National Poetry Day – Messages

Unbelievably, National Poetry Day came around again with the theme of ‘Messages’ for 2016.

As ever, we each brought a poem to read and discuss, and many and varied they were. As well as classics such as The Sentry by Owen chosen by Mrs Richards, we had the immortal Do Not Go Gentle… by Dylan Thomas read by Mr Humphreys in his appropriate Welsh accent.


Intriguingly, from Nicola Evans we were treated to a German First World War poem, which she read in the original, and explained how it was from this combatant’s point of view that she’d gained a clearer perspective of the war from the German side. Jenny Recaldin recited Larkin’s This Be The Verse with no little relish, and also read one of her own compositions. Miss Handley introduced us to Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur and revisited Hilaire Belloc’s Rebecca, a favourite cautionary tale from her childhood.

To round things off, Sacha Eyles-Owen conjured up a reading of Out of the Blue, Eleanor from Year 7 read William Carlos Williams’ direct confessional This is Just to Say and Ms Huntley contributed from the wonderful collection Poetry by Heart, selecting  The God Abandons Antony by C.P. Cavafy and one of her favourite U.A. Fanthorpe’s poems.

Macbeth – Two Lit Soc Members Review An Oddly Jarring Performance

Shakespeare’s Globe – Summer 2016


Although a stunning performance from Ray Fearon as the titular King of Scotland, with enough vehemence, aggression and intensity to breathe fearful life into the tortured man, the play was unfortunately hindered by a disappointing and unsatisfying portrayal of Lady Macbeth from Tara Fitzgerald. Hardly the imperious and deranged creature who is ruined by her own ambition, this Lady was oddly comical and often jarring to the tone of the tragedy, sometimes confusing the audience as to whether we should remain on tenterhooks or be laughing at her delivery.

However, hardly a fault can be found with the stagecraft of the opening scene, containing enough dismembered limbs and skulls to satisfy even the most gruesome among us, and the interesting construction of the witches from this smattering of body parts allowing a truly eerie mood, further heightened by the beautiful Celtic-inspired vocals which must garner a special mention for being a brilliant creator of tone throughout the play.


  But, possibly the oddest element of the performance was a small child, clearly representative of Macbeth in some way, who wandered around the stage, breaking the fourth wall and without a particularly clear purpose or symbolic significance. Was he Macbeth’s soul? Was he a reflection of the troubled man’s innocence? Who knows! He may have been adorable, but he was one of many confusing directorial choices that caused bizarre tonal shifts throughout.

Overall, an enjoyable and entertaining piece certainly, but not a performance for those who love the darkness and desolation of a Shakespearean tragedy.


Nicola Evans & Jenny Recaldin

SHS Year 13


Featured photo courtesy of Iris Chung

Cooking with Gas – Lit Soc’s First Session

We had a bumper pupil turnout on a warm, sunny evening, which continues to be the Lit Soc tradition in early September.

Delving in to the literary treasure chest that was “What we read on our ‘olidays”, we circled the Globe when discussing the current version of Macbeth, the dystopian and visceral 1984 production at the Playhouse, and even darker theatrical goings on at the Almeida in the shape of another Shakespearean adaptation: Richard III, starring Ralph Fiennes.


Discussion began with Amelia Bateman’s choice The Girls, which rendered her “catatonic”, unable to pick up another book for five days of her holiday. Another book that has triggered fevered debate in the Sixth Form Common Room is Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, with its teenage protagonist narrator experiencing many of the growing pains that the age group endure.

Nicola and Sacha contributed their views on The Reader (aka Der Vorleser), which tied in with Mrs Stead’s fascinating description of Berlin and her “enjoyment” of Anna Funder’s Stasiland, originally published in 2001, which details the horrific history of living in East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down. Continuing the international theme, Messrs Conway and Humphreys waxed lyrical on the travelogue genius of Tim Butcher’s Blood River, as both gentlemen were suitably inspired by their respective travels on the African continent.


Other highlights (too numerous to list all): Mr Sanders deep in law reports, Jenny distinctly underwhelmed by A Tale of Two Cities, a few members had bought Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (“great fan fiction”), Miss Norwood enjoyed Robert Harris’ The Dictator, and Mrs Rendle-Short was really enthusiastic about Doris Lessing’s seminal The Grass Is Singing.

Time considerations prevented us from discussing Mrs Horwood’s summer reads which included The Anatomy Lesson by Siegal and The Essex Serpent which has had great publicity recently. Mrs Richards forgot to attend! However, she sent us her recommendations, which included: Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro, Frost/Nixon and Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens. And last but by no means least, Ms Huntley’s favourite Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf, a very different love story, and revisiting Dorothy Dunnett’s amazing six books that make up the Lymond Saga.

Next week is will be on the splendiferous Roald Dahl, in honour of his centenary. All welcome!

Once Upon A Time

We were sitting comfortably as Miss Handley began to tell us the long and convoluted story of how fairy tales came to be. Ranging from the Bronze Age through to the contemporary, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me via Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber.

During the session with the help of Miss Handley’s erudite leadership we discussed our favourite versions of classic tales, including Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, a bizarre Italian tale about bacon rinds and the Guardian’s version of The Three Little Pigs.

To catch up and enjoy all of our Lit Soc discussions, go to our YouTube channel.

Murphy’s Mockingbird

When Mr Gove decided that Harper Lee’s seminal novel To Kill A Mockingbird should be summarily dismissed from the National Curriculum, Sophie Murphy of 13T was one of many Surbiton High students to be affronted by this callous decision. In her own words, “it’s a novel that teaches so much to teenagers”.

In the light of these words, Sophie came to talk to us at Lit Soc on Thursday 21st January about one of her favourite texts. Her theme was the motif of the Mockingbird itself, and how it applies the principal characters of the book. Supplemented by readings from the book and clips from the classic movie starring Gregory Peck (the English department’s favourite actor), Sophie first explored the nature of the bird itself: apparently, it is known for parenting skills! And then went on to talk about Boo, Mayella, Mrs Dubose, Calpurnia and Jem, discussing how they embody the Mockingbird motif.


It didn’t take long for discussions to break out across the table, as so many people had read and loved it: the controversy surrounding Mockingbird’s sequel Go Set A Watchman, our take on the recent dramatised version at Richmond Theatre, and how we now feel about it as adults compared to when we first encountered it in our younger days.

Many thanks to Sophie for a stimulating and informative session, and for reminding us “it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird” (Mr Gove).

Meeting Margaret

Yet another leading literary light left the literary stage this week, when Hunter Davies announced the death of his wife Margaret Forster. Lit Soc could not this pass, given that her ouevre is beloved by Ms Haydon.

Even though Ms Haydon couldn’t join us, she passed on her thoughts on one of her favourite authors:

Very sad to hear about Margaret Forster as I must be one of her number one fans . I never go on holiday without one of her books . I was fortunate to meet her once at a Press event in London. She was an unassuming and humble lady .


Memory Box , Diary of an Ordinary Woman , Good Wives , Have the men had enough ? Private Papers , Shadow Babies … they are all on my bookshelf ! 

Interestingly , it was Liz Style , mum of Lydia Style who introduced me to Margaret Forster.


Mr Humphreys was one of the only members of Lit Soc to have read Georgy Girl, her breakthrough novel, and to this day he regrets not having explored the rest of her novels. Ms Huntley, having searched high and low for Carr’s Water Biscuits – whose history Ms Forster had written – enjoyed talking about her non-fiction work. Daphne du Maurier (author of Rebecca), Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Bonnie Prince Charlie all benefited from her thorough research and accessible style.

Ms King gave Memory Box the page 69 test, which it passed with flying colours, intriguing us all with a description of a journey to the Lake District. We finished our discussion with a viewing of the titles of the classic film starring Lynn Redgrave, paying particular attention to the lyrics, which aptly described the eponymous heroine’s character.


Paying tribute to The Thin White Duke

The sad news of the seminal David Bowie’s death earlier this week from cancer could not go unnoticed by Lit Soc. A last-minute change of plans resulted in Mrs Madeleine King leading a wonderful session on all things Ziggy.


Clad in her souvenir T-shirt and lightning flash earrings, Mrs King treated us to a journey through her musical memories. Interspersing her anecdotes with tracks that spanned the entirety of his forty-plus year career, Mrs King shared her enthusiasm for the music, the lyrics and the five performances she was very fortunate to attend.

With staff choir in attendance as well, a party atmosphere – complete with ‘Let’s Party’ (sadly not ‘Let’s Dance’) cake – celebrated the Goblin King in fine style. And for those who think there was no literary input, see this list for Bowie’s top 100 must-read books.


From Troy to Ithaka

Lit Soc began its New Year journey with a fascinating session led by Ms Deekes on Homer’s epic The Odyssey. We had a bumper turnout of curious staff and students, including members of the SHS Classics Department.

Focusing on the women in the story, as inspired by a chance viewing of Love Actually over the Christmas break, we heard about Penelope (translation “face of threads”), Calypso (“she that conceals”…keeping Odysseus in hiding for seven years!), Nausicca (“burner of ships”), grey-eyed Athena and her opposite Circe, and Eurycleia (“broad fame”). Ms Deekes explained how powerful these women are in a society which literally hid women from view. For example, only Hermes could defeat Calypso and Circe, whilst Penelope was strong enough to fend off her would-be suitors for the best part of ten years. Girl Power Rules!


As the Baklava was heartily consumed along with the usual tea, the discussion turned to texts inspired by The Odyssey, such as Joyce’s arguably even-more-epic Ulysses, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea and the Booker Prize winning Life of Pi, all with the journey motif and the bildungsroman genre.

Thanks to Ms Deekes for a great start to the year and setting the bar high for the rest of the Lit Soc year, which will be as diverse as ever.

Here we are again!

Lit Soc is back, now in to its fourth year, and better than ever!

Beginning the year with our regular “what I read on my ‘oldiays”, we foregathered to share our summer reads. As well as the regulars, we welcomed some new bibliophiles in the shape of new staff Mr Conway and Mrs Rusholme, the very welcome return of Miss Handley, and doyen of the Maths department, Mr Gibbons, whom, for those of you who don’t know, is a wonderful writer as well as crime fiction expert.

Among our pupils in attendance, books read included Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver trilogy, a revisit of all the Harry Potter books, Pulitzer Prize winner All the Light We Cannot See and some of the latest YA dystopian reads. The staff, as ever, also enjoyed a diverse collection of both fiction and non-fiction, often immersing themselves in to the culture of places visited on their summer travels. For example, Mrs Richards enjoyed The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng during her trip to Borneo (and yes she did see the Orangutans!) whilst Miss Handley, on her extended Antipodean travels, read the Australian answer to To Kill A Mockingbird, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. Meanwhile, Mr Conway, who went to Cuba over the summer, was Our Man in Havana.


It was fascinating to hear about the reading habits of our new members. Mrs Rusholme threw herself in to YA fiction, enthusiastically recommending the likes of Eleanor and Park (“reminded me of Romeo & Juliet“) and All the Bright Places, and Mr Gibbons read espionage thrillers penned by his authorial friend. Among the Lit Soc stalwarts, we had reads ranging from Go Set A Watchman and The Sunday Philosopher’s Club to The Sense of an Ending and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. One of our allegedly most well-read members even found the time to revisit perennial childhood favourites: the Asterix series!

Our first session of the year is only the beginning of our further meanderings in the literary universe. Watch this space to find out more!