The Historical Novelist’s Dilemma


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dilemma-676x305redI’m dithering…

Yes – it’s the novel. Again. But the fact is, you see, that there is this rather grim thing happening in June 1594 – historically happening, I mean. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, because while not directly involving my hero, it has two sets of ties to his circumstances – one practical (and historically documented), and one, shall we say, psychological… Continue reading

Elements of Advanced Procrastination


mehSo this is a couple of stupid days inside a mostly stupid week.

By which I mean that last week’s Shakespearean glow has faded, and I’m getting nowhere much, both work-wise and writing wise, and I’ve managed to destroy a memory stick with lots of useful things on it, and I’m squandering inordinate amounts of time on notions that might become relevant next Autumn – or then again might not at all – and even rehearsals last night rather meandered into pointlessness… Continue reading

Hieronimo in California


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tstThis is from back in 2013, but the fact is, it struck me that productions of Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy are few and far between, nowadays – although we know it was wildly succesful in the 1580s and long later, with its dark tale of revenge and madness. Another Grammar-School man like Shakespeare, Kyd seems to have enjoyed quite a reputation in his time – but most of his work has gone lost, and his fame has been largely eclipsed… Continue reading

That I like best that flies beyond my reach


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guiseOh, let’s have some poetry, today – poetry and theatre. Kit Marlowe’s Duc de Guise, painting the full colours of his restless ambition, proudly boasting his cleverness and strength – and, most of all, chomping at the bit:

Now Guise, begin those deepe ingendred thoughts
To burst abroad, those never dying flames,
Which cannot be extinguisht but by bloud.
Oft have I leveld, and at last have learnd,
That perill is the cheefest way to happines,
And resolution honors fairest aime.
What glory is there in a common good,
That hanges for every peasant to atchive?
That like I best that flyes beyond my reach.
Set me to scale the high Peramides,
And thereon set the Diadem of Fraunce,
Ile either rend it with my nayles to naught,
Or mount the top with my aspiring winges,
Although my downfall be the deepest hell.
For this, I wake, when others think I sleepe,
For this, I waite, that scorn attendance else:
For this, my quenchles thirst whereon I builde,
Hath often pleaded kindred to the King.
For this, this head, this heart, this hand and sworde,
Contrive, imagine and fully execute
Matters of importe, aimed at by many,
Yet understoode by none.
For this, hath heaven engendred me of earth,
For this, the earth sustaines my bodies weight,
And with this wait Ile counterpoise a Crowne,
Or with seditions weary all the worlde:
For this, from Spaine the stately Catholic
Sends Indian golde to coyne me French ecues:
For this have I a largesse from the Pope,
A pension and a dispensation too:
And by that priviledge to worke upon,
My policye hath framde religion.
Religion: O Diabole.
Fye, I am ashamde, how ever that I seeme,
To think a word of such a simple sound,
Of so great matter should be made the ground.
The gentle King whose pleasure uncontrolde,
Weakneth his body, and will waste his Realme,
If I repaire not what he ruinates:
Him as a childe I dayly winne with words,
So that for proofe, he barely beares the name:
I execute, and he sustaines the blame.
The Mother Queene workes wonders for my sake,
And in my love entombes the hope of Fraunce:
Rifling the bowels of her treasurie,
To supply my wants and necessitie.
Paris hath full five hundred Colledges,
As Monestaries, Priories, Abbyes and halles,
Wherein are thirtie thousand able men,
Besides a thousand sturdy student Catholicks,
And more: of my knowledge in one cloyster keep,
Five hundred fatte Franciscan Fryers and priestes.
All this and more, if more may be comprisde,
To bring the will of our desires to end.
Then Guise,
Since thou hast all the Cardes within thy hands
To shuffle or to cut, take this as surest thing:
That right or wrong, thou deal’st thy selfe a King.
I but, Navarre. Tis but a nook of France.
Sufficient yet for such a pettie King:
That with a rablement of his hereticks,
Blindes Europs eyes and troubleth our estate:
Him will we–

(Pointing to his Sworde.)

But first lets follow those in France.
That hinder our possession to the crowne:
As Caesar to his souldiers, so say I:
Those that hate me, will I learn to loath.
Give me a look, that when I bend the browes,
Pale death may walke in furrowes of my face:
A hand, that with a graspe may gripe the world,
An eare, to heare what my detractors say,
A royall seate, a scepter and a crowne:
That those which doe behold them may become
As men that stand and gase against the Sunne.
The plot is laide, and things shall come to passe,
Where resolution strives for victory.

One imagines that Ned Alleyn, with his imposing presence and deep, dark voice, must have been rather impressive in the part.

And besides… what can I say? I never read Marlowe’s dark heroes without imagining that there must have been days when he felt too large and too fiery for his own circumstances – and not much besides poetry as an outlet. Is it fanciful to think that he was the one forever burning for things beyond his reach?


Not quite in Dulwich


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tbvbYou know, I should be in London right now… and I am not.

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

In states unborn and accents yet unknown


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Some more Julius Caesar, do you mind?

jchowmanyagesThe fact is that, because of Shakespeare in Words, I had a special thrill when, in Act 3.I, the conspirators bathe their hands in dead Caesar’s blood – half barbaric ritual, half preparation to face the angry and upset crowds outside. Very much like actors before a play, they plan to appear with bloody hands and swords, shouting “Peace, freedom, and liberty.” Continue reading

The Tragedie of Junius Brutus


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jc53I re-watched Mankiewicz’s 1953 Julius Caesar, last night – the one with James Mason, Marlon Brando and John Gielgud – all the more happily because I’d been very much afraid that Shakespeare would disappear from Italian television after the end of 2016.

Of course it’s early days – but let us hope. Meanwhile, I  I was once more struck by how much the play is centred on Brutus, for all that it is titled for The Life and Death of Julius Caesar… Well, certainly Caesar’s death is the centrepiece, and in life and death he deeply affects all the other characters well after he is stabbed in Act 3. Still, Brutus, his doubts and his resolutions are often centre-stage, and I can’t help wondering. Continue reading

The Next Book (and a small epiphany in passing)


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untitled-148redAfter finishing the last of my Christmas reads (the second book in Lexie Conyngham’s very enjoyable Murray of Letho series), I have struggled to choose my next book.

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… untitled-149

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.

untitled-151Which 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 untitled-150Elizabethanishly, 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?