Wednesday, 17 December 2008

New Year, Theoretically New Start...

As my first post of the New Year, I think I'd better put down a few resolutions to look at later. It always makes me laugh to look at the things I consistently fail to do over the year - but I fall for the 'fresh start attitude' . It makes me think I'll stand a better chance of actually doing the things I 'll avoid doing for the rest of the year.

Numero Un: Remain Tolerant of the Twilight Series.
My sister has got the Stephanie Meyer virus. It's everywhere, I guess - the movie, with a rather gloomy Cedric Diggory, the merchandise, the books - the many, many books. I was eventually persuaded, through alternate pleading and dire threats by my little sister, to read the Twilight series. Three books later I was still bemusedly wondering how something which would have been unanimously flamed on has caught the hearts and minds of the goth inclined teenagers of the world.
Oh dear. Where to begin? A heroine you want to drop-kick out of a window for being so saccharine, a hero who's decidedly ... well, "perfect," "gorgeous" and all the rest of it, but who has as much charisma as a shop mannequin and who wallows in angst at every available opportunity. Plus the vampires/werewolves/ ordinary townsfolk are all so nice. So absolutely in love with Bella! I don't actually know what high school is like in the US, but if it's anything like high schools here, I'm willing to bet not everyone automatically falls in love with the new girl on her very first day.
However, try and discreetly mention some of the plot flaws to a Twilight fan, and the exchange ends up something like the council of war scene from Kingdom of Heaven...

Twilight Fan: " a teenager who is in loooove with Edward Cullen can never be defeated in pursuit of true loooove!"

Moi: 'But it's nothing like real life at all! And Edward Cullen is not attractive or charismatic!!!'

Twilight Fan:BLASPHEMY!!!!!

So... in light of being pounced on with howls of fury when I make any criticism of Stephanie Meyer's, talent, I have decided on tolerance. I shall nod my head and fervently agree with anyone who is a Twilighter, and then consider whether t'is a far far better thing to lower my standards and send raving Mary-Sues to the publishers instead of a worthy novel. Hmm. Jury's out on that one...

Monday, 8 December 2008

How Wondrous Parlous is an Inner Critic

I've been shamefully neglectful of late on blog postings - mostly because of the bleak midwinter depression that sets in for Lit students just before the Christmas holidays. Exams, exhausting essays, miserable weather and the forced merriment of Christmas student parties take quite a toll! But before I succumb to the dissipations of the season and lose all coherent writing ability, I thought I'd write about that little internal mechanism that takes over when I'm writing. I wonder if it's true for all authors? Whether the characters sit on your shoulder, offer little critques - often downright insults - and when benignly inclined send darts of inspiration that let the story go on?

There's a very famous painting of Dickens called Dickens' Dream where the great man himself sits with thousands of tiny tableaux - figures, characters, sketches from his work, all sit about him. Some look up at him, some aren't aware of his existence. It's as though only a select few are there to inspire. Of course, it would be a wonderful thought if one's characters could do that , although it certainly doesn't happen in any of my original creations. They quiver with feeble life and then sink back down into apathy.

But there are definitely select guardians for my fanfiction. For instance, my very first Les Miserables fic was guarded by the taciturn Javert. He initially looked something like Geoffrey Rush from the 1998 movie - but he seemed to improve much on being dead, and within a few months of writing it had taken on a far more benign personality - like an irritable Parisian Sherlock Holmes. (I did once attempt to write Holmes fanfiction, by the way - before I was even aware fanfiction existed. I was eleven, and Mary Sues abounded. There was this blonde, logical, damsel in distress, and a jealous quarrel between Holmes and Mycroft. Needless to say, that's buried on an island somewhere out of reach of mortal man).

I hardly like to mention the present guardian of Tu Salus Fidelium, in case he becomes offended and disappears, but the good Lord of Tripoli has practically written himself. I'm not quite sure where the reckless drinking habit came from - nor the hesitant insecurities, and in retrospect Tiberias could very well be medieval noir - a twelfth century version of the cynical, hard-drinking detective in a dog-eat-dog world. But he's an affectionate character underneath it all, and when he chooses to exercise his influence the story flows like a dream.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Christmas - or the Joys of Sparkly Things

Well, it's been a long while since I posted -through terminal essay stress, the joys of slush (not snow - the best we get is sleet, apparently, in Manchester - to my eternal annoyance there's six inches of snow on the ground in my home town of Bury, not half an hour's journey away, for the first time in twelve years! It WOULD snow whilst I'm at uni, wouldn't it) - and the always fun prospect of revising unkown medieval somethings for an exam in January. But I thought I'd take time out of writing depressing essays about post-modern theatre to write about Christmas.
Christmas - or rather, December, is my month. It's cold, miserable, the darkest time of the year - and then right in the middle of it all we have a bright festival of glittery lights and sparkly things to cheer everyone up. Everyone gets tired, yes - but we also get hopeful. Even competitive - in halls the competition is vicious about who has the best decorated flat. My dad's enthusiastically offered 100-foot string of shiny snowflakes was, perhaps, a bit overdoing it - our hall looks like a shrine to the Norse ice giants - but the thought's there. I'm even in a campus Nativity Play this year, for the first time since I was five years old.
What IS interesting, though, is a theory my mother put forward about Christmas. That we need the glitter to fend off the darkness. I mean, technically, Christmas on the 25th December tactfully covered all the old pagan festivals with good old human sacrifice and huge bonfires - but even before Christmas, practically every ancient civilisation has some sort of winter festival where lights are lit and the dull blankness of the ordinary world outside fought off for at least another day. And round about now, there's a patch of damp depression (and colds) that needs to be fought off with a little bit of snow, magic, lights, and Christmas.
This year we're having a fancy-dress 'Tim Burton' Christmas - mainly to humour my little sister, who has recently bought into the 'Twilight' obsessives. It should be fun - not least with a patch of dark ghoulish fun riding alongside the Christmas merriment. An interesting mix for everyone...

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Films, Diplomacy, and Odd Moments of Fellow-Feeling

I got an email from an old school friend the other day who I knew back in sixth-form. She's studying economics now down near London, and planning to live there, so I probably won't see her again until we get our certificates - but it reminded me of how we actually became friends, because, in an odd way, it was all to do with Ridley Scott and Kingdom of Heaven. If it wasn't for that, we'd probably still be just nodding acquaintances.

Back in 2006, when I was a first year sixth-former, we had Theology classes once a week. The teacher was indifferent, the subject primarily to do with drawing cheerful religious posters rather than much actual work, and all in all, it was one of the lessons you set your teeth through, endure silently, and then get out a decent book on anything you want to know. But my friend in question (let's call her X), got called upon to do a presentation on Islam by the teacher, thinking it would be an enriching moment for us all.
Well, schoolkids can be horribly unmerciful. It was the September after there were the bombings in London, and you could just tell, by the bored, self-complacent looks on the faces of a few of the girls, that they were going to bombard poor X with terrible insensitive questions which had nothing to do with actual Islam. And poor X, who had come up with a really informative and entertaining Powerpoint on the subject (I couldn't produce a decent presentation to save my life on my own religion, let alone a Powerpoint) just stood there, looking nervous and embarassed and unhappy, as the teacher handed out slips of paper for us to write out anonymous questions we had for her.
And I couldn't think of anything. My mind went totally blank. Everyone else was writing busily, and I didn't have a decent question in my head. The only thing I really, really wanted to know was...
Does the portrayal of Saladin in Kingdom of Heaven tally with what Muslim historians know about him?
It was the only question I could think of, but I used it in the end, knowing it sounded stupid. Besides, what if she hadn't even seen the film? It was a ridiculously nerdy question, and I was half-tempted to just not hand in a question. But, for some reason, I let it stand.
X was very patient throughout the whole Q and A session, mostly fielding questions like 'what's the veil thing called?'
I thought she'd ignore mine. It wasn't exactly relevant, after all. But it was something I really wanted to know, and I was resigned to being a polite nuisance when, at the very end of the lesson, she said 'Who asked the Kingdom of Heaven question?'

I tentatively stuck my hand up, thinking I was going to be pilloried by the teacher for this. But X looked really, genuinely interested - and then she went on to give a wonderful explanation about the subject. It turned out she adored the movie too! it was she who first mentioned Imad al Din to me, although it was some time before I associated him with Balian's encounter in the desert. Okay, so it was off-topic, and we bored the rest of the class stiff with our medieval history swapping. But it was a real connection that day, and it began a really great friendship for the next two years.
And all through a moment's obsession! Although, in the end, it turned out to be quite ironic. A boy in my class - in fact the only boy in my class, through a freak of class planning, got rather heated when we discussed Reynaud de Chatillon. He belonged to the 'Da-Vinci Code' cult and had a deluded image of the Templars as perfect guardians of secret truths. I feel slightly guilty about shattering his illusions (just slightly, mind you); we argued about it every day for the next three months of Theology classes until I persuaded him to watch the movie.
Life's an odd thing. But it's great that even in odd moments you can find felloe sympathisers, and that's possibly one of my best memories of sixth-form.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Fanfiction I Have Tried to Write

"Dots are believed by many writers of our day to be a good substitute for effective writing. They are certainly an easy one. Let us have a few more......"
M.R. James, Stories I Have Tried To Write

It would appear that writers (good, bad, ugly, or indifferent) all know this feeling. It's the feeling of being haunted by the Ghosts Of Stories Past. The alternate story-lines. The ways It Could Have Gone, only to eventually culminate in a frusrated deleting of files and much screwing up of paper and gnashing of teeth all round. Sometimes stories just don't want to be written, and they'll fight you all the way for that inch of debated ground.
Personally, I blame the characters. They have entirely themselves to blame.
Fairly recently, after protracted and very, very boring readings of Moby Dick, I had an idea of livening things up a little with the thunderous ramblings of good old Captain Ahab. After checking to see whether a niche as romantic hero had been filled in the pantheon of fanfiction (No, by the way. The only fic to date that isn't slash is about the good Captain working in er... Starbucks), I decided to be a pioneer for romance in Melville. Ahab is a tragic Heathcliff/Mr Rochester-esque figure! After a lifetime of chasing whales with 'smoking fury', he finally finds solace in the arms of a Mary-Sue by the name of Penitence Harnett (but a demure Quaker one, and certainly female) until his restless obsession finally led him onwards to his tragic death. It was brilliant! Ahab's past cranked up every Victorian melodrama lever you could mention. I successfully wrote about the madness of his mother (throwing herself off a cliff into the sea at his christening, after giving him a terrible blasphemous name), it was full speed ahead for all-out romance...
And then it stopped. Dead. I couldn't write another word. I had the plot, everything fleshed out. But I just couldn't write Ahab. After a while, I gave up trying.
Personally, I sometimes wonder if it was some sort of character protest against taking him in vain, but why protest at that and not the slash and Starbucks? It was very mild mockery compared to some things.
It may resurface eventually if I can get past the block and, verily, find myself a window into the 'Old Mogul's' madness. Forsooth, t'is an arduous task.

Another fic I never wrote was a Tiberias/OC Kingdom of Heaven thing. I know, I know, I was stupid - besides, a very little research reveals his wife Eschiva, and the actual history alone offers far more intriguing possibilities. I learnt that early on in my writing career. But originally Tu Salus Fidelium was going to be just that. Possibly there are still dim traces of it in the early chapters.

Not to mention the re-animated spectre of a Frankenstein fiction. Gothic early nineteenth century style doesn't seem to have been attempted so far, and I am quite willing to try my hand at a little Mary Shelley fun . 'These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poets whose effusions entranced my soul and lifted it to heaven.'

Ah well. These are all dim reproachful shades at the moment. But nice to bear in mind, certainly :P

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Portrait of a Lady-in-Waiting...

There's a lot of history behind this picture. I thought I'd take time out to write a short, sweet little vignette explaining how Mirrum came into being (even subconsciously at age seven).
Our public library back in 1996 was er... interesting. Limited, one might say, in books - which is an odd thing for a library -eg, a place of worship for readers everywhere. Not having books there is rather like a place of worship without a God - lonely, faintly out of place - and in this case, desperately dull. Harry Potter isn't even invented yet. A small seven year old girl is flicking through the 'children's books.' Unfortunately she's grown out of Spot's First Day At School - and she never liked Dr Seuss. However, she's discovered King Arthur in a book of children's stories (although all the meaning behind the er... romances have passed her by. Innocence is a wonderful thing.) And what does she stumble upon?
An almost word for word children's illustrated translation of the Lays of Marie de France. Now, this is like finding gold dust in a heap of sand. Most of the older children's books are strictly educational back in 1996 - or else given worthy titles like Why Do People Have to Die, Mummy?
And there's this picture on the front of the book. It's from Lanval.
Now, on reading the story, the fair damsel is absolutely nothing like Mirrum. For one thing, she's the sort of fairy lady who casually hangs about half-dressed in a silk tent offering affection, associated er - activities to do with love, and 'never-ending wealth' to the first knight that comes along - on condition he never boasts about her. She's your generic 'wish-fulfilment' for the medieval man. It was an odd book for a little girl. But kudos to the artistic genius of Angela Barrett that she doesn't make the fairy damozel look like the mythical floozy she was in the story. She has a certain intelligent.... look, about her. Not exactly beautiful, but - arresting. I hunted fruitlessly for this book for years until I finally tracked it down second-hand on Amazon. She just is Mirrum, down to a T. I don't think I even realised I'd had the illustration in my mind when writing until I opened the package and there it was.
Wow... I suppose it illustrates the point (or substantiates the argument for, as my tutors are always saying) that the subconscious holds more things than we actually realise...

Monday, 10 November 2008

A Post at Last! Embarassing Literary Crushes....

Eep - I have no excuse for my absence here - apart from a total of three essays on the subtleties of English literature and all due in by next week. The pressure is mounting, tensions are running high, the Humble Author is in a state of mental prostration and wombles round her room laughing maniacally....The usual thing. But because I'll eventually go insane if I work non-stop on said essays, I thought I'd take time out from my bust schedule to think about the pleasant subject of literary crushes as the dark months lie ahead.

This has been running through my head some little while, and finally the 'love that dare not speak its name' must be brought into daylight.

It's the er... crush on literary characters. Everyone's had them. I don't know a single female who's never had a crush on some of the populist ones : Mr Darcy, for example. Everyone has them. But... we never speak of them. Or if we do, it's with an uneasy nod to actors rather than the characters. Because whilst lusting after actors is permissible (they're real, tangible people, after all) it often meets with strange looks if one casually mentions the fact you prefer the book Mr Darcy to say, Colin Firth. Or the awful posturing of Matthew Macfayden in the film with Keira Knightley.

So! Here's a list of some of the weird, wonderful crushes that book-obsessed little girls can have, in no particlular order:

Brian de Bois-Gilbert, Ivanhoe:
In the thinking, reasoning nineteen-year old self I posess now, I would rather chew off my own foot than ever develop a passion for a lying, treacherous, kidnapping, and generally bad, BAD man of a Knight Templar merely because the hero was boring as ditchwater, but my wide eyed eleven-year old self didn't think so. I mean, he was smouldering. Even when betraying Richard the Lionheart and carrying off fair maidens across his saddle.... I mean, wow. Seriously wow at the time. Plus he had a "tragic" reason for being a pillaging heartless murderer. It took my small pretty little fairytale images of knights and made them into medieval smouldering bad boys. Sir Walter Scott always wrote amazingly good villains and then gives us the most insipid heroes to feel sympathy for. If anyone can track down the TV series on DVD (which I have on VHS) it's well worth your while for lovely Crusade goodness. Alas, the DVD version is Region One, so I'd have to order it from America.

Brian de Bois-Gilbert probably started off my predilection for dark smouldering Byronic heroes, because I moved on to...

Mr Rochester, Jane Eyre:

Yes, I know - this is technically populist. But I've not yet seen a television adaptation that lived up to Mr Rochester yet. Toby Stephens was pretty close (and the 2006 version had a convincing solution to the problem of the gypsy woman disguise! Anyone who's seen the 1983 BBC version will know what I mean - it takes more than Timothy Dalton cackling in a shawl, that's for sure).

And none of the films have got it right. Ever. So as yet, the perfect Mr Rochester stays inside my head. I never quite got into Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, though. Sure, he's tragic, but hold the mindless brutality, please. I like a thinking hero.

Er...The Monster, Frankenstein:

Based purely on an Angela Barrett illustration for a children's book on Mary Shelley, Through The Tempests Dark and Wild (Angela Barrett is my illustrator's God. Seriously. A long while ago when I was a wobbly six-year old she illustrated a children's version of Marie de France - and there's a pale, fair-haired maiden on the front who just coincidentally faintly resembles Mirrum...) But here it is! The Monster, in all its wild, lonely glory, meeting it's true, sympathetic creator on a lightning-riven mountainside. The fics that would stream from this single image! The poetry! The drama! the poignancy of it all! It's not Birs Karloff hamming it up for the 1930s - it's a genuinely moving image, and far truer to the book's description than any adaptation yet.

Stephen Maturin, The Patrick O Brien series.

My dad read a Patrick O Brien every summer when we went on holiday during my childhood until the books ran out. I wish I had his stamina - I tried, truly I did. But good old Jack Aubrey and belaying and avasting the mainmast staysails often got the better of me as a child. But, in between skipping confusedly to the front page to stare at the ship diagram on the front page, and trying to decipher what on earth the foc'sle was, I delighted in reading the coherent passages about Stephen Maturin. Paul Bettany wasn't quite how I imagined him, but the strength of the role - and the film , although Russell Crowe isn't quite my Jack Aubrey - persuaded me to try them again.

I'm still all at sea (pardon the pun). Perhaps one day a flash of illumination will descend and I'll be able to talk salt sea-dogisms with the best of them. One day...

Mr Tilney, Northanger Abbey:

The nicest Regency gentleman I ever met in fiction! Becuase, let's face it - whilst like every swooning fan I had hopes to be an Elizabeth Bennett - I can't get rid of the nagging suspicion Mr Darcy would let out a contemptuous snort and walk away upon sight of me. I have the ghost of a thought I'm a Mary Bennett earnestly bent over the tweinty-first century equivalent of Fordyce's Sermons. Edward Ferrars? Too weak-minded. Colonel Brandon? Not likely to fall for my girlish naivete. Although Captain Wentworth could be added to my collection of nautical gentlemen. And I always detested Fanny in Mansfield Park. She's too simpering. But Mr Tilney - he's kind, has a pleasant sense of humour - enjoys teasing Catherine Moreland for her ghoulish fascination in a mocking but gentle way, delightfully level-headed when it comes to it, and an all-round pleasant gentleman who comes to the aid of embarassed females in Bath assembly rooms. Wet shirts and Darcy be damned - Tilney's the man for me.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Marcus Aurelius and Me, or: Beware Author's Devices!

A suitably morbid little blog which a comes a few days too late for Halloween, but there you go. Here it is...
Okay. The following is a true story.
Some time ago for reasons which may (or may not) be clear, I was looking for some good, decently archaic examples of Classic Literature. Preferably Latin/Greek, well-established, wise - oh, and preferably offering an insight into the moment I was trying to capture in my KOH fic. Well, it so happened that flicking through the Oxford Book of Quotations wasn't quite enough - that led me to Catullus, which was a BIG mistake. Catullus, in addition to translating some lovely poems in the Carmine, also wrote some of the filthiest Latin verse known to man. It wouldn't be written on toilet walls today. Or, rather, it would. But on from Catullus -
A chance mention in East of Eden led me to Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I stumbled across a cheap copy in a 3 for 2 book offer, thought the writing sounded excellent stuff for a certain character of mine - and hey presto! I was off without a second thought. For me, it merely added to the intellectual perplexity of the (shall we say, protagonist) without actually considering what I was quoting from.
Now, 'Ware Author's Devices! I don't know if Melville ever paused in his writing to declaim Shakespearean monologues to the cat, or whether any author actually goes on to do something they only wrote about for a dramatic purpose. Probably they do it before, if possible. But in my case I quite happily wrote about consulting Marcus Aurelius, and then went on to do it in a moment of indecision. My reasons weren't very noble, I have to say - I was in two minds about something really very everyday. You know the mood - where you'll happily toss a coin, do 'eeny-meeney-miney-mo' - settle for anything that makes up your mind.
The creepy thing? Marcus Aurelius works. Seriously. if you're ever in two minds about something, Marcus Aurelius makes up your mind for you...
Hmm, perhaps I sense material for a fic here - long-dead Roman emperors controlling the mind from beyond the grave...

Friday, 24 October 2008

Halloween Parties and other animals...

Okay. I'm sat here, at my keyboard, typing, in a Miss Havisham outfit; full Regency decaying lace gown, mittens, and heeled shoes. This Miss Havisham outfit in the picture to the left, as it happens. And God, I'm nervous. The party? 'Horror in fiction.' - the annual English Lit university bash. I'm technically supposed to be one of those drivelling Gothic heroines - Elizabeth, who gets strangled by the Monster in Frankenstein - or one of the wet ones from Mysteries of Udolpho who recite poetry and get threatened by brooding dark Guy de Lusignan look-alikes. I'm kinda wishing I'd just done Hermione instead of looking like a deranged Elizabeth Bennet - it's a lot easier to get into a taxi, after all. No ugh - long trains that get caught on shoe heels or in doors and stuff to worry about.

But - here's the thing. When there's a dressing-up party I get carried away. Last time I was Mrs Lovett, instead of just being Goth I eagerly dug up an old theatrical brown crinoline costume no-one wanted and went all eh... overboard, shall we say...

And now there's Miss Havisham. I have no excuse for Miss Havisham.

Perhaps I'd better explain. In Manchester, there is a theatre, called The Royal Exchange. And there is a place called Royal Exchange Costume Hire.

Yup. Actual costumes from actual productions.

This is very stupid where people like myself are concerned. You can volunteer to work there, serve customers, and get free theatre tickets in return - and of course, since you know about it, get costumes from there.

I'm now officially a costume junkie. It's the biggest dressing up box any potty little girl can imagine. I've tried on Georgian polonaises from She Stoops to Conquer, Tudor gowns from various Shakespearean productions - a half-score of weeny, breathe-in-and maybe you-won't pass-out-before -you-can-peek-in-the-mirror gowns from Oscar Wilde plays. Miss Havisham was in a version of Great Expectations I actually went to see.And now I'm sitting here, typing, wearing the costume. Phew!
But no denying, it has been an education. For a start, corsets, Georgian, Victorian or any period at all, hurt. Seriously. It's amazing, considering the whole 'I can't breathe!' thing of recent films, Keira Knightley, etc, etc, that I assume corsets were pain-free, but soemhow I just went 'ooh the romance!'
Don't be fooled! They hurt, you end up directing all conversation to your boobs rather than your face (don't ask) and you'll have marks from the steel/plastic whalebone substitutes for about a week afterwards.
But there, rant over. ASIDE from horrible corsets of evil, it's a little girl's party princess historically accurate dream.
And, as it happens there just happens to be a medieval-themed birthday party coming up that gives me the perfect excuse to try on a red and gold sequinned gown that could be suspiciously like Sybilla from Kingdom of Heaven....
Ah well. No matter it's a size 8 because actresses are all size zero! Just breathe in and smile so you can live the dream, darling...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

'Gams' Across the Web

This is to pick up on a theme mentioned by Mercury Gray about connectivity ( if I own her at writing, she definitely owns me! Tu Salus Fidelium was directly influenced in many ways by a certain little fic called God Wills It) It's very much the whole 'six degrees of separation' thing - and really, when you think about it, absolutely amazing! We no longer have to send messages by pigeon, or messengers in tricorne hats on horseback, or messages in bottles. We're all engaged in a kind of wizardry that would have seemed devilish or miraculous to the people in the past; and in a sense we are very much indebted to our 'invisible friends' - people we'll probably never see, but are very much there for a pleasant exchange of opinions over the Web.
It's a very good thing I don't have to explain this to some one from the sixteenth century. I'd probably be burnt at the stake for communicating with 'spirits'.
But one of the things that absolutely staggered me a little while back was that someone else also reads and loves the Adventure of English!
Now, The Adventure of English is an overlooked little book in (weird!) England. For sixth-form college we did a module that really fired my imagination on Old and Middle English, and we watched an episode from the series. And did that inspire me! I was so taken with it I was daydreaming about one day learning to speak Old English (just in case I get dramatically transported back in time a la Timeline into Ivanhoe and Old English comes in handy to plead for mercy) Only to discover everyone one else was more... 'mweh, it's just class. Let's go out tonight...'
Well, I don't excuse my nerdiness. It's part of who I am. But it took a lot of finding on Amazon to track down the book accompanying the TV series - alas, I couldn't track down the DVD. It hasn't been released yet. But it was very much worth it. I had no idea anyone outside the UK had even heard of it!
Just goes to show. So - to the fellow reader of The Adventure of English who, like the truth in the X-files, is out there somewhere - wes hal! And thanks...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

"The Pha-antom of the Literature Room is there..."

Apologies! This was, in fact, the title of a vague idea that came to me a while ago. Only ... it appears I forgot to actually write anything - a lamentable mistake when I'm supposed to be a coherent university student who doesn't make mistakes like forgetting to write anything. It comes of sleepless writers block.
But anway! To begin...
Amongst my many past sins, one of them is... Phandom. Yes. It's true. The now satirical sneerer at all things Andrew Lloyd Webber was once a rabid phan (and still has slight moments of regrettable costume envy). Now, I have no problem with the book - Leroux an excellent writer, and I love his detective stories like the Mystery of the Yellow Room, and The Perfume of the Lady in Black.In my view, they are perhaps better than Phantom, which, let's face it, is really a one-off pulp hit. But I was young - my 'salad days, when I was green in judgement and slightly in love with Gerard Butler'. Mercifully, after lengthy sittings of watching better things, I gave up Phantom for good.
But a chance conversation with an still fervent phanatic brought something to my attention. Why does music and science get all the masked evil geniuses? The hideous creations, the gothic fantasies? Why do no crazed Literature professors lurk in high towers at university and command hunchbacks to open mouldy caskets of old dissertations? Why are there no caverns where masked antiheroes declaim poetry, possibly to something a little like 'the Music of the Iambic Pentameter?' And why are there no outcast monsters made up of old pages of dead quotations howling vengeance on humanity?
Alas, Mary Shelley neglected literature most sadly when she chose science instead of books....

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Books, Museums, and Mausoleums

Does anyone else have something of a grudge against the idea of e-books? The idea popped up a few days ago, when someone suggested that one day books will be completely redundant and the world will belong to what can pop up on a tiny Ipod/Blackberry screen.
They were quite startled when I let out a wail of dismay at the idea. They thought it was an excellent idea. And it is, in theory - you can access a world of words at your fingertips in a matter of seconds.
But...what of the book fetishists?
A book fetishist, by the way, is not someone who will just dip into a book 'occasionally', when you have the time. It's not even the more earnest type of student who have to own books simply to write their own miniscule, very precise notes for dissertations. It's the sort of borderline obsessive (like myself) who simply HAS to own books for the sake of it. The physical, sensual pleasure of owning a book - the fresh, clean smell of newly printed pages, the way the print smudges in some of the cheap Penguin classics when you run a finger down them, the luxury editions with coloured pates in glossy paper, the lovely embossed feel of a cover with slippery acrylic words - the fancy, Christmas books with raised velvet lettering or soft morrocan leather covers...
Ah. Paradise.
Where's all this with an e-book? Besides, there is something very private about the act of reading a book. It's between you and the pages, no-one else. Computers are there for people to glance over your shoulder and make disparaging comments. Ipods are... well, the idea of trying to read Ivanhoe or some of my favourite reads on a tiny little mp3 player screen - ugh!
Books must live - or else end up like the books in the John Rylands Library.
It's one of the saddest mausoleums I ever saw. It's exclusive to Manchester, and there are certainly some rare manuscripts there. There's a giftshop, too - and a decent cafe if anyone ever cares to go. It's also hailed as 'gorgeous, Gothic, romantic'...
Well. It is, but it's Victorian Gothic, in the slightly tasteless, 'look, let's invent some fake history!' style. Outside it could be a set from Harry Potter. Manchester had an odd complex about itself way back in the 1800s - slightly defensive, in a very North And South way. The rich industrialist whose money built the John Rylands Library was a staunch Protestant, so his widow hires an enthusiastic Ruskin-influenced architect and...
Well, that's where it goes amusingly wrong. The inside feels like a church. It looks like a church, too. There are lots of statues staring piously down from all over the place. But - John Calvin? John Knox?
What went wrong there?
And it's decorated in the sort of style Calvin and Knox burnt people at the stake for. They're Puritan marble statues in 'High-Church Gothic' Disneyland.
Really, you have to laugh. But not for the poor books. No-one's read them in decades because of the special permits you need and the forms - so they sit imprisoned in bookcases with wire mesh like a dank dungeon and quietly moulder away. It's a tomb for dead words that scarce three people read in a year.
For book fetishists like myself, this is horribly depressing.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

A Casual Definition

Herman Melville defines a 'Gam' as:

"GAM.* NOUN- A social meeting of two (or more) Whale-ships, generally on a cruising ground; when, after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats' crews..."

Now, originally - not being used to the idea of a blog - I intended to wax intellectual on my readers and make some wonderful statement about how 'like unto a whale-ship is the casual surfer of the Internet, and, yea, how like unto a cruising ground is the Internet itself..."
Which is true, and does offer some interesting points to consider (as a student of English Literature I could spend hours on this, but never mind) but in itself is as pretentious as a studied Shakespearean style monologue with a soupcon of natural history and a large helping of obsession (and yes, that pointed remark is directed at Melville, damn him!)The point I was trying to make is that a 'gam' is communication -no matter whether it's the nautical solemnity of sea-captains between whaling ships, or books - like a rowing boat between readers and the author, poets, with their lines of poetry - or even a keyboard acting as a sort of metaphorical 'rowing boat' between the unknown vessel that is writer and reader on a weblog. Which also fits in rather nicely with something that really inspired me in my very first lecture of the year. As a freshman I'm probably being rather naive that it never crossed my mind before - but the lecturer suggested something that made me sit up as if I'd been electrified. The idea that books read you, just at the same time as you read books.
Now, I'm pretty sure what she truly meant was that we come to a book with a whole series of impressions, thoughts, experiences, and these come into play when we open a piece of fiction for the very first time. What we get from the book also comes from what's inside us, so to speak. But when I heard her say the phrase that books can read you, I sat bolt upright with a sort of horror.
Imagine this - becuase this is what emerged as a sort of instant image in my head.

The humble English Lit student is sitting quietly in a cafe somewhere, patiently struggling through Moby Dick for the twenty-seventh time. She's tired of toiling through the 'interesting facts about whales' section - sometimes she even gets sick of the 'jolly sailors' section. She skips to a page folded over with a particularly good rant from Captain Ahab.
And just as she does...
Someone, with a heavy creak of an ivory peg leg against the tiles, comes and sits down next to her. Also deeply immersed in a book. It could, in fact, be Captain Ahab - if Ahab frequented places like Costa Coffee.
The Lit student snorts at a particularly indecipherable part. 'I give up!' she says disgustedly. 'How on earth are you supposed to analyse a man who can declaim something about the "personified impersonal's personality?" in the middle of a storm? He must be a demented English tutor!'
'Thou shouldst read mine,' the whiskery stranger says with a scowl at his own book. 'T'is naught but simpering women's foolishness. Nary a whit of substance or matter!'
The student looks sympathetic. 'I hate it when books defraud you into thinking they're something they're not.'
'Aye, t'is a sad thing when the instruments of wisdom become no more than a bauble for female vanity. Too concerned with her own merit!'
'Complete egotistical maniac!'
'Aye, and too concerned with articles of dress!'
'Ah, mine's too concerned with weaponry. And vengeance. '
'Oh? Well, the heroine seems to do nothing but idle her time away with books! Talks of nothing else but-'
'Damn whales, and the way of hunting the poor things-'
'always damn tap-tap-tapping...'
'And both complete obsessives,' both finish, in a long slow chorus. They both exchange glances of sympathy.
'Mind if I take a glance at yours?' The student asks, as Ahab scans the cover of Moby Dick with a suspicious stare. 'I've never seen one with before...'
To our heroine's horror, the book's title...
Is her own name.
As she was reading Ahab, Ahab was reading her. And neither came to a flattering opinion of the other.

A fairly average vignette - there were some worse ones that came to mind, of course. Ahab is child's play compared to some - who would want Mr Hyde gibbering quietly away as he read your life, or any of the Cthulhu brood of H.P Lovecraft? Of course, some I didn't mind - I quite liked the thought of the tragic Monster from Frankenstein bending his head over a copy of me, for instance (the book version of the Monster, that is. NOT Boris Karloff or Robert de Niro). And if one can be er... selective, say, about what others read about you, then who could possibly object to Mr Rochester or Mr Darcy sitting stiffly down in their echoing libraries to read about you in turn? The only awkward thing is if they can read EVERYTHING about you. Your fears, most embarrassing moments, deepest secrets, unflattering things you've thought/said/done/wished you hadn't done...
Now there is a terror to haunt a student's waking hours! Be careful what you read. It might just read you back...