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 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
Well well well – would you believe it? But weeks do fly, don’t they? A heartbeat ago it was october, and now it’s so very nearly the end of November that it makes no difference. So it would seem that it’s reckoning time: how did SN4WriMo go?
Let us say, well enough.
One the one hand, this fourth draft was meant mostly as an effort to make the language smoother – and that I finished with a good week to spare. Continue reading
This post on Karavansara made me jump: good heavens above, is it that time of the year again already?
And of course it is, and it will be November in a few days, and so it is even late to begin to think about doing NaNoWriMo – but the fact is that, even if I had not lost track of time and planned ahead… er. It’s always the same story: much as I like the notion of a month-long concentrated effort with an artificial but solid enough deadline, November is always about the very worst time for it. Continue reading
So, October is here, a full month has passed – and here we go.
Fourth draft, bearing in mind what I learned in Oxford. Mostly, that I need to trim the language…
“I’m not saying you make it easy for the reader,” I was told. “Just don’t make it so hard that they’ll give up.”
Sound advice. Not that I was deliberately trying to make it hard, mind you – only it seems that my grasp of what is “too hard” may need some adjusting. Also, I may have let myself be carried away with Elizabethan English. A little.
So now that’s what I’m aiming for: Elizabethan colour – just not too much.
I’ll let you know.
A little Saturday thought, from Milan Kundera’s The Curtain.
Something about history, and truth, and what – and how – is remembered or forgotten.
Something that goes very well with my own pet theory about the iridescence of history…
This is the most obvious thing in the world: man is separated from the past (even from the past only a few seconds old) by two forces that go instantly to work and cooperate: the force of forgetting (which erases) and the force of memory (which transforms).
It is the most obvious thing, but it is hard to accept, for when one thinks it all the way through, what becomes of all the testimonies that historiography relies on? What becomes of our certainties about the past, and what becomes of History itself, to which we refer every day in good faith, naively, spontaneously? Beyond the slender margin of the incontestable (there is no doubt that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo), stretches an infinite realm: the realm of the approximate, the invented, the deformed, the simplistic, the exaggerated, the misconstrued, an infinite realm of nontruths that copulate, multiply like rats, and become immortal.
A realm that, I might add, makes for wonderful hunting grounds, when you happen to write historical fiction…
It turns up in a book I hadn’t opened in some time. It slips out from between two pages, and flutters its way to the carpet before I can catch it.
It’s a scrap of squared paper, a leaf from some old notepad from my previous life, carrying an ugly yellow logo and covered in many-coloured scribbles.
First of all, written in blue ball-point pen, a snippet of dialogue between Kit Marlowe and Thomas Walsingham… Continue reading
I’ve posted something very similar on my Italian blog, yesterday, but I want to do it again here, because…
Well, because terrible things keep happening, and everything seems to indicate that they will keep happening for Heaven knows how long. I was musing about it yesterday, and thinking how small, how inadequate it feels in such moments to sit down and write of history, and theatre, and books…
Then I found on Karavansara a quote of Charles De Lint’s, saying how writers keep shining little lights in the gathering darkness.
And I thought: yes, this is it. This is what I want to do too. Light up a little flame, and hope it will make readers think. Not to make them think something in particular – that readers can agree or disagree with what they read is a given… just think. And wonder, and ask questions, and maybe read up some author or historical character, or read a new book, or argue, or get angry, and light another flame… One hopes to make think – and to keep thinking, even in the midst of all the terrible things.
So yes – this is what we do with the stories, and history, and books, and theatre, in the firm belief that a thinking world will be better equipped against the darkness, and even the smallest light can help.