Sunday, 29 April 2012

Model and filmmaker Victoria Keon-Cohen blogs about the genesis of her first film.... Eternal Return and its links to mental health charity Bipolar UK

Every time I talk about this film I go through a flow of emotions - excitement, exhaustion, embarrassment. When I listen to myself go on about scarecrows, curses and sacrifices, feelings of loss and ridiculousness arise. This is because there has been so much feeding into the development of this film from different angles. I strongly believe in it like I did when we decided to start a Models’ Union at the risk of our careers. Everyone told us we were mad. It seems that madness has now returned.

Eternal Return is a short medieval fantasy film. It’s ambitious just because of this genre but that’s not including falcons, prosthetics and burning a boat on a pond scene! It’s a story about sacrifice and how we evolve through relationships. I co-wrote it with my friend Agatha Lintott after being inspired by her grandparent’s farm in Somerset, England. Amongst it’s stunningly broken down wall garden and elegant oak tree resting since the beginning of time over the Lady of Shallot pond and the giant cornfields, we lost our imaginations. This beautiful setting combined with a difficult relationship I was going through at the time spawned this synopsis:

Isabelle, the daughter of the estate tries to escape her oppressive family to elope with Henry, the seamstress's son. However, she gets caught and killed. Upon finding her body Henry, out of despair, sews up all her wounds and hangs himself on a scarecrow pole erected over her gowned body. Upon this sacrifice a curse comes into play where Henry’s soul is embodied as a falcon, his human figure is suspended in the form of a scarecrow and Isabelle comes back to life.

The couple is given a second chance, their lives suspended between human and scarecrow form where the only way to transform is through sacrifice, one for the other. When their bodies revert back into their scarecrow figure they continue repairing each other with stitching, hessian and straw. Upon becoming human again the hessian, stitching and straw change to skin and scars.

They go through different stages of transformation until Isabelle poisons herself. “With no scars to repair this time, if this doesn’t work please go on without me” is the note she leaves her lover. Henry cuts open her scarecrow sternum, takes out the rotten straw and burns it in a fire. In this moment of defeat, however he realizes a way for Isabelle to complete the cycle for them both and thus find serenity together in a new form of life.

Their devotion to each other is unwavering. It supersedes all other values, fuelling their loyalty and emotions even at the cost of their own humanity. The two are never seen human in any scene together and with no responsive dialogue, alternative communication becomes a way of life to overcome the boundaries imposed on them. Their virtues and pitfalls are all part of the reality of commitment and sacrifice as they evolve together in a search for mutual serenity.

Since commencing this film, I’ve been asked about parallels with Buddhism, been told I must be the only model who has read Nietzshe (I haven’t but will now!). When I explain various conflicts with my ex, people obtain a further understanding about where the key elements of the story came from. I quite like these different perspectives as it's so interesting to hear about how they interpret the story's meanings. They seem to align different elements of it with their own experiences. As a filmmaker, it's quite rewarding to know it has this potential to reach the audience.

Last week an anonymous contributor offered to fund 20% of the budget in return for raising awareness of the charity “Bipolar UK”. The charity doesn’t advertise but puts its resources only into ensuring its services provide for the 65,000 individuals who sought its support in the last year. We are therefore thrilled that this film has the opportunity to help such a vital cause.

Bipolar – sometimes known as manic depressive disorder - is a severe mental health illness characterised by significant mood swings including manic highs and depressive lows. It is treated with psychiatric medication records the highest suicide rate of all mental illnesses. Compared to other health problems that have a similar or lower impact, treatment of bipolar is still hampered by misunderstanding and severe stigma. It takes an average of 10.5 years to receive a correct diagnosis for bipolar in the UK. Misdiagnosis occurs on average in 3.5 % of cases.

Our incredible team has donated their time in-kind including Oscar short-listed cinematographer Vernon Layton and makeup artist of the year Lan Nguyen. We ask you to please contribute here to allow us the necessary resources to complete this film and reach out to further audiences raising awareness of this invaluable charity. Bipolar UK:

Victoria Keon-Cohen works with NEXT management London and has modeled for clients such as Reply, Versace, Levis and Vogue. She approached Equity with Dunja Knezevic to start the first trade union for models in 2007 and stood as Founding Chair of the Equity Models' Committee from 2007 - 2012. Having studied Performance Design at Central Saint Martin's her first job in film was Costumer to Robert De Niro on Killer Elite (2011). She is currently still working with the Models' Committee and is also making films in both the fashion and film industries. Equity Models’ Committee:

View the development trailer for Eternal Return here...

Monday, 23 April 2012

Hitting the road or rather, the highway... Acclaimed travel writer Rowen Bridler blogs on her journey through the good old US of A...

I'm sitting in a little motel room at a Travelodge in Kingman, Arizona just off the old Route 66, which is now a smaller road than the somewhat parallel Interstate 40, and the vibe here is 'Trucker-meets-old-hippie'.  We've been 'on the road' now for just over a week since leaving Illinois via the I-88 and onto the I-80 going west.   (For those who don't know, the "I" in "I-80" stands for interstate.)  We're headed for San Francisco but we're taking in lots of sights along the way.  

We got our car for the trip by searching on, which seems to have had the best deals on car hire here as well as on hotels.  You'll know you're using the Priceline site when you've typed in all your details and it searches for your deal while a crazy-looking picture of William Shatner comes up (nice entertainment factor).

Personally,  I can't believe my luck at being able to go on this road trip.  This is not normally my life but I'm enjoying every unpredictable minute of it.  It was in August last year that I found a beautiful picture of the Golden Gate bridge in a magazine and put it on my wall.  I had been to Illinois and New York before, but I'd never been to the West Coast.  And it turns out, my boyfriend had a long-held desire to drive around the States, so that and the fact that my parents live in Illinois brought us to plot our escape and travel from East to West to see what we could see...

Ever since touching down at Chicago O'Hare I've been adjusting to the language differences here in the States compared to the UK.  The language use here is more direct, simpler but with a few specific terms you need to know that are not at all the same as British English.  Who was it who once said that the UK and the US are "two countries divided by a common language"?  Whoever it was, was spot-on.  

Top five American terms you need to know:

1) Car rental = Car hire.  Do not talk about 'hiring a car' because no-one will understand you!  You hire people, but rent things (cars, bikes etc.).
2) Cream for your coffee = milk for your coffee.  If you buy coffee and are asked, "Do you want cream with that?" say yes, even if you want skimmed milk.  Once you've said yes, then ask for the kind of milk you want.
3) "To pass" = "to overtake"  For example, signs on the highways read, "Keep right, except to pass".
4) Trunk = boot of the car.  This one's a useful one to know when asking a taxi driver to put something in the boot, otherwise you could find yourself getting the strangest look ever.
5) Gas = petrol.  Don't forget you are looking for a gas station, not a petrol station, when you're running low on fuel.

Other useful things to bear in mind here are firstly, the fact that credit cards, not debit cards, are used to pay for everything.  If you try to hire a car with a debit card, they'll want to do a credit check, which of course they can't do if you're not from the US.  So if you want to use a debit card instead, as long as it hasn't got the words 'debit card' on it, you should still be ok.  We got around this problem by simply not mentioning that it was a debit card visa we were using.  However, you might be better off making sure you get a credit card before you leave because it's easiest that way.

Also, the "Triple A" (AAA) is the AA or RAC equivalent here in the US.  It's a useful way to get discounts in motels, as they give a lower rate to AAA members, but some places (like the Travelodge in Kingman) will give you the rate anyway if you can say you know someone who is a member. (They didn't need to check the membership number here.)  And to give you a useful "head's up" [="just to let you know"] about the toilets, sorry, restrooms, here in the US, all the toilet cubicles in public places have a significant gap between the door and the wall of the cubicle, which is quite disconcerting to a Brit, so hang your coat over it if it bothers you.

On the whole, Americans are not as exposed to English accents as Brits are to American accents, so always go for clarity and taking longer over saying something, than brevity, or you'll only have to repeat yourself.  We've found it most helpful to indulge in a little cheerful repartee, such as joining in with the "hi, how are you today?" conversation by asking the same back, which most shops and hotels don't expect but find sort of quirky and friendly.  

And when your waitress at the fantastic breakfast diner, iHop says, "Hi, my name's Asia and I'm going to be serving you today.  Can I get you started with some drinks?" just try not to laugh.  She doesn't have the same in-built sense of ridiculousness that we Brits have been brought up with and thinks this is all totally normal.  Seriously, I kid you not.  That was her name.

Rowen Bridler is a writer, singer-songwriter, and actress currently based in Prague, Czech Republic.  Having lived over ten years in London, she fled the UK for a taste of a new life and a new language.   Inspired by the writing style of Adam Gopnik, and Elizabeth Bard (minus the recipes) Rowen is writing a travel memoir of her experiences in the architecturally mesmerising city of Prague.  She is also currently writing a daily blog about her road trip from Chicago to San Francisco.

Monday, 16 April 2012

From Blogger to Published Author: It Really Can Happen... Lucy Robinson, Marie Claire blogger talks about the publication of her first novel

On Thursday last week something ridiculous happened. Actually, no, ridiculous doesn’t cover it. It was preposterous! The thing being this: my first novel was published. My first novel was published! Did you hear me?

Ah, sorry. I get a bit carried away when I think about it. It just feels so improbable: I, Lucy Robinson, a mere bumpkin of West Country origin, am the author of a novel which has a Penguin logo on the front of it. It’s the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.

And yet I often feel sheepish about how it all happened. I feel like I should invent some dark story about how I threw years of my life into writing an epic novel about a fisherman from a small village near Calcutta . . . and then hawked myself with a dignified desperation around the cruel publishing houses of London (possibly limping.) And then, perhaps, I died of malnutrition and my broken hearted lover resigned from his job, took my dog-eared manuscript to his breast and campaigned for years until he achieved a posthumous publication of fifty copies.

It feels like a bit of a let-down when I tell the real tale, which goes roughly like this:

Started blog – was discovered – got book deal.

It’s not an urban myth. It happened to me.

In 2009 I was stuck in a – shall we say - challenging job which involved a lot of pain and no discernible gain. In a futile attempt to bring comfort to my miserable existence I took to eating thousands of Jaffa Cakes and going on dates with men I’d met on The dates, from the word go, were comedy gold and I knew it would be criminal to waste such brilliant material. So I began a blog for Marie Claire in which I documented my rather unpromising search for love.

The blog struck a chord with many and I was contacted by a publisher within six weeks of starting it. I met with her (rather inexplicably, I might add) in a deserted gay bar in Soho on a Monday evening and she told me she thought I should attempt a novel. I nodded dumbly and scampered off hoping she wouldn’t contact me again. I was quite sure that I did not have a novel in me.

But it turns out that I did.

I wrote it over the course of a year. The first half was written in bed, normally between the hours of midnight and 3am: the only free time I had. I wrote the second half in Argentina where I’d taken myself off to learn Spanish, attempt Tango and eat outstanding steak.

One afternoon I finished the final chapter. I sat alone in my apartment in Buenos Aires and punched the air. It was a boiling hot December day and the air conditioning was on full-blast. I went out to my balcony, muttered to myself about this all being completely mad and then went to bed and slept for three days.

And now, more than a year later, it’s in the shops. I have no idea what’ll happen next, but what I have realised is that I probably need to stop feeling embarrassed about having been 'discovered' because of my blog.

Because the thing is, the blog-to-book-deal thing does happen and furthermore it should happen. Editors routinely scour the blogosphere precisely because there is so much brilliant content out there. Hundreds – probably thousands - of talented writers who deserve a deal. Writers who are demonstrating with admirable tenacity their ability to keep on inventing, challenging and growing.

I imagine that for an editor the blogosphere must be like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Granted, there are several rancid offerings that should never have left the kitchen but for every twenty vats of congealed lasagne there’s bound to be one beautiful plate of fresh shrimp curry with fragrant coriander and perfectly fluffed rice. And the good news is that this curry already comes with a loyal fanbase. What’s not to love?

In typical writerly style I’ve always considered myself to be more congealed lasagne than fresh curry. But, fortunately for me, Penguin thought otherwise. And so today I want to encourage would-be bloggers to seize the day and put something out there. It may seem hopeless, adding your voice to the millions already jostling for space, but really – what have you got to lose? Blog! Blog right now!

Lucy's first novel The Greatest Love Story of All Time is published by Penguin and is out now at all major retailers and on Amazon.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Emily Jenkinson blogs on life as a newbie food blogger.

 Does the world need another food blogger? Probably not, but this February, after a least a year of dilly-dallying, I finally bit the bullet and launched The Lady Bites: Tales from the Table – an online journal, combining my own illustrations and ‘ditties’ with light-hearted reflections and observations on food.

As a foodie and a journalist, a food blog seemed to make sense offering a personalised, no-pressure outlet via which I could indulge two of my greatest loves, food and writing, while sharing an on-going tendency towards ‘doodles’ on a slightly more sophisticated platform than my desk diary.

After rejecting The Raw Prawn (already taken) and Tongue Sandwich (just no), I finally settled for The Lady Bites as a passable name for my new blog and set about (with the help of a techie friend) building the site. It would be a laugh, I thought, a good discipline (much like writing a diary) and something which I could look back on and enjoy (even if nobody else did) as the years ticked by. Who knows, I might even become a better cook.

Two months since my official launch and I am now a fully-fledged food blogger with, drum roll, 201 Twitter followers (yes, I now tweet), 388 unique visitors (thank you Google Analytics) and, er, 17 Facebook fans. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help getting excited when someone tweets @theladybites and I do feel a little surge of pride when I garner a new follower or fan. Meanwhile, I nearly faint with delight when someone feels inspired enough to comment on one of my posts (even if it is just my father-in-law in disguise).

A Day in the Life of a Food Blogger ©TheLadyBites

Of course, as one of my favourite food bloggers, David Lebovitz says, getting good traffic is “not something anyone should focus on, especially when starting out” and he’s absolutely right. The whole point of starting The Lady Bites was to do something which didn’t feel like work, was fun and relaxed and which didn’t involve (as the web copywriting work I do sometimes does) being a slave to SEO.

So far, it’s living up to and even exceeding expectations. Because it is my own – my little creative project produced entirely by me - it is more absorbing and rewarding than I ever expected it to be. Meanwhile, I have, according to my husband (aka The Heid) become a better and more adventurous cook in that where once I would have bought mayonnaise, now I attempt to make it (so far, so badly, but he’s not complaining - yet). At the same time, I feel lucky to have been employed as part time Food Editor at The Good Web Guide, where I have opportunity to interview other food bloggers and cooks, review cookery schools and books and become immersed more generally in the world of food and food writing.

The only thing I simply can’t get used to is taking photographs of my food before eating it. It seems like the ultimate cruelty for someone who loves their nosh, likes it served hot and isn’t much of a photographer and I can’t help feeling a little embarrassed doing it when out in public, especially when I overhear little children asking their mothers why “that lady” is taking photos of her food. "That’s a good question young whipper-snapper," I must learn to say with pride, "it’s because I’m a food blogger. Now pipe down and get back to your brownie before I steal it."

A Funny Breed

Food bloggers are a funny breed
Who’ve made an art form of their greed
By writing down for all to note
What they’ve stuffed down their hungry throats
And what they think they might eat next
The dinner out that left them vexed
And recipes that they’ve devised –
Or those of others they’ve revised -
If edible, it’s analysed.

You’ll spot them round about in town
They’re usually armed with camera/phone
Which they whip out triumphantly
To document their gluttony
Their breakfast, snacks and lunchtime, dinner
(They’d love to be a little slimmer)
But when there’s all this marvellous food -
Delicious things in multitude -
It’s not a goal that’s worth pursued….

Read more from The Lady Bites on, follow on Twitter at and become a fan on Facebook at

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Will Cartwright-Hignett blogs on environmental issues

The Iford Valley is partly managed under a Higher Level Stewardship agreement, a government scheme which works in partnership with farmers to ensure enhanced levels of environmental and ecological protections. The celebrated gardens at Iford Manor are open to the public, and host an arts festival in the summer months, including opera and jazz concerts.

Whatever the weather, if you ask a farmer about it you can guarantee to hear a downbeat story of sorrow and woe – when it’s warm growing weather, there’s not enough rain; when it’s raining, it isn’t falling consistently enough; and when it does, the still air is encouraging mildew; and so on.

In most cases our stories of weather trouble help to offset our constant worry that the viability of the farming business is subject to the unpredictable nature of the British weather and therefore partly out of our hands.  With Nature playing an unpredictable role, farming is necessarily a profession where one is constantly fighting rear-guard actions to combat the next challenge.  Whilst one can plan contingencies for a lot of situations, Nature has a habit of bowling off-breakers and there’s no predicting them – especially when it comes to the weather.

This year, if you hear a farmer complaining about the weather, he probably has a point – a serious one, at that, which could affect every one of us.

Even the most cursory glance through the newspaper will tell you that large swathes of the UK are now in drought, whilst other parts of the country have experienced record rainfall.  These extreme contrasts have done no favours for either the dry or the wet regions.  But pick up an East Anglian newspaper (or a copy of the august Farmers Weekly) and you will hear stories of irrigated vegetable crops being jettisoned, cropping areas reduced, and some crops are said to be at risk of establishing so poorly that it may not be cost effective to harvest them come maturity.  The next fortnight will be critical before we know how serious the situation is, but rain needs to be on the agenda, and soon.

The impact of a poor harvest is clear on food prices.  A lack of self-sufficiency puts the UK at greater risk of having to purchase from potentially adverse external markets.  Food prices are already high as it is, and whilst Britons are not prone to rioting over the price of bread, supermarket bills clearly affect a citizen’s disposable income.  For the poorest in society it can be the difference between one side of the bread line and the other – so this rain stuff really matters.

The aggregated deficit against average rainfall in East Anglia, for example, stands at 8 inches over the last 15 months.  Putting that in context, that’s about 60% of the expected rainfall in a year for parts of the fens, which already require irrigation for their vegetable crops.  Despite this, records show that 2011 was the wettest year ever recorded in Dumfries & Galloway.  We need to start looking at resources on a national scale, as we do with oil, gas and electricity.

Food security in the home market can only be achieved by ensuring that our ‘bread baskets’ and vegetable regions such as East Anglia and Lincolnshire have the necessary water resources to grow our food – if not, we are reliant on imports, themselves reliant on harvests elsewhere coming good.

Despite the parlous state of the public finances, perhaps it really is time to turn our attention from the economic deficit to the less journalistically exciting issue of the soil moisture deficit?  We should revisit the infrastructural needs of water distribution, and consider a national water network, rather than a regional one as we have currently.  A north-south pipeline, for example, would allow the surpluses from the North to replenish the deficits of the South, and ensure that some of our best growing land in the south could be effectively irrigated.

On our own farm in the Iford Valley on the Wiltshire/Somerset border, we are not in quite such a dry state yet, but we have started to examine the best use of our water resources in case we don’t see meaningful rain in the coming months.  Having recently completed a hydro-electric plant on a weir in the river (and which is currently almost idle because of the low water levels) we are well aware of the impact that low water levels can have.  Our beef herd needs constant watering and looking at the worst case scenarios, we are looking to ensure that we take advantage of the ‘quick-wins’ – large-scale storage options; rain-water harvesting from roofs; and checking pipelines regularly for leaks.  These are all ways in which we can make the best use of rain when it does arrive.

We all have to do our part. The first of the hosepipe bans are coming into force on 5th April; a brick placed in the loo cistern saves a litre every time you flush; and turning off the tap whilst brushing offers a surprising saving too.  In more arid parts of the world, much is made of “grey water”, the not-particularly-contaminated water which in the UK usually goes into the waste pipe (such as the outflow from a bath), but which could be used to water the garden, say.

Ultimately, though, it is only through the arrival of fresh rains that the situation will alleviate.  So next time you see a weather forecaster saying how disappointing it is that there are clouds on the horizon, shout at your television – he has clearly forgotten just how truly life-giving those rains can be.

Whether the weather be hot,
Whether the weather be cold,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!

Will Cartwright-Hignett was brought up on his parents’ farming estate at Iford Manor, on the Wiltshire/Somerset border. After some time away spent in business, he has recently returned to Iford to join the family business, managing the farm and estate. Will is passionate about agriculture and rural heritage; he works closely with the Historic Houses Association and has a bespoke tea company through which he imports fine teas for hotels and select clients.

Catch up with the latest news on the Iford blog.