Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Unpleasant people

You spend an awful lot of time with people when you're writing.

Not real people. They get in the way. Unreal people. Imagined people.

And not all of them are the cheerful, supportive, well-balanced type.

That's not so hard when you're writing a downright evil villain who, although they must have hidden depths and some kind of comprehensible motivation, is a blackguard and a scoundrel. They are quite fun to write, although you might not invite them over for a cup of tea.

That's why we all secretly admit to loving characters like Deadwood's wicked Al Swearengen more than dour Seth Bullock, even though we know we should really be on the side of the sheriff and not the brothel-owning murderer and his fabulously Jacobean swearing.

But what about your favourite characters, the people you spend months exploring and expanding? What about their weak moments, their shameful days, the incidents that might crop up later on facebook or the tabloids or a seventeenth century police report? How do you write your hero or heroine into a corner from which they can never escape, into a pitiable state, into an embarrassing scene from which nobody emerges with honour?

And how can you not?

Monsters and gods

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.
~ Stephen King

Friday, April 08, 2011

Lately I've been...

Text books and journal articles for the PhD, including:
  • The Sappho History, by the marvellous Margaret Reynolds - crisp, smart writing
  • France Observed in the Seventeenth Century by British Travellers, by John Lough - a hoot
  • Still browsing through the wonderful One Thousand Buildings of Paris, with photos by Jorg Brockmann and James Driscoll, and pithy text by Kaathy Borrus
  • Rabelais and His World, the classic text (I know that's an over-used description, but true in this case) by Mikhael Bakhtin - filled with vivid flashes and genuinely brilliant insights into the world of fairgrounds, festivals, freaks and folklore around early modern Paris - on archetypes and ancient lore that trickles down to us today.
  • The Secret Life of Aphra Behn, by Janet Todd. Still remember the moment, in 1985, when I first visited London and wandered around Westminster Abbey - looked down, and there, below my feet, was Aphra's grave. Getting that weird chill thing even now. Or maybe it's a flush. Anyway - there's a good subject for a cracking movie bio. Spy, playwright, independent woman, deviant, subversive - and yet not. Fascinating.
  • George Sand: A Woman's Life Writ Large, by Belinda Jack. Ditto - except for the grave thing.
Escapist reading is The Sealed Letter, by Emma Donoghue, about which I'm still making up my mind. I'm not sure why it's in the present tense, and that's a question I'm also asking myself about Trag├ędie.

First it seemed like a moment until Act of Faith comes out. Now it seems like years. It's actually somewhere in between - two months or so. So the anxious, exhilarated, dumb-struck, sleepless, proud, despairing thing is starting a bit ahead of schedule.
Don't tell anyone, but I feel like this one might go OK.

Deadwood. It's like Macbeth on crack.

French vocab. It will not stick in my brain. I go to class and everything looks fine on paper, and then I get asked a question and there's nothing there at all. A black hole where a word or phrase ought to be. It was there yesterday. Where do they go?

And then there's ...
King Tutankhamun exhibition opened at the Melbourne Museum last night. Wonderful, wonderful things. Best of them: his dagger, with goldwork so fine you know the Egyptians had to have some kind of magnifying lens. And a stunning realist mask of Nefertiti. And a tiny cosmetic case shaped like a duck. And - well, everything, really.

Happy hours of research planning the trip to Paris and Provence in October.

Autumn in Melbourne: reddening leaves and rhubarb and stirring great vats of crabapple jelly and green tomato relish and crisp mornings with balmy days. Bliss.