Friday Fictioneers : The day Chaucer beat Gramma Mags

PHOTO PROMPT © Fatima Fakier Deria


 

Florence gazed up through the old cypress tree at a speckless sky.

The tree listed to the west, its bark wizened, branches balding. Gramma Mags had instructed Morris to cut it into logs, burn it through the blistering winter to come.

But one autumn afternoon over cucumber sandwiches and slabs of Madeira cake, Florence read from Dickens, Bunyan, Shakespeare, Chaucer until the sun set prickly through the leaves. She rubbed the trunk with pinked fingers.

‘This tree’s older than them all, Gramma.’

Gramma had nodded, pulled her shawl tight against the wind. ‘Best knit me another shawl then,’ she said.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the picture and hone your own story. See here to share, read and comment.

Notes

For those of you unfamiliar with any of the literary figures mentioned above –

Charles Dickens

John Bunyan

William Shakespeare

Geoffrey Chaucer

Advertisements

The worst writer in the world?

 

Have you ever visited that portion of Erin’s plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?

So begins Amanda McKittrick Ros’s novel, Delina DelaneyI found this quote on the Goodreads site with the tag wtf-does-this-mean. And no, I haven’t a clue either.

Now, literary fashion has changed a great deal since Ros published the book in 1898. If he were writing Bleak House (1853) today, I’m not sure even Charles Dickens would have dared begin with a discussion of the grisly London weather, wonderful though that passage is, complete with mentions of fog, mud, umbrellas and a Megalosaurus. Imagine the tattoo of red pen from a modern editor.

‘Never open a story with the weather’ is one piece of writing advice often given. As is the need to trim your prose of flabby, unnecessary words  – edit, edit, edit is our current mantra – and make your writing as clear as a mountain stream to your reader.

None of which seem to have been a priority to Ros.

The writer was famed for her circumlocutory language. When she wrote in her debut novel, Irene Iddesleigh,

When on the eve of glory, whilst brooding over the prospects of a bright and happy future, whilst meditating upon the risky right of justice, there we remain, wanderers on the cloudy surface of mental woe, disappointment and danger, inhabitants of the grim sphere of anticipated imagery, partakers of the poisonous dregs of concocted injustice. Yet such is life

it probably never occurred to her that she could have said –

Why is it we always feel most fed up when something good’s about to happen?

More was … more as far as Amanda was concerned.

She may have been a self-published teacher from County Down, but that didn’t stop her from imagining “the million and one who thirst for aught that drops from my pen” and that she would “be talked about at the end of a thousand years”. One thing she never lacked was confidence in her own work: she once discussed the Nobel Prize for Literature with her publisher, asking “What think you of this prize? Do you think I should make a ‘dart’ for it?”

Some of her best words she saved for her critics, calling them variously,

“bastard donkey-headed mites”

“clay crabs of corruption”

“auctioneering agents of Satan”

“hogwashing hooligans”

“evil-minded snapshots of spleen”

She had a gift for alliteration if nothing else.

What are we, then, to think of an author who – in her last novel, Helen Huddleson – lumbered most of her characters with a fruit-based name (Lord Raspberry, Cherry Raspberry, Sir Peter Plum, Christopher Currant, the Earl of Grape, Madame Pear)?

Well, I can’t advise any modern writer to ape her writing style and it seems famous authors would support my decision: the literary group The Inklings (which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein) held competitions where the winner was the member who could read from one of her books for longest without laughing.

But I do admire her no nonsense attitude towards critics, the absolute faith she had in her own work and the way she was prepared to defend it.

In these days when most authors are loathe to get into online arguments with readers over snippy critiques or even outright, troll-like oceans of bile, Ros reacted to a poet’s criticism of her debut novel by printing a 20 page rebuttal in her follow up novel.

No shrinking violet, our Amanda.

So if I think she was deluded in her own talents, she had more self-belief than most of us.

And that is definitely something to aspire to.


What do you think of Ros’s verbiage? Do you agree with the critics or do you long for a time when the circumlocutory phrase was en vogue? Are you tired of this demand for tough edits, long for the return of purple prose?

 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/apr/19/worst-novelist-in-history

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanda_McKittrick_Ros#cite_note-Words_To_Remember-6

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2013/01/was_amanda_mckittrick_ros_the_worst_novelist_in_history.html

Moral Mondays: My Sweet Butcher

Opium poppy

Image : Pixabay

Light stabs through a meagre gap between the curtains. I could rise, pull them to, but the effort is more than I could bear. I turn over, hoping sleep will welcome me back.

Once I dreamed of sun slicked pebbled beaches, the scent of seaweed, frothing waves. Now sleep holds only darkness, hate filled eyes, the death of love.

I could ring the bell for the maid, have my hair dressed and coiled, my waist turned waspish, laced and corseted. I could.

My hand reaches for the stout brown bottle, my sweet butcher of nightmares.

 


 

Written for Nortina’s Moral Mondays. See the moral – this week is ‘say no to drugs’ – and write a story of 100 words or fewer on the theme. See here for full Ts and Cs.

At the mention of drugs, I didn’t think of rave culture or crystal meth or the UK’s recent ban on ‘legal highs’, but of the 19th century’s addiction to opiates.

Women particularly used a tincture called laudanum – usually a mixture of opium and alcohol – for every conceivable malady from menstral pain to diarrhea. Many 19th century literary figures used laudanum too: Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe and Elizabeth Barrett Browning among others.

See the marvellous Victorian Web for Dr Andrzej Diniejko‘s article on Victorian drug use.

moral_mondays_logo

Why Philip K Dick’s canon is so often plundered

ufo-782655_1920

Image : Pixabay

 

We recently signed up for Amazon Prime.

Amazon are not one of my favourite companies. Any global big business that has such a massive slice of a particular market – that has changed the way the world shops – is doing something right in monetary terms, whilst simultaneously doing something very wrong for every independant bookshop / high street retailer.

And that’s before we even approach the topic of authors’ pay, the way the company has tried to hold both publishers and authors to ransom in order to prioritise their own profits … 

A could go on, but it’s Sunday and I’m sure you have family to spend time with and dogs to walk, so I’ll shut up before I scare you away.

So why, might you ask, have I allowed this beacon of capitalism into my home? Well, you see, I live with an enormous film buff. Allow me to rephrase that. He’s not enormous – it’s the scale of his filmbuffery that’s huge. Where I squirrel away books, stealthily slipping them into the house under my coat, he does the same with DVDs. Our shelves are a mosaic of brightly coloured cardboard, paper and plastics.

Fulfilling his need for celluloid (no, I know – pixels then) used to be simple. We’d got to the cinema (we were the young couple who, early in our relationship viewed a late night double bill of The Exorcist and some schlocky horror I can’t remember – for a Valentine’s Day treat). And for home consumption there was Blockbuster.

Ah, Blockbuster. I still recall the dusty shelving, the slightly sticky carpets, the caged popcorn (two sacks for the price of one!), and their line in surly, dishevelled just-got-out-of-bed-at-11-am staff members was second to none.

What those guys couldn’t be bothered to tell you about film wasn’t worth not listening to.

Their stores may have had the air of neglected charity shops, but for a reasonable sum, you could rent any recently released DVD on the market.

Of course, Blockbuster has pretty much gone the way of Woolworths, ra-ra skirts and pedal pushers – extinct, never to be resurrected. Which has left the other half in a quandry when it comes to accessing filmage. We’ve tried Netflix, but he exhausted their range a while back, hence the move to Amazon Prime.

And on Amazon Prime we found The Man in the High Castle.

The quality of the dialogue isn’t the highest – you can almost hear the cogs grinding, it’s so clunky. And the acting … Well, there’s a lot of staring into space looking pensive and the main female character only has two expressions – shocked and blank. But it’s a high-concept, alternate history thriller, set in a 1960s America in which the Axis nations won the Second World War and the States were split between Germany and Japan – nuance is not what we’ve tuned in for.

The most surprising thing for me about The Man in the High Castle is that it’s based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. I suppose I associate Dick with full on flying car, Mars settlement, implants in the brain sci-fi .

I’m sure I’m wrong, but it seems everything that tripped from Dick’s typewriter or slipped from his pen has been adapated for the big screen: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly, the rummaging through his canon for cinema fodder knows no bounds.

Which made me wonder which author holds the record for the most adaptations of their work on the big screen.

Well, I did a bit of googling and although there’s some debate on the subject, there are some names you’d expect to see – and some you really wouldn’t.

Shakespeare and Dickens are first and third – no great surprise there. Ian Fleming makes an appearance for the James Bond books, of course, along with Stephen King, Arthur Conan Doyle, Stan Lee and Robert Louis Stephenson – genre books make great movies after all.

Surprises? Well, according to this list, Anton Chekov is in at number 2. Seriously? You don’t generally see versions of The Cherry Orchard rubbing shouders with the latest Avengers movie down the local multi-plex. Moliere is also there, with 208 writer credits according to IMDb – apparently.

So, what have we learnt from this list? 

That having a long career and writing a ton of successful genre fiction is one way to adaptation success. Being a dead literary giant helps. But sometimes just writing one really good yarn – say Don Quixote if your Cervantes (101 adaptations, mainly of this one text) – can be enough.

And the other thing I’ve learned? That not all Philip K Dick adaptations are equal.

***

Have you been watching The Man in the High Castle? What do you think? Do you agree with the Slate list? Who do you think is the most regularly adapted author?

 

 

 

How Dickens has been turned into a soap opera

facade-472203_1280

Image :Pixabay

It’s a risky premise.

Take a large handful of characters from some of the best known and most widely read 19th century novels in the English language, all written by an author so famous, an adjective has been coined to sum up the flavour of his works. Shake these characters together – regardless if they originally shared the same pages or not – weave them around a murder mystery, and fling them at the television screen to see if the idea sticks.

What the humbug are you talking about, you mad limey besom?

I hear you cry.

Well, to the uninitiated – I suspect anyone living outside the UK – I’m talking about Dickensian (there’s that adjective I mentioned early!).

The creators have taken characters from Dicken’s Bleak House, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Martin Chuzzlewit, Our Mutual Friend and possibly more books I’m too poorly read to recognise and had them all live in the same London neighbourhood at the same time, frequenting the same pub and shops and money lenders.

Now, if you’re thinking this Victorian-set soap opera sounds like a recipe for disaster, you could be right.

The project is overseen by Tony Jordan, best known for writing hundreds of scripts for Eastenders, the UK’s most depressing, grimy (East London-based) soap. It’s a show known for hard storylines including rape, murder and suicide – and all in an early evening time slot.

So, Dickensian could have been a trashy, nasty, sensationalist way of stamping on Charles Dicken’s oeuvre. And there’s nothing more painful than having someone stamp on your oeuvre. Oeuvres, my friend are not for stamping on.

But I don’t think it is.

The clever thing the writers have done is gather the characters together before we see them in their respective books. So we have the novelty of seeing Miss Haversham when she’s still a pretty young thing, full of girlish promise, of seeing Bill Sykes adore Nancy – of seeing Scrooge in full money-grabbing, tight-fisted, pre-redemption glory.

For anyone who has read the books, it’s a melancholy experience.

We know the fates of Nancy, Miss Haversham, Little Nell and the future Lady Dedlock, and we watch them stumbling towards their respective, unpleasant and sticky ends, helpless to warn them of how much trouble lies ahead and how to avoid it.

The production is up to the Beeb’s usual high standards – the acting is generally great, the sets and costumes fantastic, the dialogue has the right tone and the mystery intriguing.

It’s been a fascinating watch so far and I can’t wait to see if the murderer is one we know well – Artful Dodger? Fagin? Surely not the sweet, kindly Bob Cratchit?

So, the question I want to ask you lovely people is this – what do you think of writers who take famous characters and do as they will with them? Do you think we should leave well alone? Have you watched Dickensian and if so, what did you think?

***

If you’d like a quick overview of Dickensian’s main characters, take a look here.

 

Four books starring Father Christmas

santa-claus-1012097_1280

Image: Pixabay

We’re over halfway through our Advent calendar. My kitchen is filling up with nuts – roasted monkeys, salted and dry roasted peanuts, in their shells sheathed in a nylon net …

I know these last can be a pain, that all family members are likely to visit the local hospital some time before the New Year due to injuries from ricochetting almond splinters. But I’ve tried buying the pre-shelled variety and they’re not as much fun. Perhaps it’s that tiny spark of triumph felt when, through sheer brute force, you finally reach that ounce of nutflesh – and without losing a finger.

Anyway half-eaten calendars and nuts equal only one thing – Christmas is nearly upon us.

Working in retail, this means I’ll be in the shop right up until the last day and will no doubt spend Christmas Day half asleep and with my feet up. 

But to steer us all through the next week of fighting septagenarians for the last box of crackers / bag of cranberries / sage, chestnut and onion-stuffed pork and bacon crown (with port wine coulis), I have complied – for a festive Wednesday Word Tangle – a short list of books where dear old

FATHER CHRISTMAS

has a starring role …

 Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs

 

Although Briggs is better known for his story, The Snowman (‘we’re walking in the aaaaaiiir’), this is another great book, a kids’ cartoon from the 1970s  which depicts Father Christmas being bit of a curmudgeon, cussing his way through Christmas deliveries, negotiating cats, TV aerials and milkmen before coming home to a lone turkey dinner.

He’s a boozer, he loves his pipe and takes a hot water bottle to bed with him.

Father Christmas IS an Englishman.

 

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S.Lewis

You can’t get more Christmassy than this book.

In a snowbound, magical land filled with dwarves and fauns and talking beavers – a land where it is ‘Always winter but never Christmas’ – a tall, gowned figure driving a sleigh appears …

Father Christmass’s visit to the Pevenseys in TLTWATW is bittersweet. Yes, it means that thanks to Aslan, the festive season can finally arrive, the snows begin to melt.

But the fact the old man brings weaponry and a potion that can cure any injury as presents FOR CHILDREN suggests there will be no watching the Queen’s speech and hammering each other at Monopoly this year.

 

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Image result for the ghost of christmas present

It’s a bit of a cheat, this one, because you won’t find Father Christmas listed in the dramatis personae of Carol

BUT if you read the description of the Ghost of Christmas Present and see John Leech‘s original illustrations (above), the similarities are pretty obvious.

‘Present’ is a giant, clad in a green, fur-trimmed coat (Father Christmas was often depicted in green before the late 19th C), a holly wreath about his head, shimmering with icicles. He’s full of joy and love for the season, surrounded by food, drink and goodwill that he wants to share with a bemused Scrooge.

He’s more pagan Green Man than Coke marketing icon, but none the worse for that.

 

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas – Clement C. Moore

Not strictly that drunken bon viveur, Father Christmas, rather St. Nicholas.

It’s thanks to Moore we know what Nick’s reindeer are called (though Rudolph was clearly off sick in 1823 as he is obvious by his absence). And the fact that those reindeer are tiny – as is Nick himself. It would explain why it’s so easy for him to get down chimneys, but how many of us actually imagine him as small as he’s described in the poem?

I was struggling to find a lovely version on Youtube. Dick van Dyke nearly made it on here. Then I found this mildly unsettling puppet show (above) from the 50s or 60s to totally creep you out. Enjoy!

***

What stories featuring Father Christmas / Pere Noel / Santa / Sintaklaas are your favourites? Do share them here.

***

Thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W

Books in the Blood 17: why reading the paperback is better than revering the hardback

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

When I was a kid, the way we kept books in our house reflected our attitudes to reading.

My mum had a shelf in the kitchen-diner, jostling with well-thumbed Catherine Cookson and Georgette Heyer novels and factual history books with tatty dust covers. The books were close to the table, well-used, accessible. My mum did – and still does – read incessantly, so she always needed something absorbing to hand, even if she was in the middle of making a white sauce or slicing a gammon joint at the time. Books were an everyday essential to be consumed along with the gammon and white sauce.

I don’t remember having a bookshelf of my own and as I caught the reading bug from my mum and like her always had a book ‘on the go’, I suspect I ‘shelved’ mine on the floor. To say my bedroom was untidy would be to seriously underestimate the health and safety – and hygiene – implications. Imagine the contents of every chest of drawers, wardrobe and toy cupboard in a nine year old’s bedroom – the pink denim flares, the Sindy dolls, the Teddy bears … the amputated limbs and severed heads of Sindys and bears. Now imagine all of that tipped on the floor and mixed with orange squash, crushed Bourbons, mouldy tea cups and Toffo wrappers, with the vague whiff of stale socks and you’ll be getting somewhere close to the ‘experience’ that was my room.

The tragedy is, of course, that when I eventually did clean and tidy this biohazard, I probably killed a cure to some exotic disease along the way. Cleanliness: potentially disastrous for the future of mankind.

My dad treated books in a much less cavalier fashion.

His education had not been the best. It’s not that he wasn’t intelligent, but I suspect he had undiagnosed dyslexia and as he was at school in the 1950s when dyslexic kids were usually filed under ‘slow and lazy’ he was never given the option of Further or Higher Education – manual work was his destiny.

I think because of this, dad put reading and education on a pedestal. He saw them as gateways to a better life, a kinder, easier life. Maybe that’s why he collected serious books – nothing lightweight, nothing ‘fun’, always educational, informative or worthy.

The books I remember most clearly were the complete works of Charles Dickens. Green leather bound with gold lettering on the spines, they sat in a row on the shelf, a little out of place on the plasticised hardboard – too perfect to be touched.

I remember him telling me how wonderful Dickens was. How Oliver Twist’s Fagin could charm and cheat and Bill Sikes would terrify, and the murder of Nancy would leave you breathless, sleepless, drenched in the poor girl’s blood. How for every Quilp, Wackford Squeers and Uriah Heep that emerges to blight the lives of our heroes, there’ll be a Peggotty, Joe Gargery or Mr Brownlow to help them.

He clearly loved the books, but I was nine or ten at the time and more into reading The Beano or finding my lost Misty comics than slipping onto a nineteenth century idiom. It was too challenging for me – to boring.

I never read a single one of those bright shiny tomes. They stayed on the shelf, remaining relics to gaze on, rather than worlds to experience.

The Works of Charles Dickens have become Books in the Blood not through my dad’s copies, but through ones I bought myself years later. Mine were only cheap paperbacks – not a scrap of green leather or gold leaf anywhere. But the words were the same – those amazing characters, old London brought to life – and that was what mattered.