Sunday 22 May 2011


These will go up when my technical manager has put them in a flickr album, hopefully sometime this year!

John adds: It's coming along. This is still work in progress, so check back in a day or so for more of Maggie's great photos.


Saturday 21 May 2011


For those of you who follow my blog, I am a great Stieg Larsson fan. I soaked up his three novels, which seem now to be unofficially called the Millennium trilogy (based on the name of the magazine published by investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist in the stories), in a way I haven't done with any other novelS for a long time. And I still haven't found anything to read as yet that comes even close to capturing my total concentration as they did.

Therefore, I was very keen to see the film versions and having done so I wish to give my verdict. These were the Swedish versions and I chose to watch them in Swedish with English subtitles. Therefore, the essence of Swedishness, already very vibrant in the novels, particularly through the scenery and the different institutions exposed, was reinforced by the natural language.

And what can I say? They were all brilliant but particularly the first two.

There's always a danger when watching the film based on a novel, particularly one you have just read, because it's all too easy to look for differences between the two. And that can lead to a great disappointment. However, I can honestly say that I spotted no important differences in the first two films and although I already knew the plots, I was completely absorbed all the time.

The enigmatic and fascinating heroine/anti-heroine, Lisbeth Salander, is played beautifully by Noomi Rapace. She looks and behaves exactly as the Salander in the books. So much so that it is a surprise to see and hear the actress giving interviews. You would hardly recognise that this was the same person. And Michael Nyquist, who plays Mikael Blomkvist, really brought his character alive. Seeing him play the role, gave me a full understanding of just how attractive the character is.

And film can do what sometimes a novel can't do – that is to show visually information that can take a long time to be covered on the written page. So, in the first film we get a really clear idea of all the different members of the Wenger family, who are central to the plot, in a very easy sequence – large photographs of each of the members are used by Blomkist to show who is who. This took a very long time in the novel and I still got confused from time to time.

Now, onto the last of the films. I enjoyed this one nearly as much as the other two but some of the subplots had been altered to fit in with the main plot and I did find this a tad distracting. But I can see the logic in doing so because the film really had to be focused on what was happening with Salander and her story.

Conclusion. Excellent films, all three. Totally worth watching first in Swedish and then in English or the other way round if you so choose. It shall be interesting to see whether Hollywood can produce anything nearly as good. I doubt it but who knows. Having become a fan of European detective drama series e.g. Wallender, Spiral and The Killing (BBC 4, Saturday evenings), I am really enjoying listening to other languages in the context of the countries in which the dramas are set. Makes for far more gripping television.

Wednesday 18 May 2011


The good news

The programme for the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2011 has just been released. Again it lasts for four days and we were pleased to see that many of our favourite Gnaoua groups will be playing, including those led by Maalems Mahmoud Guinea, Hassan Boussou, Hamid El Kasri, Mustapha Bakbou and Omar Hayat (John calls him the Little Richard of Gnaoua). There will also be a liberal sprinkling of World Music musicians from other countries, including Haiti and Afghanistan. Plus, and of course this is brilliant news for John and I, we will be getting press badges again. YIPPEE and thank you God.

The bad news

However, the festival has been scaled down, with no big performers like Ki-mani Marley and Youssou N'Dour. And, and this is terrible news for John and I, the large square outside our hotel, Bab Marrakech, is not to be used so we will not have the great pleasure of sitting on our balcony to watch some of the acts. I shall miss this dreadfully.

We really were lucky to have found this hotel, Hotel Blue, with its two rooms with balconies facing onto the square. And equally lucky to have been able to book one of the rooms each year. I can't remember how many years but it's probably six. Amazed actually. It has been an absolute delight to have been so close to the action and I think we were incredibly blessed to have had this experience. In fact, we used to pinch ourselves each year, almost in disbelief, that we were able to do this.

And it was wonderful not just for the evenings of live, fantastic music and dancing: we really enjoyed watching and listening to the crowd, whose enthusiastic rappour with the musicians was so infectious. There was one time when I was dancing on the balcony and a guy below saw me and started dancing in time to my dancing. It was such fun.

Plus, it was so exciting watching the stage being erected and the sound system being tested over and over again all day using the most marvellous of music. It was on such an occasion that we discovered the singer Jeff Buckley. We were in great awe of the professionalism and skill of the guys involved. Unsung heroes of the festival.

But probably the main disadvantage will be that John cannot record the music being played on the Bab Marrakech stage whilst videoing at Mouley Hassan. Therefore, it will reduce our recording capacity.

The setting of Bab Marrakech as a venue meant that all of Essaouira was buzzing to the sound of music during the afternoon, evening and late into the night. It was so exciting. Magical. This year, however, it will be a large, empty, quiet space and I'm sure that the tens of thousands of people who watched performances there will feel the loss just as much as us.

Who's to blame?

The wanker bankers, of course. Perhaps this is being too simplistic but I doubt it. Because of the greed and the unscrupulous financial dealings of so many bankers, including knowingly selling mortgages to people who quite clearly could not afford them, we have all been left in a financial state of bankruptcy. So it's no surprise then that sponsors such as Pepsi have pulled out of the festival. The fact that it actually taking place in such an uncertain financial climate is a small miracle in itself and one I am grateful for. As for Bab Marrakech and the enviable position of our hotel room, we always knew it would end one day because nothing stays the same. But it's very sad for us nevertheless.

Back to the festival

This year there will be two large open air venues: Place Moulay Hassan and Scene Meditel, on the beach. Both of these venues will be free and obviously bursting to the seams. And there will be two venues which will be chargeable: Bastion de Bab Marrakech and Zaouia Sidna Bilal, both inside. I have no doubt that the festival will be a huge success as usual and John and I intend to make full use of our press badges. I have been learning how to use a larger and hopefully better camera because I want to take even better photographs this year. And, of course, I am really, really, really looking forward to being back in my beloved Morocco. So, again, thank you God .

Monday 2 May 2011


I have been listening to audio books for years and never thought to review them. Strange really, because listening to a book is just as valuable as reading one. I think it's because I associate listening to an audio book with total relaxation whilst I'm having a coffee break plus a ciggie, doing some embroidery or sewing. However, I have heard so many good ones recently that it has spurred me into action.

So, here is my very first audio book review.

I still have no idea who Wanda Fuca because it's not mentioned once in the book but that just shows how zany the book is. Set in Seattle, and written I guess by an American, it's a very light, funny, entertaining detective story.

The detective in question is P.I. Leo Waterman, who doesn't take himself too seriously, which I really appreciate. Leo has been asked by an ageing gangster friend of his father, to locate his granddaughter, Caroline Noble. She has loads of money and loads of attitude and loads of 'no one has the foggiest where she is'.

Leo, of course, with the help of a most unlikely crew of homeless, dithering, booze-loving friends, finds her pretty quickly. She is hiding out with a dodgy section of the green movement and Leo becomes involved with the illegal dumping of toxic waste and the various plans to sabotage it. Needless to say, this is putting Caroline at great risk.

And that's all I'm telling you because, as I always say, if you want to know more then buy or listen to the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Characterisation is excellent, particularly of Leo and Caroline, who are both a lot of fun although in different ways, and the plot moves along in a most satisfactory manner. I particularly liked the dialogue, which seemed very naturalistic, and the writing style generally suits the 'this is a detective story but not as you know it' mood of the book.

According to the blurb on the back of the box, this is the first in a series of Leo Waterman stories and I look forward to listening to or reading further adventures.

There has been enormous trend during the last few years for detective novels to become as gory and scary as possible and I for one have had a stomach full of this trend. I want to be entertained, not sickened. And the novel that I am now writing, Winchester Blues, is, hopefully, part of the movement that Ford belongs to (if there is such a movement), which aims to buck that trend.

The version I listened to was a BBC audio book production, read by Jeff Harding. And I should add here that the reader is crucial to the enjoyment of an audio book. If I don't like the voice, I stop listening and pop down to my local library to choose another one. Luckily, Jeff Harding has a voice I could listen to all day. Pretty yummy in a cool American kind of way.