"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

WWJT: What Would Jane Think?

Over the recent holiday weekend, my husband and I made a rare foray to the movie theatre. In recent years we've increasingly done the home-cinema thing. I prefer seeing flicks from the vantage of my big comfy sofa, with a glass of wine in hand and couple of dogs curled up next to me, and the spouse operating the increasingly intricate home entertainment paraphernalia.

But a cinematic version of a Jane Austen novel is too infrequent and too important to wait for a DVD. So we headed out into the cold, snowy world for an early matinee of Pride & Prejudice. In attendance were senior citizen couples, groups of middle-aged women, a clutch of teenaged girls, and one thirty-something guy (solo) with goatee who might have been an English teacher. As far as I could tell, they heartily enjoyed the movie.

So did we.

Based on the director's interviews in the British press earlier this year, and the fact that historian and author Jenny Uglow was a period consultant, my hopes were high. But reaction from the online community also made me a bit wary. Writers of fiction set in Jane Austen's era, and readers of same, and academics, have assessed the film and many found it lacking. Or misguided. Or inaccurate. Or frustrating.

As a filmgoer seeking entertainment, I'm forgiving of a film-maker's decisions when undertaking a literary adaptation. Not that I'm implying forgiveness is warranted in this instance. Having worked in film and on scripts, I know well enought that what ultimately appears on screen is the director's vision. The screenwriter (inspired and preferably guided by the novelist) shapes and shades the story. For me the faults of the screenplay (there were some) and the (occasionally) dodgy musical choices were overcome by all the rest of it in combination--actors, locations, set decoration, etc.

I was delighted by the choice to place the film firmly in the 1790's, when Jane was first working on the manuscript. Frankly, I'm more at home in that decade--four of my novels take place during that time--than the Regency. So I had no problem with the late-18th century boisterousness. Or the mud.

I've spent a fair amount of time in old houses in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland...it's hard enough avoiding mud and puddles in the 21st century, let alone the 18th. When one reads Jane Austen's letters to her sister Cassandra (who painted the above watercolour portrait of the author) she refers to muddy walks, rustic manners, and parties where some of the the women have dirty necks! Jane's mother was a scholar--and as such, not a likely model for flighty Mrs. Bennet--but she was also an dedicated and hands-on gardener when living at Chawton, and eccentric in her choice of garments.

The Jacobean, lived-in-for-generations feel of Longbourn was very appealing, it rooted the Bennets in their place. And it made the family's eventual fate seem, to me, all the sadder. Upon the father's death, and Mr. Collins's inheritance of the estate, the widow and her daughters instantly become homeless. For the Bennet girls, marriage equals survival.

There was enough of Jane Austen's witty dialogue and sharp observation to satisfy me. If the gap between Lizzie's and Darcy's circumstances was presented as very wide, wider than usual in adaptations, it offers modern audiences a clearer view of their apparent unsuitability as a couple. The BBC productions of P&P, which I greatly admire, tended to show the pretty, dressy, and genteel side of life at the expense of harsher realities. One comes away from them thinking that Darcy and Lizzie just didn't get on at first only because he was proud and snobbish, and she was too inclined to believe Wickham's bad propaganda about him. There's rather more going on, and in the new film I saw a lot of it.

And I find I just don't care that Lady Catherine de Bourgh shows up at Longbourn at night instead of morning, as in the book, when she and Lizzie tangle together in that "prettyish kind of little wilderness" on one side of the lawn. In the movie this was a powerful, pivotal scene, magnificently played by both actresses. A sunny pastoral landscape would have diluted its intensity, and distracted from the dialogue. The strange timing of Lady Catherine's arrival sharply underscores her arrogance--it seems a good choice, as the film offers fewer opportunities to do so. Here we get the essence of Lady C...those who wish to know her more fully should really pick up the book!

I could even handle the mushy tacked-on ending. That is, I didn't leave the theatre feeling violated. In my opinion, that very brief Chapter 61--the final chapter--of P&P: The Novel is a downer. Even Jane herself should've had the wisdom to end her tale with Mr. Bennet's remark about being "quite at leisure."

This film interested me, amused me, and felt familiar to me. On reflection, I regard it as a somewhat Hardy-esque version of Jane Austen, and to me that makes for a more intriguing presentation than we've been accustomed to.

What would Jane think? Just as we're unable to see her face in that portrait, we cannot tell whether she'd like Keira Knightley as Lizzie or Matthew MacFadyen as Darcy.

But I can confidently state that I did!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

My Strangest Thanksgiving

We're so often in Britain in November (this year being a rare exception) that I've spent several Thanksgivings there. In conversation with my spouse, we were harking back to our "strangest" Thanksgivings.

For me, it's the only one we've ever spent apart since being married. And it certainly wasn't a bad kind of strange...but was the very first time I'd spent Thanksgiving in a different country. And all by myself.

He was in Cameroon, in Africa, trekking about, meeting elephants and giraffes and monkeys and hanging out with pygmies and their chief. I'd remained in England, travelling on my own. For a while I was in Bath, a comfortable and familiar place, and from there took the train to Chester--ditto.

This is the house I was staying in.

Here's what I wrote on my strange Thanksgiving Day:

"The morning was sunny--bright, but brisk and very chilly. Frost in the shady places, and steam rising up from the River Dee. [Which was only a few steps from where I stayed.] I walked down to the riverside with my camera. Chased a robin around, trying to get a good shot.

my Thanksgiving robin

"Walked around the Castle and back to Bridge Street. Then on to the County Record Office, didn't emerge till 3:00 or so. Also visited St. Werburgh's. [At that church I hunted my ancestor Thomas Williams in the parish register, assisted by a wonderfully nice and helpful Roman Catholic priest with a saintly face.] Read in my room for a couple of hours, till 7:00, then braved the cold again to seek some Turkey.

"Thursday night is late closing for the shops, open till 9:00. Walked up the Rows on Bridge Street and along Westgate. Goodness, but there are a lot of shoppers in Chester! I believe I am the only American in town. I stopped in at the Chester Grosvenor, the most expensive hotel in Europe. No turkey on their menu."

"Pizzaland, across the street, was packed. Not a table available. So I walked on to Diner's Den, the local version of Pizzaland. Ordered a prawn and mushroom pie and read the International Herald Tribune. Cameroon are going to the World Cup!"

Pizza might seem like a strange Thanksgiving meal, but at the time it seemed American enough to me. In fact, I prefer pizza to turkey, so I was much better off. Just now when I Googled Diner's Den in Chester, I didn't get a single hit. I gather it's defunct.

My husband can easily beat me in the "strangest Thanksgiving" game. As I was munching pizza in the heart of my ancestral city of Chester, he was in Cameroon, eating his non-traditional meal with some Dutch relief workers.

But even that adventurous experience can't match his weirdest Thanksgiving dinner, which in fact occurred at a McDonald's...somewhere in Arizona. Before we ever met.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

White Thanksgiving!

our forest after snow

We woke to falling snow, and it continued to pile up--several inches of it. Makes for a beautiful and festive holiday!

Lola living out her identity as a "Northern breed."

Lola in the snow

After playing in the snow, Shadow races up the back steps.

Shadow runs up the stairs

Our non-traditional feast consisted of Atlantic salmon fillets (Delia Smith recipe), Shrimp and Mushroom on Skewers (my recipe), wild rice (out of a Near East box), Sweet Potato Balls (Paula Deen recipe)...

Thanksgiving dinner


Pumpkin and Apple Butter Pie

Pumpkin and Apple Butter Pie, also Paula Deen's recipe, with modifications. We're so stuffed we haven't eaten it yet.

Here's our wish for all of you:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Holiday preparations

My husband is at the supermarket this very minute purchasing the necessary items for our Thursday feast. The main course, as usual, will be untraditional.

Last Thursday, after a Christmas shopping marathon, we dined at a famous turkey restaurant near the Big Lake. So bird this Thursday would be redundant.

Except for a writers' meeting on Saturday afternoon, I spent the weekend entirely at home. He went up to the lake cottage to finish some final closing up tasks.

Last night we had a lovely fire--our newly repaired chimney works!

With our Christmas shopping mostly done, time for the next step. Yesterday afternoon I wrapped 25 gifts. My stock of wrapping paper is severely depleted, so I'll finish up today--the spouse is buying more of it on his shopping round. I'm picky about the paper I use, so I hope he follows my instructions to the letter.

We're having some excellent weather, sunny and not too cold. The girls have been sunbathing on the deck all morning.

Lola stretches out before going down again.

Shadow wonders why I'm taking pix when there's nothing exciting going on here. Lola's already half-asleep.

Shadow follows Lola's example.

They'd better enjoy the sunshine while they can. Rumour has it that Thanksgiving might be a white one!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Ballad of the Bat

Brave Shadow awoke us, late in the night,
A noise in our bathroom had caused quite a fright.

I crawled from my covers, numb as a log,
And groaned, "What the devil is wrong with my dog?"

I crept to our loo with my mini-flashlight
And confronted a highly unusual sight.

By the tub stood the watchdog, and wow, was she freaked!
When I peered inside, I nervously shrieked.

(I screamed, says my spouse, who lay snuggled in bed,
Convinced that yours truly was out of her head.)

Called he from the next room, "Good grief, what is that?"
"It's Myotis lucifugus--a Little Brown Bat!"

My camera I grabbed to record this weird scene,
then assisted my husband, so calm and serene.

Scooping up Bat, out the window he throws it--
A successful release, and now everyone knows it.


We had some moments of panic and pandemonium, but my latest bat encounter had a happy ending!

This week we've had repair work done on our chimney, and the glass doors of our bedroom fireplace insert had been left open. We assume the Little Brown Bat flew down and decided to explore.

It was a lively little critter, and seemed to enjoy climbing up the handle of a plunger. Our Jacuzzi tub is very big and deep--and at the moment, filled with houseplants, so we didn't have a lot of room to maneuvre.

The tools of the rescue were an empty flowerpot and a towel and a piece of cardboard. The process was way too complicated to explain in verse.

After a lifetime of no bat sightings, I've had two in the past month. And both involved bathtubs!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Author Event

No, not mine....

My present days are quiet and visually uninteresting, so I'm backtracking a bit.

We recently (recently = earlier this month) attended a Barnes & Noble booksigning featuring our friend Tess. We met her for a quick lunch beforehand. Local elections were coming up so we talked politics instead of book biz stuff.

A little while later, the talented author discussed her writing before a rapt group of readers.

Here's a stack of her books, ready for autographing.

Tess wows the crowd!

We had a great time, it's always fun catching up. That's why I urge all my author pals to tour our area!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Post-convention post

The three days of the convention were awesome. I even spoke from the podium. The audience on Saturday was about 310 people. Not too daunting, I'd been preparing for it a long time--and I've been working on the initiatives my team presented for nearly two years! Things went quite well. Resolutions were discussed and passed, and there was lots of good fellowship. We had fantastic music on Friday night and again on Saturday, performed by Fran McKendree.

We wrapped up last night with a youth concert, also featuring Fran.

It was a wild time!

Afterwards, the husband and I dined at our favourite Mexican restaurant. Weary as I was, I somehow managed to down a double order of chile rellenos.

Now life should calm down a bit, after a few follow-up meetings this week. I've got several book reviews to refine and submit, a photo essay to organise, and an article to write. Then it's back to the work-in-progress, with as close to full time concentration as I can achieve.

Oh, and we plan to resume our Christmas shopping on Wednesday!

Friday, November 11, 2005

With one foot out the door...

Actually, that's not quite true. My feet are still shod in my warm and comfy wool clogs, and I'm still in my bathrobe...but not for long.

In a little while I'll be leaving for the convention.

My parting gift is a book recommendation.

I've recently read this ecclesiastical mystery--I'm reviewing it for the newspaper. Because I'm in a hurry, and saving my wordier thoughts for them who pays me, I'll just say it's a great read!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On the Go

It's a week of heading off to meetings, day and night. The camera caught me on my way out one afternoon, in appropriate meeting attire, carrying my newly purchased black leather bag. It's roomy enough to hold all my necessary junk, including a mini-computer.

Said the husband, as I was departing, "You are one happenin' babe!"

During a post-meeting drive round town today, I passed these happenin' trees. The building houses a historic inn and fantastic restaurant. Couldn't stop myself from pulling over and shooting. Flaming maples really brighten up a grey day!

A big convention on the horizon will keep me rather busy through Sunday. After that, life will become somewhat calmer and I'll revert to my more typical writer-in-the-woods mode. Or at least try to...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Margaret Evansová Porterová

I've recently had a book published in Slovakia. The first one in that country, but certainly not the last--thanks to that new contract I received Saturday!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Shades of Red

Because we'd planned a Saturday Christmas shopping blow-out (yes, Christmas shopping!) I wore red to put me in the holiday spirit. Shadow was fairly dispirited as I told her farewell...
She knows perfectly well that if I'm wearing make-up, I'm leaving the house for the day.

The weather was startlingly warm for November--in the mid-60's by midday. Granted, it didn't feel very Christmasy outside, but early shopping means not having to contend with snow and ice. To reward ourselves for a successful morning at the mall, we dined at our fave Mexican restuarant. The red chile peppers on the sign match the day's red theme.

Living in the countryside, we believe we've got all the good trees. But in the city we found an awesome stand of blazing red maples in somebody's front yard.

The afternoon sunlight made those red leaves glow.
Usually by now, there isn't much colour left, so we're enjoying this extended leaf-peeeping season.

We brought home an entire trunkful of goodies for various members of our family.

In the mail we found our new passports. And I unexepectedly received contracts for a Slovakian edition of one of my older titles. Happy happy joy joy!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Indoor Gardening

Nearly all the potted plants are inside now, settling into their late autumn/winter quarters.

At this time of year, I'm especially thankful for my white azalea, which has just begun its annual blooming.

It spends spring and summer on the deck, sometimes throwing out a couple of buds. But as soon as it comes indoors, in October or November, it goes crazy. If it follows its usual habit, it will be blooming till Christmastime.

I've had it more years than I can count. Probably about 4. It was my Valentine's or birthday gift from my husband. (I'm confused on that because the dates are only a few weeks apart.)

I love gardenias (which I also grow in pots, with less success at making blooms). The white flowers of this little azalea are somewhat similar--except for the scent.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


November is already shaping up to be a very busy month--the first half of it, anyway!

But October concluded in quite a peaceful and quiet way. Our Halloween afternoon canoe ride was wonderful.

In honour of the last voyage of the season, and Halloween, I wore my glittery new tiara--an eccentric combination with a fleece top and sweatpants. A friend recently gave it to me (don't ask!) I already have two (please don't ask!) but I like this one best of all!

Halloween night was a bit too peaceful and quiet. We didn't get any trick-or-treaters, which is too bad because they missed seeing me in my tiara and fleece/sweatpants ensemble. We're used to it, living in a remote and rural area. The up-side is that we got to eat all the candy ourselves.

Shadow's foot is still being protected. Here's her latest fashion statement--she likes this sock because the dog on it looks just like her. It happens to be one of mine. The washing machine ate its mate.

Lola in the upstairs sitting room, hoping some kids will come to the door.

The weather has been warm, sunny, and mild. Quite a contrast to our mostly grey October!