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Showing posts from November, 2010

The Little Sprite

I’ve just finished reading Janet Todd’s marvellous Death and the Maidens . The story of Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter Fanny is one of the saddest I have ever come across. Fanny seems to have been one of those people who everyone took advantage of and no one cared for. When, at the age of 19 she committed suicide in an inn in Swansea, her body was unclaimed by the Shelleys or Godwins and she was given a pauper’s burial. Her relatives persisted in lying about her death – and indeed her existence – for years after. It was six weeks before her aunts in Ireland were informed of her passing. Godwin claimed that she had gone to visit friends in Wales and died of a cold. Her step brother Charles received a letter from his sister Claire a few weeks after Fanny’s death which did not mention it. Ten months later he wrote asking after her, and a year after that he had still not been told she was dead. In a memoir of Godwin her sister Mary (Shelley) left Fanny out of their father’s story, implyi

Writing for Nobody

I love reading other people’s diaries. Obviously I mean the historical ones, which makes it alright to pry. Or, if I was interested in the living, then it would be fine to read a diary intended for publication by its author – which raises the question about how far any diarist intends his or work for an audience. Did Pepys, as he scratched the smutty bits in his secret shorthand, really hope that no one would ever read them? Did Frances Burney when she addressed her diary to “Nobody” really accept that only Nobody would read it? I don’t know, but I do know that both diaries are terrific reads. Diaries are wonderful for all sorts of reasons. They are great for historians. They’re great for historical fiction writers. And they have a meaning all of their own, though what that meaning is is hard to define. I’ve been reading the diary of Joseph Farington RA (1747 to 1821) for the years 1796 to 1798. Farington was a landscape painter, an active member of the Royal Academy, a husband, a

Free at Last

One thing I saved up from my mini account of what I saw of the Historical Novel Society’s Conference in Manchester in October was the workshop Creative Writing, Creative Reading: Bringing the Past to Life . What, I thought as I pondered the programme, is that about? I had no idea. So I went. The session was run by Orna Ross, an Irish novelist and teacher of Creative Intelligence. Creative Intelligence: right. Well, Orna defines it as “the ability to own and hone our innate creative potential…by understanding how the creative process works and learning to apply it.” She believes that our formal schooling, with its obsession with measurement, analysis and efficiency, has stifled our creative intelligence. I picture this as the Gradgrindian world that Dickens described so wonderfully in Hard Times : the world where innocents are murdered by facts, by rules, by a pair of scales. I don’t think anyone has exposed this outlook any better than Dickens. But doing is always better than talki

Catching Up Part 2

I’m gradually catching up with life! Here’s Part 2 to prove it. Mary Sharratt, Historical Novel Society Conference, 17 October – I knew nothing about Mary or her book Daughters of the Witching Hill , but she gave such an interesting and engaging talk about the history behind the novel that I have added it to my reading list. Memorable moment: listening to her read – she has a lovely accent! Manda Scott, HNS Conference, 17 November – Manda was supposed to be talking about author/publisher relationships with her publisher Selina Walker, but unfortunately Ms Walker could not make it. Instead, she gave us some wonderful – and funny - insights into how her writing career got started. Memorable moments: actually there are so many that I’m cheating and picking three. Manda said the f word. Thank god: it made me feel more at home. Manda told us how the gods told her to write her Boudica novels when she was on a vision quest. Manda told us how Christianity came into being and showed up P

Catching Up Part 1

My poor old blog has been neglected lately. I’ve been horribly busy and struggling to keep on top of things, but now the house has been excavated from under tons of dust I can look about me and reflect on what I’ve been doing. Or, more accurately, who I’ve been seeing – and I’ve been very busy indeed seeing other writers! So, as I can’t write about every event in great detail I shall recall one memorable moment from each. Here’s Part 1; Part 2 to follow! Howard Jacobson, Topping & Co Bookstore, Bath, 13 September – the author pre-Booker prize making us laugh in Topping’s much-loved (by me) book store. Memorable moment: Jacobson suggests that all novels should be comic novels. Martin Jarvis, Cheltenham, 10 October – a reading of two Jeeves and Wooster stories under the gaze of the angels of the Everyman Theatre. Memorable moment: listening to his “out takes” as he read the same sentence two or three times to satisfy his Radio 4 producer, each time with a slightly different infl