A Woman of Words: El Diccionario by Manuel Calzada Perez at the Greenwood Theatre, Weston Street
As the lecture theatre slowly filled, it was a treat for me to hear Spanish being spoken all around me.
'Language is no longer a communication link between people and words are too generalized and vague'. So argues Manuel Calzada Perez in his play 'El Diccionario' (The Power of Words), through the mouth of his protagonist, Maria Moliner. In 1972 she is living in Valencia, her grown up children have left home and she and her ex-professor husband are about to enjoy their retirement.Read Full Post
Elizabeth Woodville, that indestructible beauty with the silver-gilt hair
I've lived with Elizabeth Woodville - Lady Grey, Queen Elizabeth - on and off for more than fifteen years. In many people's introduction to one of the great mystery stories of English history, The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey describes her perfectly as "that indestructible beauty with the silver-gilt hair"; she was the mother of the Princes in the Tower, the wife of Edward IV, and she's also one of the narrators of my novel A Secret Alchemy.
I always knew that I wasn't the first, any more than Tey was, but I wrote about where my Elysabeth came from on my website, and over on The History Girls blog I wrote Bloody Battles and Pleasure Palaces, about researching it. A Secret Alchemy hit the Sunday Times Bestsellers lists, had great reviews and was named as one of their paperbacks of the year, and then a few months later I heard that another writer had now succumbed to her. It was strange to hear a White Queen tweeting so, because I'm a writer, I wrote about that.
Since then, of course, Elizabeth, her brother Anthony, and their modern-day historian Una Pryor have been present to me. Like so many writers, I first feel a novel as a cloudy, powerful presence and then devote a year or three to making that presence real in every sound and smell and sight. And when other projects have taken its place at the front of my creative mind - other centuries, other ideas, other lives - that earlier novel becomes again a cloudy, powerful presence in my memory; it becomes part of me forever. If writing fiction, to quote Siri Hustvedt, "is like remembering what never happened", then once you have written the story, it becomes, to your mind, something that did happen.
Over here on the blog, the extract of A Secret Alchemy is part of Anthony's narrative. So this seems like a good moment to give Elysabeth her voice. And because Una, too, is part of that voice-giving, that's where we'll start.Read Full Post
Marital Mayhem: Peter Nichols' Passion Play' at the Duke of York's Theatre
The programme was is good value at £4 ; in addition to a potted history of the theatre it has an interview with the playwright and an interesting overview of plays about adultery by Mark Lawson. He writes: ‘Nichols ‘Passion Play’ is part of an eternal triangle of great adultery plays written around the turn of the 80s, sandwiched on either side by Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ (1978) and Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Thing’ (1982)Read Full Post
"Who is that judge that sits perpetually in your head?"
A writing friend picked up something I posted in a forum years ago, and has it on the wall above her desk. It's from a letter which journalist and scriptwriter Robert Presnell wrote to the great war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn was one of those writers who is driven to write as a way of making sense of the world, but is never satisfied by what she has written for more than a few moments. The result, of course, is to make writing excruciatingly difficult and slow.
I'm not, of course, saying that tackling a major project, whether it's flash fiction or a 200,000 word biography, is easy. It isn't, most of the time. Yes, there are days when some miraculous combination of circumstances (blood sugar, confidence, passion for the story, a sudden vision of how it should go, the research already nicely composted) propels you into the zone. The (mostly) right words seem to pour out of your fingers, and don't notice that the music's stopped, you've forgotten to have lunch, and it's two in the morning. But that state only comes about as a result of all the hard work and hammering away that you've put in the rest of the time.
But of course that's not the only state in which you can write. For various reasons, some parts of A Secret Alchemy were like pulling teeth to write, but I don't think a reader could tell which they were. Writing a major piece is full of practical difficulties and plummets of confidence. And, of course, any writer who's any good knows that any piece could always be better. As I was discussing in Learning to be Bad, it's a condition of being good at something that you know you could be and do better. But I think that's different from the really corrosive conviction that Gellhorn and her like seem to suffer from: you're not allowed to be less than perfect, and anything which isn't perfect has no value at all.Read Full Post
Some More Militant than Others...From Soap Boxes to Tea Pots: a talk about Suffragettes at the Museum of London
Antonia Byatt, first woman director of the Women's Library, focused on how the suffragettes publicised their cause. In the absence of Facebook and Twitter, not to mention radio and TV, addressing rallies and marching with banners was a no-choice option for the suffragettes. Chaining themselves to railings , setting fire to politicians’ homes and getting arrested was a way to keep the issue in newspaper headlines. When Emily Davison was killed on Derby Day in 1913 by throwing herself under the King’s horse it was the climax of an escalating campaign.
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How to Write For Woman's Weekly: Workshop at the Blue Fin Building, June 7th
I enjoyed all of it. Friendly Gaynor Davies, Fiction Editor, talked anecdotally about changes in WW’s 100 year history, from the old ‘Pink and Blue Banner’ days. ‘In hard times for magazines, we are holding our own ‘. Funny stories included sexual restraint advice from an Edwardian Agony Aunt and a reader’s endorsement of Woman’s Weekly as a perfect cure for insomnia.Read Full Post
Why I'm a convert to writing with Scrivener
All I actually need to write a novel is a stack of identical A4 notebooks (makes keeping the wordcount easier), a good biro (fat enough not to get RSI), and a plotting grid. Oh, and piles and piles of scrap paper for all the notes and ideas and snaglists. A word processor is essential next, but the many "novel-writing" programs on the market seemed to be little more than toys dreamed up by non-writing geeks, to sell or give away to beginners writers desperate for ways to make the weird business of creating something out of nothing more manageable.
But Scrivener is different, and though I'm neither a techno-phobe nor a geek, I'm now a complete convert. It was born apparently from the different but not unrelated challenges of writing a PhD and a novel, and inspired by Hilary Mantel's description of how she works, and that pedigree shows. It's the only such program which I know is used by slews of other professionals for writing fiction, creative non-fiction and the more factual and technical kind of non-fiction, and I see exactly why. But, like any powerful, flexible program, it gets a bit of getting used to. So I'm going explain how it works as a way of explaining why I think it's worth sticking at, and some ways of getting to know it. I haven't used everything it does, but this is how it's looking to me so far.Read Full Post
Suburban Spies: 'A Pack of Lies' at The Alexandra Hall, Charlton, SE7
Stodgy Bob Jackson (Mark Higgins) and anxious housewife Barbara (Sue McGeehan) resent the invasion of their privacy, especially as the look-out point is to be their teenage daughter Julie’s bedroom. This being respectable Ruislip, emotions are low-key, and a lot of tea is drunk.
What makes things worse for the Jacksons is that they already know the suspects, although they're ignorant of their neighbours' shady activities. Canadians Helen (Louise Gaul) and Peter (Roy Moore) Kroger, have become their closest friends since they arrived in the quiet suburb five years before.
‘It's just for the weekend,’ implacable MI5 agent Stewart (Keith Hartley) tells them, but as days turn into weeks pressure mounts and the teapot is sometimes replaced by the whisky bottle.Read Full Post
Twenty Top Tips for Academic Writing
Academic writing scares many people who have lots of good things and ideas to put forward. Others have been told they should write better without being helped to understand how. But it's not magic and it's not rocket science; it's a set of skills, and you can learn them. Through my first year as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Goldsmiths, I've been shaking out and clarifying my ideas of how academic writing does and should work, with a little - or rather, a lot - of help from the RLF's own resources. Not everyone will agree on which are more important, and disciplines do vary, in both their nature, and their traditions and current forms: an account of an astronomical observation is different from a reflective essay on dance therapy casework. But there are plenty of overall, general ideas which it helps immensely to understand and, suitably adjusted, many of them will help with other kinds of non-fiction writing: reports, articles and talks. So here are the things I find myself exploring with students over and over again; I hope they help you.Read Full Post
Plain and perfect, rich and rare: what is "lyrical" writing?
A writer friend says that her MA tutor described her writing as "lyrical", and she asked what he meant. He said "something about lyrical writing remaking the world & making the world appear anew", but what does that mean in practice? At the basic level, "lyrical" means that it shares something with poetry: a certain intensity, perhaps, though it might be interior, emotional intensity, or an outward-looking evocation of time and place. It needn't necessarily be about beautiful things: as Sebastian Salgado's photographs of miners show, it's possible to make beautiful art out of ugly things, or out of frightening things as Elizabeth Bowen does here.
It needn't be about strange things or people or settings either, though of course it might be.Read Full Post
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