Christmas Gift Ideas from Oberon!

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It’s officially December and we can finally stop holding it in and get excited about CHRISTMAS TIME!

There are no Scrooges or “Bah Humbug”s allowed in Oberon HQ and, with only about 2 weeks left until last orders in time for Christmas, we’re here to make gifting easy, with two amazing ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ offers on our website, a reduction on Carlos Acosta at the Royal Ballet and a very sparkly newsletter indeed, complete with good book ideas for everyone including kids, poets, actors, historians, writers, readers and Shakespeare buffs!

Head over to OberonBooks.com and check out the banners at the top of the page for our latest special offers and new publications.
Or follow this link for our specially selected (and discounted!) Chrsitmas gift ideas for all the bookworms in your life. Happy reading!!

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Tips for Actors – the Book Fairies are Back!

On Tuesday 8th November, our new pals from last month’s blog – the Books on the Underground fairies – were busy sharing copies of Tips for Actors by Fergus Craig on the London tube network! Were you lucky enough to find a copy? Let us know on Twitter.
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In the most important theatrical book of this or any other decade, moderate twitter sensation @tips4actors (unrestrained by a 140-character limit) gives you all the advice you need to take your acting to the next level.

Topics include upstaging your fellow actors, what to wear on the first day of rehearsals (leather jacket and cowboy boots if you’re male and over 40), and pretending to be an animal.
Individual gems include:

  • ‘Learning to act is like learning to ride a bike. The likelihood of anyone ever paying you to do it is very low.’
  • ‘Never read the script. Would your character read the script? No, of course not. For them the script doesn’t exist.’
  • ‘Posh? Auditioning for a working class role? DON’T take your butler into the casting with you. Tell them to wait outside’

This is an essential tool for any actor. Why? Because nobody else is brave enough to tell the truth like Fergus Craig.

Fergus Craig is an actor who’s been a regular on a number of TV series on BBC and Channel 4, and has written for Channel 4’s Cardinal Burns (Best Sketch Show at the British Comedy Awards) and a number of BBC Radio shows including Colin and Fergus’s Digi Radio. Most recently, Fergus has starred alongside David Hasslehodd in the Emmy-nominated Hoff the Record.

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Watch Fergus recording his Audiobook

You can get Tips for Actors from OberonBooks.com

Why is Removal Men at The Yard Theatre?

Removal Men is a new play with songs written by M. J. Harding with Jay Miller and published by Oberon Books. Set in an immigration detention centre, which makes for dark and unsettling comedy, Removal Men tells the story of Mo, a detention officer, who falls in love with Didi, a Druze detainee.
In this post, Jay Miller, Founder and Artistic Director of The Yard Theatre, where the play runs Tues 8th Nov – Sat 10th Dec, explains why they have made Removal Men.

Removal Men follows a short but determined tradition at The Yard Theatre of making work which allows us to look contemporary western culture straight in the eye. And what Removal Men sees there is our inability to love in a world of wire fences. A system of inequality that has left us brutalised and confused. A crisis of compassion.

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All this has been intensified by that other crisis, the one whose name has become so familiar as to be horrifyingly mundane: the migration crisis. In Removal Men, we set out to make a show which used an IRC and the broader context of the migration crisis to explore the idea of a systemic cultural ‘removal’.

This removal runs deep. It affects all of our collective decisions, creating indecision and confusion. And yet it does not seem to form part of a contemporary conversation. There are too few people examining the causes and consequences of a world where it has never been easier to communicate and yet we still cannot connect; a world where we are bombarded with images of suffering, numbing our empathy; a world in which hierarchies seem so entrenched that they render love (in whatever form that may take) almost powerless.

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Removal Men may at times be uncompromising, but it is not without hope. It is at The Yard Theatre because it attempts to look at the world we find ourselves in today, a world that is divided and scared, where love is distorted, confused – and confusing. And in this attempt, we hope to create conversation and feelings that may lead to a change.

Is this naïve idealism?

Probably.

But that is what is needed right now.

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Watch the trailer

You can buy tickets for Removal Men from The Yard Theatre’s website. you can buy the book from Oberon Books’ website.

Books on the Underground – real life Book Fairies!!

This month, the Oberon Books trolls have been working with Books on the Underground and their team of Book Fairies to deliver some fantastic surprises to the commuters of London.
Cordelia, director of Books on the Underground and Chief Book Fairy, was tweeting furiously about their adventure and has written today’s guest post. You can follow them @BooksUndergrnd.

In October, the Book Fairies got hold of 20 copies of Glyn Maxwell’s book Drinks with Dead Poets, and shared it around the London Underground!

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9781783197415‘I am walking along a lane with no earthly idea why…’ Poet Glyn Maxwell wakes up in a mysterious village one autumn day. He has no idea how he got there – is he dead? in a coma? dreaming? – but he has a strange feeling there’s a class to teach. And isn’t that the poet Keats wandering down the lane? Why not ask him to give a reading, do a Q and A, hit the pub with the students afterwards?

Soon the whole of the autumn term stretches ahead, with Byron, Yeats and Emily Dickinson, the Brontës, the Brownings and Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Wilfred Owen and many more all on their way to give readings in the humble village hall.

And everything they say – in class, on stage, at the Cross Keys pub – comes verbatim from their diaries, essays, or letters.

Drinks With Dead Poets is a homage to the departed, a tale of the lives and loves of students, a critical guide to great English poetry, the dream of a heavenly autumn. Nothing like it has ever been written.

glyn maxwellGlyn Maxwell is a poet, playwright, novelist, librettist and critic. His volumes of poetry include The Breakage, Hide Now, and Pluto, all of which were shortlisted for either the Forward or T. S. Eliot Prizes, and The Nerve, which won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. His Selected Poems, One Thousand Nights and Counting, was published on both sides of the Atlantic in 2011. He has a long association with Derek Walcott, who taught him in Boston in the late 1980s, and whose Selected Poems he edited in 2014. He is on Twitter too: @glynofwelwyn

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Let us know if you found any copies of this gorgeous novel  on your travels over on our Twitter page – we’d love to hear from you!
Keep your peepers peeled for more Oberon Books on the Underground in the very near future, and happy reading! 

Aberfan – Dennis Potter in New Society, 27 October 1966

A man-made mountain of lumpy black treacle collapsed into itself last Friday and slid down upon the school at Aberfan ‘just after morning prayers.’ The phrase is not, as I had first assumed, a distasteful journalistic device for somehow mixing inappropriate irony with an even more cruel piety. The phrase was also used in my presence by some of the stricken people of Aberfan, and with just enough frequency to force one to look for the bleak significance that seems to lurk behind the words.

When people are faced with a disaster so complete and so terrible, they cluster in small, hapless groups and begin to manufacture their own sort of optimism as though to try and keep at bay the resignation and despair they know will have to come. At Aberfan, before and after daybreak on Saturday, ‘hope’ was created among some of the bruised bands of people standing ankle-deep in slime. It was an unbearable thing to witness, a collective self-deception that was as inevitable as it was tormenting.

‘Hey. Hey,’ cried an old man in a tight muffler to a young woman standing with splashed stockings in the queue outside a telephone box. ‘I’ve just heard that some little boy dug himself out and wandered off on his own without telling anybody!’

‘Do they know who?’ her voice lifted itself beyond the normal upward inflexion of the Welsh lilt.

The old man’s head seemed to shrink back into his shoulders. ‘No,’ he said, very quietly, probably realising at that very moment that what he had almost shouted was completely untrue and unforgivably cruel. He stood still awhile, then mumbled again and shuffled off towards the growling yellow machinery at the top of the rubble. The woman stared after him.

‘It’s what a boy might do,’ she said, either laughing or crying, ‘wander off like that. He might think he’d done something wrong, see.’ The others in the queue moved their heads or twitched their hands in a tiny conspiracy of guilt.

The wild rumours were about as helpful, and fell into exactly the same category, as the redundant prayers. As the chill morning dragged on into first light the incredible, almost cretinous tales and miracles ebbed away, leaving only a miniscule and hardly discernible residue of hope to temper reality. ‘That stuff’s like roof insulation,’ someone said. ‘It don’t leave any gaps.’ Pause. ‘You never know, though.’ The bereaved either waited on the steps of their grim Bethania or retreated back into the splattered rows of shrivelled, rust-coloured houses. White smoke from their chimneys climbed up in a dead straight line towards the surrounding hills where a few sheep grazed. A man said that this was a sure sign of rain. Everyone looked up at the invading slag once more.

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As the rain came again, thickening and darkening the sky above the surrounding mounds of black, brown and grey-green, anxious eyes turned once more to the gigantic conical slag still towering so malignantly above the village. All hope had done by now, but the tip might still slide further into the beleaguered houses, might yet scatter the busy yellow machines and shovelling men. It was then, especially, that one felt the enormity of the dead slag’s power, and the disgust that such gargantuan waste should have been piled at people’s backyards. Why should it be? Why is it thought necessary to be so loathsomely uncivilized?

The past is piled all around one here, and the bad, mean-minded, short-sighted methods of the past have not yet been discarded. Hence the fatalistic language and the half-formulated idea that some God has cheated. ‘If only…’ people kept saying at Aberfan. ‘If only’ it had collapsed earlier in the morning. ‘If only’ it had fallen after midday, when the children would have dispersed in noisily happy throngs for their half-term holiday. ‘If only’ it had stopped raining a day earlier. ‘If only’ someone had rung the Coal Board the night before. ‘If only’ the powers that be had taken the slightest notice of all the earlier fears and warnings about the tip. If only… If only… If only…the inevitable, tragic punctuation of any disaster.

But there are much more resounding, much more accusing, much more fundamental If Onlys.

If only the National Coal Board took seriously the conception of a publicly owned industry designed to serve the whole community, not least that section upon which it depends for all its wealth.

If only the so-called socialists who run this ugly country would yap less about their glorious heritage and do a damned sight more to remove the inglorious legacy which is still rammed down so many people’s throats every time they open their mouths to breathe.

And not even then, especially not then, will it be possible to say that Aberfan ‘was not in vain.’ Do not dare to say that. Aberfan was in vain. Those children were murdered. This was no senseless Act of God, but a crime committed by senseless man.

This is an edited extract from Dennis Potter’s article, originally published in New Society on 27 October 1966, now published in full in The Art of Invective: Selected Non-Fiction 1953–1994.

How I Ruined My Career as an Actor

Fergus Craig likes to tweet about his job. He likes to make his tweets funny. Essentially, Fergus spends his spare time mercilessly mocking his colleagues, bosses and self online.
In this blog, upon the release of his book, the hilarious Tips for Actors, Fergus ponders whether this pastime has really been the best thing for his acting career.

At an audition, about a year ago, a casting director cautiously poked her head out from behind a plant pot, looked at me and said “I’m scared of you”. It was then that I became certain in my own mind that I have utterly ruined my own career. How? About twice a day, usually when sat on the toilet, I mock the job I still officially say I do – actor.

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I started a twitter account called @tips4actors. It has over 40,000 followers. That’s not quite Katy Perry’s 93 million but it does include a vast number of the people whom I rely on to give me acting jobs. So when I write things like…

Never read the script. Would your character read the script? No, of course not. For them the script doesn’t exist.

… I fear they think “Yes, yes, very funny, but in all seriousness we’d like to hire someone we can be absolutely certain will read the script.” When I write…

If you feel the director is spending too much time on other actors’ scenes – fake an asthma attack.

… they say “He clearly thinks he’s funny but he doesn’t sound like a team player”.

You may think I’m being paranoid but I have concrete evidence that not everyone is getting the joke. Thanks to that tweet about not reading the script I found myself in a twitter argument with a theatre director who insisted that ‘Actually, it really is rather helpful for me as a director if the actor reads the script so I can discuss it with them’. Instead of explaining that it was a joke and sending him my CV, I proceeded to call him “EMBARRASSINGLY WRONG!”. I made myself chuckle but I think it’s safe to say my name was crossed off a list that day.

tfa2My favourite debate was over the following tweet…

Actors have an enormous capacity to feel. An actor’s heart is on average three times larger than that of a normal human. Fact.

In stepped the now deleted account of @TrentAllen72 to set me straight…

…fact? If their hearts were three times bigger they wouldn’t be alive. That’s a fact. #ridiculous

I replied with a simple ‘WRONG.” assuming Trent would cotton on. Trent didn’t. He came back at me…

…yours isn’t a fact, there’s no way round it…

He was right. It wasn’t a fact. There was no way round it. Unless of course it was a joke and he was the kind of person who believed there were people out there who thought Helen Mirren’s heart is the size of a basketball. I looked at his profile which mentioned he was a medical student. I thought I’d give him a chance to work out what was going on…

…you’re well off the mark. Ask a medical student mate…

Rather than ask himself “why would he suggest I ask a medical student rather than a doctor?” he confidently replied as if he had the ultimate retort right up his sleeve…

I am one mate.

I came back…

Then you obviously haven’t got to the ‘actors body’ module yet. Whole different kettle of fish.

The conversation ended there. I’ll never know if he figured out the joke or was, worryingly, called to operate on a patient.

Having some fun on twitter may have proved harmless to my career. For the first couple of years I was entirely anonymous. But then I thought it might be a good idea to write a book, a book that for 200 pages screams to the industry I so long to be respected by – I do not take my job very seriously.

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What was it that made that casting director, and I quote, “scared” of me? Perhaps she’s read the ‘Letter To A Casting Director” of my book. Here’s a brief extract…

Dear (insert name),

I’ve been watching you for some time. I like the way you move. I like the way you operate. I like the way you find a perfect balance between your work life and your family life. And may I say, what a wonderful family you appear to have. There’s just one thing missing in your life… me.

When Oberon Books commissioned me to write this book I was delighted. It didn’t occur to me that I was systematically destroying my hopes for a long and successful career as an actor in favour of a brief career as the author of a one off parody book. My first job after drama school was with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Do I really think they’ll ever have me back after reading my chapter on Shakespeare in which I recommend getting young audiences interested by adding swearwords into his verse? I’d love to do more West End theatre. What chance do I have considering my chapter on theatrical superstitions suggests that my own personal one is to snort a line of cocaine before every scene? I’ve done lots of comic acting on TV but would desperately love to be given the chance to appear in more dramatic roles. That ambition is surely well and truly scuppered now that my chapter on television acting suggests that I don’t really get into the swing of things until the 60th or 70th take.

And so, what was intended as a playful little side project may well become the last thing I do, before being forced to give up acting altogether and joining the rest of my family in the trawler fishing industry.

I hope you enjoy it.

You can learn more about Tips for Actors HERE.
You can follow @Tips4Actors on Twitter HERE.
You can watch more of Fergus’ comedy work online HERE.

See more of Fergus' work on Youtube

See more of Fergus’ work on Youtube

Bernard Kops at 90

Born in November 1926, the great post-war writer Bernard Kops will have his 90th Birthday later this year. Áine Ryan from Oberon Books went to meet him, to ask how it feels to reach this milestone.

The playwright, poet and novelist Bernard Kops will turn 90 this year. It’s the sort of milestone age, he jokes, that says ‘hello! I’m going to die soon! I’m still here!’ Going to meet Kops for tea and biscuits at this home near the Finchley Road, I also meet his wife Erica, two of his daughters, a son, a-son-in-law, a grandchild and three great-granddaughters. Sitting out in the communal garden which the area shares, there’s a real community feel, with the children having a water fight and interrupting our chat to get biscuits and kisses from their great-grandfather.

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Bernard Kops

Bernard knows exactly what he wants to chat about. ‘I’ll tell you what’s going on with me.’ He says more than once. ‘I’m feeling a bit bereft because all the writers I came up with, they’ve all died, and I have no-one’. The recent passing of his friend and colleague Arnold Wesker has clearly affected him. But Kops still writes every day, so I ask if the people of London still inspire his characters and stories. ‘No’, he says, ‘it’s much more interior now. Parents, children, dying, living.’

‘I’m very anti-God at the moment’ he warns, before treating me to a reading of some new poems he’s been working on for an upcoming collection. The poem he wants to read is about his mother. A child’s view of a vast, warm, all-engulfing mother who gathers her family in her arms, mixed with images of the stress and worry of raising seven children with little money, and of the wider story of his family – genocide, holocaust, missing mothers, entire generations of missing mothers.

East London, 1950s

We speak a lot about Kops’ childhood and upbringing, and I’m fascinated by stories of London in the 40s and 50s. ‘There’s a place in the East End called Toynbee Hall, and on a sign it said ‘Drama Classes’, so I joined! The first play we did was a Sean O’Casey play, and I loved O’Casey, and he took me to other marvellous writers – Irish mainly – and poets, especially poets! And because I’m Jewish, there’s a kind of thing with the Irish… resonant… very similar.’ At one of these classes, the first play Kops ever wrote was about an IRA gunman hiding out, inspired in part by Sean O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman. ‘Desperation, alienation, surviving against everything, and poverty were all in my head.’ Kops says, again aligning the Jewish experience with the Irish.

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The local gardens

‘As a young boy I had no education because we were so poor, and the war bombed us out of our house. And then one day I walked into a library. If you’ve read the poem ‘Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East’ that will tell you the story of my life, really.’ ‘We lived in Shoreditch, and at that time it was stinking, you could push your finger into the walls of the house.’ Having no money to take his wife of 62 years, Erica, on a first date, he took her instead to the Italian Catholic church in Clerkenwell to Christmas Eve mass. The plan backfired when the strong incense which filled the chapel made Erica faint, causing a scene, much to the annoyance of the priest! Bernard still laughs at these stories, and talks about Erica at any opportunity. ‘She is beautiful and wonderful, but still down-to-earth and practical.’ ‘I live in a kind of little paradise’ he summarises. And, sitting in the sunshine discussing Yeats, Frost, and O’Casey with one of the most prolific and talented writers of our time, I have to agree.

Bernard Kops will turn 90 this November, with celebrations and events planned throughout Autumn ’16 at venues such as JW3 and The Jewish Museum.

Bernard and Erica, married 62 years

Bernard and Erica, married 62 years