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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Will e-readers change our writing style?

"I recently had an editor ask me to cut down my paragraphs into four, maybe five sentences. To find a break point in ones that were longer and limit the number of sentences. The reason – they play better on an e-reader. The size of the screens is conducive to shorter paragraphs rather than longer ones. So instead of describing a room in terms of sight, sound and smells, I needed a separate paragraph for each. It made sense in that context but it made for a change in my writing style."

This was a quote from Regan Taylor a writer of historical romance. (Read her whole post The long and short of reading and writing here)

With the Kindle arriving in the UK and more and more people choosing e readers, I thought this was an interesting point for writers. When we all began writing emails, the indented paragraphs disappeared in favour of a line space because this made it easier to read on screen, and Arial became the font of choice as opposed to Times New Roman. Most of us have nearly forgotten how a letter used to look, and most documents now are laid out "email style" rather than with old-fashioned paragraphs.

Those of you who possess e-readers might like to give us writers a few tips on what works well on an e-reader and what doesn't. And have any other writers changed their style to adapt to new technology?

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Mary Beale - 17th Century artist

On Hoydens and Firebrands you can find my post about the first woman artist to make her living from painting. A fascinating independent spirit, her paintings hang in the National Gallery.

Friday, 20 August 2010

"His Last Duchess" by Gabrielle Kimm - Review

This is the sort of book to take away with you on a wet weekend as it immediately conjures a sense of the hot sun of Renaissance Italy.

One of Gabrielle Kimm's strengths is that she is able to convey that heat and light to someone like me, sitting in Cumbria with the grey rain sheeting down outside. Her other strength is in describing the minutiae of life in a Tuscan estate, including a wonderful description of the kitchens, the intricacies of falconry, the manufacture of lime, and most of all the lost art of fresco painting.

'Flight of Aeneas from Troy', fresco painting by Girolamo Genga, 1507-1510, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena.

Impeccably researched, the history is woven fluidly into the plot so that you never feel as if it is slowing the story.

The plot is fast-moving and unfolds from the poem with inevitability, but there is a twist in the tale which is very satisfying to the reader - I shan't spoil it for you though.

Lucrezia comes across as a sweet-natured heroine, out of her depth in a marriage to the sinister and controlling Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara. In many ways his conflicted character drives the book, and the reader is both fascinated and repulsed by his developing psychology.

In terms of the poem, Gabrielle Kimm has managed to make sense of the hidden story behind the monologue, and I doubt if I will ever be able to read the poem again without remembering this book.

One word of warning though for parents and teachers who might buy this book for a child who is studying the poem -
best read it yourself before giving it to younger readers - not just because it is an excellent book, but because you might want to check out the adult nature of the themes before passing it on.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the character of Francesca, Alfonso's whore, is one I look forward to meeting in Gabrielle's next book, The Courtesan's Choice.

My Last Duchess

That's my last duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
"Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
"Must never hope to reproduce the faint
"Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart how shall I say? too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favor at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men good! but thanked
Somehow I know not how as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech which I have not to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
"Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
"Or there exceed the mark" and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and make excuse,
E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Why do writers reach for the past?

There is a great article on the guardian blog about historical fiction and historical accuracy, for example whether accurate equals good.
It also says that much of today's fiction is actually historical fiction in that it is set before the writer's lifetime. Most fiction that attracts me is set either in the past, in a foreign country, or in an alternative past.
So what is it that makes so many writers reach for the past? For myself it is a combination of factors - first that history is in one sense fixed - i.e the technology and social history can be pinpointed to one or two decades. I can research the particular time in the confidence that it will not suddenly shift about. A contemporary fiction writer has to deal with the fact that technology is moving on in ever quickening leaps, so that the type of gadgets we have now maybe obsolete in two years time, thus immediately dating their "contemporary" book. One example is how forensics for crime writers has made  baffling jumps in biological science. Keeping up with it is only for those who have a similar obsessive scientific interest.

For me another appeal of writing historical novels is that a wide range of writers have usually already written about the period and I can therefore indulge my love of books and writing - not so for the contemporary fiction writer whose research will be first hand, and quite possibly out of date by the time the book hits the shelves.

I love to read biographies of famous figures of the time, but also the literature of the period. There is a great joy for me in discovering (and even on occasions using) English words that have passed out of common usage. I enjoy the history of our language, and own many etymological dictionaries and also a wonderful Victorian thesaurus which gives me unlikely out-of-date synonyms for common words.

I have to confess I did not deliberately choose to write historical fiction, I just chose to write about a subject that interested me. But now I find I am more and more interested in the past and how its mysteries have shaped us. To me the past is a foreign land, full of people who I would expect to know but somehow don't - our ancestors have views quite alien from our own. Only a few days ago I was reading that one of the main entertainments for people to watch on feast days and at village fairs in the 17th century was the torturing of cats by holding them live over a bonfire. This was considered hilarious sport by our forbears. Clearly a society in which this was a suitable spectacle to entertain young children was radically different from our own.

The picture is from the classic poetry myspace site -

Thursday, 5 August 2010

"His Last Duchess" Interview and Giveaway

I've just posted an interview with Gabrielle Kimm on her new book here

Pop over if you would like a chance to win a signed copy. I've just started mine, review soon!