Sunday, December 23, 2012

Inspired by Art

Inspiration for authors can take many forms, but for me, the visual kind is usually the best.  I love watching movies or TV programmes, where the characters often spark ideas in my mind.  But there is something else that really inspires me too - art.

I’m very lucky to have access to London’s many art galleries and over the years they have put on some fabulous exhibitions.  My favourites so far have included Anthony Van Dyck, Lord Frederick Leighton and John Everett Millais, all artists who were able to depict their subjects in almost photographic detail.  I especially love Van Dyck’s portraits as they really show the sitters’ individuality, but I’m also fascinated by Leighton’s imaginary but exotic scenes and Millais incredible attention to detail when it comes to nature.  Also, the sensuous silk clothing they often portray make you want to reach out and touch the canvases and have me imagining my heroes and heroines dressed that way.

Recently, I went to yet another fabulous exhibition at the Tate Britain – ThePre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde.  As I’m a huge fan of Victorian paintings, I knew I was in for a treat, but I had no idea just how wonderful it would be!

The so called Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was founded in 1848, a turbulent time in England and a time of change.  The PRB members felt that with the coming of the machine age, much of the beauty and spirituality of life had been lost and they wanted to fight against this.  At first, it was a secret brotherhood, and they refused to tell anyone what the initials PRB on their canvases meant, but eventually they explained.  They seem to have begun by drawing each other and I enjoyed seeing these early portraits.  The one of Dante Gabriel Rosetti as a young man reminded me of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen (English artist and interior decorating guru) and some of the others were rather dashing.

The PRB admired the freshness of early Renaissance work, but still wanted their paintings to be modern.  They also admired painters like Theodor von Holst and William Dyce – the Tate exhibition had works by both of these which I had never seen before.  One in particular, depicting King Joash shooting the arrow of Deliverance (from the Book of Kings in the Bible) was truly amazing!  Whoever Dyce used as his model for King Joash would have been welcome as a hero in one of my books any day!

(Ophelia - Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)
What I like most about the Pre-Raphaelite painters is their attention to detail (see for example John Everett Millais’ painting Ophelia, where every blade of grass, every flower, every watery swirl is lovingly painted; or the dogs in his paintings Isabella and Order of Release, one a very lifelike greyhound and the other a Jacobite’s mongrel whose fur looks so soft you want to touch it).  Then there are the incredibly vivid colours they used, as in William Shakespeare Burton’s A Wounded Cavalier or Millais’ A Huguenot, both quite stunning.

(Maria Zambaco - Picture courtensy of Wikipedia)
When it comes to inspiration for writing, however, it would be difficult to beat what I call the “hair” paintings some of the PRB members produced.  They all appear to have been fascinated by women with very thick, wavy or curly hair, preferably blonde or flame coloured, but also some dark shades.  Rosetti’s Monna Vanina and Lady Lilith (both of which used the model Fanny Cornforth as his muse) – with masses of gleaming golden tresses, are a perfect illustration and could inspire a historical heroine.  The same goes for his vision of Fiammetta and the darkly stunning Astarte Syriaca.  George Frederick Watts Portrait of Edith Villiers is of a beautiful natural blonde and Edward Burne-Jones’s Maria Zambaco is the ideal brunette beauty, with her enormous eyes and graceful neck.

In fact, there were so many incredible paintings I had to go back and see the exhibition three times and it was lucky I had a pen and paper with me!  Just the sight of all those shining tresses gave rise to quite a few ideas …  Are there any paintings that have inspired you?  I’d love to know!

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Yorkshireman in London 1816

I found this poem in a copy of La Belle Assemblee for February 1816 and I thought it such fun that I'm sharing it here.
For those who aren't familiar with the term "Tyke" is slang for either a cross-bred dog, or a Yorkshireman, or a naughty boy - as in, 'Stop that this minute, you little tyke!' And for anyone not familiar with Yorkshiremen, let me assure you they don't take kindly to being taken for idiots, as this tale tells.
Temple Bar, now moved to St Paul's Churchyard

 Temple Bar marked the boundary between the City of London (where Fleet Street ends) and the City of Westminster (where the Strand begins) and has now been moved close to St Paul's Cathedral. Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London and Pidcock's bears is a reference to Pidcock's Menagerie, improbably situated on an upper floor of the Exeter Change in the Strand. Billingsgate was the principal fish market of London,

It happen'd once that a young Yorkshire clown,
But newly come to far-fam'd London-town,
Was gaping round at many a wond'rous sight,
Grinning at all he saw with vast delight,
Attended by his terrier, Tyke,
Who was as sharp as sharp may be;
And thus the master and the dog, d'ye see,
Were very much alike.

The portico of Mansion House looking towards Cornhill

After wand'ring far and wide,
And seeing all the streets and squares,
And Temple-bar, and Pidcock's bears,
The Mansion-house, the Regent's Park,
And all in which your cocknies place their pride;
After being quizz'd by many a city spark,
For coat of country cut, and red-hair'd pate,
He came, at length to noisy Billinsgate;
He saw the busy scene with mute surprise,
Opening his ears and eyes
At the loud clamour and the monstrous fish,
Hereafter doom'd to grace full many a dish.

Pidcock's (also known as Polito's) Menagerie

Close by him was a turbot on a stall,
Who, with stretch'd mouth, as if to gasp for breath,
Seem'd in the agonies of death:
Said Andrew, “Pray what name d'ye that fish call?"
“A turbot, 'tis,” (said the sarcastic elf)
“A flat, you see - so something like yourself."
“ D'ye think," said Andrew, “that he'll bite?"
“Why," said the fellow, with a roguish grin,
"His mouth is open; put your finger in,
 And then you'll know." – “Why,” replied the wight,
“I shouldn’t like to try; but here's my Tyke
Shall put his tail there, an' you like."
Billingsgate Fish Market with fighting fishwives

“Agreed," rejoin'd the man, and laugh'd delight.
Within the turbot's teeth was plac'd the tail,
Who bit it too, with all his might;
The dog no sooner felt the bite
Than off he ran, the fish still holding tight;
And though old Ling began to swear and rail,
After a number of escapes and dodgings,
Tyke safely got to Master Andrew’s lodgings;
Who, when the fisherman in a passion flew,
Said, “Master, Lunnon tricks on we wont do
I've come from York to queer such flats as you;
And Tyke, my dog, is Yorkshire too!"
Then laughing at the man he went away,
And had the fish for dinner that same day.

A wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!


Monday, December 17, 2012

A Buzz of Authors

I wish I’d thought of this very apt definition, but it was actually coined by a writer friend of mine when we went to the annual Christmas Soiree at The Falmouth Bookseller on Wednesday evening.  The proprietor, Ron Johns is terrifically supportive of local authors. So when invitations are issued we emerge, blinking, from our sheds, offices and studies, reluctant to leave the work-in-progress, but wanting to support one of the few remaining independent booksellers.  Ron is a very astute man. Not only has he branched out into publishing – his Soggy The Bear books are hugely popular - he is also moving into older children’s fiction. And, in the spirit of if you can't beat them, join them (or perhaps keep your friends close and your enemies closer)  he has also started selling e-readers and ebooks.

When we arrived for the soiree I did what I – and all the writers I know - do: looked around hoping desperately to see someone I knew.  Writers spend most of each day alone, though only in the physical sense. In fact we are in the world of our characters, living their adventures, disasters and love-affairs, which is both exhilarating and exhausting. Being essentially solitary, most of us find walking into a room full of people quite difficult, hence the search for a familiar face. As it happened I saw two people I knew and hadn’t seen for a while: Les Merton, who writes Cornish poetry and prose, and whose books on Cornish dialect are both informative and hilarious; and Sue Jackson, whose collection of Cornish walks previously featured in Cornwall Today has recently been published in book form. An accomplished journalist she also writes novels, and is on tenterhooks at the moment waiting to hear from an agent who asked for three chapters and a synopsis. It was lovely to catch up with their news, and to share mine. 

Les introduced me to Cheryl, a writer from Australia who has written a history of Cornwall. And I introduced the writer friend who accompanied me to everyone I knew. Rebecca, one of Ron’s sales assistants came round with a tray of home-made Christmas cake, mince pies and other nibbles to help soak up the wine or soft drinks we had been offered as we walked through the door.

I hadn't seen Rebecca for a while. But I didn't realise quite how long it had been until I reminded her about a lunch Ron had hosted at the restaurant next door after a signing session for Jean Stubbs, EV Thompson and me, when she’d had to leave early to feed her baby.  She grinned and told me that baby son is now fourteen-years-old, and she also has another son of twelve. This is one of the lovely things about people in the writing world. You may not see each other for years, but when you meet up again you just pick up where you left off.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.  I wish I had remembered to take my camera.

Wishing my fellow bloggers and all our visitors a very happy Christmas. Here's to good health, happiness, and success in all your ventures in 2013.

Jane Jackson

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas books for Regency kids

In the Regency and Georgian periods, children often received "Christmas Boxes" containing money on Christmas Day.  Those must have been the most welcome gifts of all (as they still are).  Certainly preferable to some of the "Juvenile Books" on offer in the Regency period which sound to have been "improving" to the juvenile mind but probably boring in the extreme.

In my 1818 Edinburgh Almanack (for which I am very grateful to fellow author Louise Allen), I find the following "Juvenile Books" prominently advertised:

History of Little Lydia Somerville; calculated for the Instruction and Entertainment of Juvenile Minds
I'd like to bet that Little Lydia Somerville was very, very good, and sweet, and pious, and obedient, and all the other things that virtuous young girls were supposed to be.  Bearing no relation to any little girl I ever met (or wanted to meet)!

The Little Collier of the Black Forest,  or The Magical Mirror, a Moral Tale; to which is added The Untoward Orphan
I cannot imagine what an untoward orphan might be.  But it's bound to be uplifting, and very moral, I'm sure.  The little collier is probably the male equivalent of Little Lydia -- sickly sweet and dutiful.  Or perhaps I'm too cynical here?  What do you think?

Winter Evening Entertainments; containing a variety of pleasing Tricks and humorous Deceptions; for the amusement and instruction of youth
I thought that one might be a welcome gift until I saw the dreaded word "instruction".  Ah well.

No doubt, any child receiving any of these would be politely grateful to the giver.  But those receiving a Christmas Box -- money! -- would have no trouble at all in expressing their thanks.

I hope that all our blog visitors and contributors have a wonderful Christmas, and that the presents you give and receive are all exactly what the recipient most desires.  Happy Christmas and, as they say where I come from, a Guid New Year.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tom Jones is coming out in January!

In early January, I’m undertaking a new venture. I’m going to have a Clandestine Classic out! I’m adding bits to “Tom Jones.”
The series got a lot of interest and continues that way, because it’s taken a new approach. There is no rewriting. The author’s work remained exactly as he wrote it, apart from some updating of punctuation (“Tom Jones” is very confusing in the original, because Fielding didn’t use speech marks, or separate who was speaking on a separate line!). instead, the co-author has to add the naughty bits!
It’s been a really amazing exercise. The editors expected the new author to blend her work in as seamlessly as possible with the original, which means using the original author’s style.
So why “Tom Jones”? For me, it’s the natural choice. I’ve studied the Fieldings and that era of history for most of my life, and I’ve been in love with it since I was nine years old. The Fielding brothers are vital and colourful characters who revolutionised the way we now think about justice and criminal procedures. My “Richard and Rose” series started with my desire to write something about crime and punishment at that time. Both Fieldings became magistrates of Bow Street, first Henry the novelist and failed entrepreneur, then his brother John, the “Blind Beak.” Henry Fielding started the Bow Street Runners, commissioning twelve (or twelve pair – the wording is unclear) in 1749, to pursue crimes that crossed county boundaries, principally smuggling, poaching and counterfeiting.
And during all that, he found time to write some of the greatest novels ever written. “Tom Jones” bursts with life. The characters live and breathe before you, and in Tom Fielding creates a hero we can root for. Not to mention the love of his young life, Sophia, who is no shrinking miss, but takes life in both hands and rides it hard.
Re-reading this novel made me recall how absolutely I fell for this when I first read it. Coming after the morally suspect “Pamela,” it was a breath of fresh air, although when I first read “Pamela” in my early teens, I fell in love with the story of the maid who seduces her rakish master by her goodness and moral uprightness.
Fielding wrote a robust response to “Pamela” – two, in fact, in the parody “Shamela” and then the wonderful “Joseph Andrews,” the story of Pamela’s brother. So fanfiction has been gong a lot longer than most people think! Or anti-fan fiction, maybe?
Then he wrote “Tom Jones.” Most people remember the Tony Richardson film and the scene of Tom and the landlady seducing each other over the dining table. There are numerous instances in the book that seem like Fielding’s skipped or maybe even cut out a sex scene. It just works, and written in the right spirit, I hope it adds something to the text.
It might well be that originally Fielding intended to add more explicit scenes. The mid-eighteenth century didn’t have that meanness of spirit and hypocrisy that the later Victorians specialised in. The Church advocated high moral behaviour, but most people had an earthy realism that allowed for honest, uncomplicated sexual enjoyment. But in the same year that “Tom Jones” was released, so was one of the most scandalous books in the English language – “Fanny Hill.” (please note I’m using the shorter titles of the books – I’m aware that the original titles are much longer!). there was a huge scandal when this book came out, and later in the year, Cleland released a heavily censored version. Could it be that Fielding held back when he came to write his bawdier passages?
It’s an intriguing thought.
Anyway, “Tom Jones” will be out in January at Clandestine Classics. Do take a look!
Read about the book here


Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Duke's Dilemma

I'm delighted to tell you that my sixth Regency, The Duke's Dilemma, is published today. It is available  on & Amazon.UK.
This was released six years ago as 'The Ghosts of Neddingfield Hall' by Robert Hale. This is the only book of mine that sold out before it's official release date. I hope this e-book will do as well.
Out now - £0.99

Here is the blurb:

Hester Frobisher arrives at Neddingfield Hall to find them locked. Why would Aunt Agatha invite her to stay and then bar the gates? She is determined to solve this mystery on her own but her cousin, the Duke of Waverley, Ralph Sinclair, has other ideas and she is obliged to accept his help.
Hester is drawn to this attractive veteran of the Peninsular Wars and Ralph finds it increasingly difficult to behave like a gentleman when she’s within arms’ reach.
However, sinister forces are working to lure the two, and those who work for them, to their deaths. No one at Neddingfield is safe. Is it ghosts, or something far more dangerous that seeks to destroy them?
                   Will Hester’s quick wits and Ralph’s courage be   
                   enough to save them all?

I hope you all have a restful and enjoyable Christmas and peaceful and prosperous New Year.
best wishes
Fenella J Miller.

Friday, December 07, 2012

A Visit to Mompesson House

I recently visited Mompesson House in Salisbury, which struck me as the quintessential Queen Anne town house. Although the house itself was built in 1701 the interiors were added later  - elegant plasterwork ceilings and a new staircase – and the house looks exactly the sort of place a genteel Austenesque family might live. It is small enough to be cosy but also supremely elegant. I particularly loved the drawing room, which was on a grand scale for a relatively small house and had beautiful views onto the walled garden at the back of the house. I could just imagine myself sitting on a window seat looking out over the Cathedral Close and being inspired by all the characters I saw passing by!

 I wasn’t surprised to find that Mompesson had been used as Mrs Jennings’ house in the film of Sense and Sensibility. In another intriguing Austen connection, one of the families who lived at Mompesson House in the Georgian period was called Hayter. I could not help but wonder if they had been known to Jane Austen and she had borrowed the name for Charles Hayter in Persuasion! The Hayters lived at Mompesson for a couple of generations then in 1800 a family of three sisters belonging to the Portman family moved in. I was curious to know more of the Portman sisters but could find little other than that they belonged to the wealthy family who were descended from Sir William Portman, Lord Chief Justice to Henry VIII. In the Georgian and Regency era they own vast tracts of London. Who were the three unmarried sisters and what were they doing in Salisbury?

I don’t have a record of life in Salisbury in the Regency period but I do have one relating to Chichester, another cathedral town where society would have been similar to that in Salisbury. In the early 19th century there were five annual fairs in the city and a market every week. The coaches to London ran three days a week. Polite society was considered very genteel and there were regular subscription concerts and theatre performances. One can imagine the Portman ladies of Mompesson House enjoying such entertainments as well as shopping in the medieval city streets, attending services at the cathedral and hosting elegant dinners in their beautiful town house. There is definitely a story in there… 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Jane Austen in Paradise

Every few months, with two or three cousins, I do a poetry reading in an old people’s home where a dear aunt spent her last few years. We read the sort of poetry we think the residents will know and, we hope, enjoy: Wordsworth’s The Daffodils and W. B. Yeats’ The Isle of Innisfree, for example. We also take requests.

This time someone asked for Jane’s Marriage by Rudyard Kipling, who was an admirer of Jane Austen’s work. Kipling imagines Jane going up the stairs of Heaven on the arm of Sir Walter Scott (also a fan). At the top, she is welcomed by 18th century novelists Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett, the Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes, and Shakespeare.

I’m sure that many of you know the poem but, in case not, here it is:

Jane went to Paradise:
That was only fair.
Good Sir Walter followed her,
And armed her up the stair.
Henry and Tobias,
And Miguel of Spain,
Stood with Shakespeare at the top
To welcome Jane.

Then the Three Archangels
Offered out of hand,
Anything in Heaven’s gift
That she might command.
Azrael’s eyes upon her,
Raphael’s wings above,
Michael’s sword against her heart,
Jane said, ‘Love.’

Instantly the under-
Standing Seraphim
Laid their fingers to their lips
And went to look for him.
Stole across the Zodiac,
Harnessed Charles’s Wain,
And whispered round the Nebulæ
‘Who loved Jane?’

In a private limbo
Where none had thought to look,
Sat a Hampshire gentleman
Reading of a book.
It was called Persuasion
And it told the plain
Story of the love between
Him and Jane.

He heard the question
Circle Heaven through –
Closed the book and answered:
‘I did – and do!’
Quietly but speedily
(as Captain Wentworth moved)
Entered into Paradise
The man Jane loved!

Jane lies in Winchester, blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made.
And, while the stones of Winchester – or Milsom Street – remain,
Glory, Love, and Honour unto England’s Jane!

Picture: from the Ladies' Pocket Magazine, 1831

Elizabeth Hawksley

Monday, December 03, 2012

It's that time again.................

Well, Christmas is on its way now and like many other wives and mothers I am getting into the festive mood and preparing to welcome visitors here over the holiday. 

I have also been looking at how Christmas was celebrated in the eighteenth century – not amongst the rich or the aristocracy but the "middling sort", people more like my own family. This would  include people such as Anne Hughes, a farmer's wife who kept a diary at the end of the 18th century. 

In her diary entry for 23rd December 1796 she says she and her maid were busy preparing food for Christmas, including "boiled hams, great big mince pies, roast gees and hens and boiled and roasted beef" while her mothe- in-law made "a pudden for carter and shepherd". She also describes a meat cake that that was very well received – it seems to have been a cake tin lined with pastry, a layer of "chopped beef, onions and herbs", then a layer of pastry and more layers of meat mixture and pastry until the tin was filled. This was "cooked until done" (not very helpful).  It was served cold in slices, like a cake, and her neighbours were most impressed!  On Christmas day she also served "2 hares, spice pudding, apple pies, junkets, cider cake, cinnamon cake and a rich Christmas cake." Her husband was at one end of the table, carving the beef and geese and Farmer Ellis at the other, cutting the hams etc.  

In the evening two fiddlers played while they danced a merry jig, "Mistress Prue" played a merry tune upon the spinet and after that they told stories, played "Popp" and snap dragon, bobbed for apples, ate cakes and wine then "danced till supper".

It sounds like a really lovely Christmas day – compare this to the diary entry some forty years earlier from  Thomas Turner, a Sussex Shopkeeper. Thomas tells us that on Christmas day he and his servants attended church, then they had a few visitors to dine on "a buttock of beef and plumb suet pudding". So far, so good, but Thomas tells us that in the evening he read "two nights of the Compaint" – a book of religious night thoughts – " of which was "The Christian's Triumph against the Fear of Death".

Two very different views of Christmas, one much more reflective than the other, but both quite recognisable today.  How will you be spending your day? Do tell!

Sarah Mallory
Beneath the Major's Scars - pub Dec 2012 Harlequin & Boon
The Illegitimate Montague - pub Dec 2012 Harlequin Mills & Boon

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gowns Galore!

I had a lovely visit to the V&A recently to see the new fashion galleries. It's well worth a visit if you're interested in the history of fashion. I love the way they've put together costumes, paintings, furniture and accessories to give a flavour of the period. Here are a few Regency and Georgian examples for your delight! I can't help but think of Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth for the costumes above!

Jane Odiwe

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Le Journal de Mr Darcy

Over the years, my books have come out in different foreign language editions, but I'm particularly excited about this one because it's the first time one of my books has been translated into French. I'm really looking forward to reading it. At least I know what it says, so I will be able to make a good guess at anything I don't know! All the same, I've dug out my old schoolgirl French dictionary because I think I'm going to need it.

I love the cover. It's suitably enigmatic and I like being able to imagine the rest of him (well, who wouldn't?) It seems incredible that it's now seven years since Darcy's Diary first came out in hardback, and five years since the first paperback edition, called, of course, Mr Darcy's Diary, but Mr Darcy is unstoppable.

The book is out on the 23rd November. It's listed on Amazon UK and it looks as though it will be possible to buy it over here as well as in France, so if you want to  brush up on their French, this is a painless way to go about it!

Amanda Grange

Monday, November 19, 2012

New feature - special offers

If you look to your left, you'll see that we've introduced a new feature to the blog, which lists current promotions. From time to time we have books that are on special offer and we wanted to make it easy for you to find them. So keep an eye on the list for special editions, special prices, three for two offers etc. Underneath the title you'll find links to the book on Amazon US and Amazon UK

One of my Gothic Regency romances, Castle of Secrets, is on offer at the moment and it's starting our new feature. It's just the sort of book I love to read - and write! - when the evenings are drawing in. There's nothing better than curling up with a good book when the curtains are drawn and it's dark outside.

So what is it about? The heroine, Helena Carlisle takes up a position as the housekeeper at Stormcrow Castle in an effort to find her missing aunt. The castle is a gloomy edifice in the middle of the moors and it's full of secrets. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to the castle’s enigmatic owner. As she is drawn deeper into the world of the castle, she must fight for love—and survival.

Here are some reviews:
"A thoroughly enjoyable page turner." - Historical Novel Society
"How I do love Gothic novels, and here is a good example of the genre. Take a brooding castle on the moors, a sinister master, ghostly phenomena, a Mrs Danvers like lady's maid and a masked ball and stir them all together, then serve and enjoy." - My Shelf
"Grange peppers her story with rich atmospheric details, from a masked ball to a cast of colorful locals. Fans of romantic suspense will enjoy this tale of intrigue and deception on the barren moors." - Publishers Weekly

Castle of Secrets was originally published in hardback by Robert Hale Ltd under the title of Stormcrow Castle and I thought you would like to see all the different covers. Below you can see the original hardback cover (left) and the new paperback cover (right), which was designed by  At the top of the post, you can see the cover from the Kindle edition, which is the special offer edition. At 93p (99c) it's the kind of price to warm your heart on a winter evening!

Happy reading!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tree Surgery

Our side boundary borders several fields. The trees on the hedge have grown like mad this year due to the heat wave in April then an entire summer of rain. My office window looks out onto the fields. Well, it would if the view hadn't been reduced to a small gap between a thickly-leafed oak branch on one side and a massive holly bush on the other. We had planned to get a local tree surgeon in to cut everything back.  But because of the weather he's way behind on work already booked, plus there was no access for his machinery.  So we talked it over and decided to do it ourselves.  Whatever happened to my quiet writing life? My unofficial Christmas deadline?
Anyway, after lunch Mike made a start. Using a ladder and a bow saw he managed to take the top and side branches off the oak tree.  The branch obscuring my window came down about six inches from the glass.  (See first picture)  After I got back from the mobile library van and we'd had a cup of tea I put on my overalls (I have my own pair after I got soaked and filthy helping to bag up seaweed for the allotment – but that's another story) and clambered over the hedge into the fields.
Apart from that one huge branch, he had managed to drop the others into the field.  I used secateurs with two-foot-long handles and jaws like a shark to cut everything into short lengths.  I built up a pile in the field about twenty feet in diameter and about seven feet high.
The following morning Mike finished cutting back and I did the last of the chopping up. Then he threw armfuls up to me on the hedge and, clinging to a strand of barbed wire, I jumped up and down on it. (Not elegant, but very effective) We managed to lose the entire pile in the gap between our stone hedge and the brambles forming a barrier in the field.   Just we finished at 11.30am the drizzle started.  We had timed it perfectly.  Sweaty and exhausted I clambered back into our garden.  After a shower I went out to my office, pulled up the blind and  looked out onto a panoramic view worth every scratch, ache and blister. 

Jane Jackson.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Clothes Maketh the Character

Recently I saw an exhibition in London. The “HollywoodCostume” exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum is well worth the entrance fee, which is admittedly a little steep, but it's a treat.
In it, of course, is a display of historical costume, including costume from my favourite period, the mid Georgian era. This isn't an accurate reproduction of historical costumes necessarily, it’s an evocation, something that will appeal more to the modern viewer. The costumes included one of the fabulous gowns worn by Glenn Close in “Dangerous Liaisons,” which did appear to have a great deal of authenticity, but as explained in the notes, the clothes aren’t meant to be wholly accurate. “Dangerous Liaisons” itself is based on a novel, not on reality, and it has a story to tell, with a powerful moral. In a scene, the exhibition notes explained, everything has to go towards the point that the director is trying to make. So Close’s costumes were also distancing, as her character is a cold manipulator.
They also had one of Dorothy’s dresses from “The Wizard of Oz” and, joy of joys, a pair of her ruby slippers. When she made the film Garland was sixteen, so the dress had to take account of that when making her look younger. As well as breast binding, the camera angles were carefully plotted to show the childlike aspect Garland had until her dying day, and the complex tucks, gathers and shaping disguised Judy Garland’s burgeoning womanhood. It all went towards creating the central story, the point of the narrative, the innocent in a world of wonder. 
There's a great quotation on the website:

"Movies are about people. It’s the people, the characters in the stories, who hold our attention and who are of endless fascination to the audience. The people are the emotional core of every movie and it’s their story that moves us. The costume designer must know 'who' a character is before they can design their costume. No matter the era that the story takes place, the audience is asked to believe that the people in the movie are real and that they had a life prior to the start of the movie. We join our cast of characters at one moment in their life. Everything about them must resonate true, including their clothes."

I can’t say I ever noticed that before in every scene but I should have done. Because that’s what we do as writers.
A novelist will ensure that everything in a scene is about that scene’s focus. So when a man is saying goodbye to his girl in a busy railway station, the author will ensure that the urgency and poignancy is shown up. And also the characters. If the man is truly caring, he’ll make sure his loved one has what she needs—even mundane things like a drink or a newspaper. But a passionate, heartbroken lover might forget. He might lose his temper at the people jostling past. What the author won’t do is lose focus by going into irrelevant details about the other passengers, or the way the train looks. It will all relate back to the central point—that the lovers are parting. So the dirt on the train reminds him of the rainy day, so he can weep without anyone seeing him.
What film makers do visually, writers have to do with the words on the page. Anything that drags the reader out of the moment has to go. So word repetition can make a reader think, “hang on a minute, didn’t I read “pandemonium” in the last paragraph?” has to go unless it’s a deliberate echo. Descriptions should be relevant. A writer who starts a scene with a huge chunk of passive description, that is, description that has nothing to do with the characters or their dilemma, stands in danger of losing the reader. So does the writer who uses “talking heads,” where the characters are talking in a vacuum, and nothing around them is described.
Of course there are exceptions. A skilled writer can get away with almost anything, and repetition has a value of its own. But that’s all for us to know and you, the reader, to enjoy. It’s why many writers can’t immerse themselves in books any more. Why a friend of mine, who studied film, finds it really hard just to relax into a movie. He has to be always looking for the good bits, and the bits the director failed to do right. It has to be relearned.
I review books for a blog, and I’ve had to relearn reading, to a certain extent, because I’m reviewing for the reader, not for the writer. While reviews are great for the writer, it’s the reader, the person who is paying for the right to read the book, who really matters. And I’ve learned to read all over again, to read for pleasure.
It’s a hard lesson, but well worth it. I started my writing career because I read so much. It’s my first love. It will probably be my last.

Lynne Connolly