Talking Shakespeare


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2941I turned forty yesterday, and my mother threw a surprise party for me, with a crowd of theatre and non-theatre friends, and we laughed, and sang, and improvved well into the wee hours, and the wine was very good – so today I am slightly vague…

You won’t hold it against me, will you, if just link this article on The American Scholar, on How to Talk Shakespeare.

While mostly aimed at improvisers in need of convincing pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue, it is of interest for writers too, with a series of no-nonsense tips that could come in handy when trying to devise an Elizabethan-ish language for historical fiction.

And besides, it is fun to read.


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Paris Stamps


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paris-stamp-postmark-style-grunge-11487450“Suppose you keep a journal,” I was told once. “And suppose you have, for each day, just the back of a postage stamp. A largish one, if you like, but all you can jot down is one sentence. One place, one person, one image, one impression – it doesn’t matter. One single, vivid thing you want to remember for that day.”

I have always liked the notion, in that vague, airy way you do with pretty ideas. I even tried it once or two, and enjoyed the extreme distillation, the quest for vividness and effectiveness… But every time I tried it for a few days, a week, even a month, then dropped the habit and forgot about it.

For some reason, it came back to me the first night in Paris, last week, and proposed it to my friends, and they agreed to make a game of it. Every night, over dinner, we shared and discussed our stamps.

At times they were huge, like viewing the Tour Eiffel from the Trocadero against a grey and windy sky. At times they were as tiny as a cocotte of moules marinières. They might have music in them, like entering Saint-Germain-des-Prés to find a choir rehearsing Renaissance motets, or they might be full of people, like the very multi-ethnic population of the underground, or it might be anything from Shakespeare & Company on the Rive Gauche to art students in Notre Dame, to the slanting sunlight in the morning, to the scent of coffee…

It was fun, it was interesting, it said much about each stamp-maker, it made us think and search, and observe – and, come evening, we were all eager to play.

So I’m beginning to think I might try it again. Finding The One Thing every day, trimming it down to one sentence without losing its texture, even choosing amongst possibilities.. it must be good writing practice, mustn’t it?

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The Daughter of Time

The_Daughter_of_Time_-_Josephine_Tey2Josephine Tey/Gordon Daviot is one writer I really like.

I like her whodunits, I like her plays, I like her historical novel about Henry Morgan, and I’m dying to read Claverhouse, her life of John Graham, the Bonnie Dundee. She writes great characters and brilliant dialogue, she anticipated by decades the modern debate on language in historical fiction… Quite an author after my own heart.

Of all her things, my favourite has to be The Daughter of Time, ostensibly one of her Inspector Grant mysteries – but so very much more than that.

To begin with, by having Grant stuck in hospital with a broken back, Tey practically invents the armchair detective. Oh, right – technically it’s the bedridden detective, but you get my point. And this is only the beginning, because this time the investigation delves far, far into the past… Fact is, when actress friend Marta Allard brings him a handful of reproductions of historical portraits to play detective as a pastime, Grant becomes obsessed with a portrait of Richard III. Without knowing who it is, he pronouces him a good and conscentious man – and is rather thrown on learning the face he likes so much belongs to Shakespeare’s hunchbacked monster.*

What does one do, in this case? Well, Grant enrols a nurse, a young American historian and Marta herself, and directs them in an investigation into the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Facts are sifted, witnesses gauged and… listened, sources compared – except, everyone has been dead for centuries, so it all happens by books and records.

The result might have been a dead bore in lesser hands, but Tey makes it a wonderful tale about how history is told, shaped and perceived. About the weight of lies, misdirection, political expediency, and propaganda. About the role of literature. About asking questions and questioning given truths. richard-iii-take-

All of it delightfully written, with very engaging characters, and dialogue to die for.

Having felt somewhat sorry for Richard even when all I knew of him was Shakespeare and Stevenson, long before I even knew there was such a thing as Ricardianism, I fell in love with this book. And frankly, it’s not even all about Richard. I’m not, and never will be, a rabid Ricardian, but to find a novel that, without ever becoming preachy, makes such an interesting and convincing case for history, for its fluidity and iridescence, was a real trove and joy.

It’s one of those books everyone should read – if only to get a glimpse of the true nature of history, the one that boils, and roars, and glimmers beneath the curricular surface.


* Ironically enough, some modern scholars seem to believe the portrait in question to have been a piece of Tudor propaganda, aimed at showing Richard as frail and ill, and therefore unfit for the throne…


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Of Other Places And Other Times

MapThe site is actually a collection of RPG resources – and I’m sure there is plenty of interest to gamers in it.

But I happened there while looking for a map of Elizabethan Cambridge, and found this page, with a treasure of links to old city maps across the world and history – all of them absolutely gorgeous.

And note especially this link to the Historic Cities Project of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, that offers maps, literature, documents, books and other relevant material concerning the past, present and future of historic cities and facilitates the location of similar content on the web.

Beware: it is the kind of thing you visit at your peril, seeking one single street name, only to end perusing maps for half a night.

A perfect window on other places, and other times.

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Portrait of the Artist


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stunned_shakespeareIt strikes me how often fiction and theatre portray Will Shakespeare in the act of absorbing his materials rather than creating them.

No, really: the average fictional Shakespeare spends half his life jotting down, more or less metaphorically, everything he hears.

The notion goes as far back as the 19th Century, if you consider Léon Daudet‘s Le Voyage de Shakespeare, a half-picaresque thing in which a young Will travels through Europe, collecting all the experience the Stratford glover’s boy might have needed to write his prodigious canon.

G. B. Shaw, in The Lady of the Sonnets, makes it stage-worthy by having Will make notes of every other phrase in his conversation with the Dark Lady, the Beefeater, and the Queen herself – something that annoys them all no end.

P.F. Chisholm (that is to say, Patricia Finney), in her Carey Mysteries has her Shakespeare do very much the same, but in a curious, deliberate manner: he hires people of all sorts and provenances to transcribe their speech, idioms, quirks and accents. “He’s odd that way,” comments a perplexed Robert Carey – and we smile and see the point.

And then there is Robert Brustein‘s The English Channel, reprising Shaw’s idea, with a Shakespeare who, in conversation, keeps interrupting himself and everyone to observe that “this could be something.” Part of the fun comes from one of the interrupted ones being Marlowe, who is less than amused to have his speech, mannerisms and poetry ransacked by this word-magpie of a fellow poet.

Interestingly, on the other hand, fictional Marlowes are seldom seen absorbing, pilfering or borrowing anything: as a rule, they create – and humanity be damned. Just think of Nat Cassidy’s The Reckoning of Kit and Little Boots, juxtaposing a fiery Marlowe who spins poetry out of abstractions, ideas and fire, and a barely articulate Shakespeare in love with the essence of human nature. “Stories, people,” is all that Will has to say for himself and his poetry.

Then again, if his works are anything to judge by, the egocentric and ambitious Kit Marlowe mustn’t have been overly interested in people, whatever his passion for stories – while Shakespeare…

I must admit it: everything else apart, the two men’s styles, biographies and manners all support the notion of a Marlowe pouring forth, and a Shakespeare absorbing like a sponge. It would seem that, as a pupil of mine observed a few days ago in some surprise, novelists (and playwrights) know what they are about.




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No Title At All (Yet)


55327_girl-writing_lg-1Finishing the first/third draft.

Very late last night.

And no title at all – yet.

Leaving it sit ths morning (also because I’m having eight people over for lunch…)

Going through it one last time this afternoon, then handing it to my Readers Three.

And what about the title?

Pestering the Readers Three until they’ve told me what they think.

Polishing it up.

Going through one last How Could I Write This How Could I Ever Think I Can Write crisis.

Finding a dratted title.

Sending it away in the nick of time.

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?

The Sci-Fictional Serendipity of Scribblings


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ScribblingsScience fiction and I, now… Well, it’s slightly awkward.

The short version is, I was accidentally exposed to several dangerous quantities of ugly and/or distressing science fiction as a child, and had nightmares for years, and remained very, very wary of the whole genre, barely able to watch Star Wars without getting uneasy. Yes, Star Wars. Like the dog of the story, scalded with hot water, I was sure I hated all that had to do with sci-fi.

Then, in recent years, the startling fact was brought to my attention that time travel is indeed science fiction – and I have a cautious liking for time travel stories, provided the destination is the past, and not some dystopian, or apocalyptic, or post-apocalyptic, or pre-apocalyptic future, thank you very much. So I ventured to read Connie WillisTo Say Nothing of the Dog – and loved it, but I remain a sci-fictional wimp, and will likely die so.

So, tempting as it is to pretend I did it on purpose, I may as well confess that it was not only a surprise, but also something of an irony to find out that my new blog shares a name with a collection of works by L. Sprague de Camp. And yes, I know, LSdC was not exclusively a science fiction author, but it happens that Scribblings, the book, was first published by the New England Science Fiction Association for one of its conventions* – so, honestly, how un-sciencefictional can it be?

I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll even try to procure and read Scribblings, the book. Even before I consider the chance, I’d need detailed certainty there is nothing I don’t want to read in it. For instance, where (or rather, when) does the Drinkwhiskey Institute travel to? Or do I even want to know what fate awaits the Elephant in the poem of the same name? All else apart, it wouldn’t be terribly smart to give myself nightmares for the sake of my blog’s namesake book, would it?

So far, the only part of Scribblings, the book, I clapped eyes on is the table of contents – and I must say I like it. It sounds quirky and intriguing, and that’s one (however unintended) kinship I will claim. Who knows, some day I might read past the table and face the contents – but until then, I’ll hold Scribblings, the book, as a reminder to keep Scribblings, the blog, as quirky and intriguing as I can.


* And say what you will, I cannot read or hear “science-fiction convention” without thinking of Galaxy Quest.

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Boomstick Award


boomstickaward2014The Boomstick is an independent award created by the folks at the Italian blog Book and Negative, to highlight and promote tough and deserving bloggers.

And then every year, in a sort of ripple effect, each of the seven original awardees can pass the torch to seven more bloggers…

And this is how Scribblings proudly comes to be awarded the Boomstick Award 2014.

Many thanks and congratulations to Davide Mana over at Karavansara strategie evolutive * who got the award for the second year in a row, and then included Scribblings in his list of “ripple” Boomstickers.

We will strive to measure up.


* Yes, no capitals. (DM pretends not to, but it annoys him no end when I do this…)

The Wicked Stage


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The day my plays cross the Pond…

Yes, well, it’s still rather far away, right now, but a girl can dream big while she is at it, can’t she?

So, the day my plays cross the Pond, I hope that Rob Weinert-Kendt will review them. Which is dreaming even bigger, because RWK writes for the American Theater Magazine and the New York Times amongst many others, but…

It’s a wish I conceived a few years ago, when I came across his review of I don’t remember what production of Hamlet – and it was so deep, and perceptive, and wonderfully written, that I wished someone would write like that about a play of mine, someday…

As I said, that is far, far, far away in the future – at the very best. Meanwhile, one can read Mr. Weinert-Kendt’s great theatre blog, The Wicked Stage – which is what this little Saturday post is about, in the end.

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