Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Benefits of Regular Walking

I have become a critical friend of a lovely Italian man called Umberto. He blogs regularly about wellness and fitness matters, and then he’ll invite me to feedback because he values my opinion. I’ll quickly explain that Umberto is the expert and that I do not fit the profile as someone who is athletic; I think it’s simply my snappy vignettes that he likes to receive.
I read one of Umberto’s recent posts about the benefits of regular walking; it got me thinking about a specific demographic that seems to be exercising more than they were doing. Since the 2012 Olympics, the amount of young men and women pursuing their cycling and running vocations has definitely increased. I would even go as far as to say young people are looking healthier and a little less weighty generally speaking. Perhaps it’s an indicator of living in leaner times of late!
For our children, unless an activity is part of the curriculum it doesn't get funding. The government have invested an additional 150 m for PE and this is part of the revised curriculum coming into statutory force, Sept 2014.  Swimming instruction for pupils working at Key Stage 1 and 2, is, and will continue to be, funded, but I’m guessing schools will still look to parents for contributions towards some sports provision. Sceptically speaking, parents have been buying essential requirements for curriculum based study such as books and stationery items for a long time. So you see, they make it up as they go and it is hard to demystify the tricks they play and to understand how the money is spent; but, hey, this is an argument for another day. One thing I did notice yesterday was a group of six or so school boys simply riding their bikes on the road together. They weren't the trail blazing types, nor were they sufficiently equipped for the skate park acrobatics, they’d obviously agreed to meet and were straightforwardly cycling from an A to destination B – a rare sight when active engagement for young boys usually means with the technological world.

Back to walking and as Umberto states in his post I mentioned (view it here) - 30 minutes, 3 days a week of moderate paced walking has proven to be very good for you and I am sure he will not mind that I have copied in list of benefits:

·         Walking prevents type 2 diabetes
·         Walking strengthen your heart
·         Walking is good for your brain
·         Walking is good for your bones
·         Walking helps alleviate the symptoms of depression
·         Walking reduces the risk of breast and colon cancer
·         Walking improves fitness
·         Walking improves physical function

Walking has kept my mother healthy, without a doubt. She turns 80 this year. She never learned to drive and has always walked to the shops and to appointments in her locality on a daily basis and she still walks over 3 miles once a week to the city centre where she lives and sometimes she’ll walk back home again in the same morning. Admittedly her walking is not hiking style, nor has she undertaken an exercise programme where fat burning is the aim but my mum has never had a problem with her weight, and, subsequently, has enjoyed good health for all of her life.

A couple of friends of mine have become nothing short of obsessive with running and power walking through the parks and I've seen them both drop down 3 dress sizes, and when at the peak of their fitness 
they look years younger.

I am becoming more and more interested in knowing the benefits that low intensity exercise can bring, so I've been wearing an OMRON Walking Style One 2.1 Step Counter on my more active days when I’ll go out for a 40 minute brisk walk, and on my inactive days when I sit at the desk working and so doing much less stepping out in comparison.

This is a slim line device with a secure clip that will fit on your waistband which measures the intensity of a walking activity and then can calculate the approximate amount of calories burned over 24 hours.

Active Day      - 8000 steps – 1.6 miles walked – 166 calories burned
In Active Day  - 1696 steps -  0.3 miles walked  – 1 calorie burned

Results revealed the days of inactivity (working at the computer) I am burning so few calories that I could only maintain or lose weight by reducing my calorie intake, if my aim was to lose weight. Whereas I would only need to include three Active Days to my fitness routine and I’d be burning up over 500 calories through taking walks over the course of a week.

thank you for reading my ramblings. Until next time!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Easter Egg Tree

me and the children used to decorate twigs and branches brought in from outside. I made this Easter Egg tree, it has turned out quite nicely - made from paper, wire and glue 

Easter Egg Tree - Complete

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Contemporary Drama Guides by Bloomsbury

Check out the reviews of two contemporary drama guides

Both books are excellent study guides 

I for one will continue to use these books for reference in my role as a freelance theatre critic


ISBN 978-1-4081-3479-5
Published by Bloomsbury December 2013
Text: Christopher Innes, Martin Middeke, Matthew C. Roundane, Peter Paul Schnierer
479 pages

The in depth introduction is 15 pages long and explains the structure of the book and how the book surveys 25 American playwrights with emphasis on plays of those who appeared in the 1970s or later, with Arthur Miller’s and Edward Albee’s post-1970 work the only exception. With this recent time being a starting point, there is a scholarly reassessment made, of how American dramatists have progressed in significance since and how their work had been received, not just as rhetoric for a Nation, but symbolically speaking. A team of scholars have, as contributors, explored reasons why contemporary plays have become important, artistically, in the US. Social trends have been overviewed and wider contrasts and comparisons have been made. A bibliography of published plays and a select list of critical works are included

This book provides an authoritative interpretation of over 5 (or more) plays by 25 major Contemporary American Playwrights (over 140 plays are detailed). Each chapter looks at the life and social backgrounds of each dramatist and what is regarded to be their important plays


The 25 American Playwrights featured in the book are listed below with the authors’ names in brackets:
Maria Irene Fornes (Scott T Cummings),
Richard Greenberg (Jochen Achilles, Ina Bergmann),
John Guare (Ken Urban)
David Henry Hwang (Russell VandenBroucke),
Adrienne Kennedy (Klaus Benesch),
Tony Kushner (James Fisher),
Neil Labute (Christopher Innes),
David Mamet (Toby Zinman),
Donald Margulies (Kerstin Schmidt),
Terence McNally (Peter Paul Schnierer),
Marsha Norman (Annalisa Brugnoli),
Suzan Lori Parks (Ilka Saal),
Sarah Ruhl (Deborah Geis),
John Patrick Shanley (Annette J Saddik),
Wallace Shawn (Martin Middeke),
Sam Shepherd (Katherine Weiss),
Christopher Shinn (Stephen Bottoms),
Luis Valdez (Jorge Huerta),
Paula Vogel (Joanna Mansbridge),
Naomi Wallace (Pia Wiegmink),
Wendy Wasserstein (Frazer Lively),
August Wilson (Sandra G Shannon),
William S. Yellow Robe, Jr (Birgit Dawes)
and Miller and Albee as already mentioned written by Susan C W Abbotson and Thomas P Adler respectively

Using Neil Labute as an example the format throughout is like this – Labute’s chapter opens with a short biography, talks of his influences, his first play, and his stage work including his work as a director, and how he went on to write film script and to direct films. Tells of his strong international reach, particularly London and how he is viewed on both sides of the Atlantic. Four of his plays are discussed in regard to style, dramaturgical concerns and contextual relevance plus the critical reception is analysed. There are one or two examples from the script and the chapter finishes with a Summary, the primary and secondary sources are listed as are the Notes

…to reiterate the structure of the chapters – they are in four parts. First an introduction which is a biographical sketch of each playwright, followed by a chronological ordered analysis of major work, a Summary of the playwrights contribution to contemporary American theatre and a bibliography of primary texts
Plain text (some italic) with Quotes
List of Contributors
Index (11 pages)




a comprehensive Drama study guide


Modern British Playwriting 2000-2009 by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978-1-4081-2956-2
Text: Dan Rebellato, Jacqueline Bolton, Michael Pearce, Nadine Holdsworth , Lynette Goddard and Andrew Haydon for Chapter 1
Published by Bloomsbury Oct 2013

340 pages
Being one of a series of six volumes, this book relates to theatre from 2000 – 2009. In the preface the series editors Richard Boon and Philip Roberts explain how the book fits with others from the series in reassessing theatre for a specific decade; and this is followed by acknowledgements by editor, Dan Rebellato. In Rebellato’s introduction his overview of life in Britain in the 2000s comes in six categories:Domestic Life, Society, Culture, Media, Science and technology and Political events. Each category follows a chronological order of events. Chapter 1 reflects on verbatim responses to the political happenings of the decade, the impact of technological advances (growth of multi-media productions) on theatrical pieces; topics also include, site specific theatre; and the growing influences over this time in regard to the staging of new work including the popularity of ‘Scratch Nights’. Other headings for this Chapter are entitled: The Royal Court, the money and the new writing industry, Authors, National Theatre, Criticism, Autumn 2009: Postcards from the end of the decade
Rebellato’s introduction is interesting reading and an effective recapping of what has come to be known as The Noughties, and these sections are useful as a point of reference. And Chapter 1 is indeed a ‘punchy’ viewpoint from the reputable theatre critic and blogger – Andrew Haydon
Here the authors’ go all out to demonstrate how the works of five British dramatists are deemed as being representative of the last decade (the 2000s) in a contextual sense. The names of the playwrights follow with the author’s name in brackets:
Simon Stephens (Jacqueline Bolton),
Tim Crouch (Dan Rebellato),
Roy Williams (Michael Pearce),
David Grieg (Nadine Holdsworth),
and Debbie Tucker Green (Lynette Goddard).
The introductions of the five playwrights and their plays are designed to enlighten us, so we might come to understand them and so be appreciative of their work. Showing examples of their differing approaches to script writing and providing explanations of intended messages, in relation to themes, is crucial in regard to us recognizing and defining what is or may have been in their minds; thus educating in the process of writing effectively for Stage. The book demonstrates how playwriting can hold on to a message, take it forward by creating a situation/setting, one that can be acted out, and, therefore, be used as a vehicle for that message to transcend.
Includes interviews.
The book is well structured. From pages 213 to 285 there are real documents presented; these are largely unseen and unpublished alternative sections to the plays mentioned in the book. This section is fascinating and insightful. Pages of ‘Notes’ include publishing attributes, quotes, acknowledgements, online links, websites and blog addresses and recommended books and articles and bibliography information. The book ends with little work related bios about the authors entitled ‘Note on Contributors’ and, finally, a 19 page Index
Paperback. Fact boxes in the introduction. Plain text (some italics). Upper cased headings in bold. Text set out in medium length to long length paragraphs
An intelligible book for writers, theatre critics and for students of theatre studies

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Photographic Competition (for fans of all ages)

Calling all Ninja fans - to enter:  send in a photograph or a video, of a battle scene or a Ninja pose, using relevant figures, vehicles or play sets in battle action for a chance of winning some great prizes.

There are three winning categories:

  • Best action figure battle scene – Photograph 
  • Best ninja pose – Photograph
  • Best action figure battle scene – Video

The winner of each category will receive a digital camera, a turtle mask of their favourite character, a turtle shell, plus chosen signature weapon. 5 runners up will receive a character mask and their signature weapon.

email your entry to

Closing date is 16th May 2014. Winners will be notified by the end of May.

Winning entries will be available to view online or in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles magazine in the June issue.

Monday, 24 March 2014


Legal & General are searching for the nation’s advice to their younger selves 

I know my younger self better than anyone else does. I know exactly what makes her tick and what will be, or certainly should be, an interest to her for her own future moving on through.  I also know when she’ll hang on my every word and when she’ll turn off to what I say.  But we all need a little encouragement now and again. Here are excerpts of that pep talk given by me to my younger self (at different ages). 
We've made our introductions:

And we pick up the talk in regard to those:

Purchases made with that hard earned cash

I say ‘You know that State of the Art Sony Walkman and The Video Star VHS recorder, and that mobile phone and camcorder the size of a brick? Well don’t treasure them TOO MUCH, as in a decade, or so, they’ll be obsolete. This will be largely due to huge technological advances, mainly the discovery of the Internet and the World Wide Web’ (she's looking blank). ‘You can relax too, in the knowledge that your poor map reading skills will not be sending you up the wrong way of a one way street for all-of-your-life because we will have GPS systems in our cars telling us where to go.  I also advise her to ‘store away the parent's old dial turning telephones, Nan’s horrible brown and orange standard lamp, and Aunt Mo’s floral patterned cake tins as they’ll sell for a song on something called ebay, under the labels Retro and Vintage. Oh! And tell big bro he is right to keep his toy cars and their boxes, in  pristine condition, for the collectors market!’  I also suggest that she hold on to those aviator shades, that static filled polyester print dress and the woolly twin set, as, ten years or so into the new millennium, they’ll be right back in fashion!’

1970's me
Arguments between us ensue so we pick up the talk later on, but going back further, I'm with teenage me from the 70s this time, and in regard to:

What you should Value

‘well, health wise value the fact that you are never needing dental work, value having 20-20 vision, and that prescriptions are free to you right now, and appreciate too that your boobs transcend in an upwards direction; and know it really does not matter if your bum looks big (in anything). Value all the people close to you of the older generation, and be very careful not to take people for face value even when you’re sorely tempted. You will come to miss gold and silver topped milk delivered to the door, your local library on your doorstep, and the continued release of ground breaking, soul touching popular music, although rest assured you will continue to hear what you’re hearing right now…it doesn't go away’.

1980's Me

Of course she is keen to know…

What things changes for the better?

and I tell her ‘Communication and information will be at your fingertips, smoking will be banned from public places, society will continue to struggle but globally we will become more environmentally aware. Politicians and people in the public eye, as well as those who are not, will be held more accountable for failings and wrong doings, more than you see happening presently. In the Noughties crime rates fall (although you still hear of some fearful stuff), and we’re living longer! Yay!

she doesn’t want to know what changes for the worst, but I offer up the information anyway
Things that changes for the worse
The UK economy will take a massive down turn. House prices will go through the roof, and schools, some hospitals and other public services will continue to fail. Unemployment will be a problem for certain sections of society. Global terrorism will raise its ugly head, and culturally, the world of celebrity and reality TV programmes will rule.

From older me: 'I have always had faith in the younger me – she’ll have to make difficult decisions about relationships, family, health, and finances, but I know she’ll never take them lightly.' I keep everything else under wraps so she doesn’t miss out on the fun, but I do reveal, so that it doesn't come as a shock, that from the very moment she becomes a parent she will find she will be changed forever.

1990's Me
Not Compulsory readers please note - there is currently a Facebook competition called ‘What Would You Say to Your Younger Self’. If you'd like a chance to win a holiday, please see main competition page and scroll down to the relevant post at 

Friday, 28 February 2014

Book Review (in part) - Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies

For those who know me well, or know of my work as an artist (self taught), will know I have a passion for producing my own illustrations and for sharing the work of others.  

Illustrators can reveal information which is deeply illuminating through illustration, and sometimes more than words alone can manage.

cover design by Eleanor Rose
book design by Simon Sharville
I have been commissioned to review a new book by (Bloomsbury, Jan 2014) called Understanding Illustration (the book) by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies (*the authors) The work of 36 artists feature in the book overall, but it is the traditional use of illustration that interests me the most, so I've chosen four out of nine illustrators from Section 01 to focus on, and to reproduce their project ideas in brand new illustrations of my own:

The authors lead in with book cover designs by Audrey Niffenegger (Three Incestuous Sisters and The Nightmobile) and through discussions with Niffenegger they tell of how she was commissioned, by Penguin, to produce artwork giving a fresh interpretation of Jane Austen's Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility. On page 11 of the book is a front cover of the former 

image above shows original artwork before adjustments for print. Photograph taken from the book Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies for the purpose of reviewing

...and a wraparound cover of Sense and Sensibility

above shows original artwork. Photograph taken from the book entitled Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies for the purpose of reviewing

While acknowledging Niffenegger as an artist in her own right, she is better known as a writer of novels, the authors manage to extract Niffenegger's thought processes behind the illustrating of another writer's text; that of Jane Austen in this case. We are allowed a small window in to the work of Art Director, Paul Buckley who adjusted final versions of the artworks prior to publication, but not many clues are given in the book of the software techniques used. Below is my Niffenegger take on a wraparound cover for Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre; much guesswork and trial and error involved to produce but the style leaps out.

Illustration by Debra Hall (Subject to copyright 2014)

the above illustration is by Shaun Tan - photograph from the book Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies

Pages 14-17 of the book are dedicated to author and illustrator, Shaun Tan, in particular, Eric, Tan's character from the collection called Tales from Outer Surburbia. See the beautiful b/w images above, and below, again, taken directly from the book under review here.

Eric by Shaun Tan - Photograph is directly from the page of the book Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies for the purpose of reviewing

The section in the book dedicated to Tan and his work lingers much on the interconnection of his words with imagery. I am definitely more at home with the activity of sketching freehand and would have liked the low down on Tan's techniques and of the manipulation processing, so I have been disappointed with the book for not covering the mechanics more. Below is a straightforward sketch of a scene in my mind from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men I have made no enhancements to it.
'He scooped a little hollow and laid the puppy in it and covered it over with hay' - Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck' Illustrated by Debra Hall (subject to copyright 2014)

Photograph is a page within the book under the review in this editorial
Turning attention now to the illustrating of Children's Books I am looking, in turn, at two artists who fall under this sub-heading in the book. Firstly, Polish born, Jan Pienkowski tells of how his early work in stage design helped with his illustrating. And this is highly evident in his designs, the use of dark and detailed silhouettes of fairytale/fantasy objects and enchanted forests and mystical creatures heading a vivid bright and colourful landscape beyond is a feast for the visual. I was so pleased to see that Pienkowski is a little less cloak and dagger in regard to sharing aspects about his craft. 
The Thousand Nights and One Night - Photograph taken from Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies for reviewing purposes

Pienkowski produces stunning illustration and the book illustrates this well! So I am showing a version of what was my competition entry for the design of a book cover depicting the novel 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel, back in 2005. I have reworked it for this occasion, using Pienkowski as a lead, and contrasting strong colours as he often does, to stir the imagination.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel - Illustration by Debra Hall (Subject to copyright 2014)

For the purpose of this review, this is a photograph of the work of Sara Fanelli which is featured in the book Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies

It is difficult for me to convey stories in an abstract sense. I read the text, and, immediately, an image is there and I can set about composing in a way that'll meet my objective. The final artist I have chosen from the book - to 'copycat' in terms of illustrative style, is Sara Fanelli (see above). 
Photograph from a page within the book by Bloomsbury entitled Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies

Italian born, Fanelli, like Pienkowski, now lives in the UK.  Fanelli works in collage and with found items. The strength of what can be achieved contextually, as well as artistically, is boundless, using this kind of approach to design. Her funny little Onion character was part of a book proposal which contained a story with a moral message. The Onion's Great Escape was published in 2012. 

I, for one, like to cut up original artwork from unfinished, or failed projects, and make something new. I am loathe to throw away artwork; even it was rather lazily put together. I have admitted to being quite conventional in my approach, but I also have a scatter gun of a mind at times which needs reeling in. From what I glean from the book Fanelli may be better at abstract thinking, but I think I can generate ideas like her, that have some fluidity and randomness about them. Below I am reusing one of my special characters in true Fanelli style!
artwork by Debra Hall (subject to copyright 2014)

The authors Derek Brazell and Jo Davies are illustrators, who both combine writing, education and support for other illustrators in their wider work. The two have worked in collaboration as authors previously. As board members of the Association of Illustrators they are always looking to ways of creating a platform for discussion and investigation into the subject of illustration.

CONCLUSION: the book has not been reviewed in its entirety due to the imaginative steps I've taken to construct this piece. To carry on with the same layout and format I've used and incorporate the reviewing of of the whole book would have been laborious for me and too lengthy to hold the attention of the reader. I know as much as this, that the aim of the complete book, was not only to give in-depth information to show how illustrators communicate through their images when it comes to the narrative; but to show how they can stimulate thought and get a message across; through poster design, in the visual for advertising, in reporting using various media outlets. Illustrating off the printed page  features too - Murals, T-shirt designing, and online magazines for example and much more. I cannot verify that this was achieved with any depth. I know I certainly looked and hoped for more detail about the ' nuts and bolts'  in the section that did receive my scrutiny, but, to be fair, the book is more about the images and the ideas behind the artists' work rather than information about the cog working. That would be a different book. This book is written in an informal, relaxed writing style and the photographic images are of the high quality that you would expect from such a revered publishing house.

"This is an opinion piece, but it is professional opinion. I have been reviewing stage for 7 years now, and more recently consumer products and services, and, of course, books. As an ex arts worker I'm a regular blogger of arts and crafts. 

by Debra Hall

*Derek Brazell and Jo Davies have asserted their rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988 to be identified as authors of the book entitled Understanding Illustration

Friday, 14 February 2014

TWITTER COMPETITION - Win a set of Princess Ponies books

This new series of books combines many elements that appeal to young girls - magic, friendship, horses and adventure.

Titles in the package are: A Magical Friend, A Dream Come True, The Special Secret, A Unicorn Adventure, An Amazing Rescue and A Special Surprise

Princess Ponies books by Chloe Ryder


 PRINCESS PONIES SERIES by  To enter Follow  and RT - TCs at  

Alternatively if you do not have a Twitter Account then enter here at Not Compulsory by answering the following question as a comment on this blog post

'Why would this be a popular package with your young reader?'


Terms and Conditions:

Competition is open to UK residents only and entrants must be over 18 

Only one entry per person

The Competition will run for one week from Friday 14th February 2014 09.00 GMT until Friday 21st February 2014 23.59 GMT   

Entries received after the closing date will not be considered.

Entrants must follow @Norries_girl on Twitter and tweet or RT the competition message above, ALTERNATIVELY entrants must answer the competition question as a comment on the competition blog post at and include their name 

The participant must agree to part of any reasonable promotional activity surrounding the competition

It is the responsibility of the participant to ensure their entry meets with entry requirements and is submitted online successfully

The winner will be announced on the competition blog post and on Twitter shortly after the close of the competition

The winner will be required to provide additional information such as a name and address

If we are unable to contact the winner within 14 days of the closing date, then we will reserve the right to select a new winner

The prize is six books from the Princess Ponies series by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

The competition winner will not be able to exchange the prize for a cash alternative, or any other reserves the right to exclude from the competition any entry that does not meet criteria, and also to change, suspend or terminate the promotion and entry period at any time. Disqualification of participants will be carried out if, for any reason, the promotion cannot be carried out fairly or if they suspect any person is manipulating entries or results, or who has acted unethically in any other way.