A Baroque graphic novel


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Artaserse3Do you ever wish you could give some stories (whether yours or otherwise) another life? Translate them to a different medium, make them visual, retell them the way you imagine them?

I do – all the time. Which is one of the reasons why I fell in love with The Idle Woman’s Artaserse graphic novel. I think I told you elsewhere about this wonderful blog about history, historical fiction, music, theatre and Baroque opera – but now Leander had done something even more wonderful. She has taken an opera – Leonardo Vinci and Pietro Metastasio’s Artaserse, and turned it into a graphic novel. She did it for fun and then shared the delightful result on her blog, in the hope that she might entice someone to try out the opera…* Continue reading

King Lear for optimists


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TatePlayImagine you are in England in 1660. Imagine theatres opening again after eighteen years of civil war and general bleakness. Imagine to crave only fun, and music, and gaiety…

And now imagine to find yourself with Shakespeare’s works. And yes, yes – Elizabethan golden age and all that, but it’s been sixty, seventy years, and taste changes. Shakespeare, who was going out of fashion during the last years of his life, by now is mostly the relic of another, cruder era. And mind: the stories are great – if a tad glum – and the poetry has its beauties: if only it weren’t all so desperately old-fashioned, if only it were a little cheerier…But this can be remedied, can’t it? How hard can it be to rewrite the rusty old things? Continue reading

In The Copperfield Anthology


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Oh, news! Great news.


The wonderful Copperfield Review, the award-winning literary journal for writers and readers of historical fiction, is celebrating its fifteenth birthday next October – and will do so, amongst other things, by publishing its first anthology.

Well, I’m enormously proud and happy to announce that my Elizabethan short story, Gentleman in Velvet, will be in the anthology. Fifteen stories were chosen from over three hundred submissions, so I’ll say it again: I’m very proud and honoured that my story was chosen…

Here is a very small preview of Gentleman in Velvet:

I’m in my father’s workshop when the servant brings the velvet. I’m being told off for fighting – for at eight I’m an unruly child. But the arrival of the fabric cuts short the homily, and we – myself and two apprentice boys – flock around the best-lighted, the master’s workbench as my father unfurls the two, three ells of velvet.

It ripples like water – a deep burgundy that turns crimson in the slanting light of afternoon, and black in the heart of its smooth folds. It gives off a clean, warm, rich smell amidst the foulness of pitch and tanned leather. It seems the greatest pity to cut it into a pair of slippers… When I reach out to touch it, it is a rap on the knuckles, and off with me upstairs, in disgrace, for mother and sisters to deal with until supper.

I can’t wait – and I’ll let you know along the way. Meanwhile, imagine me dancing little happy dances…

Magnificent Pageantry and all that


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romeo-and-juliet-leslie-howard-norma-shearer-1936Ah, but I do love old movie trailers…

Look at what was supposed to win an audience’s interest for Hollywood’s newest Shakespeare adaptation. The sweethearts of Smilin’ Through (though I have my doubts Romeo and Juliet can be described as smilin’ through much more than a couple of early scenes each…), the magnificent pageantry, the sensation in New York, this girl and this boy, Norma Shearer cooing to a young deer… And let us not forget the limited special popular prices… Continue reading

A Reading Meme


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reader1There’s a reading meme abroad – and Jack Shalom, over at Jack Shalom – Music, Memories, and Magic, nominated me to answer ten questions about… well, basically about reading habits. And since there are very few reading-related things I can resist,  thank you, Jack – and let us begin.

1) Do you have a certain place at home for reading? Continue reading

Mapping Metaphors


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raining-cats-and-dogs1Metaphor, this most powerful amongst figures of speech – perhaps because it doesn’t spell it out, but lands you right on the bridge between meanings instead… According to the Merriam-Webster:

1: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.

2: an object, activity, or idea treated as a metaphor.

Metaphors are everywhere. We use them daily without even thinking. They stem from the culture we belong to, from our thought process, from what we absorb. They grow fresh and startlingly apt in great writing, or they fade into cliché in lesser hand or in daily use. And apart from being either the joy or bane of a writer’s life, they weave a net of interconnected meanings all across languages, cultures and mindsets. A net that changes, shifts, focuses, deepens or pales through the centuries, too.

And this is the fascinating stuff a group of researchers from the University of Glasgow have set out to map. The result is this wonderful metaphor map, showing a circle that “represents all of knowledge in English: every word in every sense in the English language for over a millennium”. It can be browsed for “metaphorical links in language and thought between different areas of meaning”. And traces the links through the centuries, and gives examples in ever-growing quantity.

Dr. Wendy Anderson, chief of the project, says in this interview to The Guardian that a map like this “helps us to see how our language shapes our understanding – the connections we make between different areas of meaning in English show, to some extent, how we mentally structure our world.”

Have I said this is utterly fascinanting? Be warned: if you have the slightest interest in language and cultural history, this is the kind of entrancing thing you could play with for hours. Visit at your own risk and peril.




Singing Smugglers


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Smugglers at RyeCome to think of it, there’s a good deal of fiction set in XVIIIth and Early XIXth Century England that deals with smuggling… Daphne Du Maurier‘s Jamaica Inn, Georgette Heyer‘s The Unknown Ajax and The Talisman Ring, Rosemary Sutcliff‘s Flame Coloured Taffeta, and Russell Thorndyke’s Doctor Syn novels come to mind – but there are many more stories of the Free Traders, or Gentlemen, as they were commonly called, sneaking into England such goods as French liquor, silk and lace under the noses of the excisemen… Continue reading

The Fourth Wall


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TheatreFrahmAt times I discuss with non-theatre people about the perception of theatre, stage and backstage, about my fascination with the inner workings of the thing… And I realise now – but it’s taken some time – that it’s perfectly possible to not like to have the illusion shattered. Having been the sort of child who did take toys apart to see how they worked, and still being the sort who likes to take stories apart to study them, sometimes I tend to forget it’s not everyone’s cup of tea… Continue reading

A tale of Turks, and chess, and hussars


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Turk2Each year I make a point of reading at least a book in French and one in Spanish, so I don’t lose touch with either language. This year my French choice* fell on a 1926 novel by Henri Mazuel-Dupuy, Le Joueur D’Échecs – that is to say, The Chess Player.

I had never heard of Mazuel-Dupuy until I read this review on Movies, Silently. The story of hussars and automata seemed quite intriguing in its absurdity, and I have a thing for Polish history… But alas, because of region coding, there is no way I can watch the movie, so I contented myself by doing a very small amount of research. Continue reading


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