be doing to the end of my time. Especially today when as Clurman put it, “We live in an age of amnesia and for the most part, nobody remembers anything that happened the day before yesterday, so you naturally have to say it all over again.”
When audiences all over the world no matter what country I perform in, no matter what language they speak or their background or culture, once they come in contact with Harold Clurman, it’s as if they’re transformed and become excited because what he’s telling them is about something eternal and necessary to be heard today.
When I’m called upon to bring Harold Clurman to life in a performance, it’s never been done before in this particular setting, at this particular moment so everything is completely fresh, and the theatres are always different. Whether I’m performing in the courtyard of a palace or outside on a grassy knoll at a university, or in a tribal hut or a cave theater or inside a thousand seat auditorium.
You mention so many actors, directors from theatre and film in the past and present, such as Charlie Chaplin, Simon Callow, Lin Manuel Miranda and many more… How does studying such a wide range of people and their creations influence you and how important do you think it is for actors, whether they are new or established to know the heritage of theatre and the stories they tell?
Ronald Rand: Well, when I began as an actor, I slowly became aware of my heritage, or as we’re called, being a part of a ‘tribe.’ In high school I read everything actor biography and autobiography I could get my hands on, from Edwin Booth, Ira Aldridge, Salvini, Eleanora Duse, Sarah Bernhardt, Edmund Kean, Michael Chekhov, Vakhtangov to Stanislavski but it’s not only the theater I familiarized myself with. During college, I read countless books on philosophy, psychology, anthropology, the great religions of the world. I read every great novel, poem, and play written by the greatest writers of all time from the Greeks to the present. One particular book, Actors on Acting brought me further in contact with actors from different cultures taking me all over the world
It’s a personal decision to decide to learn about one’s history but I consider it a responsibility. If you’re a baseball player, you certainly want to know about Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson. Why shouldn’t you if you’re an actor know about your heritage? That’s why I’ve included in my book a rich diversity of some of the greatest performers who have inhabited the stage from Ira Aldridge to Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones. There is a great ‘well’ I talk about in my book, SOLO TRANSFORMATION ON STAGE, that each of us can draw from, and it will only greatly fuel the ‘leap across the footlights’ and touch the very souls and hearts of the audience.
Towards the end of the book, you had the great opportunity to interview other actors, such as Adrienne Barbeau, Christopher Plummer, Spalding Gray, to name but a few about their own transformations. What did you learn and come away with for your own thoughts or performances from them?
Ronald Rand: I’ve been very fortunate over the past nearly twenty-five years to do over fifteen hundred interviews through my newspaper, The Soul of the American Actor, and it’s brought me in touch with these particular performers that I’ve included in my book. Some of whom have become good friends. By sharing the more than twenty interviews in the book, and their journey as a solo performer, the choices they’ve made and how their particular shows came to life has been extremely inspiring for me, and I hope will also be for the reader.
Eve Ensler talks about how she created The Vagina Monologues, Ben Vereen shows how the world around him deeply affected his choices as a young performer, Christopher Plummer plumbs the depth of his rich being, Stephen Lang (who wrote the Foreword to my book) and Laurence Luckinbill, both highly seasoned performers offer great insights into the extraordinary courage it takes to come on a stage alone and become someone else.
Through the ages up to today, when you see someone like Ralph Fiennes or Simon Callow, Ruben Santiago Hudson, Anna Deavere Smith, or Ian McKellan, you’re experiencing a great thread of our humanity in the stories being revealed. Every time I experience a solo performance, it further awakens my own understanding about what it means to be alive and how much more there is to know about this world.
It’s interesting that you say that in your masterclasses people such as lawyers, therapists, teachers, taxicab drivers and those from other professions come and are a part of your workshops, as if there is a common thread to be realised. What would you say is the common thread and why are so many wide-ranging people attracted to your masterclasses?
Ronald Rand: It has been a special gift and privilege being able to teach my
‘Art of Transformation’ master acting workshops around the world for the past twenty-five years in over twenty-five countries, and across twenty states at over seventy-five theaters, universities, colleges, and acting schools. And yes, several times a diverse array of those who have attended my workshops come from many different backgrounds and professions. Why do they come? I think it’s because of transformation. We’re all constantly changing every single day, and every choice we make literally transforms us.
When I have individuals from many different backgrounds in my workshops, they’re excited to dip into some of the exercises and learn about Stanislavski’s ‘Method of Physical Actions,’ because for some, they may have thought “What would it take to become an actor?” and they find it fascinating and some realize that they have it within themselves to let their imagination loose, and in one of the exercises, I literally ‘take them off and they all fly like a bird.’ I want to give them a chance to feel this kind of freedom which is not something that always happens in their daily lives.
We have to allow ourselves to dream the biggest dreams we can dream. To achieve everything, we’re born to achieve and enjoy every moment we’re alive. And the more we understand about what moves us forward, perhaps we can be in even greater service to others, especially at a time like this.
Your book is more thought-provoking than I imagined, in a good way. You talk about the late Chadwick Boseman and basically about empowering others. How important do you think theatre is for telling the stories and making the most of what you have to say in this medium, since no one knows what is going to happen in our future?
Ronald Rand: Yes, we live in an age of great uncertainty and there are forces at work constantly trying to upset the balance and harmony of life. However, we know, deep in our beings, the most powerful forces on earth like love, truth, peace, and justice, to name a few, represent the highest ideals of who we are as human beings on this planet.
I mention Chadwick Boseman in my book because he understood the responsibility he was given as an actor and when he became a ‘star,’ he recognized it was part of his responsibility to help empower others. This is certainly what we can do as artists. To help others find their path, and that’s why for me, because the theater is ‘alive in the moment’, through our storytelling we can literally transform others to reach a place where a revelation may come, or the experience may propel them to take a good look at their lives.
Well, while we may not know the future, we actually have the power to shape its potential, and bring a deeper awareness to the others through art. and I’ve personally experienced how a solo performance can touch people in a very deep place.
You have a very accomplished CV, including being a US Goodwill Cultural Ambassador and US State Department Fulbright Specialist Scholar. How did you come to have these positions, how long have you done this for and what are some of the things do they entail?
Ronald Rand: On my first world tour with LET IT BE ART! I was invited to Tbilisi, Georgia to perform at The GIFT Festival. I was welcomed as a Goodwill Cultural Ambassador as a representative from my country to theirs bringing goodwill and as a ‘bridge of understanding.’ And over the years it has happened many times, which is especially meaningful to me.
This coming summer, I have been invited to Iceland’s Act Alone Festival to bring Clurman’s great passion and ideas as the “Elder Statesman of the American Theater.” So, it continues been an enormous responsibility bringing him alive to audiences in several many countries.
When I was first chosen as a US State Department Fulbright Specialist Scholar during my five first five years, I was able to spend six weeks at the University of Sarajevo’s Academy of Dramatic Arts teaching their wonderful students, and at the same time, I was invited to direct a production of Murray Schisgal’s hit comedy, LUV, at one of their most prestigious theatre’s, Chamber Theatre 55 in Sarajevo. The production was in Bosnian, which was an extraordinary learning experience, and I directed three of Bosnia’s finest young actors.
During my second tour as a Fulbright Specialist Scholar, I taught and performed in my solo play for six weeks at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, and then the Malaysian Cultural Ministry invited me as the first American master to bring Stanislavski’s ‘Method of Physical Actions’ across Malaysia to hundreds of students at their State Theatre and schools. Truly a most amazing experience!
On my third tour as a Fulbright Specialist Scholar, I travelled to Uruguay to teach actors and actors and students for five weeks at the Paysandu Theater Group and also ended up directing a workshop production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town in Spanish with several of the actors of the company.
Being a Goodwill Cultural Ambassador and a Fulbright Specialist Scholar has allowed me to share what we have in common and to learn from one another. It’s up to us to feel empathy for others – this is what makes us human. We must care about others with the greatest of compassion and love, giving our best towards the betterment of all.
It’s always been my goal to inspire and empower people to learn and grow in the most truthful and compassionate way by sharing our creativity and transformation. And it’s about collaboration. I encourage those I’m teaching to feel the rhythm of life, to listen with their heart and soul, to become as expansive as possible, to give more of themselves to others through their craft which I believe adds to the healing which needs to take place between peoples.
When I taught students in Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina, I learned the young student actors are constantly faced with pressures on a daily basis in a very difficult environment divided along ethnic and religious lines. I told them: “Art teaches us we each carry the tools to transform, not only our own lives but to share truths about how to live with those around us. Storytelling can help you shape your frustrations into creative expressions through transformation, finding ways to teach each other a way towards peace, through love, through the power of art, you can inspire others to come together to live in harmony.”
If history has taught us anything, it takes a willingness to build trust, and by coming together in person a dialogue can take place, transforming into an entirely new dynamic of understanding, of empathy – sharing what is basic in all of humanity.
Through SOLO TRANSFORMATION ON STAGE, I talk about that through solo performance, we can go further than we ever thought possible. There are no barriers of language or cultural misunderstandings when our performing is done with an open heart, vision, a willingness to share knowledge, and to learn from one another honestly.
Today I welcome Bobby Twidale onto my blog with an interview I conducted in-line with her book – De-Ja Vu, which I reviewed in 2021. This review, inwhich I rated the book the full 5 stars for how it handled its themes and the drive of the story, can also be found at the end of the Q&A.
De-Ja Vu is published with Cherry Publishing and is a romance, with some serious and dark undercurrents in its topical themes. Firstly, thanks to Cherry Publishing and Bobby Twidale for this opportunity for myself and on-behalf of all my readers of my blog.
Now, onto the interview, which has insightful and very interesting and full answers to all 8 questions, covering her book’s themes, her inspiration and an insight into her career in education and more…
The title Déjà Vu is an intriguing one, what was the inspiration for this?
I used to be a French teacher – the inspiration for a lot of what appears in this story. I wanted something that sounded catchy and hinted at the French theme whilst also giving a glimpse into one of the main themes of the narrative – History repeating itself. Past relationships influence current ones, you feel the effect of decisions long after they are made, bad leopards don’t change their spots. We’ve all asked ourselves the question: “Why does this always happen to me?” Maybe we need to look for the common denominator and change ourselves – that is what Connie and Matt have to do to move forward and leave the past behind.
Perhaps you would like to tell readers a bit about your book and your inspiration for your characters to be school teachers?
Writers are often advised to write about what they know. I was a teacher for almost 30 years. When you’ve spent that long in schools, you come across personality traits that stay in your mind. Whilst none of my characters are based on real people, they are certainly a melting pot of the thousands of individuals I encountered in those years. I did have to be super careful in my choice of names though – I didn’t want anyone to think I was describing them!
Déjà Vu deals with the darker side of people’s personalities in such a relevant way to now, when this is in the spotlight, was the timing deliberate and did you have to do any research?
I wrote Déjà Vu around 10 years ago so I guess I was ahead of an unhappy curve in that one. Or maybe these behaviours have always been around, but we are just more empowered to talk about them honestly now.
Relationships are complex and they certainly are in the story you tell, what do you think the fascination is in readers getting to know the twists and turns within them is?
People are complex and life is complex, but we aren’t alone. When relationships get complicated, it can feel like you’re the only one to have experienced what you’re going through. Reading about others’ journeys (real or fictional) and their ultimate survival – I do like a happy ending – can be affirming and reassuring.
There is part about a teacher trying to improve standards and getting the boys engaged in their education, what made you interested in this aspect of the education system?
This is what drove me as an education professional. You can’t avoid noticing the inequalities of opportunity when you work in a school – financial, attitudinal, geographical, cultural, health or ability-based. But almost every teacher will tell you of their experience with a class they mistakenly believed to be of much higher academic ability, a group they taught as a bunch of highflyers that produced amazing exam results they would normally never have expected to achieve. I often felt like the young people I taught lived up (or down) to the expectations I had of them.
What or who inspired you to write and what made you want to write contemporary romance?
From a very young age, I was inspired to read books by my parents. We lived in the middle of a field and I’m very old, so the internet was still a glint in the eye of Tim Berners-Lee. There wasn’t much to do other than play in the fields, woodland and brooks of my parents’ farm and read. I wrote my first ‘book’ aged around 8 years old – sent it off to a publisher and everything. It wasn’t published, obviously, but I got a very nice letter encouraging me to keep writing. I write contemporary romance because it’s fun and a lovely dose of escapism. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot we’d all like to escape at the moment!
What are you reading just now?
I wish I had time to read!
Do you have another book you are writing, if so, can you give any details to whet people’s appetite?
I’ve just completed a master’s in journalism so I’m currently focussing on non-fiction writing, but you can find my other book, Going Off Piste, on Wattpad.
Q&A with Cecelia Ahern Ahead of the paperback publication of Postscript the sequel to PS. I Love You!
I have been given a great honour of joining a small group of book bloggers to collaboratively interview PS. I Love You author Cecelia Ahern. She has now published the sequel – Postscript, in which the hardback is available now. The paperback is available 1st October 2020.
First – the blurb of Postscript and a short review, with a more full on review to follow at a later date. Do follow the blurb, the short review and then onto the Q&A where you can find out some really exciting information about Postscript, what she is writing next and much more…
The PS, I Love You Club.
These are the six words written on a card handed to Holly Kennedy. They’re words that are engraved on her heart – because PS, I Love You is how her husband, Gerry, signed his last letters to her, letters that mark a year she will never forget.
Now, the mysterious club wants something from her. And if Holly can find the courage meet them, she’ll learn what it really means to live life to the full.
Because every love story has one last thing to say…
Postscript is just amazing as it tackles so many themes from health issues to grieving. It’s a beautifully written book that has so much emotion within it. The health issues have clearly been researched, but don’t dominate. There is plenty of positivity in this book. It is, even after all these years, is at least as good as PS I Love You, if not a bit better in how it is written. Nothing is lost and there’s everything to gain when reading this, including feeling that it is a really emotional journey, but one taken with passion and feels heartfelt. It’s a great book to get reacquainted with Holly and other characters and meet some new ones too.
How did you spend Lockdown?
Building Hogwarts Lego. That took about 4 weeks and worked on it for about an hour every evening. She danced and cooked and walked a lot and got excited when the Irish government also increased the distance of travel from 2km to 5km and could go to a coffee shop to buy a coffee.
Cecelia also has 3 children of the ages of a nearly 1 year old, an 8 and a 10 year old. She hopes never to do homeschooling again.
Do you think as a writer lockdown suited you well?
She reckoned it doesn’t suit everybody, perhaps not extroverts who get their energy from being around other people. She is comfortable about not socialising all the time. She did however miss her family. She was on maternity leave until May. She then started to edit her new novel (more about that later).#
What sort of research she went into for health issues within the book, such as Cancer and MS?
She wanted to not get into Hollie’s appointments too much to get a balance. There were many drafts and some were more involved than others. There were 4 people who were ill. She wanted more of an introduction to each illness. MS she was fairly familiar with beacause she takes part in the MS Readathon in every year in Ireland. She wanted to introduce a brain tumour so Hollie was watching a young man going through the same thing. She thoughtfully pointed out that everyone doesn’t experience the same thing in every illness. She didn’t want to be vague or wishy-washy, but also not too caught up in it. She wanted to concentrate on some of the hope. She also talked candidly about emphasemia, which is in the book too, as her grandmother had it and had smoked all her life. She talked how there was still humour, even though she was going round with an oxygen tank near the end of her life and wanted some of the humour to come through, which she does well.
From Writing PS I Love You and so many years later, Postcript. How was it for you to write the sequel?
She was never going to write Postcript as she was perfectly happy with how it ended and PS. I Love You was a huge success. PS. I Love You made her and she didn’t want a sequel to break her. She also likes writing different books year on year. In 2012 she thought about the things that you do for people you’re going to leave behind, so got inspired to write a story from the opposite perspective of PS. I Love You and also then from the perspective of people about to say goodbye and the preparations. She really wanted to put Hollie in it and look at it from Gerry’s perspective. She then had to find the seeds she planted in PS I Love You, like sunflower seeds within that book. She talked about how it was really challenging to write. In Postcript she has to look at the letters again and looking at the positives and not so and wanted to address how there was conflict between them. She started to write before she told her publishers to see if she could and felt emotional enough about it, which she did.
Who did you write the book for?
She wrote it for her and those who really love PS I Love You and had it in mind that so many people loved that book. She also looked at the tone of the book and also show the writer she was then and the writer she is now, but without taking too many wild leaps, like in her short story collection, and went back to the humour and sweet tone of PS I Love You.
How did you feel when Postcript went out to readers?
She said that a lot of people have read it before-hand and tries not to get hung up on that, but hopes it is better than the first novel.
The members of the PS I Love You Club. How did you decide which problems to bring into the club and are there any you thought of and discounted?
I wanted to have different illnesses. She knew from the beginning she wanted a mother and the Will idea. Geneka is her favourite. She wanted a mother and a Will and having her want to learn to write letters for her child.
Postcript will be made into a film. Hillary Swank emailed Cecelia wanting to read Postcript. She will be in the film because she said of all the films she has made, PS I Love You is mentioned the most and everyone involved in that film say the same thing. The same production team and writer will be involved again in the film. She has a lot to juggle from the book and the PS. I Love You film.
What author inpires you in your work most of all?
She reads fiction and loves crime fiction, especially Karen Slaughter and Lee Child and Jane Casey. She loves One World Publications because they publish and translate from all over the world. She also loves poetry, such as those from Sarah Cross. She also reads YA novels. If she ever wrote a crime novel, she would write golden-age crime novel, not the forensic side.
Her next novel is called Freckles, due in autumn 2021. It’s works around the theme that comes from a phrase “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” It’s about a character who is very logical and straightforward parking-warden. She hears this expression and starts to look at the people around her and wonders if she wants to be the average of those five people and if she could curate her life in who she wants to be. So, she reaches out to certain people to see if she can be the average of those. There is also a lot going on in her life that makes her want to do this.’
Postcript is published in paperback on 1st October 2020.