Thursday, April 25, 2013

War Horse

On Anzac Day, when we remember Australian and New Zealand men and women involved in the First World War and subsequent wars and battles, it seems an appropriate time to write of a thought provoking production about World War I that recently played in Melbourne.

For Christmas I was given tickets to see the National Theatre of Great Britain production of War Horse at the Arts Centre in Melbourne. It was a fantastic production combining large scale puppetry with live actors. The plot was a commentary on the futility of war told primarily from the experience and viewpoint of a horse. Sounds incredible but in the theatre it works. Albert owns a horse called Joey but at the outbreak of World War I horses, as well as men, are sent from England to France to fight the Germans. There were scenes set on both sides of the conflict depicting the use of horses during the war plus the attitudes of the soldiers sent overseas to fight. The actual set was simple but the use of lighting and sound enabled the changes in the scenes as well as provided dramatic effect, especially during the war scenes which at times were very loud and often confronting. However humour was interspersed during the play to lighten the tension. The stars of the show were the horses - life size puppets each operated by three people. The operators were always in view however after a few minutes you did not notice them, just the life-like movements of the horses. There was also a puppet goose that provided comic relief on occasions. All in all I thought it was a wonderful theatrical experience and a thoughtful interpretation of the experience, horrors, death and destruction of war.

Two weeks ago the first episode of the new series, Parkinson's Masterclass, was an interview between Sir Michael Parkinson and Michael Morpurgo, the author of the children's book, War Horse, from which the play and also a film was adapted. The master class was followed by a program showing how the National Theatre adapted the book for the stage and the challenges in combining life sized puppetry with actors in a production. Both these programs helped re-enforce the experience I had enjoyed in the theatre in January.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

e-books continued

Recently reading The last days of Richard III as an e-book allowed me to explore some of the features provided when using an e-book reader - in this case a Sony e-book reader.

Each time you open the book on the e-book reader it opens at the large page you were last reading.

Using the button in the right hand corner of the reader provides further navigation options including going to the Table of Contents or typing the number of a required page in the box provided.

Tapping a heading in the Table of Contents takes you to specific chapters and sections such as appendices, bibliography, index, notes and selection of plates.

This non-fiction book had many foot-notes for each chapter providing additional information and sources. Tapping the highlighted number for each foot-note takes the reader to the additional information. Utilising the back arrow at the bottom of the Notes page return the reader to the section they were previously reading.

Pressing the button to the right of the Home button also takes the reader back to the section they were originally reading.

These options help the reader easily navigate their way around the variety of information features provided in the book.

Devil bones

Devil Bones is no 11 in the Temperance Brennan series of books by Kathy Reichs. When during renovations to an old house in North Carolina a plumber discovers, in a cellar, remnants of a scene of grizzly ritual including a human skull Temperance is called in to investigate. Meanwhile a headless body of a young man is discovered by the side of a lake. Is this part of voodoo or devil worship? As in all the books in this series Reichs provides additional information about the forensic investigations undertaken and topics pertinent to the story. In this book she provides information about the practices of Wiccans and the religion of Santeria. An evangelical preacher stirring up fear in the community is another thread. Relationships continue to play an underlying part in the story with Temperance's daughter re-introducing her mother to a colleague, Charles Hunt, and Andrew Ryan visiting from Canada. Another interesting instalment in the life of Temperance Brennan.


Dr Ella Canfield attends an important interview to secure funding to investigate possible sitings of Tasmanian tigers (an animal thought to be extinct) at Wilson Promontory. The person responsible for the money is Daniel Metcalfe. The interview has many ups and downs making it doubtful that the funding will be made available especially when Daniel says he wants to meet her at the university to learn more about her proposal. This introduces the first twist of the novel as we learn that Ella is really Della, a member of a family of con artists or grifters who make a living of persuading people to part with their money funding dubious projects. Della's father has a set of rules that family members are expected to follow when targeting a mark and Della, with the assistance of family members works hard to overcome the many obstacles that Daniel presents in order for her to obtain the goal. However as the story progresses she realises that there is more to Daniel Metcalfe than she initially thought and she needs to find our more about him. Fallgirl by Toni Jordan is a clever romantic comedy containing a number of twists in the plot involving a family of out of the ordinary characters with their own moral code.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The last days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA

This is the second edition of the book written by John Ashdown-Hill, originally published by History Press in 2010. After the publication of the first edition of the book, excavation of a carpark in Leicester resulted in the discovery and identification of the body of Richard III. This edition was published in 2013 as was the e-book which is the copy I read.

The first section of the book outlines the known details about the last five months of the life of Richard III covering the period from Friday 25 March 1485 until Monday 22 August 1485 when Richard died. Obviously there are gaps in the material available but the author contends that an examination of the known facts dispels many of the myths that surround later accounts of the personality and supposed deeds of the king. The stories about the treatment of Richard's body after his death plus the burial of Richard's body in Leicester are also examined.

The second part of the book deals with the DNA search to prove that the bones found belonged to Richard III. Males do not pass on the mitochondrial DNA but as a mother passes the same mitochondrial DNA to all her children the challenge was to follow a direct female line from the females in the family of Richard III to the present day so that the two sets of DNA could be tested. The author describes how a direct female line was discovered from Catherine (Katherine) de Roet, Duchess of Lancaster (1348-1403), via her daughter, Joan Beaufort, then her grand-daughter, Cecily Neville, the mother of Richard III, to Anne of York (Richards's sister) until finally, sixteen generations later, to Joy Ibsen (1926-2008).

During the writing of the book the author provides many details and explanations which at times do not make easy reading but generally this is an interesting study of an era in British history as well as an account of how new scientific approaches can help verify historical data.

The University of Leicester website - The search for Richard III - contains further information about the discovery of the body of Richard III.