A few months ago, as I was working on Road to Murder, I found trouble in the form of a French town called Montreuil sur Mer.* Well, for various reasons, my sleuth Tom Walsingham finds himself spending a night there, much against his inclination, and I needed to have a good idea of the place for that… Continue reading
I remember picking up Matthew Plampin’s Will and Tom in the bookshop at the Tate Britain – and then putting it back, just as I’d put back half a dozen other hardbacks in the last day. In truth, after lugging many and many and many pounds of books across Europe over the years, I’ve learned, when I’m travelling, to only buy the ones that can’t conceivably be procured through the Net – either digitally or physically. So I jotted down the title in my notebook’s dedicated page, and in time the novel found its way to my Kindle. Then, for some reason, it took me a few years to get round to actually read it. If you have a To Read List of any length, you know how these things happen… 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
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
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
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 had never read anything of Ronald Blythe’s before, and The Assassin was one of those serendipitous finds. I’m glad it happened, because it is a wonderful book.
The eponymous assassin is John Felton, the officer who stabbed George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, in a Portsmouth inn, in 1628. In Twenty Years Later, Dumas Père paints Felton as a mad-eyed fanatic manipulated by the wicked Milady – but the story was quite different. A greedy royal favourite and an incompetent military leader, Buckingham was so extremely unpopular that his death was met with much rejoicing, and Felton was celebrated as a hero… Continue reading
Shall we call it field research?
A few days ago, a malfunctioning and a very grey day combined to send me back in time. With no power and no heating, I found myself depending on candles for light and the fireplace for warmth – all through one afternoon and night. Besides, my laptop’s battery was running low, so there was nothing for it, but sit by the fire and write in longhand and read by candlelight… Continue reading