Well, this year, thanks to a longer rehearsals break, I’ve decided that things can take care of themselves for a few days while I read a little for fun and pleasure… Continue reading
Hooray: the #Swashathon, Movies Silently’s “blogathon of swashbuckling adventure“, is back! Four days of cloaks and daggers, swords and sails, fops (or not) and farthingales, derring-do and damsels not-quite-in-distress… Does it get more fun than that?
Let’s get dancing, then – and discuss my favourite swashbuckler of all times: Stevenson’s Alan Breck Stewart. Alan is a wonderful character – the most perfect one in English literature, according to Henry James, no less – but how has he fared on the screen? Ah now, this is a tricky question – so be warned: it’s going to be a long, long post. Continue reading
On the plane to Malta, I began reading Tim Willocks’ The Religion, one of a few Siege-themed novels I’d purchased in view of the journey. I rather liked the prologue, and my first glimpse of Grand Master La Valette and Sir Oliver Starkey, and the preparations for the siege.
If I was tempted to raise an eyebrow at La Valette’s life-or-death insistence that they must have Tannhauser at all costs… well, he is the hero, after all, and he’s been a Janissary for part of his life – so he must be in the thick of things, and there is some sort of reason for it, right? Continue reading
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
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
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
Tomorrow my friend Victoria Blake launches her new historical novel, Titian’s Boatman, and I should have been there… but the deities of the flu decided otherwise, and I’m moping at home instead, and whining to anyone within earshot that I should be in London, London, London… Continue reading
As already stated – and as, I’m sure, is the case with all of you – I have a To Read Least far longer than my arm and ever-growing, so after each book I spend ages browsing my shelves and piles, or poring over my Kindle’s menu page, like Buridan’s Donkey – with far too many pails of water and stacks of hay. This time, the process was made even slower by the fact that I’m readingreadingreading up for my new play-to-be, so that my leisure reading time is rather reduced…
Well, anyway, last night I decided to give a try to a novel about Irish leader Robert Emmet. I have some interest in the character and period, but know little enough about both – except that I recently read Dion Boucicault’s entertainingly overblown 1884 play on the same subject. So, why not try a (purportedly far more accurate) novel? So I began Tread Softly etc with every intention of liking it, and…
I did not. Or at least… I don’t think there’s much wrong with the gentle pace and old-fashioned writing – I usually like the sort – but by page twenty I’d had enough of the author’s obvious hero-worship of her protagonist. Still a teenager, young Emmet was showing such a degree of perfection that it was too much for me. It is entirely possible that things would have grown better with some persistence, and perhaps I’ll go back to the novel later, when I’m… oh, I don’t know. The fact is that right now I’m not spending my limited reading time with gentle, soft-spoken, intelligent, determined, brave, wise-beyond-their-years, determined, elegant in mind and body and whatnot fifteen-years old.
Which is how, by one of those leaps of logic, I turned to Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist – and found an entirely different kind of book. The writing is dense, with a certain timeless quality to it and a fine rhythm. The characters are wonderfully drawn, the details are rich, and sharp, and vivid, so that 17th Century Amsterdam jumps out of the page, with the clarity and cold light of a Dutch painting, and the present tense narration provides the whole with a sense of growing tension. Lovely. I was soon captured – and there is my next read. A read of the sort one can’t wait to go back to. And well – it’s early pages, and I know by bitter experience that plenty can go wrong before the ending. Let us say that, if things keep up as the seem to promise so far, The Miniaturist is very likely to give me book-lag when I’ve finished it.
And because this is the effect I’d love to produce in my readers (who wouldn’t?), I began to think about my own novel-in-progress. Am I making my hero insufferable in some way? I’m rather sure he is far from too perfect – but is there something else that might make it hard for the reader to like him? Am I writing to safely? Too Elizabethanishly, I’ve been told, and tried to remedy – but is the language effective, and distinct, and vivid? And how about my setting’s details? Am I using the right ones? Am I using them right? Am I conveying not just a convincing sense of Elizabethan London – but an engaging one?
Ah well – this might as well be a case of what David Corbett was discussing in the article I mentioned in Tuesday’s post. Perfect, don’t you think? Now I am, most definitely, inspired to emulation.
What was the last book that inspired you in this way?
I think I already told you about Writer Unboxed, a lovely writerly site, full of good ideas, thought-provoking questions, fine articles, practical wisdom, and so on.
Well, today on WU, David Corbett posed the question of reading or not reading while writing. He begins by observing that many writers seem to prefer not to – to avoid the risk of imitation, mostly – and then goes on to make a very convincing case for the opposite course of action. Continue reading