Monday, March 31, 2008

The Info Dump

George Lucas always places his info dumps at roughly 1/3 of the way through. In the insipid Phantom Menace (sorry George, I dig what you were trying, and you certainly set up a brilliant Episode 3, but Menace ain't too good) this is the scene around the dining table at Anakin's slave quarters when Qui Gon discusses Jedi's, pod racing, Anakin's ability et al. After the initial setup of action and intrigue an info dump is always required to set the ongoing tone and direction of the piece - though it doesn't necessarily have to occur where George specifies, though consider any number of quests - Raiders of the Lost Ark, James Bond, etc - after the initial opening (which in the case of both the aforementioned have the culmination (Act 3) of a different/separate story) we cut back to be told by the professors or M what the mission is going to be and its importance.

Of course, info dumps occur throughout a story - they're essential to fleshing out the piece - and as with my previous post "Stop starting" I showed how information can be slid under the reader's nose without distracting (too much) from the forward moving narrative.

The info dump I'm talking about is the big one that consolidates the "why we are here", and, as with Inkheart, there is just such a scene - though this is pulled off another site (I don't yet know where it appears in the book itself because I've not got far enough):

So, Inkheart has the following blurb:
Meggie lives alone with her father, Mo, a book restorer. But a frightening new chapter in their lives begins the day a strange figure from the past called Dustfinger arrives at their door. He warns them that a villain named Capricorn is looking for a precious book in Mo's collection. And he will stop at nothing to steal it. The dire warning forces Mo to reveal an extraordinary secret — that when he reads a book aloud, the fictional characters come to life. It is revealed that long ago, Mo accidentally brought the villainous Capricorn into the world. And now Capricorn has returned to destroy the last remaining copy of the book. Soon, Meggie discovers she shares her father's gift. If only she can use her newfound powers to send Capricorn back between the pages where he belongs.
But, the brunt of that info dump is given here.

As you can see from the excerpt, it is reeled off in dialogue form - since the reader hasn't come across this news already in their reading, there is no loss in having the conversation here (though were another character to be given this info we, the reader, would not want to sit through it a second time). Also, as it's in a specific character's voice they can embellish and use their own witticisms, giving us a feeling for them rather than having to listen to the droll of the narrator.

Stop starting

A recent post on Litopia covered a specific problem in creating a join from a developing situation/observation to a memory. This is something Solvejg has touched upon over on the MaggotFarm, with regard to considering what he can use to spark a memory link (not that I can find the post right now).

Having fleshed out a join the user decided to come up with a different approach, citing that someone had pointed out she does too much stop starting - moving from dialogue to backstory and then back to the dialogue. Her excerpt on its own linked a smile from one character to that of the narrator's husband. Working it out a little made the excerpt very effective - it's something I've not tried myself yet, but, reading Cornelia Funke's Inkheart has shown this up too (funny coincidence since I've been waiting for Inkheart's arrival for three months and it should pop up now when someone asks the very same question I found myself asking as I read the first chapter).


While I think this is a great way (as with all things - in bitesize chunks) to move the action, info drop, develop and relate to character, I was thinking to myself that perhaps Funke was relying upon it a little too much (taking me away from the action - though I can see how much worse my own writing must read now).

So, first off, here's the link to the excerpt. It's in a printable format, but just open it in a new tab or window.

Let's breeze over the opening paragraph though it's a masterclass in itself, evoking atmosphere, telling us the protagonist will be alive in many years to come, setting it off almost fairytale like with this "look back on things" view:
Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain. Many years later, Meggie had only to close her eyes and she could still hear it, like tiny fingers tapping on the windowpane. A dog barked somewhere in the darkness, and however often she tossed and turned Meggie couldn't get to sleep.
The shift in time almost doesn't work for me - it is slightly distracting and pulls us immediately out of the time of the book - but it is effective.

Anyhoo, throughout the text we are developing the story and our understanding and attachment to the two main characters, Meggie and her father, Mo. However, here is a perfect example of just what the Litopians were discussing:
Meggie frowned. "Please, Mo! Come and look."

He didn't believe her, but he went anyway. Meggie tugged him along the corridor so impatiently that he stubbed his toe on a pile of books, which was hardly surprising. Stacks of books were piled high all over the house— not just arranged in neat rows on bookshelves, the way other people kept them, oh no! The books in Mo and Meggie's house were stacked under tables, on chairs, in the corners of the rooms. There were books in the kitchen and books in the lavatory. Books on the TV set and in the closet, small piles of books, tall piles of books, books thick and thin, books old and new. They welcomed Meggie down to breakfast with invitingly opened pages; they kept boredom at bay when the weather was bad. And sometimes you fell over them.

"He's just standing there!" whispered Meggie, leading Mo into her room.
Right in the middle of intrigue - WALLOP - we get a chunk of information shoved down our throats. I don't deny that both characters love reading and that we need to appreciate this earlier than later as it is pretty much our description of their home, but what an info dump, especially when all we're interested in is who is standing outside and what they want. Just read that paragraph again - it takes us way out of the current situation - intriguing that Funke gets away with it, isn't it?

The key is not to do it too much - like the use of adjectives. So, let's look at a slightly different use of this tool (from a few paragraphs earlier):
Suddenly, he turned his head, and Meggie felt as if he were looking straight into her eyes. She shot off the bed so fast the open book fell to the floor, and she ran barefoot out into the dark corridor. This was the end of May, but it was chilly in the old house.

There was still a light on in Mo's room. He often stayed up reading late into the night. Meggie had inherited her love of books from her father. When she took refuge from a bad dream with him, nothing could lull her to sleep better than Mo's calm breathing beside her and the sound of the pages turning. Nothing chased nightmares away faster than the rustle of printed paper. But the figure outside the house was no dream.
Here we have a brilliant segue from Meggie's room to Mo's, giving us not just knowledge of his keenness for reading, but that he allows Meggie into his bed when she suffers from nightmares and that she is calmed by him.

And just as importantly, Funke has linked the paragraph back to the preceding - realigning and reminding us of the potential danger.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Character Templates


My most recent big problem with writing is that, though I've thought about my characters and set them against one another in a scene I've not thought properly about their angles, their needs and only briefly about their objectives.

I then spend much of my time filling out white space with descriptions of the walls, the sun and the feeling of pain a character is feeling. So, going back to basics, I've compiled a Character Template that needs to be filled out for each and every main character.

The purpose of this is two fold: 1) You know everything about your character, physically and socially. Never again will you mistakenly write that your black protagonist was a red head, or that your 4 ft 2in dwarf was able to get the cat down from the top shelf. 2) You know them psychologically in-and-out. You will be able to really understand what your character wants out of a scene, how they will react to others and, most-importantly, you will know where their idiosyncrasies lie, what they are hypocrites about and why they can't make a decision between two evils.

Give it a go yourself... maybe I should try this for my locations too!

Litopia After Dark: The End Of Civilisation As We Know It

People are getting dumber, the world is sinking into entropy and signs of decline and fall are all around. So why are we bothering with Litopia After Dark this week? Well, someone has to sort it out!

The Queen’s English is on the endangered list - but does it matter? Katie Price has a book in the running for a major award but she’s not the writer - do we care? Disney have turned our beloved Famous Five into a Hollywood cartoon - should we stop the meddling money-spinners?

Also, Bret-Easton Ellis didn’t care then and doesn’t care now, comic books stultify the imagination and kids read Heat magazine. What can we do to stop this linguistic rot?

This week, to contemplate the last rays of sunlight over intellectual Armageddon our panellists are Dave Bartram, Beverly Gray and Richard Howse. Our very special guest this week is best-selling children’s author MG Harris.

Links mentioned in the show…

English is Dying

David Derbyshire in the Daily Mail

Who needs the author?

Ben Hoyle in the Times

21st Century Five

Nicole Martin on The Famous Five

Wunderkind

Scott Timberg in the Los Angeles Times

Comic Books

Cached page of The Globe and Mail

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Writer's Digest

Thanks to Donna, who stumbled upon the following link:

Writer's Digest - What's in and out, what's no longer shaking about.

Indispensable for us all, especially considering the tightening noose of recession that is putting the squeeze on the industry, knowing what is hot and not is the best way to prepare our writing for the future.

And while you're there, don't miss the brilliant list of sub-genre descriptions.

Writing from the Heart

I haven't written from the heart for so long I have forgotten how. Much of my writing in the beginning was automatic, was characters interacting, taking action, talking, fighting, evolving... but that all changed the day I realised I couldn't write proper like what real writers do, and over the recent years I've yearned and pursued a better way of life - resolute description that is fresh and new.

Alas, I have come unstuck. What I've been concentrating on has been the editing, the second stage after the initial draft in finished, and yet that has been before or while I have been writing the first draft. I type away for a paragraph and then go back and edit, re-edit, re-edit ad infinitum until I think I like it (for the night). I never move on and though the descriptions have (recently) become blessedly punchier I'd not realised my mistake - I've been writing from the ego.
If you're coming from you ego when you write, you're missing the magic and music that appears from your deeper self. By being willing to reach down into your unconsciousness, you'll give your fictional characters greater dimension, complexities, and human qualities (warts and all).
... says Rachel Ballon (author of Breathing life into your characters).

This is important for more than simply the reason of character (though that is primarily why I have submitted to picking up a book on how to write - I must do this more often). The first exercise in the book takes the reader/writer down memory lane and asks that you write for 15 minute with feeling on a moment in your life when you experienced great emotion. Feel it and write it... simple! And powerful, since what I wrote is in the moment - it may not be spectacularly written (I haven't greatly edited it or poured time in perfecting) - is filled with so much stuff that writing with the ego does not generate:
They befriended us first with pats on the back and smiles and group in-joking. We already felt on edge since these older boys were just that: older. We were still fairly young, on the cusp of moving from primary to secondary school. In comparison these boys were much broader, far taller, even than me.

We had ridden our bikes down to Millpond for a laugh during the holidays, just to go that far and take in the lake, free of adults. Now, with the group of 3, or was it 4, lads closing in around us, we knew we were out of our depth.

The questions are easy at first: non-threatening and no reason to expect the unexpected. It didn't take them long to lead us off the path and drag us, bikes as well, into the bushes. Thick and green looking from the outside, they'd seemed impenetrable, but once inside amongst the twisted trunks and roots it was big enough for them to hold us and the bikes and keep us surrounded. We were so close to the path and yet too far from help. We'd seen no one else on our travels.

That's when the fear kicks in. The two of us, on our own, far smaller and outnumbered. What did they want?

We couldn't just run and leave them with the bikes. What would our parents say? Were the bikes what they wanted?

One of them was speaking: threatening words that I can't now remember, but we'd look at each other, panicky, feeling their heavy hands on our shoulders, wrapped about the crossbars of our bikes.

Be quiet!

What did they want? What would they do to us?

We lied right from the off, pretending to be cousins. One lived in the town, the other had come with his parents for the day. There were adults waiting for us. There was no reason for the lads to believe otherwise. We were family members, not just friends. If only we'd said they knew where we were and were coming to pick us up!

I was crying. My friend, silent. Pensive, of course, but stoic. He always was. Stronger in body and mind despite being shorter than me. Brave like dynamite. I've never been so. I have too many fears.

I cried quietly, so afraid of being beaten up, or worse. What could they do? What did they want with us? I told them I suffered from migraines, pleading that it was a serious one. It could only get worse and I had to go home... be gone. It hurt so bad. We had to go so that I could take my medication. Our family would be waiting.

They were understanding. Their threats and strict faces were so understanding and let they let me go. They turned my bike around for me and passed me out through the wall of green. I was back on the path, making my way back the way I had cycled in, back to freedom. I was shaking and balling. My face was hot and red, my cheeks soaked. And as I walked away up the path I trembled and realised what I had done.

I had betrayed my friend to them. I had left him behind with thoughts of myself.

I had forsaken him in their clutches, alone, to do with as they pleased. A knot that had sat in my stomach double-knotted itself as I looked on myself and my cowardice and kept on walking. What had I done? Surely we'd been safer together? What had I done? I kept on walking.

He came screaming past me. His hand was clutched to his ear and he was cursing and crying. He went tearing away from me in tears, yelling that they'd hit him. I saw that he had left his bike behind, that they had stolen it and paid him with a punch.

I threw down my bike at that thought. I swept away the cowardice, my fear for my own safety and with him gone into the distance, I turned around. I lurched into life and charged back into the bushes, fleeing from my cravenness. I had betrayed my best friend and let them hurt him.

I ran screaming into the bushes, cussing and throwing my fists. I gave no thought to myself. He had taken a punch for me and his bike was forfeit. That wasn't right. I charged into their lair to lay waste to them or take my share - whatever it took.

But they were gone.

I pushed both bikes along the path, followed only by my shame. Eventually I found my friend on a bench. He'd failed to find help. We were still alone. We never saw those boys again and in time our friendship passed away also, though the shame lives on.
Hopefully you can see that 15 minutes of writing without thought to place, character names, or fear of failure, evokes a far stronger piece of writing than anything I have produced recently. Perhaps I had better go back to writing my first drafts and then tying them up afterwards?!

It is certainly possible that we can write from the ego and create something beautiful, but, I am beginning to believe that in order to write more broadly, more freely, and with the possibility of calling on a wider vocabulary (or making the writing appear more verbally, the way great writers can move between subjects, subplots, descriptions and back again) free writing is the way I must go.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Contrasting

A wonderful skill in writing is to establish a place/setting/feeling in relation to a character - setting some emotional weight - and then bringing them back to contrast that feeling against the reverse. This provides an excellent way of showing change in the environment or situation, or, more importantly, in the character.

On page 41 of A Wizard of Earthsea, Le Guin places Ged in the House of the Wise at the beginning of his apprenticeship in Roke:

As their eyes met, a bird sang aloud in the branches of the tree. In that moment Ged understood the singing of the bird, and the language of the water falling in the basin of the fountain, and the shape of the clouds, and the beginning and end of the wind that stirred the leaves: it seemed to him that he himself was a word spoken by the sunlight.

On page 68, after Ged has unleashed the shadow and suffered greatly from its attack he returns to the House of the Wise and the new Archmage:

So Gensher ended, and was suddenly gone, as is the way of the mages. The fountain leaped in the sunlight, and Ged watched it a while and listened to its voice, thinking of Nemmerle. Once in that court he had felt himself to be a word spoken by the sunlight. Now the darkness also had spoken: a word that could not be unsaid.

The Earthsea Quartet


I have been reading Ursula K. Le Guin for the first time this past month. I first came across her as a 12 year old in the school library, but like all books back then I didn't want to read. It looked fantastical and yet I couldn't commit to something that meant the work of actually reading.

Sigh! If only I hadn't have been so short sighted I might not be in the pickle I found myself as I tried to learn to write proper.

Ursula did, back in the 60s, what many writers still strive to do: the creation of an amazing world with tightly bound characters, histories, mythologies and conflicts. Just like Terry Pratchett (some 15 years later) she charged her work with cunning and intrigue.

As Pfangirl states in her blog - Pfangirl Through the Looking Glass:
I finished the first story of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet, A Wizard of Earthsea. People close to me will know that I’m generally very disdainful of traditional high fantasy as a literary genre – seeing as it tends to be dominated by bad, superficial writing and endless clich├ęs as far as I can see it.

However, I have been making the effort to read some of the acknowledged classics (many of them classified as Youth reads), like the Earthsea books. And I’m pleased to report that out of 20th Century fantasy pioneers I've read: Tolkien, Lewis and Le Guin, Le Guin is the most skilled of the writers – her stories are essentially powerful parables and she writes in a style that is appropriately simple, but strangely “otherworldly”, as if told by one of the Earthsea storytellers themselves.
What follows in the next few blog posts are my observations of some of her skills as she employs them in the first book - A Wizard of Earthsea.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Learning to Let Go...

... is the hardest of all a writer's lessons. I, above all... as we... ahem... all know, is worse than most. Writing way, way, way round the houses in order to purloin what I perceive to be the best way of expressing myself. Psht to brevity!

And this is where I came unstuck. Case in point, the 122 word paragraph on page 5 of my opening chapter (and a good indication of my wordiness):

The circular wall shifts as the words continue to wriggle across the page. The rows of books revolve like some ancient mechanism. One row clockwise, the next anti-clockwise, until all are in motion. They stop, one column breaks at the centre and the upper half rises up through the fog, one book length, to reveal the bare wall behind. The rows revolve a second time, stopping briefly to allow the top-half of another column to slide down into the gap. Two… three… four more times, revolving and separating, sliding and converging. The brick-books reorder themselves like a cylindrical sliding puzzle until all halt and a gap, the width of two books, comes to a stop before the great book and its pedestal.

A week of revision, of those 5 pages, has whittled just over 40 words from the paragraph, down to 77:

The circular wall shifts now, as the words writhe across the page. The rows of books revolve like some ancient mechanism and the columns slide up and down through the fog. As the books reorder themselves the ceiling begins to ripple and roll and two book-shaped spaces are revealed, showing the bare stonework of the wall behind. The spaces drop down through the books like a sliding puzzle until they are positioned in front of the pedestal.

Here's how the sentences match up, original against the new:

  1. The circular wall shifts as the words continue to wriggle across the page.

    The circular wall shifts now, as the words writhe across the page.
  1. The rows of books revolve like some ancient mechanism. One row clockwise, the next anti-clockwise, until all are in motion.

    The rows of books revolve like some ancient mechanism and the columns slide up and down through the fog.
  1. They stop, one column breaks at the centre and the upper half rises up through the fog, one book length, to reveal the bare wall behind.

    As the books reorder themselves the ceiling begins to ripple and roll and two book-shaped spaces are revealed, showing the bare stonework of the wall behind.
  1. The rows revolve a second time, stopping briefly to allow the top-half of another column to slide down into the gap.
  1. Two… three… four more times, revolving and separating, sliding and converging.
  1. The brick-books reorder themselves like a cylindrical sliding puzzle until all halt and a gap, the width of two books, comes to a stop before the great book and its pedestal.

    The spaces drop down through the books like a sliding puzzle until they are positioned in front of the pedestal.
I'm not saying it's perfect - though at the present time I think it is :) - but to reduce confusion and lower the possibility that the reader will grow bored of watching the walls move rather than relate to a person in distress, losing two sentences is a good start.

Also, this paragraph is important - the books, their appearance, and the reordering - to later understanding. I'm not just stopping to describe the sunset here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

RIP Anthony Minghella


The first I knew of him was when my wife and I watched the English Patient back in sixthform. As writer and director, Minghella's talent drove a difficult tale from beginning to end, brilliantly making the two main characters of Count Almasy and Katherine Clifton, who are, lets face it, particularly selfish people - centred in their plight on their lust for one another - into a pair we can't help but watch and hope that it all works out for... even in knowing that it won't.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, for me, was a bloated character vehicle, but Cold Mountain, The Interpreter and Michael Clayton are all very well crafted stories that grip from beginning to end.

Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse series, spoke fondly of Minghella back when Minghella adapted his work for the screen. It was clear to Dexter that Minghella was talented even then, before he pushed on into directing and producing, earning himself an Oscar for the English Patient.

Back in 2006, Laura and I were lucky enough to attend a Gala evening in memory of Samuel Beckett:

On 2nd April 2006, a Gala Evening was held in the Concert Hall of Reading Town Hall in honour of Samuel Beckett. The anthology evening of Beckett readings and performances was directed by the Oscar-winning director, Anthony Minghella, and featured readings, recitals and performances by distinguished actors and theatre professionals who over the years have been involved in Beckett films and productions. All profits raised from the event went to Macmillan Cancer Relief.

Performers included Jude Law, Alan Rickman, Lee Evans, Felicity Kendal, Billie Whitelaw, Barry McGovern and Rosamund Pike.

- http://www.beckettfoundation.org.uk/beckett-2006/gala.html

Sharing the room with so many people - on stage and in the audience - all of whom had a shared interest and love in Beckett's work made for a brilliant night. The chosen readings and the play sections acted out before us were mesmerising, not least from Minghella's perfect direction.

As with the loss of Heath Ledger, Minghella's death is a shock and a shame.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Writing for you Audience

I've been reading Ursula K. le Guin of late - more about her later - and she's such a great writer, especially the Earthsea Quartet. Now, they should be re-released and promoted by the publishers!

Anyhoo, it's been really helpful to give me a push to get on with my own writing. Though that's led me into a pickle. Not least with my wife, who says: "You can't write a YA book aimed at the 12+ and use words like obsidian and oubliette."

Actually she told me off for my first draft being even beyond her comprehension - sigh. Perhaps I'll never get my act together with learning to write with restraint. I guess that answers the age old question... Who do you write for? Yourself or your audience?

Clearly, I write for myself.

But, I must curb my enthusiasm and write for my audience. Out with obsidian and oubliette, or at least in with some explanation. That said, writing:
At the bottom of the tower where the wall shakes and groans columns of books line the stonework, evoking a solid, impenetrable oubliette - a dungeon with a trapdoor in the ceiling as its only means of entrance or exit.
only supports the argument for brevity and a call to yank oubliette from the page. (I'm still fighting my corner, and by the way, thanks dictionary.com for that succinct description).

So, other than that, mostly good points for simple behaviour, only, I still have my flourishes. Which brings me to my second point...

I wanted to write about those columns of books moving and revolving around the room. Where better to start than by familiarising myself with someone whose already done a similar thing (and no, there is no dishonour in peeking at someone else's work to get an idea at how to jump first first into an issue - Francine Prose practically throttles the writer in the hope they will learn from the best).

So, who do I turn to, remembering a certain scene in a certain book about bricks coming to life and shuffling apart?

JK Rowling... of course. In Chapter Five - Diagon Alley, Hagrid magics a wall to open up and allow them access to the Wizarding World. In the film this is extremely memorable thanks to the those visual wizards, Industrial Light and Magic, who create a spectacle of shuffling bricks, that slide and grind back and forth over one another, reconfiguring like a living, organic structure, until the entrance is clear - almost like a Rubik's cube but with pull out and push in sections.


So, I thought, where better to get a feel for moving brickwork than Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone? Where better indeed:
He tapped the wall three times with the point of his umbrella.

The brick he had touched quivered - it wriggled - in the middle, a small hole appeared - it grew wider and wider - a second late they were facing an archway large enough even for Hagrid, an archway on to a cobbled street which twisted and turned out of sight.
It took me a short while to find that short passage, and having read it shuffled off grumbling and moaning and generally besmirching JK's good name for being a weak writer and nothing like as grand as Ursula K. le Guin.

Of course, I wrote my version, ahem:
The circular wall shifts as the words continue to wriggle across the page. The rows of books revolve like some ancient mechanism. One row clockwise, the next anti-clockwise, until all are in motion. They stop, one column breaks at the centre and the upper half rises up through the fog, one book length, to reveal the bare wall behind. The rows revolve a second time, stopping briefly to allow the top-half of another column to slide down into the gap. Two… three… four more times, revolving and separating, sliding and converging. The brick-books reorder themselves like a cylindrical sliding puzzle until all halt and a gap, the width of two books, comes to a stop before the great book and its pedestal.
But, as my wife now points out. Look at the size of the passage. Along with my occasional grandious words, this passage does little to push along the plot (other than generate a gap in the brick-book work) but does a lot to slow the reader down. Is a 12 year old going to care? Especially, I must consider whether or not the kind of audience I'm after - reluctant readers (it's all part of my game plan) - are going to stop there and think, so what?

I don't like it one bit and yet I must bow to my audience. I must set aside my own wants and think of them. How relevant is it? I must levy myself to JK's way, focus the reader's attention instead on what is important.

Sigh!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Adapting History

As the adaptations of the adaptations of history go... The Other Boleyn comes across quite enjoyably. Though I'm certain our viewing last night was made far more giggly by the inclusion of the back row who seemed determined to laugh at every inappropriate bit of dialogue or act in the script. Although no one was laughing when Henry, having offed Catherine of Aragon (and worse, annulled the marriage through the exciting decision to take the English church in a very different direction from the... er... real church), charges into Anne's chambers and forces himself upon her from behind.

No one was laughing then. Least of all my historian friend mumbling beside me, "That never happened."

But of course, this isn't history. It's melodrama at the English courts, Tudenders for the 1500s. We can't expect the course of history to run as smoothly as it did in real history (not that it did at all).

I've previously spoken of my disdain for works such as Becoming Jane in which the writers and filmmakers made the rather dim decision to take Jane Austin's fiction as a jumping board for the fictionalisation of her life simply because they felt their was a market for it. My wife and I only managed to get 30 minutes in before stopping the film in disgust - why watch a wholly fake representation (no one really knows Jane Austin's true life story), when her books and their film and tv adaptations are so much better?

Anyhoo, Boleyns. Where this fictionalised history really starts to ramp up the falsities is long before I noticed, but that's behind the point, I grew bored of history at A-Level. But, everyone who's anyone knows that Henry was in a hunting accident that left him lame. Henry never stayed at the Boleyn's house to go hunting there, and it certainly wasn't while pursuing Anne, who refused to give up on pursuing a stag, that he had the accident.

Further in the annals of irregularity, Anne is tipped is the elder sister and thus top on the affections list, giving rise to conflict when Mary is chosen by Henry (after Anne's actions leave him lame), and yet Mary was the elder in reality. I guess the filmic people felt that the public wouldn't believe that the younger sister would ever have delusions of grandeur and be so ambitious.

Note that I said the filmic people. Philippa Gregory's novel, though ambitious in its own liberties with the facts or suppositions, isn't as blase as the film. Anne, for example comes back from the French court at the beginning, she isn't sent there midway through for her crimes. The girl who would be Elizabeth I was never taken away by Mary at the end to go live with her (as heir to the throne she'd stay in the royal creche).

And, to imply that Anne was the one who decided that Henry should annul the marriage to Catherine, AND split from the church, AND start up the Church of England, AND AND AND... is completely crazy!

He was led by his manhood and his need to secure a male heir, and Anne did become a serious power behind the throne, but she wouldn't have had such power before.

Internationally renowned novel critic Dr. James Higgins (who has a PhD in Historic Literature from the University of Australia) said of Gregory when he reviewed The Other Boleyn Girl:

"Philippa Gregory has created a mesmerising work of fiction, seamlessly intertwined with historical fact. While her list of sources may give some reason to believe her novel contains more fact than fiction, it is quite clear to me that Gregory has gained a knowledge of the basic storyline, as well the culture and customs of the Tudor Court, and embellished and dramatised it even more (if that is possible). She hints that she does indeed believe that Anne Boleyn was innocent, but changed her story in order to create a more shocking and scandalous situation. At the end of The Other Boleyn Girl one cannot help but feel sorry for Anne Boleyn, and one gets the feeling that Gregory feels the same way, as she attests to in a later book (The Boleyn Inheritance)."

So, even Philippa made up some stuff, but that, my historian friend could stomach. I think she wanted (even after the film) to like it more than she had, but she admitted that she loves the book and if anyone wanted to borrow it they'd have to prise it out of her cold dead hands. So, even historians love fictionalised accounts.

Given the rise in the misery memoirs... several of which are now being outed as mostly fake, should we be surprised that history is constantly given a shake up? Does it make it any better when we are already told it is ficiton? Certainly in the bookshop you can't mistake Philippa Gregory as a fiction novelist... but this is harder for the mass audience to assume in a film (even the Elizabeth films weren't entirely accurate). We are told the the truth is in the detail. Does it matter that this is constantly being smudged?

Henry VIII's six wives

Just for fun, here they are:

* not that it was fun what he put them through.

Mnemonic for remembering the ill fated wives of Henry VIII:

Divorced, Beheaded, Died ,
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

Arrogant bull sees cleaners hair parted

1. Katherine of Aragon (divorced)
2. Anne Boleyn (executed)
3. Jane Seymour (died)
4. Anne of Cleaves (divorced)
5. Catherine Howard (executed)
6. Catherine Parr (outlived Henry)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Litopia After Dark Podcast

LITOPIA AFTER DARK this week takes a fascinating direction as we discuss one of the biggest and most important questions facing writers and publishers today - how will books be sold in the future? Also, The Litopia Effect - how our discussions are influencing the world of literature as yet another story of fake memoirs hits the headlines. Plus we are all, literally, stereotypes… Jacqueline Wilson says… and writers - mad, bad and dangerous in power?

To discuss these topics in depth are Donna Ballman, Beverly Gray, Dave Bartram and Richard Howse. Our special guest this week is columnist, power-blogger about all things literary and Managing Editor of The Book Depository, Mark Thwaite (with interjections from Lola and Marnie).

Of course, you’ve missed the opportunity to comment as we broadcast live on Ustream (8pm GMT Friday) but there’s always next week.

Links mentioned in the show :

  • Fraudulent memoirs

The Boston Globe article about Misha Defonseca.

  • Harry Potter Unites the World

Article in The Times Online

  • Jacqueline Wilson disapproves of herself

Alison Pearson comments in The Daily Mail.

  • The Future of Bookselling

We chat with Mark Thwaite, Managing Editor of The Book Depository, which aims to make all books available to all through republishing and digitising of content and is the fastest growing book distributor in Europe. He is also the founder of the online literary journal Ready Steady Book.