Late in January 1593, the Privy Council, worried about what looked like a new bout of plague, wrote a letter to London’s authorities, ordering to close all playhouses. It was one of many times this happened: City fathers, Privy Council, Puritans – a lot of people seemed ready to blame the playhouses for anything, from the corruption of minds, to general dishonesty and health troubles. Let us say that an attempt to contain contagion was one of the saner reasons for closing them down… Continue reading
One particular discovery of this last trip to London was Sir John Soane’s museum house at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I think I’d been there before, perhaps some twenty years ago, on my very first time in London – but, for some reason, the place had failed to strike me the way it has this time.
Now I’m rather in love.
In love with the unbelievable Crypt: you access the rear basement via the kitchen – and find yourself entirely surrounded by Sir John’s antiquities, filling every available space, piling up the walls, up to the eaves – in the most literal sense. Wherever you turn there is another statue, another fragment, another vase, another model, another, and another, and another… You pick your way from cabinet to small room, up narrow stairs, you look up and down this sort of antique-lined well, with its fanlight above… and then there is the room entirely lined with paintings – and not any paintings, either: a few Canalettos, a handful of Hogarts, a collection of Piranesi… Continue reading
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
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
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’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
So, my own Lunedì is right behind the corner…
The Lunedìs are this series of weekly staged readings centred around a theme – and last year we had Greek Tragedy. And we also had the members of a Psychoanalysis Club following the readings with some sort of analysis and debate. I know it sounds weird – but it worked really well: eager audiences loved the readings and then debated with gusto, and the house was beyond packed for six consecutive Mondays… Continue reading
The Maiden’s Holiday is a lost comedy, entered in the Stationers’ Register in the early 1650s as “written by Christopher Marlowe and John Day“. Since Day doesn’t appear to have been active as a playwright before 1599 – six years after Marlowe’s death – a later reworking seems far more likely than an actual collaboration, but we cannot tell for sure. The only known manuscript copy belonged to 18th Century antiquarian John Warburton’s collection, that went… er, lost. Continue reading
Obviously Scotland does this to me: it sends me on Jacobite tangents. Fictional tangents, mostly – because really, the moment you try a history book, the whole adventure loses much of its shine. Then again, seven decades of intermittent and unsuccessful attempts at restoring a royal line with the dubious aid of a foreign power were bound to be, on the one hand not terribly well organised, and on the other, perfect novel material… I mean: how can you have plenty of exiles headed by a handsome and charming prince, loyal clans, recurring bursts of violence, conspirations, secret messages, toasts to the King Across the Water, songs, divided families, spirited ladies, battles, and an ultimately doomed cause – and not expect an abundance of fiction? And of course, the foremost charm of the Jacobites is that of the doomed and defeated. Would we care very much about them, would we write novels, if they’d won? Continue reading
And so I learned that, while I’d always assumed that people walked to the Theatre via Bishopsgate, Bishopsgate Street and Shoreditch, this was not the case. Not that the Burbages wouldn’t have liked such a straightforward route to their playhouse – but there was opposition from the local landowners – particularly from the Earl of Rutland, who effectively blocked the easy access… Continue reading