A Tale of Two Writers

Tags

, , , ,

Gordon Craig in The Dead Heart

In 1859, as A Tale of Two Cities was being first serialized in weekly instalments in Dickens’ own magazine, All The Year Round, a play by Watts Phillips, called The Dead Heart, made its stage debut at the Adelphi, to much success.

Phillips, a novelist and playwright, had had little luck lately, because he insisted on writing serious, near-austere pieces that pleased the critics (and, apparently, the Queen) more than they did the melodrama-loving general public.

The Dead Heart, though, a stirring tale of the French Revolution, filled with thwarted love, howling injustice, epic struggles, evil abbés, heroic sacrifice, and so on, was a different matter – all the more so because very soon people started to notice the close resemblance between the play and that new novel by Mr. Dickens… Continue reading

Advertisements

Pirates?

Tags

, , , ,

A couple of weeks ago my mother discovered, with considerable amusement, the existence of Talk Like a Pirate Day, and asked why I didn’t post about it.

“Never have,” I said. “I don’t even like pirate stories.”

“Nonsense,” was the answer. “You’ve read lots of them.”

And I protested that no, really – in fact, I rather dislike pirate stories… And I was thinking of Jack Sparrow and company, but even more of Salgari’s insufferable Sandokan and multi-coloured corsairs, without which no Italian childhood is considered complete… Continue reading

More about those short stories

Tags

, , ,

Yes – yes, I know but… while I’m in the mood. Very soon theatre will catch up with me: just last night Nina set me to rework an oldish adaptation, and drama school begins in a couple of weeks, and then the Season… oh dear, let’s not even get there!

But before the madness starts, there are a couple more things about short stories I’d like to jot down here. I was a few months into my experiment when I came across this quotation within a quotation of Neil Gaiman saying that Roger Zelazny once told him to… Continue reading

Five joys of writing a story a month

Tags

,

At some time in late 2018 I decided that, in the New Year, I was going to write more short stories. The reasoning behind this was, mostly, that I’d practice the short form, after focusing for years on plays and novel-length fiction.

My friend Dave, over at Karavansara, quoted to me someone saying that, if you write a story a week for a year, you are sure to write something good – if only because it’s hard to write fifty-two bad stories in a row… Or something to that effect: I’m quoting from memory, and quite freely. That said, Dave is the kind of fellow who can (and does) keep up with such a breathless schedule. I, being a lazy, soft creature when stage deadlines are not involved, settled for a story a month.

So I wrote down the notion in my notebook, made a list of story ideas and a rather cute story tracker*, and in January, while I was feeling sorry for myself because of unrelenting fever, aching bones and all that, I began. And then stuck with it.

Eight stories later, I have only good things to say about the plan. Specific good things – and here is a little list.

1. Practice makes… well, let’s leave perfection alone – but certainly practice makes ease and purposefulness. While it’s not that I hadn’t written short stories in years, I tended to approach the short form in a rather haphazard fashion, as though it were a kind of miniature novel – or play. It always felt a little like elbowing my way around a narrow place. Doing it more systematically is proving quite the learning experience in the ways of conceiving and telling short stories short. And by the way…

2. Trying out things. I’ve taken a few short story courses over the months, just to see and try different approaches. Some teachers will have you start with a personal memory, others with a character, other still with questions, or the ABDCE structure, or the ending… Of course, as Kipling says, there are nine and sixty ways to tell a story, and every single one of them is right – so it’s interesting to explore and experiment. And not just when it comes to structure and method and length…

3. …But also in genre, subject, and whatnot. No, really. Left to myself, I’m an inveterate comfort-zone dweller. I may like to explore the bounds of historical fiction now and then (or convince myself that I do) – but that’s as far as I push myself. I believe I told you about the mentor who used to nag me into stepping out… now I have to nag myself – and short stories are proving a perfect way to do it. A short story is a short-term thing – a stroll out of bounds, not a year-long journey. One hardly needs to lock the door when venturing into, say, contemporary land for a short story. So I’ve tried a few things I might not have otherwise – and rather liked it. Also…

4. I’m sure you know how it is to have notebooks bursting with story ideas… old ideas, small ideas, bizarre ideas, half-baked ideas… they are all there for someday, too flimsy for a novel, or intriguing but not enough to spend months or years on them, or… as I said, you know how it is. Well, when I started on the monthly short story, old ideas emerged from notebook-limbo in droves, waiting to be written. Back in January, my first step was to reprise and write in earnest a ghost story – the first story I ever wrote in English, some twenty-five years ago. Among other things, it was fascinating to see what I could to with those bare bones, and a quarter of a century’s worth of writing and experience under my belt. And then, of course…

5. The deadlines. I’ve said I’m a lazy creature when deadlines are not involved – and that was stating the case mildly. The fact is, I’m terrifyingly proficient at procrastinating, and little startles me out of it – unless it’s a deadline. Stage deadlines, mostly – and Nina is very good at setting tasks, then nagging, and then deciding that she needs “it” next week rather than next month… Contest or award deadlines also work quite well. Artificial deadlines… not so much, as a rule. This time, though, for some reason, it works like a charm. I want to finish my story-a-month, and I always have, so far. I’ve cut it quite short a couple of times, and driven family and friends slightly mad about it – but it works: eight months, eight stories – and counting.

Now the ninth story is in progress. It wants to be another old thing I began… oh, I don’t know – twenty years ago, perhaps? I started it in Italian, and then left it there. It has resurfaced recently from the depths of my hard-disk, and wants to become my September story. I’m doing my best to make it happy, and then there will be three more, and I may not stop there at all. Who knows?

Let’s wait for December, and the twelfth story – and we’ll see.

________________________________

* A tracker, yes. A cutesy one, in the shape of a stack of books… And I know – even I can’t possibly lose count between one and twelve – but what can I say? I’ve come (or regressed) to a point where marking off another notch in a tracker is ridiculously satisfying – so sue me.

I’m back!

Tags

, , ,

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…

Eight months and pennies! Where have I been all this time? Where has all this time gone while I wasn’t watching?

The fact is, I had a rather nasty flu just after Christmas, and it took me more than a month to be back on my feet, and afterwards… I don’t know. I hadn’t posted a single line in either of my blogs for the whole of January, and then… and then. It’s the way these things happen, I’m told.

But now I’m back. I’ve wanted to be back for some time – only, it was summer, when a) blog life slows down, and b) bloggers grow lazy… well, lazier. So I thought I’d wait for September, and here I am.

What have I been up to, these past eight months – beside not blogging? Well, I’ve translated and adapted a lot for the Company (I’ll tell you more about this in time), I’ve decided to write a short story every month (and stuck with it so far), I’ve sent Out There my novel and a couple of the stories, I’ve directed two school plays (one in collaboration, one on my own), I’ve gone ahead with a (very) long term project of reorganising my study, I’ve spent three lovely days in Florence with my mother, I’ve had my yearly Reading Week, I’ve enjoyed a good deal of great theatre with the Summer Season, I’ve hunted about virtual bookstalls for Paul Roche’s translation of Prometheus Bound, I’ve put together a special Palcoscenico di Carta/The Paper Stage (happening tonight), and I’m afraid I have parted ways with the Squirrels…

So yes, I have plenty to tell you. The plan is a very straightforward one: I’ll go back to my leisurely ways, and post once a week, on Thursdays. I hope you’ll forgive the long hiatus and join me again for the ride. I’ve missed you, O Readers.

Let’s start again, shall we?

The Saga’s Little Saga

Tags

, , , ,

How my father happened to lose his own old copy of Gösta Berling’s Saga, I have no idea. When it came to books, the Colonel was an odd  mix of jealous worship and carelessness… But somehow or other the book was lost.

What I know for sure is that, many years later, I found an old copy of the Saga in a second-hand bookshop in Pavia – an old, tiny and delightful place named Il Parnaso, the kind of place where one can while away a rainy afternoon making discovery after wonderful discovery… oh, you know what I mean. Now, my found Saga was not the same edition my father had lost – but it was old, a little worse for wear, and bore an ex-libris explaining how it had been saved during some flooding or other of the Ticino, Pavia’s river. Continue reading

Across Time (Puck’s Song)

Tags

, , , ,

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now – and I mean quite some time. Last Spring, as I adapted Puck of Pook’s Hill for the stage and chose Rackham illustrations to make into scenery, and later, as I rehearsed the thing with my cherry-picked cast, and then as our Monday drew close – and later again, when all was done and gone well… Only, there was always something else to post about, or perhaps it was too soon, or…  you know how it goes.

But at last, here we go.  Continue reading

Quick-changing Scrooge

Tags

, , ,

And so, thanks to A Christmas Carol, I now have another backstage job to add to my theatre resumé.

Because yes, we debuted last Saturday, and it went enormously well, and we’re very nearly sold out until January, and have actual waiting lists… And usually, at this point, I’ve done what I had to do, and can sit back and enjoy the ride, right? Not so this time! Continue reading

Longlisted!

Tags

, , , , ,

In the middle of it all – and by “it all” I mean tech week for my own translation and adaptation of A Christmas Carol, opening this Saturday – I’ve had a lovely surprise: my story was longlisted for the HWA‘s Dorothy Dunnett Award for unpublished short stories… Continue reading