Sunday, 10 January 2010

'That's Another Story' by Julie Walters

I have just finished reading 'That's another story: the autobiography' by Julie Walters (published by Orion, London, 2008)

This is Julie Walters autobiography - an actress that I have always admired. It was given to me by a friend of mine, Shirley Copps, when she came to our summer party, in 2009. I met Shirley at my elderly friend, John Bond's funeral a couple of years ago - she was one of John's carers for the last couple of years of his life, in fact. Shirley and I immediately got on; she also teaches.

So, anyway, it was very nice of Shirley to give me this book.

I went to hear a talk at Ilford Library about someone locally who had self-published their autobiography, in autumn 2009 (this was part of London Borough of Redbridge 'Book and Media Festival' - By strange coincidence, at this event I heard two people talking about this Julie Walters book - they both said that they were disappointed with it, and became really rather bored with it half way through. They were somewhat surprised about this. They said they thought there was too much detail in the book. Now, as I have always liked Julie Walters this rather surprised me; but then again, just because one can act well it doesn't necessarily follow that one can write well as well, of course! Quite a few famous people have published autobiographies which they haven't actually written much of themselves, I understand - you know, they dictate a lot of it to someone else instead. Indeed, Tony Benn is somewhat like that himself, and he would surely be lost without his editor, Ruth Winstone. For his diaries, he spoke into a tape recorder,(from what he said at CILIP - Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals -Members' Day), rather than writing it all down - he was also a very busy man of course.

Anyway, these comments discouraged me somewhat from reading the book. But when my cousin Helen came to stay with us in late November 2009 she said that she really enjoyed the book; so I decided to 'have a go' at reading it.

I also thought I should try reading it, because as I say, I really like and admire Julie Walters as an actress and I thought it would be interesting to find out more about her life. In regard to her acting, it was really 'Educating Rita' that did it for me. I thought she was wonderful as Rita. And I could identify with the whole film so much as well - a girl from the working class wanting to get herself an education, and how it changed her, the difficulties she went through, the wonder and excitement she experienced etc. I remember feeling these various ups and downs just so keenly when I first went to university. I also enjoy Julia Walters in the Victoria Wood comedy sketches. And she plays the part of Jane Austen's mother, in the film 'Becoming Jane'. Well, anyone that involves themselves in Jane Austen stuff is a winner as far as I am concerned. I also enjoyed 'Billy Elliot' (so that names a few).

So, anyway, the book. There are some nice photos in it, and some parts of it are interesting. But overall, to be quite honest, I found myself rather agreeing more with the 2 ladies at the book talk. Although it was nice to find out more about Julie Walters life, I did not find that it was written in a very engaging way; instead, there was just too much detail in it, and not enough to really make one sit up and pay attention. She did not seem to really know how to make the interesting facts stand out. I found myself having to re-read the book, to obtain a few essential facts, that had escaped me on my first reading. Perhaps, a little more humour in it would not have gone amiss either!

Having said this though, it is quite incredible what she has achieved in her life of course, particularly coming from the background that she did. And reading the book helped to bring all this out more. I think she had some lucky breaks, mind, and found herself in the right place, at the right time. Julie Walters studied drama at Manchester Polytechnic, for example, and from there she applied to Granada Television and was awarded a bursary for a one-year postgraduate course in acting and stage production at the Stables Theatre. Then, she auditioned for an actors position at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool and was successful. After that, she was in lots of different productions and it all really took off for her - and she has more or less never looked back. Given that 90% of actors and actresses are unemployed at any one time, she was clearly very fortunate in being able to break through in this way, and to become so very famous and successful. That is not to undermine her talent as an actress; she is, indeed, very gifted. But obvioulsy, there are many talented actors and actresses that never really break through.

I did learn a few other things that were of particular interest to me though. Firstly, I learnt more about the ordinary/working class background that she came from and the fact that her mother did more of the practical side of bringing her and her 2 brothers up and that her father was more distant. Secondly, that she passed her 11+ (although only just ) - she was a border line case, as I was. Thirdly, that later on, she started studying for A' levels, but did not complete them as she decided to go in for nursing (nursing was something that I also considered going into in my teens). But she didn't take to it, so at that point, she decided to quit and to become an actress and study drama - and went to Manchester Poly. Also, that she went out with the actor Pete Postlethwaite for 5 years. Now, Glenn loves the film 'The Usual Suspects' which Pete Postlethwaite is in; so that was very interesting.

I also thought it was fascinating, what she said specifically in regard to 'Educating Rita':

"There was not a scene in the play that I didn't identify with..." (p.237)

As I have said, I also certainly identified with it.

Having played Rita on both stage and film, she also says:

"...I am often asked which of the two media I prefer and have to say that the live theatre wins hands down. Nothing to compare with the adrenalin-fuelled excitement of theatre, where the actor tells the story and pulls the focus, and each performance is unique, as is the relationship with each audience." (p.261)

I also very much prefer live theatre to film; one feels so much more a part of the whole experience.

Furthemore, Julie Walters compared herself with Meryl Streep. Now, I really think Meryl Streep is something and was just saying to Glenn (before I read this bit of the book) that although I really like Julie Walters I don't think she is in the same class as Meryl Streep at all. And then I read what Julie Walters says herself:

"Although we were more or less the same age, I felt like I had grown up being mesmerised by her [Meryl Streep] on screen and that she belonged to some other rarefied and glittering stratosphere that bore no relationship to the prosaic, let's-have-a-cup-of-tea world that I inhabited." (p.268)

And this was when Julie Walters went on to win the Oscar for 'Educating Rita' - where Meryl Streep was also in the line-up.

I also discovered that Julie Walters has written a novel entitled Maggie's Tree and in this, she touches on the topic of mental illness. In regard to novel writing in general she says:

"Here in the novel-writing process I was the creator of all things. I decided where the characters came from, both physically and emotionally. I built them from scratch. It felt very akin to acting, but, of course, much lonelier and I do love the social, team-spirit nature of being part of a company or being surrounded by a film crew." (p. 287-288)

I thought that was fascinating. I like the whole process of being on my own when I write; but I also really enjoy mixing socially with others and with working as part of a team. Indeed, there is a part of me that would love to have acted and/or danced and/or been a singer. Still...Then, in the closing pages we find out about her having a lovely little baby girl.

It is clear that Julie Walters has had, and continues to have, a happy, successful and fulfilled life. Long may it continue for her!

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