SIX 4 GOOD Opening 

Christmas came early yesterday when I got the chance to check out the new SIX 4 GOOD store, located on the upper level of CastleCourt Shopping Centre, Belfast. Whilst this may just look like a fabulous accessories store on the surface, this is a charity shop with a real difference. 

The SIX 4 GOOD store is stocked to bursting with an excellent selection of jewellery, hair accessories, hats, bags, scarves, purses and more, that has been generously donated by European brand SIX, free of charge, so that profits from all sales go directly to Oxfam Ireland to support the charity’s work worldwide. How amazing is that?! 

The SIX 4 GOOD store in Belfast is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and is part of an ongoing corporate partnership with SIX, a brand of the Beeline fashion group, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of jewellery and accessories, and Oxfam Ireland. The result is spectacular. The bright, spacious interior, combined with fabulous, high quality products at a very affordable price (SIX 4 GOOD knock approx a third off the recommended retail price) make this a destination shop for those wanting to purchase something special for themselves or as a gift for a loved one. And for those struggling to find stocking fillers or Secret Santa presents, you are sure to find something perfect in store. During my visit I picked up some fabulous, on trend, gifts for Christmas and of course a little treat for myself, a chunky knit snood whose purchase could not have been timed any better after today’s snow fest! 

If you are planning on getting into the Christmas spirit in Belfast city centre, I urge you to check out SIX 4 GOOD for yourself. This unique store will not only have accessories to make you look good, but the profits raised from your purchases will help those in need through Oxfam Ireland. I don’t think there is any better excuse to start spending this festive season – I already have a wish list for my return visit, which trust me, will be very soon! 

Posted: 8/12/2017

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Joe Hill: In Conversation 

Joe Hill reading an excerpt from Strange Weather

Every once in a while, you stumble across a writer whose works resonate with you. Before you know it you are buying everything you can with their name on it so that you can immerse yourself in the worlds they’ve create for as long as possible. That is how I felt when I first read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. The book tells the story of aging rock legend Judas Coyne who has an eccentric hobby: buying oddities of the macabre variety. With a cannibal’s cookbook and a used hangman’s noose in his possession, he jumps at the chance to procure a ghost. Delivered to his door in a heart-shaped box, Judas soon begins to regret the latest addition to his ghastly collection. Heart-Shaped Box was a heart-stopping, refreshing, unique and vividly imaginative debut novel, and once I had finished it I was completely hooked on Hill.

Since my first encounter, I have delved time and again into the worlds crafted by Joe Hill and I’ve loved every trip, so I was beyond excited to hear that he was coming to Belfast. Organised by No Alibis bookstore, the event, which was hosted at the Ulster Museum, saw Joe Hill read an excerpt from his new book, Strange Weather, which is comprised of four short novels; ‘Rain’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Snapshot, 1988’ and ‘Aloft’. Joe then joined Matthew Craig in conversation where they discussed his writings, from his novels to his Locke & Key comic book series, hus influences as well as his views on social media, how real world events effect his works and the process of transforming his writings for the small screen. 

Whilst I love every event No Alibis organises, this was a very special night. Joe Hill is fascinating, astute, engaging and so, so funny; laughter regularly rippled throughout the audience and whilst he said on the night that he has to remember not everyone finds things funny that he does, I think when it comes to his humour, Belfast is definitely on the same page. He’s also incredibly generous with his time, he happily answered oodles of audience questions (awarding the best three with Strange Weather umbrellas), as well as taking the time to chat to guests as he signed and dedicated their books and posed for photographs. 

Keith Burch, Joe Hill and Kellie Burch at the Ulster Museum as part of the Strange Weather book tour.

In his own words, Joe Hill is a reader before a writer, and I think that’s what makes him one of our generation’s finest storytellers. With a distinct literary voice and an uncanny ability to paint remarkable pictures with his words, he has an exceptional talent to allow readers to totally lose themselves in the memorable narratives he creates. So, if you don’t hear from me for a few days, I will be adrift amongst the clouds of Hill’s making. 


Strange Weather is out now. For the latest No Alibis events visit: www.noalibis.com

Posted: 12/11/2017

Poppies: Weeping Window 

The Ulster Museum, which is nestled beside Botanic Gardens and boasts a stunning and unique architecture, is one of my favourite spots in Belfast. From the wonderful exhibitions it houses, including collections of art, history and natural science, to the special one off events it hosts, from science festivals to book launches, everytime I visit I discover something new. 

Over the weekend, after much anticipation, I got to attend the latest, and possibly one of the most iconic exhibitions to visit Ulster Museum – Poppies: Weeping Window. Brought to Belfast by National Museums Northern Ireland and the Belfast International Arts Festival, Weeping Window is one of two sculptures by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper marking the centenary of the outbreak of war. This beautiful sculpture comprises several thousand handmade ceramic poppies cascading from a high window to the ground below; the final result is simply stunning. 

Weeping Window, which was originally part of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation housed at HM Tower of London in 2014, will be on display at Ulster Museum until 3 December; if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it enough. 

Posted: 8/11/2017

NOIRELAND COMES TO TOWN

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Since I first uncovered crime writing, I instantly fell in love with this adrenaline pumping genre; whether it is a police procedural novel, a heart stopping thriller or, dare I say it, a novel written from the perpetrator’s point of view, I will never tire of delving into the murky depths of this fascinating and hugely engrossing style of literature. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I heard about NOIRELAND, a three-day crime fiction festival which was recently held at the Europa Hotel, Belfast, to celebrate and showcase the amazing talent emerging from Ireland as well as to explore crime writing from across the world, and looking at the impact Ireland has had on the genre.

The Festival, in addition to a series of talks from authors such as Benjamin Black, Adrian McKinty, Stuart Neville, Arne Dahl and Sophie Hannah, to name but a mere few, also offered workshops for budding crime writers. Unfortunately I was unable to take advantage of the ‘Weekend Rover Pass’, which gave access to all the talks taking place over the weekend, however I was lucky enough to attend three fabulous events: Line of Duty – In the Spotlight, Robert Crais In Conversation, and Playing in the Dark – Aidan Gillen Talks Crime With Brian Gilloway.

Since series one, I have been a dedicated fan of Line of Duty. As the series has progressed and found its rhythm, it really has become addictive viewing. It is one of the few shows that incites so called ‘water cooler conversations’ in an age of streaming and boxset binging and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to listen to creator Jed Mercurio, actor Adrian Dunbar, who plays Superintendent Ted Hastings, and the show’s producer Stephen Wright, discuss its roots, the secrecy surrounding the fate of even the most regular characters, why Northern Ireland is the perfect location for filming as well as how it has become one of the greatest crime series on the small screen.

Of the three events I attended, I have to admit Robert Crais is the speaker I knew least about. However, after a talk that was humorous, insightful, inspiring and completely engaging, I have added his list of novels to my ‘need to read’ list. As well as discussing his time writing for such iconic shows as Miami Vice, Hill Street Blues and my own personal childhood favourite, Cagney & Lacey, he also discussed his transition to crime novelist and how he created the dynamic (and fabulously named) duo: Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Summed up in a nutshell, he stated: “All writers are cannibals; they chew up their lives and use it to create their characters.” Concise, insightful and definitely my favourite line from the festival.

Aidan Gillen is a face most people will recognise, whether it is as Stuart Jones in Queer as Folk, Councilman Thomas ‘Tommy’ Carcetti in The Wire, John Boy Power in Love/Hate, Charles J Haughey in Charlie or Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish in Game of Thrones, to name a few. In discussion with Brian Gilloway, Gillen touched on how his career in acting started, how an actor demands a certain level of attention but also how his early success left him overwhelmed by the spotlight, how he has managed to carve a career playing unique and differing characters as well the differences when portraying a fictional character versus a real person. Witty, self deprecating and the face of many iconic characters in the crime genre, Gillen in conversation was definitely the perfect way to conclude a fabulous festival.

NOIRELAND was the brainchild of No Alibis’ proprietor David Torrans, and with the promise it will return, I already can’t wait to see how he could possibly top this year’s line up. However, if any one can do it, David and the NOIRELAND team can. But to keep my literary cravings satiated until then, I have just secured tickets for a fantastic No Alibis’ event, to listen to the incredible storyteller that is Joe Hill, who will be at the Ulster Museum on 10 November.

For more information, visit: http://noalibis.com

Bottomless Brunch 

Bottomless Brunch 

My sister and I are big fans of afternoon tea (as am sure regular readers could guess)  however for her birthday I decided to shake thinks up and book us in to try the Bottomless Brunch on offer at Horatio Todd’s.

So what is Bottomless Brunch? Arriving in Horatio Todd’s in July of this year, it pairs bubbles and brunch for a winning combination. You simply pick an item from the Brunch menu, such as Eggs Royale, French Toast, or our choice, the Horatio’s fry, and wash it down with unlimited amounts of prosecco, Mimosas or Bloody Marys. There is a maximum of two hours per sitting; the staff keep track of how long you’ve been there with stop clocks on each table which are activated once your first drink hits the table. Once the alarm goes off you are offered a final tipple to drink at your leisure before calling it a day. 

After experiencing my first Bottomless Brunch, I have to say afternoon tea has a serious rival for my affections. The food was delicious; the fry was the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon of bubbles. As we both have a bit of a sweet tooth, we also ordered desserts: a divine chocolate Guinness brownie and a wonderful raspberry and white chocolate semi freddo. I loved the novelty of the stop clock on the table and the option to sample all three of the tipples on offer (though I have to say after trying it, a Bloody Mary is not for me). In my opinion,  what really made this experience exceptional was the fantastic service we received. Every member of staff was helpful and super professional, especially our waitress, Holly, who an absolute delight. She was efficient, bubbly, upbeat and injected so much fun into the afternoon. She constantly checked up on us throughout our two hour period and was quick to offer us a new drink once our glasses were getting empty. As a result we spent the day feeling like VIPs and I can honestly say we both came away from Horatio Todd’s with big smiles on our faces as, from start to finish, we had such an enjoyable and memorable experience. 

Bottomless Brunch runs every Saturday (from 11am – 2pm) at Horatio Todd’s and is priced at £27.50 per person. Booking is recommended. For more information: http://www.horatiotodds.com/bottomless-brunch/

Posted: 23/10/2017

Review: Monty Python’s Spamalot

Review: Monty Python’s Spamalot

I feel very ashamed to admit I know very little of the work of Monty Python; the closest I have gotten to exploring their comedic offerings was catching ten minutes of The Life of Brian when I was a student. It therefore seemed very opportune when I got an invite to see a production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, which is being performed by the Ulster Operatic Company at the Grand Opera House until Saturday (14 October).

Adapted from the 1975 film Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Spamalot is a musical comedy which tells the story of King Arthur as he travels around the land gathering his Knights of the Round Table. This band of hapless adventurers is then tasked with a divine mission to locate the elusive Holy Grail – with uproarious consequences. On arrival, I wasn’t sure what I had let myself in for, but a few minutes into the production and after the absolute surreal rendition of ‘He’s Not Dead Yet’, I soon knew: prolonged fits of laughing which ultimately resulted in a stomach ache. It is fair to say Spamalot was bonkers from the get go, but it was the absolute best kind of bonkers; slapstick comedy, hilarious musical numbers and physical comedy all combined together to create a performance than had me grinning from ear to ear.

Superb guidance from director Neil Keery, musical director Wilson Shields and choreographer Brooke Allen was evident from start to finish; in my opinion the overall performance would not have looked out of place on the West End. The cast likewise put on exceptional performances. From the authoritative and determined King Arthur (Colin Boyd) to his ‘trusty’ Knights; Sir Robin (Brian Trainor), Sir Lancelot (Jamie Johnston), Sir Galahad (Ross David Chambers) – who looked like a medieval Thor, and Sir Bedever (Paddy McGennity), each brought a high energy and pitch perfect performance that thoroughly entertained me; there were that many stand out moments that I can’t even list them all. It is hard to think how Spamalot could be made even better, but the seemingly impossible was accomplished by the stellar performances of Jordan Walsh as Patsy and Ciara Mackey as the Lady of the Lake. From the outset Jordan had me in hysterics through his expert use of coconuts, whilst his ability to convey as much with his facial expressions as his lines was a remarkable feat. Ciara Mackey completely mesmerised me as the Lady of the Lake. Unbeknownst to me at the time of viewing, I have had the pleasure of seeing Ciara perform several times as part of the excellent Pleasuredome band, who are regulars at The Belfast Empire. I already knew she was a talent but after Spamalot my eyes have been well and truly opened; not only is she a phenomenal singer, she is also sassy, cool and has impeccable comedic timing.

Whether you are a Monty Python super fan or only being introduced to their work, Spamalot is definitely for you. This superb piece of comedy is clearly in capable and trustworthy hands with the Ulster Operatic Company. After an evening that was spent literally laughing out loud (a lot!), Spamalot has shown me what I have been missing when it comes to Monty Python. Right you book your tickets to Spamalot and I am away to check out the remaining 85 minutes of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Monty Python’s Spamalot by the Ulster Operatic Society runs until Saturday 14th October at the Grand Opera House. For more information: 

https://www.goh.co.uk/spamalot

Posted 12/10/2017

#AnswerTheCall: Whiskey & Muses

Whiskey and Muses Image 16
Marie-Louise Muir talks to Dean Kane AKA Visual Waste at the preview of his first exhibition, at The Gallery, Belfast as part of the Bushmills® Irish Whiskey #answerthecall series.
I love street art. When I got my own house, the first thing I bought was a Banksy canvas. One of my all time favourite documentaries is Exit Through the Gift Shop. I am no wizz in the kitchen but when I do decide to cook up a storm it is a recipe from The Urban Cook Book: Creative Recipes for the Graffitti Generation. What I love most about street art is that by its very essence there are no rules. A piece can be a colourful homage to a much loved cultural icon or it can be a commentary on the mood of a nation. By turning the buildings and landscapes of a city into life-size canvases, street art is a way to provide a talking point for every section of a community.
       To further celebrate creative visionaries, the latest in the  Bushmills Irish Whiskey® #AnswerTheCall series is a unique collaboration with street-artist, Dean Kane AKA Visual Waste. Entitled ‘Whiskey & Muses’, Visual Waste was tasked with bringing his unique style of art from the street of Belfast to the walls of The Gallery, Belfast for his first ever exhibition. Having spent months creating this urban interpretation which features portraits of artists who have inspired his career, as well as Northern Ireland legends who have defied convention and answered their call, Visual Waste’s foray into fine art is definitely one to get excited about as I discovered when I was lucky enough to attend a preview of the exhibition last night alongside my husband Keith.
       In addition to being treated to a selection of Bushmills Irish Whiskey cocktails and canapés, we also were treated to a Q&A between broadcaster and art lover Marie-Louise Muir and Dean Kane, where he discussed how the birth of his child gave him the push he needed to quit a job he loved to pursue his passion as well as discussing some of his own creative influences. After Dean announced the exhibition was officially open I couldn’t wait to get a peek at the works on display. From an exquisite portrait of Seamus Heaney to a dramatic rendering of Andy Warhol, plus so many more, each and every piece is bold, colourful and remarkable.
       #answerthecall is without a doubt one of my favourite series of events to have come to Northern Ireland. This has been the second one I have been lucky enough to attend and in addition to feeling proud of the talent on display in our wee country, I felt truly inspired to answer my own call and make my mark on the world.
       For a taster of the event, check out my video below, but don’t miss your chance to see it in person if you can!
The ‘Whiskey and Muses’ exhibition runs in The Gallery, Belfast until 31 August 2017.

For more information on the #AnswerTheCall event series, visit answerthecall.co.uk