"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

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Writer Reads

When I blog roses from the Lodge one day, you can expect me to blog about lake life the next. Yes, I've changed locations again. Last evening, after a madly busy day that included numerous telephone calls, a legislative subcommittee meeting, and a mandolin lesson, Ruth and Jewel and I returned to the Big Lake in time for supper.

I'd planned to read a research book last night but in one of those "research miracles" that occur with wonderful regularity, I chanced to tune in to Public TV in the opening moments of a program about tracing ordinary people's royal lineage--specifically, their direct descent from various royal bastards. And what to my wondering eyes did appear, but the male protagonist of my very own novel, and his descendents. One of whom I've met and corresponded with, the other of whom I shall try to see when back in London.

I still suspect I dreamt it all.

I haven't any lake photos to share today. There was a nice sailboat in the Bay just now but I couldn't be bothered to step outside with the camera.

Instead of an image, I'll give a textual vignette. This morning after our walk the dogs had their usual swim. They'd just come out of the water when the mother duck with 7 babies and the other mother duck with 9 babies each came swimming otwards our dock. For a moment the two flocks converged, and 18 ducks were paddling about together. A moment later the giant flock separated into its component parts--no confusion about which group each kid belonged with!

Ruth immediately tried to take charge and "herd" them. The mum and her 9 young headed down the Bay, the mum with 7 stopped in the shallows just off our dock and floated there for about 5 minutes, all preening their feathers at the same time. Jewel was fascinated, standing stock still and watching their every move. Each time a duckling veered away from the group, Ruth would almost jump off the dock to herd it back into place. Would've made a charming film but of course my camera was up at the house and I wasn't about to leave the scene.

On to today's topic--

I've done a significant amount of pleasure reading this summer. Because the broader historical genre is what I write, technically it's professional reading as well--keeping up with the market. (Tax deductible, too!)

Susan Holloway Scott is an auto-buy for me, and her third fictional biography was hot off the press when I snapped it up. These books are written in the first person. I'll admit up front that I'm not especially fond of first-person historical fiction--definitely the direction of the trend (most of Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir--probably why I haven't read them!) A personal taste thing: I genuinely prefer third person narrative and multiple viewpoints. But I make exceptions for exceptional authors and people I actually know. Susan's first subject was Sarah Churchill, first Duchess of Marlborough. The second was Barbara, Lady Castlemaine, Charles II's most notorious mistress. (I strongly recommend both.) Her current book features Nell Gwynn, another of Charles's mistresses--and a popular Restoration actress. It's an effective portrait of a complex and very public person. All books are extremely well-written and historically accurate, absorbing tales of strong women, each of whom has her own distinct voice and outlook. I find that each novel is even better than the one before, or else I have a progressive appreciation for each subject, and all are terrific. I've studied Nell so much for so many years (decades)that I consider myself a highly critical reader of any novel about her. (Some were terribly disappointing and one was grossly inaccurate.) I can report that The King's Favorite outshines them all.

This was my second Tracy Chevalier novel. Like practically everybody, I loved Girl with a Pearl Earring. I was less thrilled with Burning Bright. I made a point of reading this one because it features historical characters about whom I know a great deal--poet William Blake and equestrian impresario Philip Astley. That wasn't the problem. It's third person, multiple viewpoints--unlike Girl. Just as first person viewpoint isn't a deal-breaker, third person doesn't necessarily float my boat!

Happily, Portrait of an Unknown Woman far, far exceeded my expectations, which were of the highest. I absolutely adored this one. So much so that I'm already looking forward to a re-read. All the characters are real, members of Sir Thomas More's family circle and persons who interacted with them--most notably the painter Hans Holbein. Very strongly plotted, a superiour example of Tudor period historical fiction.

This novel is over 20 years old. It's fictional with some historical characters, set in the early 18th century, and has the epic qualities I so rarely find in the historical genre, and sorely miss. Through a Glass Darkly is an emotional rollercoaster. When it was first released, I was one of the zillions who made it a bestseller. I remember liking it and being impressed with the quality of writing but not loving it. When I re-read it a few weeks ago, I really did love it. Last summer a prequel, Dark Angels was published. It takes place closer to the time of my own novel, and was very well done.

I never got round to reading Now Face to Face a direct sequel to TAGD. After re-reading and loving TAGD, I raced to Borders for this new edition. It's my current read and came with me to the lake as my reward for getting lots of work done editing my manuscript!

And now for something completely different:

I have absolutely no objectivity about Katie Fforde. For me, she's the modern incarnation of Jane Austen. A few families in a country village, a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife...all that stuff! She's a contemporary Georgette Heyer and wrote "chick lit" before there was any such thing, so I don't think of her books as chick lit. Her style is not only entertaining, her heroines are very human modern women involved in interesting pursuits as they proceed towards their happy ending. The novels also evoke for me so many aspects of English ways of living that I experienced(and keenly miss), especially during our Clifton/Bristol years. Wedding Season, about a trio of wedding planners, isn't yet available in the US but all Katie's other titles are. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting her at the RNA annual summer party in London and she's as delightful in person as she is on the page!

So now you know what I'm doing when not blogging. Or writing. Or researching. Or walking dogs. Or practicing mandolin. Or gazing out upon the Big Lake. Or adoring my roses.

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