30 Books For My 30th – Number 24

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dscn7325Dear J K Rowling,

I’ll try to make sure that this letter isn’t too long. I think that in the years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve presented my feelings towards you quite clearly. But, after writing my letter to the Harry Potter books earlier this month, my sense of disappointment is even stronger right now.  Also, earlier this month you caused yet another stir by liking a tweet that has been considered as transphobic. I just find myself sitting here and wondering “what has happened to the author of one of my most loved series?”

This next comparison is, admittedly, a little extreme and I’m a little reticent to carry on with it but we’ve come this far. These days you’re most know for your political statements on Twitter. Particularly against US President, Donald Trump. Now, I’m sure you’ve come across the idea that people who are too similar are always going to risk butting heads. Of course, I’d never say you were anywhere near Trump’s league of disgraceful and immoral behaviour but, you have to see, there are some similarities. You both attack people using your social media to a vast following (for very different purposes mind), you both routinely ignore and block critics of your viewpoints, and you rewrite the narrative to work in your favour.

By that last one I’m referring to your constant supply of tweets from fans explaining how you saved them from depression. Now, I’m absolutely positive that you have helped people. And I’m glad that people have found comfort in your writing and think it’s great that you helped so many people. You are a genuinely good person. However, there are just as many people out there who are not satisfied with some of your recent decisions. Where are their retweets? Where are their answers? You’re writing your own narrative to further your image. Between your political, professional, and charity related tweets, your feed is just a long supply of retweets of people fawning all over you. You continue to feed this idea that you are the hero who changed her own life and the lives of so many people, which, whilst true, is not the full story.

It’s probably not your fault but there are times when it feels as though you’re suffering from the same thing Harry Potter himself was in the final 3 books: the Chosen One complex. If enough people have, basically, canonised you over the years then I imagine you might feel untouchable. But that doesn’t mean you can do anything. With this latest Twitter scandal, your response wasn’t the first-hand account of what happened. No, you got your assistant to make a statement on your behalf that blamed middle-age. Whilst I’m not convinced of the excuse anyway (you know if you mistakenly like a tweet or not), the fact that it didn’t come from you directly is just another example of how removed you are from your fans these days.

When people were outraged about the casting of Johnny Depp after accusations of his domestic abuse you brushed them off by essentially saying “he’s always been nice to me”. When people were annoyed by the announcement that Dumbledore would remain in the closet for Fantastic Beasts 2 you remained silent. You’re continually praised for reaching out to your fans but, unless it’s a good PR opportunity, you mostly remain suspiciously quiet. I’d go so far as to say that your attitude towards the fandom nowadays is pretty casual. As is your attitude towards adding to the canon. Incidentally, a thing you continually promised you wouldn’t do. You just don’t seem to care anymore. As if you know the majority of fans won’t say anything against you and you’ll ignore the ones that do.

Look at The Cursed Child: what we must now consider to be the 8th book in the series. Something you were so proud to create. Yeah, so proud that you had pretty much no involvement. Never has anything reeked more of money-grabbing than the 2 part fanfiction-esque play that many of your fans would never be able to see for various reasons. The ones that can’t make it to London? Who cares. The ones that can’t afford it? You don’t need them anyway. You just care about the people willing to hand over their cash, right? The people who will visit the theme parks and the studio tour. People who will watch a series of 5 films based on the smallest book in the fucking world. The people who will buy the accompanying screenplay of the film for god know’s what reason. This is a franchise that knows its fans will spend and continually manipulates them for it. Which, I should point out, isn’t your decision per se. However, there is a level of complicity at play.

You are often compared to George Lucas when it comes to your creation. Both of you, people will say, don’t know when to stop and are risking their fans’ loyalty in doing so. I’d say you were worse than George Lucas. He, at least, was changing Star Wars because he wanted to make them as good as he could. He was blinded by the improving technology in graphics and went a bit mad. The films were his children and he wanted to help them grow up. You? As far as I can see you just want to stay relevant. Everyone wants to continue making money and making sure people remember the series. The thing is, people would remember anyway. Your fans, your true fans, don’t need constant updates on Pottermore. They don’t need tweets every year saying you regret killing people. We were happy with the books.

Besides, if your ‘improvements’ were so important then why not include them first time round? If it was so vital to point out that Dumbledore was gay then why keep it hidden? Why continue to deny it? On the one hand, you celebrate casting a black woman as Hermione whilst, on the other, you fail to definitely state race in your books. You want to seem like you represent everyone but you do so by not adequately representing anyone. You have always played it safe. Creating works that never challenge the status quo too much but that channel an idea of hope and rebellion. Your characters are fighting an evil power that threatens the right’s of a section of society. Yet you refuse to openly represent the under-represented in your major roles. It’s sad.

Once upon a time, you were such an important person in my life. Your books gave me so much and made me feel like I was part of something. I felt connected to so many other people in the world because of my love of these books. As I’ve grown up, I’ve not only seen that the books themselves are flawed but that you and the community you have created is. I’ll always respect you as a human being and a writer. You achieved a great deal and have done a lot to help people. You are, when it comes down to it, a genuinely fantastic person and a wonderful figure in the world. But, still, I find myself pulling away from you. I guess it’s just difficult when the people you idolised growing up turn out to be as flawed as the rest of us. Just a bit sad.

To hurt is as human as to breathe,
Laura

30 Books For My 30th – Number 21

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img_4561Dear Fantastic Mr Fox,

I realise as a book lover that I should probably have been more drawn to Matilda when I was younger. I should probably have seen myself somewhere in the tale of a girl who loves books and teaching people a lesson. They’re kind of my favourite things to do. And I did love her. I mean she’s basically the poster child for the eternally bookish and the book is the same age as I am. Still, when I was younger, it was you, Fantastic Mr Fox, that captivated me so much as a child. And who wouldn’t love this epic story of good triumphing over evil… especially when that good is a really cunning fox?

As a child I was part of pretty tight-knit group of friends. It comprised of myself, my twin sister, and out best friend at the time. We spent nearly all of time together. We loved the same things. And one of those things was you. One of my most vivid memories from childhood is being driven somewhere by our friend’s mum and begging her to let us listen to the cassette tape of you audio book. We must have worn that tape out considering the amount we listened to it. I’m pretty sure we would speak along with it and everything. We must have driven her mother insane. But we loved it.

There is no writer who can quite match up to Roald Dahl for being able to give a child what they want from a book. He never crosses the line with his darkness but he isn’t afraid to scare kids a bit. Boggis and Bunce and Bean are grotesque characters. They are genuinely disgusting and vicious and that’s really refreshing for a child. As a young reader, you aren’t really used to characters who are so realistically evil. You are used to fairy tale villains who are obviously just fictional. You know, evil queens who kill people who are more beautiful than they are. Or evil stepmothers who hate their beautiful stepdaughters. Basically we’re used to villains who are obsessed with looks and nothing else.

But you were different. You presented us with an image that was understandable in the real world. A group of farmers that wanted to kill a wild animal. And, let’s be honest, they were justified. I love Mr Fox, don’t get me wrong, but he did keep eating their livestock. I always wanted him to succeed but I could totally get why they were a bit miffed. This isn’t normal for children’s literature. You don’t get evil people who it is, on some deep deep level, okay to sympathise with… just a little bit. I worry I’m coming across as the kind of person who wants to see people kill foxes. I’m not. I love them. Mostly because of you; partly because of The Animals of Farthing Wood. Love them. Still, I’d be annoyed if one kept eating my chickens just to piss me off.

You are as clever and well-written as any other Roald Dahl book but there was obviously something so wonderful about you that we all kept coming back to. The cynical and realistic part of me wants to say it was because we all just bloody loved animals. It’s true. Part of the reason I love Aladdin so much is because Jasmine has a fucking tiger. I’ve wanted to be her all my life. But, I also like to think, in my nostalgic and dreamy way, that we knew then that you were special. That we knew you were a simple story told in a truly Dahl-esque style. That you were funny and scary at the same time. That you were rich in detail despite being so short. That you showed us that it’s important to stick up for yourselves. That it’s so easy to be underestimated and you can use that to your advantage. That you were more than just the tale of a fox being able to outsmart a group of farmers.

But probably not. We probably just loved that you were about a fox and that you got your tail shot off. Oh, and that rhyme is bloody memorable.
To Mr Fox! Long may he live!
Laura

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 13

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dscn7205Dear Jacqueline Wilson,

This letter should be one full of joy and celebrating the news that you’re writing a new Tracy Beaker story. Narrated by Tracy’s 9-year-old daughter. I remember reading The Story of Tracy Beaker as a child. It inspired me in so many ways. I wanted to write. I started keeping a diary. I watched the TV show even when I was far too old to be doing so. I can’t wait to read the newest adventure and see how Tracy grew up. I’m sure I’m not alone. There will be an entire generation of women who grew up with your stories who will have experienced that same wave of nostalgia that I did. It’s the kind of impact you have as a writer.

So why is it not a letter full of joy? In the last few hours I’ve read a lot of negative comments from mothers who have decided your books aren’t appropriate for their daughters. Apparently they are too dark and mature for their precious flowers. Apparently your realistic representation of the hardships experienced by a wide-range of youths might damage them. Well, as someone who couldn’t stop reading your books when I was younger, they didn’t do me any harm.

Quite the opposite in fact. Your stories for younger children entertained me and got me excited about reading. I pestered my poor mother every time your released a new book. I needed everything you wrote. The Illustrated Mum made me desperate for a tattoo. The Lottie Project made me want to learn more about history. The Bed and Breakfast Star made me want to be funny. The Suitcase Kid made me appreciate my family all the more. Most of all I adored Double Act because it was the first significant book I’d read about being a twin. I saw myself and my sister in the characters of Ruby and Garnet. It helped to read about twins who were so different and drifting apart. It helped to read about characters that I understood. You knew you audience and created novels that would guide them.

As well as teaching them about things they would normally never have seen. Thanks to you I was introduced to children living genuinely difficult lives. You forced me to confront the notion that people in this world have harder lives than I do and to appreciate what I had. Things could always be worse. You made me think about other people before myself. I didn’t necessarily know it at the time but you were already helping me grow into the socially and politically minded woman I am now.

The thing that makes your novels so fantastic is your unwillingness to speak down to your audience. You didn’t try to pussy-foot around them. You didn’t present the world through rose-tinted glasses. You wrote about real problems and real people. You write about the kind of children that might usually be overlooked in children’s stories. You gave a voice to the voiceless and let them know everything could and would be okay. That somebody understood them.

You understood me. One of the most powerful reading experiences I’ve ever had was reading your novel Girls Under Pressure. I’ve never felt so strongly that a novel knew me before. I, like nearly every young person, have always struggled with body image. I’ve never been comfortable with the way I look or, more specifically, with my size. Never more so than the time I was reading your books. Girls Under Pressure could have been written about me. I don’t want to get melodramatic but you quite probably saved me. The amount of time I spent focusing on how fat I was could easily have led to some horrible decisions. Reading a novel about the consequences of eating disorders was enough to force me to see that it wasn’t the easy answer. Refusing to eat or throwing up wouldn’t magically make life okay. I’m still not happy with the way I look but I can say that I’ve never, even during my lowest points, been tempted to walk that line.

You helped me in so many ways. To hear people say they don’t want their children reading your stories is absurd. You taught me more about who I was as a person than anything else I read when I was younger. I appreciate that books like Harry Potter have a lot to teach people but I never saw myself in them. You did. You seemed to know what I was feeling and were able to tell me it would get better. You changed my life. I normally try to end these letters with an appropriate quotation but that doesn’t seem right here. Instead…

Thank you for everything

Laura

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 8

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img_4436Dear The Complete Sophie Stories,

I have so many fond memories of you. I adored your books when I was a child. My mother bought me your first hardback collection Sophie’s Adventures when I was about 7 years old. Or at least that’s what I’d assume by looking at the publication date. I don’t really remember much about getting you but I do remember that she wrote something to me inside the book. Not a huge essay but I’ll never forget that inscription. I’m not saying the connection with my mother caused me to love your books more but I’ve always linked the two in my mind.

Thinking about you has always been comforting. You’re tied up with nostalgic feelings about my youth and the warm, safe feeling of being home. You basically feel like part of the family to me. You’re the books I remember most fondly from my childhood. There was a period of time when you were my go to book for feeling better. If I woke up from a nightmare then I’d read you. I’d flip through your pages if I couldn’t get to sleep. Every time I was having a rough time I would turn to you. Even when I was far too old to do it.

Looking back I associate myself with Sophie because she’s a stubborn young girl and I’ve always been fairly stubborn. I can’t say I made those links when I first read you but I can definitely see similarities. At the time, we both shared a love of animals and, particularly, horses. I understood why you wanted a dog and why you would love to live on a farm. I understood being the youngest member of your family and being overshadowed by your siblings. It’s inevitable. I don’t think I appreciated how much you taught me when I first read you. But you did. You taught me a lot about being independent and head-strong. About doing what I believed in and sticking to my guns. You’ve probably influenced my life in more way’s than I’d imagine.

But, most importantly, you’ve always been a source of love for me. I always remember you. I always remember how reading you made me feel. I have so much to thank you for but especially for the hours of entertainment you’ve given me. You were the perfect first bookish obsession.

Thanks

Laura

 

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 4

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dscn7078

 

Dear Alice in Wonderland,

Today is my actual 30th birthday. Yes, the single, insignificant (on a global scale anyway) event that I’ve been banging on about for months now has finally arrived. As this is the whole reason that I started this project I felt that I should pick an important and meaningful book for today. That book is you. Thinking about that, it’s a weird choice. Not because you aren’t an important book to me but because I can’t actually remember the first time I read you. I always remember you being in my life though. You’ve always been on the sidelines, watching me. You’re the book from my childhood I remember most fondly but not because I remember reading during my childhood.

It all comes from my middle name. I am Laura Alice Murdoch. I’ve always been drawn to you because we share a name… kind of. Not that I use my middle name ever or talk about it a lot. I just remember thinking it was really cool that I shared the same name as your main character. And I loved you. I loved the idea of you. A girl who grows incredibly large and incredibly small. A talking rabbit and a stoned caterpillar. What kid wouldn’t love that? Growing up I had framed pictures of your illustrations on my walls. Now I don’t know whether my love for you prompted the pictures to be out on my wall or vice versa but it’s doesn’t really matter. Even if I wasn’t fully aware of your story, I adored you. After all, I was Alice.

I’ve been familiar with your film adaptation too, of course, but the first time I remember you as a book was when I was already an adult. I studied you during my final year as an undergraduate on a bullshit children’s literature course. That’s to say the course and its tutor were bullshit; not the literature. I must have read you before or, at the very least, had you read to me. I just never remembered. I’m sure my parent’s talked about you in my youth in a way that suggests I had a familiarity with the text. However, the memories aren’t there.

You are the book that I’ve been most familiar with in my 30 years but, from the looks of it, I took ownership of you without having any rights to do so. Having definitely read you now, I still love you and I still, secretly, think I am Alice. I forced my flatmates to see the Tim Burton adaptation for my birthday in 2010. It was the first night it was available and I loved it. Not as much but enough. You are one of my all-time favourite books and I feel an incredible connection with you. It’s just mad to think that the book I always thought of as being my childhood favourite is also the book I remember the least.

But, we’re all mad here,

Laura

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 2

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dscn6968Dear Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,

To borrow some words from Christina Rossetti (a woman with more command of language than I could ever hope for) “I wish I could remember that first day,/ first hour, first moment of your meeting me”. Yes, that’s more than a little melodramatic for a blog barely anyone reads but the sentiment rings true enough. I don’t recollect all of the circumstances of how you came into my life and it doesn’t seem right. You were a gift from my father, that much I do know, but I don’t know what prompted it. Was it a special occasion? Was it simply a consequence of everyone being Potter mad? Whatever the reason, one year after your initial release a copy with the adult cover was placed into my hands and an unbreakable connection was made.

I wrote my name in you because that’s what we did then. I took you to school and read you during reading time. I have a vivid memory of my form teacher rolling her eyes when she saw what I was reading and saying “not another one”. I was embarrassed. I felt like I’d got a question wrong even though I didn’t really know I was taking a test. Looking back now I’m just embarrassed for her. Yes, I was a 10 year old jumping on the bandwagon but I was passionate about reading. I’d always read as a child but you awoke something in me. You turned me from casual reader to book lover. You started me down the path that I’m still following to this day. The path of Bookstagram, buying more than I’m reading, and owning multiple editions of books I’ve not read for years. I’m stuck in a world full of things I need to read and cursed to live a life without the necessary years to finish the job. And it was you who created me.

You were the one. The Frankenstein to my bookish monster. I loved you. I consumed you. I lived you. This was the first time I’d experienced real, true book obsession. I read and reread you. I knew you inside and out. I craved the next instalment and I over-analysed ever detail in between. I discussed you non-stop with my friends and looked up theories on the internet. I read terrible fanfiction. I wrote terrible fanfiction. I loved your characters and I hated them. I loved you and I hated you. I needed you. You filled me with joy and you broke my heart. You pulled me in and never let me go. I’d never been through something like this before and, if I’m honest, no fandom has compared to this since.

But the course of true love never did run smooth. There’s no point pretending our relationship has alway been successful. As the years went by I grew up, as human beings are wont to do. But you, my dear Philospher’s Stone, remained as youthful as ever. You’re Peter Pan but I, my love, am Wendy. My memories of Neverland will never fade but, unfortunately, I cannot make repeated journeys back. In recent years, I’ve fully read you only once. I’m sorry but I can’t do it. You were never an example of groundbreaking and beautiful writing and that is more obvious now I’ve discovered examples of genuinely breathtaking prose. You are painfully naive and childish (and I’m saying this as a 30 year old who still plays with plastic swords). I can’t reread you as I once did. I’m sorry.

Don’t despair, though. You were never popular because of what you were but because of what you represented. You are a great story full of great characters. You are the feeling of being included and being part of something greater. You show us that no matter how bleak the outlook, there is always hope. There is always love. There is always you. I might never reread you or your siblings again but that doesn’t matter. I know that the person I was is still inside me. I solemnly swear that I’m still up to no good. I know the memory of our time together is still resides within. I’ll always shed a tear when I remember the pointlessness of Lupin’s death. I’ll always be angry about the way Snape ended up. I’ll always hate the fucking epilogue and The Cursed Child. I’ll always care.

I wish I could remember the moment we first met. That I could go back now and savour that moment when my life changed. But that’s the problem with significant moments: they’re only noticeably significant after the fact. For the sake of symmetry, let’s turn back to Christina Rossetti: “It seemed to mean so little, meant so much,/if only now I could recall that touch,/ first touch of hand in hand – did one but know!” It’s been quite a journey Philosopher’s Stone and, I’d like think, it’s not over yet.

Always,
Laura

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30 Books for My 30th – Number 1

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img_4338Dear Lord of the Flies,

How are you? It’s been a while since we last spent any real time together. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten you. I appreciate that these days I only come round if I want something (more often than not, a worn or well-loved book for an Instagram post) but don’t think for one second that I no longer care. We’ve known each other for about 15 years and that means something. Like every other young person, we first met when I was studying for my GCSEs. Your pages were already bent and you were full of notes but that didn’t matter. My sister may have claimed ownership of you once upon a time but now you were mine. And, if I have anything to do with it, you always will be.

I’m always shy around people I don’t know so I was a bit wary of you at first. I was at an age where I was good at studying literature but I didn’t love it yet. I warmed up to you pretty quickly. You were intense and powerful. I’d read important books before, of course, but nothing that was quite so fiery. Nothing that was quite as beautifully written whilst being so devastating. I found myself enjoying working my way through your pages and analysing everything in front of my eyes. I was getting excited about your symbolism and your allegory. Every inch of your blank pages became a notebook of pencil scribbles. I wanted to discover who you really were: I needed to see you properly. And I believe that, during those GCSE years, I did.

But we’ve grown apart since. I’ve barely opened your pages since then and have left you languishing on a shelf. It’s scary, you see, loving a book so much as a teenager and, inevitably, stopping being a teenager. What would I do if you were no longer the book I thought you were? What if I’m no longer the reader I was back then? The young, naive girl with an insignificant personal library. What if I no longer deserved you? I couldn’t bear that. Not after you meant so much to me.

So, yes, you can call me a coward because I am. But you shouldn’t care for me any less. The thing about real friendship is that you can see each other’s flaws but it doesn’t matter. I see your flaws as I, probably, saw them then. You’re a little bit cynical, a little too on-the-nose. Your allegorical narrative is wonderful and painful but, you have to admit, it is anything but subtle. Your writing may be exquisite but it’s a little stilted at times. There are better books out there, many of which I’ve actually read but more that I haven’t.

But that doesn’t matter Lord of the Flies. You were the first book to show me the potential power of literature. You were making a real and important point and trying to teach us all something about ourselves. Something about myself. You made me care about studying literature. You made me fall in love with my subject. You made me fall in love with you. So, I’m sorry if I don’t call you much anymore but, never forget, that you’re always with me. We’re always together.

Maybe it’s only us

Laura

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Book Review – The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

dscn69175_star_rating_system_4_stars1 Continuing in my recent spate of reading children’s books, I’ve just finished the book that was awarded the Costa Children’s Book Award last year. I bought it on the same Amazon spree that finally saw me grab a copy of Tin and, after it was recommended to me, I couldn’t resist. It sounded like a much less violent version of Lord of the Flies and, despite the fact that the violence is the whole point of William Golding’s book, that did sound quite interesting. I would have finished the book much quicker than I actually did had it not been for a particularly difficult week at work that saw me falling asleep mid-chapter a few nights in a row. Still, it didn’t exactly take months so I can feel okay about it I guess.

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Sunday Rundown – That’s What She Read

You find me writing this Sunday Rundown in an unusually good mood today. Even though it’s already after 11pm and I’m only just starting to write this. But I’ve always enjoyed the pressure of a deadline drama. The reason I’m so positive today? I’ve spent a lovely chunk of it eating amazing food and spending time with wonderful people. As I’ve made abundantly clear on this blog already, I’m turning 30 in just over a week. As part of the ongoing celebrations some of my work-friends and I went to a Michelin star restaurant for lunch today. It was so wonderful that I don’t even care how unproductive I’ve been. Head to my Instagram for some sensational (even if I do say so myself) example of food porn. Maybe this whole “turning 30” thing won’t be that bad after all?
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Book Review – War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

IMG_42645_star_rating_system_2_and_a_half_stars If you follow me on Instagram then you’ll be aware that last week I was lucky enough to see the stage version of the book War Horse. It was an absolutely amazing experience that I will never forget and one that left me an emotional wreck for days. I don’t understand it but the deaths of massive wooden puppets was super traumatic. As a huge literary nerd and a bit of a history geek too, World War 1 has always been somewhat fascinating for me so I’ve been interested in War Horse for a while. It wasn’t until I watched Steven Spielberg’s film in 2012 that I became familiar with the story and, if I’m honest, it left me feeling more than a little critical. As I suggested in my review, I felt sad that society could only become emotionally invested in the story of the Great War through the treatment of horses. I mean I’ve got nothing against horses but why do we need to make a film about a horse when loads of innocent, young men died as well? Human beings care more about animals at times than they do about strangers. It’s ridiculous. Going off topic for a second, I once heard a story (probably not true) about a charity that went around giving food to the pets of homeless people. Now I have nothing against this kind act on its own but the same people were (allegedly) only giving food to the animals. Now, I realise dogs that live on the street deserve food but what kind of fucked up person would not also give food to the owner? Anyway, I’ve had my misgivings about Michael Morpurgo’s story of a magical fucking horse since I laughed my way through Spielberg’s film but the stage show had me changing my mind. Maybe there was something there after all?

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