Monday, 31 October 2005

Grumpy Old Bookman has posted today about Universal Pictures' attempt to have Gerald Jones' Everyone Who's Anyone website closed down. I don't think that I am quite as much a fan of Mr Jones as GOB is, but like him I do not like to see large corporations using heavy-handed techniques to suppress those less well-resourced than themselves. Please go and see what Grumpy has written, and follow up (or not) as you see fit.

Sunday, 30 October 2005

In addition to posting the latest Heyeroine in Need of a Slap, I have fixed the broken links to numbers 2, 3 and 4 in the series.

Now I must go and sort out my novel.
Heyeroines in need of a slap

10. Abigail Wendover (Black Sheep)

On our first introduction to Miss Abigail Wendover we are forcibly reminded of the cloaked and cowled figure in Ingmar Bergman's Scandinavian cinematic masterpiece, Det Sjunde Inseglet. It is not just that, like Bengt Ekerot's character, her own appearance is totally subsumed within what she wears, but also that Abigail brings plague, pestilence and destruction wherever she goes.

The carnage within the Wendover family is shocking. Abigail has already accounted for both of her parents and four of her siblings, as well as the wife of the only one of them that survived into adulthood before our tale has even started. The sister with whom she lives is, unsurprisingly, a martyr to sickness. Indeed it is telling that she only recovers from consumption when Abigail leaves Bath on a tour of her surviving family, and comes down with a putrid sore throat, a fever, a headache and colic as soon as she returns. That tour was, of course, conducted amidst a miasma of measles and misfortunes. One family servant even went as far as breaking her own leg rather than be in the house when Abigail called.

In choosing to name his daughter so, Mr Wendover was clearly not mistaken. It was not father rejoiced that he had in mind, however, but his daughter's role as the handmaiden of Death.

While Miss Wendover and Miss Fanny Wendover still live, Miss Abigail Wendover's task cannot be considered complete, and it is clear that in encouraging her neice to favour the unhealthily thin and largely Bath-bound Oliver Grayshott rather than the more robustly constitutioned Stacy Calverleigh (among whose many accomplishments must surely include access to the sort of competent physicianship that is plainly absent entirely from the City of Healing Waters), Abigail is attempting to keep Fanny within range of her pernicious aura for as long as possible. By chapter 12 this plan appears to be working, as Fanny is struck down by influenza and about to fall into the hands of Abigail's partner in crime, Dr Rowton, a man who seems to believe that the Hippocratic Oath is more like guidelines. With Selina suffering a spasm or two, all seems set for Abigail to finish off in Bath and then to move back to Huntingdonshire and London where the last survivors still lurk.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, Miss Abigail Wendover's baleful influence seems to be fairly ineffectual beyond her family. It is only in chapter 18 that she finally strikes outside the Wendover clan, inflicting a toothache on Miss Butterbank. Given Miss Butterbank's role as spreader of gossip throughout Bath, it is likely that Abigail was aiming to inflict something a little more contagious for her victim to disperse alongside the latest on dits, but this perhaps proves, at this point at least beyond her power.

Until she grows stronger and more malevolent, he only way that Abigail appears able to harm those beyond her family is by having them marry into it. Whether this effect can then propagate beyond the immediate in-law is unclear, but it is without doubt a risk. It is clearly his concern over this prospect that motivates Miles Calverleigh to do all in his power to prevent his nephew marrying into the Wendovers, buying out his debts and throwing choicely endowed widows like Mrs Clapham into his path in an attempt to distract him from the poisoned chalice that is Fanny. This approach, however, can only ever win a few battles; it can never win the war against epidemic illness, and time, to judge by Miss Butterbank's fate, is running out.

Luckily Miles has a solution. It appears that whatever else he may have picked up during his sojourn in India, he has developed some sort of immunity to sickness such that he, and maybe he alone, can survive the rigours of marriage to Typhoid Abby. By marrying her he is in a position to tackle the sickness at its root. He has a plan, but for it to succeed, he must acquire not just Danescourt and the few unencumbered acres around it, but the extensive estates that close it off from the outside world.

Quarantined behind such an extensive cordon sanitaire, and under the military jurisdiction of the mysterious Colonel Ongar and his obedient henchmen, the Penns, Miss Abigail Wendover - now of course Mrs Miles Calverleigh - can be safely isolated from the rest of humanity, and Bath can once again be safe for its Misses, Quizzes, Olivers, Dowds and other assorted Janeites.

Technorati Tags:

Saturday, 29 October 2005

Unsurprisingly, in between taking the Wenlock Heir to see Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and reading theguardian (there's an interesting piece about life in the UEA creative writing course by Juliet Sutcliffe), I have been thinking about what needs to be done with Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth.

One thing that has been nagging at me is the question of why, if I can see the sense in so much of my NWS report, I didn't spot the problems for myself. I think that there are two main reasons.

First, there was (and still is) "new writer's insecurity" - it's difficult to look too deeply into my own work for fear, at worst, that I will discover that it is all garbage, and at best, that I will unpick something good and replace it with something less good. Of course, once I am published this sort of anxiety will be a thing of the past. Or will it?

Second, there was the looming deadline set by the NWS. Having started LAC;o,tBB in April, and trying to write it in evenings and weekends (apart from a wonderful week on my own in Shropshire that netted about a quarter of the final version) I didn't give myself enough time to get things sorted. I certainly could not afford the time to step back and look at my wip with any sort of detachment. My NWS reader was seriously shocked that I had ducked a perfect opportunity to bring my hero and heroine together at a party by giving her a political headache. How could I have done that? Well, the real reason was that I had rejigged the sequence of events. The scene had originally taken place when the heroine was a hundred miles away and couldn't have been there. The new chronology had her still in London, but I didn't have the time to put her in the scene and make all the consequential adjustments. I hope that, without the NWS deadline (invaluable though the deadline was for my productivity) there would have been a point at which I would have realised that I was missing an opportunity with that scene.

Other awkwardnesses in the story arise from the fact that I didn't do any plotting before I started - I dived right in and wrote. Once I had worked out what made the most sense I had run out of time to do any major recasting at the beginning. At my reader's suggestion I now intend to change one character - the heroine's confidante - from being a mysterious stranger into being an old family friend. She can still serve the vital function of putting the heroine into both the romantic plot and the adventure subplot - but she can do so from a position of trust, which makes it more plausible that the heroine does not trust the hero as much as she trusts this confidante. I can also do some clever misdirection with the scene where they meet up.

As for the central romance - I now have the time to analyse my hero and heroine using some technique such as enneagrams, about which we had an excellent talk at the RNA Conference, and use this to make their characters and their developing relationship as plausible, and above all attractive, as possible. If this triggers some knock on rewriting to correct back stories or change some actions and reactions I now have time to deal with the consequences.

Once I have delivered this week's Heyeroine in need of a slap I will get down to business.

Friday, 28 October 2005

While I was away the typescript of Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth came back from the NWS together with a report on its strong points and its weaknesses.

The strong points are, apparently, my writing ("literate", "elegant"), the plot, and some of the "set piece" scenes (especially the one where we meet the elephant, but also the one near the beginning with the balloon). This is good news because if the plot were hopeless, or even a bit weak, I would probably have to start again from scratch, and if my writing style were poor then I really shouldn't be in this game at all. I enjoyed writing the set pieces, and maybe a couple more wouldn't go amiss.

There is one major problem. For a historical romance, LAC;o,tBB is rather lacking in, er, romance. The central romantic relationship is too thin. The heroine is not proactive enough, and the relationship is not developed very well. The hero and heroine meet too little, and interact too little when they do. I think that this is fixable, particularly as my reader was quite specific about the scenes that she thought were the most problematic, and she has very sensible suggestions about what I ought to do about them.

There are other less critical problems - I need to work on the dialogue, and I need to thin out the number of names and make them less similar to each other. This last point is something that I was conscious of already. There's also the problem of my letting the chief villain escape without explanation. The explanation is that she is needed for a sequel, but I need to set that up.

There may be more stuff annotated on the typescript itself which I will look at tomorrow, but the bottom line is, I think, that I should work on making LAC;o,tBB better, rather than either binning it and starting again, or binning it and not starting again.

Overall I am very happy with my report, so three cheers for the RNA and the New Writers' Scheme.

Sunday, 23 October 2005

Wenlock is going away for a few days to relax in the shadow of the Marquess of Bath's country house. I will return next weekend, by when I might have heard back from the New Writers' Scheme.

While I am away, why not visit the Romantic Novelists' Association site and take part in their simple survey - who knows, you might win two tickets for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award lunch at the Savoy Hotel.
Heyeroines in need of a slap

9. Judith Taverner (Regency Buck)

So what are the chances that the capital whip that you almost force off the road in Chapter 1, and have further altercations with (including a kiss) in Chapter 3, will turn out to be the mysterious guardian whom you are due to meet in Chapter 4?

Well, as the heir to Wenlock would, unfortunately, say, Duh!

We are in the Regency, which saw the greatest concentration of Dukes, Earls and Viscounts that England has ever seen. This sort of chance encounter happened every day, even in Lincolnshire. Indeed during the Regency places like Newark and Grantham - or any town of reasonable size that was not London, Brighton or Bath - existed solely for the purpose of hosting such events, which would set up situations to be resolved later on in proper places like London, Brighton and Bath (or, in a few cases, at an obscure farm, coaching inn or toll gate in a remote location that is never very clearly defined). If any attractive young woman who found herself travelling from Yorkshire to London at any point between 1811 and 1820 did not realise that she was on her way into a romantic novel then she was almost certainly a couple of furbelows short of a reticule. Which brings us neatly back to Miss Taverner.

It might be possible to excuse Miss Taverner over her failure to recognise a romantic hero when she meets one for the first time. The fifth Earl of Worth does appear to be travelling with a small Indian menagerie. In addition to a talking tiger called Henry (possibly an early version of Hobbes) he has with him a langour, which the Oxford English Dictionary says is "the name applied in India to certain species of monkeys of the genus Semnopithecus" (and which doesn't appear in written English until well into the reign of George IV). Judith, understandably, appears not to be very taken with this creature. However she has no such excuse when Worth, perhaps realising that the animals were a bit overdone, engineers a further encounter. Miss Taverner has seen her brother (of whom more later) off to a Prize Fight, safe in the knowledge that it will be an occasion where Cant will Be Spoken By The Quality. Clearly this is to be an Authentic Regency Event, and thus it will lead to a Significant Plot Development. However even when the Plot Development picks her up and kisses her, she still seems oblivious of its Significance.

Worth is not an Earl for nothing, however, and he takes advantage of the First Surprising Plot-Twist to make it blindingly clear what is going on. He mentions White's, Watier's and Almack's. He commends Weston and Schweizer & Davidson. He disparages all who patronise Schulz, and anyone who lives in Kensington. He drops the name of his friend Beau Brummell into the conversation with all the subtlety of one of Cribb's facers. Short of ordering some cakes from Gunther's he could hardly have done more to make Miss Taverner understand her situation.

But it still isn't enough, and Miss Taverner falls straight into the classic "Beau Brummell is a dandy so he must look like a twit" error as if she were utterly unaware of the works of Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly. Do they not read On Dandyism in Yorkshire? Even when her by-the-numbers wet secondary character brother contracts a by-the-numbers unsuitable engagement to a by-the-numbers beautiful airhead she still doesn't get it, preferring instead to develop her taste for snorting lines of Masulipatam and Old Paris as if she were in the van of the fashionable world (a position apparently occupied by Brummell's friend, the Duke of Bedford).

Desperate stupidity calls for desperate measures. If Miss Taverner doesn't recognise that she is in a Regency when she is inhaling it through the nose, Worth can at least try to persuade her that she is in a novel. He does this by putting his langour aside again and concocting a totally implausible murder mystery, giving her a chance to do the Miss Marple In Sprig Muslin bit (known at the time as a pelisse procedural). Even then she seems totally unaware of what is going on, and allows her brother to become caught up in a fixed-cockfight-and-duel double cliché as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Almost down to his last throw, Worth hits on the ideal solution. Brighton. And not just Brighton but The Steyne, Marine Parade, the Pavilion and even a visit to the local Chalybeate Springs (which are in Hove, actually). But the pinnacle of this endeavour will be the Prince Regent himself. Needless to say Miss Taverner almost ruins everything by challenging her brother to a re-enactment of Genevieve some 150 years before the fact. Poor Peregrine is too sketchily drawn to protest, as he further demonstrates on being bundled off to a yacht in the Solent without a single complaint that the Isle of Wight is still sixty years away from being fashionable.

Extraordinarily, even a dramatic evening at the Royal Pavilion, complete with yards of guide-book description of the ornamentation, fails to penetrate that Dresden China Miss skull and alert Miss Taverner to what she really is. In the end Worth is forced back to basics, adopting the "you heroine, me alpha male hero" approach by knocking down her cousin while she is watching.

As that punishing left finally connects, we are left thinking that if only he had deployed it on page 27, when nobody else was looking (except Hobbes - sorry, Henry - who would probably not say a word when anybody was around) then we might have been spared so many of these antics.

We never do get to find out what happens to the langour.

Technorati Tags:

Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

Amazon delivered this to me on Saturday while I was waiting for Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth to come back from the New Writers' Scheme. I don't know much about Dr Kloester, except that she has written a PhD Thesis (while at, I think, the University of Melbourne) on Heyer.

Before discussing what the book is, I should point out what it is not. GHRW is not a guide to Heyer's novels. There is a set of very brief outlines of each of her Regency books (it excludes These Old Shades and The Talisman Ring, among others, presumably because they are outside her definition of Regency), but these descriptions are little more than you might find on the back cover of the recent paperback reissues. While the book describes itself as "the definitive guide to the people, places and society in Georgette Heyer's Regency novels", the people in question are the historical, rather than the fictional characters.

Nor is GHRW a source for the history of Britain in the Regency period. Another appendix has a timeline of significant events, but there is no discussion within the book of, say, the circumstances that led up to the Peterloo Massacre. This is not meant as a criticism; GHRW is what it claims to be. Julian Rathbone's Regency World, were it to exist, would be a very different book. It might well tell you more than you needed to know about Peterloo, and next to nothing about Gunter's or Almack's.

There is a comprehensive outline of the structure of GHRW at the Georgette Heyer website, so I won't repeat that here.

I will say that I found the structure logical and sensible, and Dr Kloester's writing style is simple and straightforward, making the book easy to get through. Her approach throughout is to give a clear description of the various aspects of life in Regency England (London, Brighton, Bath and "the Country") and to illustrate it with references to events in Heyer's books. With a great deal to cover in little more than 350 pages (including assorted appendices) Dr Kloester inevitably has to deal in generalities, and some of her statements seem a little sweeping, but she is usually very clear that she is talking in broad terms. She also makes it clear that while the Regency properly only lasted from 1811 until 1820, the period she is describing extends back as far as about 1780 and forward as far as 1830.

She begins with the shape of society. As this is Heyer's world Dr Kloester gives plenty of attention to the upper classes, and negotiates the complexities of the Aristocracy and Gentry without doing more than clipping a wheel on the status of Baronets. She does not, however, ignore the rising middle class, and she is also good on the roles and internal pecking order of servants in the second chapter. As with most chapters I was left wanting even more on some of this.

After a discussion of town and country life we learn about the different lives of men and women, before visiting the genteel attractions of Almack's and Hyde Park, then the more manly establishments in St James' and elsewhere in town, and finally Brighton and Bath. There are little maps of these places amongst the many illustrations to indicate where the various locations that crop up in Heyer's novels can be found.

The chapter on transport is good, but again too short. The speed of travel is one of the great differences between Regency England and modern England (life changed radically with the arrival of the railways very soon after the Regency). As a writer I am eager for anything that can get me inside the heads of people who would spend a day on a journey that I can do in an hour; unfortunately Heyer followed Regency practice in not dwelling overly on such matters.

After transport comes fashion (men's and women's), shopping, food and drink, and fun and games. Finally there is a chapter on business and the military, and a Who's Who of those historical characters that appear in Heyer's books. In addition to the appendices already mentioned there is one on slang, one on books mentioned in Heyer, and one on newspapers.

There are a few gaps in Dr Kloester's book, some of which reflect things about which Heyer says little. Churcg-going was an integral part of Regency life but beyond a passing reference to Hugh Penicuik (from Cotillion) there is little said about this. Smuggling, which is a major concern in The Unknown Ajax, is hardly mentioned. There is nothing much said of the role of Government at this time, although several Heyer characters are involved in Government (one of the Carlyons in The Reluctant Widow works in government, and Kit Fancot in False Colours is a diplomat).

Having noted that I would have like more on various topics, I should point out that Dr Kloester has included a short bibliography for further reading.

Overall, however, this is a very useful book, and as a guide to life in the early 19th century it is certainly better in every respect than What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, which is perhaps the best point of comparison. Physically it is well produced, with illustrations by Graeme Tavendale that complement the text, and a cover that mirrors the style of the Heyer paperbacks recently published by Arrow.

Dr Kloester is apparently addressing the Historical Novel Society Conference on Saturday. I shall miss this event as it clashes with the Great British Cheese Festival here in Cheltenham.

Monday, 17 October 2005

As a change from offering excellent advice to would-be writers in her own inimitable style, Miss Snark the Literary Agent has flagged up Time Magazine's list of the 100 best books to have been published since Time began.

Given the recent piece by Peter Preston in theguardian in which he notes P D James' and Ian Rankine's statement that crime novels get short changed when it comes to literary prizes, I am pleased to see that crime, and indeed SF, both get a fair crack in the Time list.

That said, the crime novels tend to the hard-boiled end of the spectrum, with both Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest being 15-minute eggs at a minimum. There is no room for Dorothy L. Sayers, for instance.

Similarly the SF (apart from older classics like 1984 and Slaughterhouse 5) goes for the cyberpunk of William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash, and ignores the more optimistic vision of Ursula K. Le Guin, or the brilliant prose of Samuel R. Delaney.

There is virtually no historical fiction on the Time list, apart from I Clavdivs and Gone With The Wind, and there is nothing (unless you include that last title) that really counts as Romance. These deficiencies could, of course, have been mended by the inclusion of one or two books by Georgette Heyer.

I have already read 40 of the books on the list, which is not much more than an average of one per year since I learned to read. I might well be persuaded by this to read one or two more.

Sunday, 16 October 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

8. Sophia Stanton-Lacy (The Grand Sophy)

As regular readers of these pieces know, my highest prority is to be scrupulously fair to my subjects (whether they deserve it or not), so it is only right that I should note that it was not Miss Stanton-Lacy's own decision to billet herself upon the Ombersleys. That was her father's doing, and had he known the consequences I am sure that he would have put pressing matters of State to one side and come back to sort things out as soon as he learnt of his daughter's flagrant abuse of all the rules of hospitality and good society.

It is true that Sophy had no choice in coming to Berkeley Square. Those of an unduly sentimental bent would no doubt argue that she could hardly be expected to leave her Italian greyhound behind when she came to London (the more sensible would say "look what happened with Luffra" and "kennels are hardly beyond Sir Horace's means" but let us not dwell on that). However there can be nobody reading this who believes that it could ever be appropriate, when one is already imposing upon one's relatives, to arrive with a monkey amongst one's possessions. That was a choice that Sophy made freely, and one that shows clear contempt for her hosts.

It was not Miss Stanton-Lacy's own decision to stay in London, and of course once in London it was more or less obligatory for her to take regular turns in the Park with her relatives. She was by no means obliged, however, to do so while mounted upon Salamanca. The definition of a Regency Gentleman was, of course, one who could play upon the bagpipes, but didn't. Similarly, the contemporary measure of a great rider was one who could control a great beast like Salamanca when the occasion called for it, but did not feel the need to show off this capacity at every opportunity. The fact that Sophy finds it necessary, whenever she clambers aboard her steed, to "indulge his playfulness for a few moments" suggests that she does not quite have the seat that she thinks she has. Couple this with her penchant for dressing up as a Hussar, and we are forced to wonder whether she is subconsciously compensating for something.

We cannot blame Sophy for the fact that the Ombersleys are a disfunctional family. We can, however, fault her somewhat for encouraging their various weaknesses and delusions. It is beyond doubt that Hubert is a wastrel who will end up in a debtors prison sooner or later. By indulging in theatrics that would hardly be credible in even the most overwroughte of Miss Eleanor Sleath's Gothic romances, Miss Stanton-Lacy is merely delaying the inevitable (and at the same time risking putting a bullet through a very servicable muff).

Miss Cecilia Rivenhall is, frankly, more than a few dips short of a chandelier, and should have been left to impecunious misery with the equally dim Augustus Fawnhope. Instead Sophy once again indulges in her Flora-Poste-with-a-reticule impression and lands her upon the entirely innocent Lord Charlbury, who until her arrival was well placed to escape the noose that Charles Rivenhall and his father had so carefully strung up for him.

Which brings us neatly on to Charles Rivenhall. A tedious, self-important bore, he was, until Miss Stanton-Lacy's arrival, on the point of marrying Miss Eugenia Wraxton, a woman whose moral rectitude and prudishness would, very effectively, have taken both of them completely out of the gene pool, for the immense benefit of future generations. However Sophy's arrival upset this excellent arrangement, despite Mr Rivenhall's heroic attempts to keep things on track. In the end, though, faced with the utter ruin of his family name, amidst a chaos of Marquesas, mustard-baths, duelling pistols and ducklings, Charles has his Sidney Carton moment, realising that the true horror would be future generations of Stanton-Lacys riding roughshod over the delicate conventions of the Regency World. In proposing marriage (which we can be assured would be without issue) to the Grand Sophy he does a far, far better thing than he has hithertofore appeared capable of.

I do, however, worry a bit about just what they then got up to in the stables.

Technorati Tags:

Friday, 14 October 2005

I'm still waiting to hear from the RNA New Writers' Scheme. It's only been two weeks since I submitted, so it's not as if I was expecting to have heard by now, but I do feel in something of a writing limbo. I am coming up with plenty of ideas for my next book (Lady Cardington's Folly; or, the Limehouse Leviathan), but I am not actually writing anything down at present. It's like this. If Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth comes back with a report that says that there are major flaws in my writing, the chances are that anything that I have written subsequently will have the same flaws, and will need to be junked so I can start again. If, on the other hand, LA'sC;o,tBB comes back with a basically positive crit then I will want to get stuck into fixing what needs to be fixed and getting it out to agents etc before starting the LC'sF;o,tLL.

On the positive side, when I am writing I find that I don't drink much and I don't read much. So until that heavy package comes thumping onto the doormat there are two things that I can enjoy catching up on.
This week has been Cheltenham Literary Festival Week, and I have managed to organise myself sufficiently to go to a few of the talks. Today there were two that I was determined to attend.

The first was on Beau Brummell, and was a double act of Ian Kelly, who has recently written a biography of the great man called Beau Brummell, the Ultimate Dandy, and George Walden, who wrote a much smaller book a few years ago, Who is a Dandy, which includes a translation by Walden of Jules Barbey D'Aurevilly's essay Du Dandysme et de G. Brummell.

Walden suggested that if the modern World could be summed up in three things they would be science & technology, neo-liberal economics, and an infatuation with fashion and style. He suggests that Charles Darwin is the key to the first of these, and Adam Smith to the second. The third he traces back to George Bryan Brummell. Kelly took us through Brummell's rise from being the son of a Civil Servant and a Courtesan, to being the best man of the Prince of Wales, and his fall to poverty, insanity and death in Normandy from Tertiary Syphilis.

I had picked up Kelly's book earlier in the week, but I took the opportunity to get a copy of Who is a Dandy from one of the Festival Bookstalls. My "to be read" pile is huge at the moment, so it will be a little while before I get through them both.

The second event featured Kenneth Baker, the former Government minister and keen collector of political cartoons from the 1780s to the 1820s. His talk was entitled George IV, Cad or Catalyst, and was illustrated by dozens of cartoons, many from his own collections but some from elsewhere (including the US National Archives, to whom George VI sold his eponymous ancestor's personal collection of cartoons to raise some money for his own stamp collection).

Lord Baker's conclusion was that George IV was both cad - womaniser, glutton, gambler - and also catalyst - arguably our first truly constitutional monarch, our first civic planner and a visionary sponsor of architecture and the arts. His book is George IV, a life in caricature.

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

The Man Booker Prize was won last night by John Banville for The Sea. Here are a few features of the book that seem to have passed many other commentators by (although I suspect that Grumpy Old Bookman has noticed them, but does not care).

The Sea is the first Booker winner to have a title consisting of exactly half of a previous winner's title (Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea won in 1978).

The Sea is the 13th winner to start with The. Since there have been 39 winners since the prize began this is a hit rate of exactly one in three.

The Sea is the shortest winning title (6 letters and a space) since John Berger's G in 1972. It is the 8th winner to have a two-word title. There have been 6 winners with one-word titles (including Berger's).

John Banville is the second person called John to win the Booker (he is also the first person called Banville to win it, but that is less remarkable.) J M Coetzee is named John, but calls himself J M, which is why he doesn't count.

John Banville is the first male writer to win the Booker in a year ending in 5 (years ending in 0 have also been good for women, with only William Golding in 1980 bucking the trend).

No Booker prize winner has had the word or in the title. I don't think that any have featured an elephant in a leading role, although Yann Martel's Life of Pi was originally going to have one instead of a tiger.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

7. Barbara Childe (An Infamous Army)

The trouble is that she would probably enjoy it, so for once I won't.

(Aren't you impressed that I didn't go for the "some people would give their right arm for a chance to marry Lady Barbara Childe" gag?)

Technorati Tags:

Friday, 7 October 2005

Candy has tagged me with a blog meme. I am asked to do the following:

1. Delve into my blog archive.
2. Find my 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in my blog along with these instructions. Ponder it for meaning, subtext or hidden agendas...
5. Tag five people to do the same.

My 23rd post was a Regency Slang term of the day, so I am going to go with my 22nd post instead.

This post followed on from a post which was probably not my wisest, dissing an author for being a Romance denier (she has now made it clear that I was being unfair on her). The follow-on post was about the idea of having Romantic "fringe" festivals around the edge of Literary Festivals. It's an idea that I have yet to do anything with, but I still think that it's a good one.

The 5th sentence reads:
Trouble is I can't lay my hands on my copy of John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses, which has lots of good stuff vaguely connected to this theme.
Which is quite spooky, because on Sunday, having hunted high and low through my bookshelves (and in the study the shelves go up to a 10 foot ceiling) I biked into Oxford and blew a small fortune on books, including a copy of that very book.

Now, who to tag? I would like to nominate Julie Cohen, Alex Bordessa, Kate Allan, Niles and Nell Dixon.

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

When I started Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth, I described it in the trendy "high concept" way as "Georgette Heyer meets James Bond."

The Georgette Heyer bit is fairly obvious - I was writing about the same social stratum, during the same historical period, and I wanted to achieve the same lightness of touch and subtle wit that she does so well. The finished draft now going through the NWS can reasonably be judged against that aim.

The James Bond-ness has evolved a bit. My hero was originally going to be the dashing secret agent type, with gadgets and cool one-liners, but he has turned out somewhat differently. I think that is a good thing, for at least two reasons.

Firstly I don't like James Bond as a character much - indeed I would argue that he is hardly a character at all, more a collection of attributes (poor taste in Martinis, good taste in cars) but with none of the flaws that might make him believeable, and thus make him work as a romantic hero rather than just an action hero.

Secondly, I didn't end up writing a Regency Q scene for him. I nearly did, and I have a bit of one left in the draft that doesn't go anywhere with a particular gadget, but I am glad that I didn't because I am currently reading Julian Rathbone's A Very English Agent and he does have a Regency Q scene. Much more knowing and arch than I would have tried, and very good. I would hate to have unknowingly produced a pale imitation of it in my story.

Monday, 3 October 2005

It will be a while before I have to worry about reviews on my own account, but I did enjoy Benjamin Markovits' piece on the subject of reviews in theguardian on Saturday. Markovits was a professional basketball player (admittedly only in the second division of the German league) and he brings his experience of that game to reviewing:
The business of reviewing is the closest literature comes to a competitive sport. Byron answered his first real critique in the Edinburgh Review with the beautifully acidic "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers". Posterity, on the whole, has been kinder to the poet than to his critic: it usually is. Byron himself described his response, of which he was later ostentatiously if not quite persuasively ashamed, in sporting terms: "I recollect the effect on me of the Edinburgh on my first poem; it was rage, and resistance, and redress - but not despondency nor despair. I grant that those are not amiable feelings; but, in this world of bustle and broil, and especially in the career of writing, a man should calculate upon his powers of resistance before he goes into the arena."
Markovits then talks in terms of books that he, as a reviewer, cannot compete with. The whole article gives a perspective on the whole business of reviewing books that I had not thought about before.

Sunday, 2 October 2005

Don't forget - this week is Buy a Friend a Book Week.
Heyeroines in need of a slap

6. Catherine Charing (Cotillion)

It has all the ingredients of a classic tragedy in the tradition of King Lear. Matthew Penicuik, a visionary leader in the field of drainage, finds himself in his old age surrounded by five excellent great nephews, but beset with the problem of off-loading his step-grand-daughter (whose mother, let us never forget, was called, if not quite Dolores, the next worst thing, Desirée).

The first thing we see of "Kitty" is her physically throwing an old woman out of the room she has just entered. Her language is littered with cant and slang. She confesses to a love of extravagance, but no wish for any intellectual development. She considers one of her step-father's great nephews a humbug, another cruel and two others stupid. And that's just what we learn of her in Chapter 2.

So much for her attitude. Her behaviour is no better than one might expect. She runs away from home on a whim without clothing or maid-servant. She gets "stupid" Freddy drunk on punch and tricks him into a sham betrothal, and then uses rumours of an epidemic to prevent her bluff being called. She uses her devious feminine wiles to trick poor Lady Buckhaven into spending a fortune on her wardrobe, and imposes on Lady Legerwood by comandeering her town carriage for a self-indulgent tour of London.

It gets worse. Having established herself in London on such outrageously false pretences, "Kitty" not only steamrollers herself into Almacks, but also allies herself with the distinctly un-tonnish Miss Plymstock in her pursuit of poor bewildered Lord Dolphinton.

Such a career can only end in tragedy, and in this cases the tragedy is Freddy's, as he sacrifices his bachelor happiness (not that there's anything wrong with that) for the shackles of matrimony. If only the Honourable and Reverend Hugh Rattray had been in possession of a bit more spine, we might have had a much more satisfactory resolution, with "Kitty" settling down as a vicar's wife, acting as the housekeeper that she herself admits is the only role for which she is qualified.

Technorati Tags:
Today's heyeroine in need of a slap will be a little late, so defenders of Miss Catherine Charing will have to wait until this afternoon, UK time. My apologies.

Saturday, 1 October 2005

There's an interesting piece in today's theguardian by Susan Hill, describing what happened when she decided that her small publishing company, Long Barn Books, should publish a work of fiction.

Now that Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth is safely in the hands of the RNA's New Writers' Scheme (Yessss!) I find myself reading articles like this and trying to assess my novel against any criteria mentioned. So when Susan Hill says:
Read the great novels, the classic novels past and present. It is the only way to learn and above all learn how to tell a story.
I give myself a tick in the box - I haven't read all those that she mentions, but I have read plenty of others of, I am sure, equivalent merit. Then she says
Try to think of a great novel that does not have a story, memorable characters, vividly evoked settings.
and I immediately start to think that I may not have done a good job of evoking my settings vividly. I certainly don't have the long descriptive paragraphs like the opening account of Sale Park in Georgett Heyer's The Foundling, or of Highnoons in The Reluctant Widow. I have a gut feeling that my book is a bit underwritten in this respect, but the great thing about the NWS is that I will get a professional opinion on that in a few weeks' time.

And then I get to the bit where Susan Hill announces the book that she plans to publish:
But I was looking for a full score and I had almost given up hope of finding it when into the box popped the beginning of The Extra Large Medium or Unfinished Business by Helen Slavin.
and the first thing that I notice is that the title has an "or" in it, just like mine. Result!