The Devil Is White


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TheDevilIsWhiteI’d never read anything by William Palmer – unti I got to review his novel The Devil Is White for the Historical Novel Review, some time ago.

And it was a surprise.

The story begins in 1792 England, with a bunch of entusiasts bent on founding their own colonial utopia on an island off the Western coast of Africa – a free, slaveless and democratic utopia, based on hard work, merit and honest interaction with the coastal tribes.

True, the coastal tribes happily thrive on the slave trade – but only for lack of proper morals, a state of things the settlers’ good example and conversion to Christianism are bound to change… Continue reading

Ink and Light (and a Ship in the Air)


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by Ross Wilson, ink and watercolour, 1994

It would have been Seamus Heaney’s birthday, today… So I thought I’d remember him with one of Ross Wilson’s sketched portraits and a poem – one of those miracles of thought, light, questions, wonder, and images so vivid you can taste them on your tongue. Continue reading

My Canterville Ghost


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Oh, right: not quite mine. Oscar Wilde’s of course – but still, my Italian translation and stage adaptation. Six nights of it, for now – and all of them sold out since late March.

Nina’s people – and, lo and behold! I’ve been allowed to follow the rehearsals. Nina is the sort of director who doesn’t want authors around until opening night, but it seems that I’ve broken that wall, with the result that, for the last week, I’ve practically lived in the first row, taking notes rehearsal after rehearsal, and discussing things afterwards… Continue reading

Wine-Dark Sea


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I remember once being given a writing assignment in which I had to list seven meaningful colours, and write about them… How very fun, was my first reaction – only to find myself hopelessly bogged down as soon as I tried.

I could attach no particular meaning to any one colour – say orange or blue – let alone seven… Continue reading

A Cautionary Tale


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Once upon a time I came across an interview or an article – I wish I could remember – in which a historical novelist gleefully told about placing in his latest novel’s prologue a handful of elements that could easily pass for anachronisms. He gleefully anticipated the mails, weblogs and reviews pointing out his “blunders”, and the joys of answering back that, in fact, a lack of written record for some thing before a certain date could not be taken as proof that the same thing did not exist… Continue reading

Titian’s Boatman, by Victoria Blake


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I remember reading once that George Eliot wanted everything in Daniel Deronda “to be connected to everything else”.

Well, this is exactly what Titian’s Boatman feels like.

It may not look like it at first, when the reader is introduced to several characters in various places and various times. There is the eponymous boatman, plying his trade in a plague-ridden Venice in 1576, ferrying back and forth Titian’s last surviving son and plucky courtesan Tullia Buffo. Then, in present day London, there are actor Terry Jardine and Italian director Ludovico Zabarella, brought together by Shakespeare and personal loss. Lastly, there’s Cuban maid Aurora, carrying the weight of childhood trauma and widowhood – and finding consolation in a painting… Continue reading

Scribbling in Group


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writinggroupredI’m off to the first meeting of my first writing group in a few hours.

In a burst of wild originality, I’ve named it “The Scribblers”, and it is composed of myself and three former pupils, for the moment. These three hardy souls attended not one, but two writing courses of mine – and, finding they haven’t had enough, they were clamouring for more… Except, an even mildly advanced course is no picnic to prepare and teach, and I’m quite up to my ears as it is in my own writing, and theatre, and commissions, and talks. Besides, the times being what they are, it is not easy to find a library/school/club/town council willing to organise – and much less sponsor – a writing course… Continue reading