11 July 2014

Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant

I had the great pleasure of hearing Sarah Dunant speak about writing historical fiction a few weeks back and I completely GET why she writes they way she does! (Is that ignominiously presumptuous, reader?) She's really quite passionate and vivacious, all hand gesturing and emphatic. She reminds me of my Classics teacher back in high school, only a little more jazzed.

Anyhow, once the masterclass was over, I sidled up to her, head bowed and mumbled my appreciation (aka tempered adoration) of her work, saying I looked forward to reading more about The Borgias under her penmanship. I held back, very Britishly, from blurting out that Sacred Hearts was one of my all time fave books.

I did confess that I once I read Blood and Beauty, I was really quite stunned that people lived that way, right there in the heart of the Vatican. Sorry, reader, I'm jumping ahead while you're probably wondering, what is she blabbling on about? Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant is a story of the The Borgias, the infamous Spanish family who dominated The Vatican for a certain time (late 1400s-1500s) and were basically like a Mafia clan. They were ruthless. To the extreme. Even though one of them was the actual Pope.

Courtesy of sarahdunant.com
After reading Sacred Hearts, I was intrigued by Dunant's follow-up and the subject material; I remember vaguely seeing some promos for a 'Borgias' TV show starring Jeremy Irons a couple of years back and being rather taken with the decadence and costumes, reader, which looked to die for. Obviously, I was sold on that.

Needless to say Blood and Beauty is a great read. We follow Rodrigo Borgia who becomes Pope from the opening and then we watch as he conducts his sons, Cesare and Juan and daughter, Lucrezia. Yeah, so a cardinal and then pope has illegitimate children and no one bats an eyelid. This is nothing, the least of all problems. And neither is it an issue that our pope is sleeping with a teenage girl either. That's what we're working with here. Absolute free reign while there isn't anyone else to challenge their might or wealth.

With his children, Rodrigo is the papa bear and he has a great frightening degree of control - not necessarily forced either. His children genuinely does as he commands, as if he is the Lord and not Christ. But not one of them is feeble or submissive - they all have something to say, some stamp to make and they fight for it - even if Lucrezia is unashamedly used as a pawn. Dunant writes Rodrigo as rather quite pantomime-ish, his emotions as big as his frame - in a way almost too big, for it's as if he feels TOO MUCH all the time. It's pretty relentless but then, ah, it's the Latin raw passion and bull-like determination. It's equally found in both Rodrigo's sons and one of his fiesty daughters-in-law, Sancia.

It's all an enchanting concoction, both headily disturbing and alluring - people are killed, allegiances are switched as quickly as the wind turns and allies are enemies and enemies allies at the drop of a hat. Example (SPOILER) - Lucrezia is married to Alfonso, who is Cesare's great friend at first but a change in alliances means Alfonso's family is suddenly the enemy. Does it matter to Cesare that Alfonso is married to his sister, to Rodrigo that he's married to his daughter? Nope, nope, it's as black and white as that. Blood be spilling and adultery be happening all day, every day. Oh and a hint of incest is all the rage now!

We're in the Vatican but there isn't an ounce of godliness reigning any of these people's passions - whether it's senseless murder, profiteering or debauchery. The heart of the Catholic church be damned, basically. It's disconcerting to read but I know I'm not supposed to be surprised. I just am - a little. I've realised that I don't have anything against reading about an ugly world operating in the shadows of veneered beauty, I just like to know (or be reassured) that there is some sacred place in which to dwell, whether that's physical, mental or emotional. I feel really quite exposed when the settings and characters do not give that. (That's why I gave up on 'A Song of Ice and Fire' - SIDENOTE - reading about The Borgias in this way is not too dissimilar to reading about the Lannisters and how they go about controlling and manipulating).

Anyhow, Dunant's writing is infused with the passion she has for the genre and the time period. It comes to life like a painting that jumps and bounds and is rarely still. The only time my engagement lagged was when we have a period dedicated to Cesare's military accomplishments (wars and battles, ugh) but it's not for long.


Enthralling and appalling in equal measure. I really felt I'd been put through the ringer when I finished reading. It's as whirlwind as The Borgias' rise to power. When The Borgias show was being promoted, they were using the tag line 'The first crime family' - and if we take that as so, well whoa, did The Borgias hit the ground running.

Dunant is working on the follow-up book and I don't blame her - what ELSE can this family get up to?! I'm intrigued so I'll be tuning in.

 Chai Black
Taste Like: History and Spices 

20 June 2014

Spring Round-Up - Writers Group, Zombie Apocalypse, Finished MS!

YIKES to the MAX, reader, I haven't updated me blog for - what - 3 months? That's a quarter of a year.  I've just committed an 'unforgivable' in the world of blogging, methinks - as in an unforgivable curse in Harry Potter-dom. I wonder what the other two are?

Ok, so without further ado-es, a quickety-quick round up of what's gone down over April, May etc.

1. I took my annual trip to Paris with mumsy and this time we only did the day rather than the weekend. Twas lovely but nous some tres fatigues, reader.
2. I went to my first London Writers Cafe meet up - a talk about self-publishing and followed that by attending the groups 8th anniversary party recently.
3. I completed 2.8 Hours Later - a zombie apocalypse role play/immersive experience. You are running away from zombies. For. your. life.
4. I attended a supremely cool masterclass on Writing Historical Fiction with speakers Sarah Dunant and Celia Brayfield at Bloomsbury Publishing having finished 'Blood and Beauty' by Sarah Dunant shortly before.
5. I *AHEM* finished writing the MS for my latest novel. *Long, triumphant exhalation*

Ok so, I'll drill down on some o the more writerly points above.

MEET-UP and London Writers Cafe

I confess, reader, while I am thrilled that I've started to engage in the world of writers etc, I'm still aware that I haven't put any of my own work out there yet to be reviewed and critiqued by my wordsmithy peers. That's the next step, after I attend a class on 'building a community around your writing.' If you're in the London area and you fancy joining a writers' group, please check London Writers Cafe out - when I went to the anniversary party I chatted to a lot of cool and friendly people and the fab lady who runs it, Lisa, is just lovely and adorbs.

2.8 Hours Later

Oh, my days, reader. Before I launch into 'this was by far and away one of the scariest things I've done' spiel, lemme explain. Essentially this event involves going to a particular area of London (or whatever city it's being hosted in - these folks travel all around) - for us, it was spread out around Wembley Park. You enter this area with a team of several others (whoever you end up in the queue with while lining to get in) and your mission is to go get some fresh water and bring it back to camp. You have a map and you have certain locations to get to, where you type in a code into a computer terminal to get the co-ordinates for the next location. The scenario is an apocalyptic world and the 'asylum' needs resources - so you're venturing out into the zombie infested area to get them. You get tagged by any of the zombies, you're 'infected' and when you return to base at the end of the game and get made up into a zombie.

I kid you not, reader, these zombies proper run after you. I mean in one corridor we had to run past one zombie who crawled on the floor but the others came for you. and their make up and acting - well good enough for you to having a heart attack and running for your life. It was brutal. There were some areas where you had to run so much and more zombies would just come.

I don't why I did it - it's not my thing at all. I don't even like zombie movies! But my cousin was convinced it was an experience not to miss out on. But when we were crouching behind these banged up cars, waiting for a signal that the area was clear, even though we could hear zombies making noises around the corner, I kid you not, every single one of us were scared. I wondered what the hell I was doing there.

But we totes made it and the zombie disco afterwards was fun! Would I do it again? Hell, no. But I would recommend it. I'm kinda proud of myself too - if I was a sim character in a video game, I would have just contributed to my 'Overcome Fears' mission: '2014 Fear Quest - Objective achieved!'

The finished MS

Well, I'm pretty darn over the moon about this one. I set myself a target and well, I've also achieved this particular objective. Yes, yes, I still need to do a rewrite but I'm going to not look at for 10 days at least and then tackle it once more.

Furthermore, I'm pretty impressed with the word output in the last 3 months. In March we  were looking at 60,000 words. Now it's *ahem*, 120,000! So I doubled it, which surprised me because this story isn't hugely plot driven, or there aren't lots of event like instances but the last act, as it were, seemed to really gain pace. A lot more goes on then I realised in terms of how much words need to take to tell it. And reader, I know I'm getting ahead of myself because I'm still enamoured with the idea that this novel is a stand-alone but I don't want to leave Ancient Greece ever just yet, so I'm excited about the follow-up.

Now, I need to look out at the publishing options. On that note, some of the pointers I picked up from the self-publishing talk, hosted by London Writers Cafe.

- There's quite a spectrum for SP(self publishing). You can choose to do it ALL yourself - DIY SP (like speaker Ben Galley, who also does bake loads of consulting on the subject) - or have another publishing house to do some of the work for you. e.g. Matador Publishing.
- Polly Courtney, one of the speakers, listed her reasons why SP is done badly:

    1. Bad cover design
    2. No professional edit - you rely on beta readers, aka 'friends and family' and not someone who has an editing eye. She argued you can't really edit your own work alone, you need fresh eyes and there's nothing worse than seeing a line or phrase in the final print that you know could have been edited but wouldn't have picked up when doing it yourself. True dat.
Darn it, I knew I shouldn't have any of my characters reply with "Safe."
Totes takes you out of the mo!

So now to decide what is best for the novel nearly finished...I keep thinking that having to decide between trad publishing or SP means I might make the wrong decision.

Worse still, there's the nagging worry that I don't know who the book is really aimed for - partly because I wrote it for me. It will appeal to historical fiction readers or those who like mythology (I hope). So I'm clear on the genre, just not so much the audience? And I think that's the worse mistake, so I want to get sure on that, erm, for sure.

I think a robust brew is deserved as a mark of the triumph crossing the metaphoric 'finish line', reader. So I will settle on recommending 'Chai Red' because Yumchaa says 'Tastes like: Important work 
Drink When: You feel like a winner.' Shazam!

24 March 2014

Screenplay on its way...! And get to those meet-ups!

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Hey y'all! So back when I blogged in January, defending the month and mentioning by attempt at tackling the screenplay format, well I'm happy to report a screenplay has been written. It's adapted as a pilot for a TV show and I sent it out to a TV/film director-writer friend, fully expecting him to come back with 'yeah, it needs serious work'. I was ready for that :) - but it seems to have gone done well - and I have to confess, that feels good. A boost of confidence never hurt anyone, though getting more expert opinions on the same piece is always healthy.

With that in mind - and being aware of my goal to engage more with writerly activities and writers themselves - I had a gander at 'Meetup' and will be giving it a go. That is to say, I shall join one of the groups and mosey-on-down to one of their meet-ups. I am particularly interested in a writing group that has an emphasis on critiquing. Sure, that's scary as hell but it's gotta be done. I stumbled on one group that described itself as being a group for writers who wanted to write with other writers and that the set up is to meet somewhere and just quietly write together in the same space. No talking apparently. Granted the aim of this is to make sure you get the words out - the first and imperative act. But I also read that with a loud 'huh?!' escaping me lips cos I thought that sounded kind of a bummer... particularly as it stated that socialising was optional and dependent on the organiser. Victorian boarding school much? Heck, each to their own. But my part in this scenario would have played out thus:

Ok! I'm ready and raring to go-
Find a seat. No talking.
But if you're like me and find you've inadvertently spent all your years pretty much writing by yourself, in your own cubby hole, you can check it out too. I'm looking forward to reporting on my findings once I've been to one and I keep at it.

Other news, I've passed the 50K mark for the novel that I'm currently penning. It's set in Ancient Greece - I know! SHOCKER. I'm not giving anything else away but if you're truly a soul-brethren of mine, just the mention of 'Ancient Greece' would have you on board, right? I'm right, right? I'm also tempted to do an audio-book reading for it because I needs to be expanding my voice-over portfolio anyhow. It's kind of a milestone for me, either way, because I've not got to the 50K mark so swiftly in my entire life. If I keep this up, I would have finished writing a novel within a year. That's huge deal for me. *Selfie high-five* (I have no idea how that works ><)

I know, I've blogged all about 'me, me, me.' But honestly, the lesson I've taken away from all of this is: 'Just go with it.' (**cliche alert**) I had put off writing a screenplay for years - technically since graduating uni awhile back - and well, I kept feeding myself these 'stories':

  •  I don't know the screenplay format/I haven't studied it enough
  • I don't have a solid enough/clear enough idea
  • I don't know who I am writing it for/what the market would be
  • I should only be focussing on fiction writing, screenwriting is a whole other discipline' 
  • yada yada yada  - the list can go on. 
And with regards to the novel writing, the same patterns: 
  • I can't write two novels at once
  • I won't be able to plot well if I'm working on more than one story
  • There aren't enough hours in the day
  • You're betraying the first novel (no jokes, honestly, particularly if it's your 'first love' novel)
It will sound familiar to so many of you. Just throw it all out of the window. ALL. of. it. And send out the manuscript(s) to others once you realise all you're doing is tweaking minor words and not really editing it at all. It's ready to be seen by other eyes then. If only to get your mind off of it and let someone else deal with it/pick it apart.

I'm going to meet with my writer-director friend next week to discuss the script and so I'll have more take-aways. If nothing else comes of this script itself, one lesson it did give me: I can do it. All the excuses in the world got nothing on me. 

Oh my, I sound inspired. Bets on how long that'll last? :) Psssht! 

PS - I know I said I'd write something about 'My faves' in my last post - I'll get on to that! 

 A cup of soothing Darjeeling while Benjamin Francis Leftwich's 'Shine' plays. Only because I'm into this song this month.

8 February 2014

I cheat on reading with writing....:$

Wow, it feels like whirlwind start to 2014. Which is in accordance with the 'Year of the Horse', what with it only being February and stuff feels like it's galloping full steam. Ha, to those who think/thought January sucks or is slow.

All seems right, you know? (Famous last words, egads). Winter TV is gut again - Revenge and Nashville are back on, Brooklyn Nine-Nine fills in for the chortle quota of the week, My Little Pony FIM new series and writing is going along with a precise efficiency. (Aside - that's another great thing about living in your own place: complete monopolistic control of TV viewing. I never have to be assaulted with the grey and dreary tele-visual style of the 80s that still dominates British soaps such as Eastenders et al. US TV looks so pretty, y'all). Of course, I'm not really reading though.

Does anyone else get that? The more they write, the less they read and then vice-versa? So that reading becomes what I do in those respites between prose-penning. Usually reading also helps me to get fired up about writing again but if I'm already fired up, reading doesn't have that much significance.

Gosh, that doesn't sound good, even for a bookworm like meself - that I view reading as a kind of plug, a dependency to inspire and ignite again. I use reading. Then I acrimoniously push her aside when I'm engaged to writing. And then when cleaning my room I notice the pile of 'books yet to be read' and a pang of guilt sweeps over me. Reading knows and she sits there, staring...
But seriously, my commute is not long enough to get into a book, you guys!

**FUN FACT**: The Japanese have a word for this unread pile of books - tsundoku(n.) the act of buying books and not reading them and/or letting books pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands.
'Needle in the Blood' was some random book my boss gave as a gift to
my colleague who insisted it wasn't 'her thing.' I doubt it's mine either...
In all honesty, I've read parts of the Rumi book. It's one of those that you can pick at any time and just flick through. I also have a Krishnamurti book my dad has recommended I read and I'm super guilty about not having delved into that. I have some time tomorrow, so who knows? Wait, I was going to make muffins, which will be a triumph in itself because I want to make from a recipe that demands coconut flour, which one canna pick up the supermarket. Had to get that jazz online. Super exotic.

I think my next posts will all about 'fave' moments from books and perhaps TV shows. I happened to r-read quite a bit of Potter over the Christmas period and I forgot how funny it can be. A laugh a minute...! Oh, J.K...!

2 January 2014

Tackle the screenplay format, shall I? And why January does not 'suck'

By golly, it's 2014. *head spins* I trust everyone's Christmas and New Years was spiffing. Meeting up with various amigos and amigas over the Christmas period inevitably led to someone sighing about 'January being sucky.' To quote Penny from Happy Endings, 'Hell-err?' Side note - I was rather poorly for the first week of December, which allowed me to watch all of season 1, 2 and 3 of Happy Endings. I need a Penny in my life. Any takers? To give you a taste of what is needed in a Penny-like companion, please see below video (the best part is from 8:11 mins):

Anyway, back to 'Eh, Hell-err?' I refuse to allow this attitude of January suckiness. Not cool guys, I mean Jan must feel pretty bummed. If we all loved her, perhaps she'd feel good and make an effort to bring her best game and shine, non? O-k, just read that back. I'm sorely out of practice.

'The start' of things is always the best for moi - no chance for things to get bowed down with disappointments just yet, only potential possibilities. I think that's why I love rewriting 'beginning' chapters or intro chapters to characters - I can start anywhere. Of course, I *can* get stuck in this loop.

With that in mind, I think I'm finally going to tackle a screenplay and write a pilot for a TV show. I'm not a natural to this discipline because it requires a certain succinctness in conveying the narrative - and one gets ones thoughts down so much swifter and easier in essential prose. That said, if practiced enough, I can get better at tackling it. I certainly would like to be able to write screenplays going forward. I'm always super intrigued when someone says they find it easier writing screenplays. Fair does, I mean, novels can seem daunting. But screenplays have to be more rhythmic in a way, they have to hit those story beats with more precision. It shall be interesting either way, as I'll be adapting something from prose fiction.

Also, I want to write even more - more quantity but more efficiency and I shall be wanting to engage in more writerly activities, one of which will be entering more competitions. Because it forces me to share my work more, which has always been a hold back of mine.

What about everyone else? Any resolutions/goals, writerly or otherwise? Do share!

Disney's Frozen - Let it Go (Idina Menzel) - empowering y'all! You must see this film, it's so beautiful!

19 November 2013

Writing for yourself

In the words of George Takei, 'Oh My...!' - I've fallen off the wagon - the consistency of blog post writing wagon that is.

I've been rather overtaken by my fiction writing of late, so have no fear, reader, it's not like I've not been writing. That's all I've been doing. That and finding myself watching 'Charmed' as it re-airs on E4 each morning? (Why?!)

The project that has been at the forefront of my writing endeavours has been a new story set in Ancient Greece. Because, of course. And yes, I started it before 'Atlantis' aired. I had it in my head that I would not work on anything else until my final revision of my fantasy novel manuscript would be complete. I was being as disciplined as I could be, methodically revising each chapter. Alas, though, the path does not stay true - or rather it does, just not straight.

What I mean to say is that, though I've been diverted, it's not a diversion. No writing ever is. I have my sis to thank for the proverbial kick up the backside/impetus needed to write this new tale. And I am happy to report that the process of writing it has been the very antithesis of writing the fantasy novel.  I just got the idea and ran with it, sans a) writing for a market/audience, b) analysing 'what am I trying to say'?, c) charting out pace and rhythm, d) wondering if my characters work. I wrote it for me. And by gods, if it isn't enjoyable. I'm quite taken and I don't want to leave this world I'm inhabiting.

Current location: Ancient Greece
I never left since the last blog post -
not when they have juice smoothies!

That doesn't mean I haven't jotted down thoughts and ruminations that could otherwise be blogged about. I just haven't set aside the space to write them up (see above note about not wanting to leave the setting of my new story's world). On that note, though, I did jot something down that I wouldn't mind sharing - it's a thought I imagine one of my characters from my (somewhat eastern inspired) fantasy novel would say but it sprang up in response to watching a video about the sadness of impermanence. Sadness - what sadness? Life only changes form.
The whole universal knowledge of existence can be known if man were to acknowledge and know the Tree - her truth, her actuality.
Do you think the tree weeps when winter's chill comes upon her? No, for she knows that she will be beautiful again come spring. And again. Eternally so.
And if she is uprooted, she does not weep then, not with sorrowful tears. Rather she has wept her seeds, which have gone on and spread afar - and so the tree will be renewed in numerous new places, ones she could not even dream of, once again to grow tall and beautiful.  
I guess in this way, the tree never dies. And if a time were to come when there is no such time for trees even, well who would be there to 'record' and 'lament'? -  concepts that likely will have neither place nor meaning.

8 October 2013

Letter to the BBC: hands off Ancient Greece!

Where I belongs, reader
Dear BBC - specifically to those in Drama Development,

I had not really been aware of your latest drama that occupies the Saturday primetime spot, Atlantis. Despite the show's content being Ancient Greece, it had not really registered. I happened upon the opening episode when it aired last week.

I am sorry to say that disappointment doesn't really adequately describe the feeling attributed to watching this show. My emotional arc can be summed up thus: eager anticipation, bemusement and then outrage.

Yes, outrage, which might seem a little of an overreaction to fiction. But here is my issue or gripe, as it were: Ancient Greek history and mythology (any mythology, for that matter) is a trove of immense storytelling. Most of it is nuts and that's why it's so enjoyable. But I believe BBC, you have handled this material with little regard and decency. It was so, so poor and I do not think it unreasonable to expect a little more from your institution. Though perhaps this is my error - I should not expect so much, I should resign myself to the fact that a whole load of nonsense comes out of your shows. However, that's not entirely true - you've got Sherlock, among other fine dramas. I understand Saturday evening is a 'fun time' slot and has been inhabited by equally silly but somewhat 'fun' shows like Robin Hood and Merlin.

I just don't understand the need to do away with a little authenticity in favour of cheap thrills. It's one thing to have poor writing and poor acting, quite another to trample over quality source material. Mythology and Ancient Greek is a bit of fun but can we at least get some simple details right, so that young people (any people) are at least educated a wee bit as well? Alas, I did not watch the entirety of the show - after 15 minutes or so, I was crying out at the TV screen, which is never good for one's blood pressure, so to ease it, I switched off. I quite literally cannot judge the rest of the episode but I can say that watching that much alone has induced quite a reaction in me.

I am not going to mention the predominant Anglo-Saxon ethnicity of the casting - Robin Hood and Merlin were authentic in that sense but are we still stuck in the 1960s? There are no shortage of talent you could employ. Instead, for reasons I know not why, Mark Addy, the kind of portly man who you'd have a pint with, seems to get noble and warrior-like roles, such as King Robert in Games of Thrones. Here, you have him as Hercules, despite his utter lack of warrior-ness. Bemusing. Worse still, he's got a Roman name. Is it so immensely difficult to have him referred to as 'Heracles', as that is Greek after all. And let's get one thing sorted right away - Heracles would not, WOULD NOT, be afraid of the Minotaur. That is woefully poor on the writer's part, woefully. It would have worked if the Heracles in question was in fact a young man, as yet to take part in his trials and so was not a schooled warrior.

WHAT THE HAY?! moment:
Wait, what? This guy is the infamous Hercules?!! But he's scared of the Minotaur...*SIGH*
That brings me to the depiction of 'the oracle'. There was little or no mysticism around this ridiculous character. An oracle is not a person but rather the person - woman rather - is a vessel for the oracle. She is also not someone who just answers random questions. As such, the writers leeched any real suspense (or coolness) around that scene where the protag visits her.

Of course, these are by the by, one could argue. I would argue it just comes off as embarrassing. I would also state that the reason I get so irate watching something on this subject is because I know that I would have created something of better quality. I do not believe I am coming from an arrogant, deluded position here; I absolutely adore Ancient Greece and her mythology and I am dying and so unbelievably keen to get my hands on something that I can then work with and bring to life (of course, I am writing my own material that will adequately reflect what I mean). I don't get overly excited about much but if anyone comes to me and mentions Ancient Greece, I'm there with bells on.

I can also tell you, there is nothing mutually exclusive about being true to their culture and stories AND being fresh and bringing something exciting to the audience. We've got it in our heads that people won't like it if it sticks too much to a traditional approach. You can be as creative and mad with a story that still holds true to the original setting or tales that come from that story (Scott's Gladiator is a fab example). In fact, that is the only way you can add true value, true meaning to a new telling. I could in fact forgive more if it was a modern adaptation/set in a more modern era. But if you are going to set it in Ancient Greece, goodness, do justice to that at least! Or step aside and let those who will do it worthily.

Lastly Ancient Greece is the home to drama, the kind of drama that we love and still sustains us. There is no end to the ridiculous high stakes situations and scenarios that run through their tales. So it's still mind boggling and immensely frustrating that anyone/group of people can fail to do it right, when it's already there - very richly so!

I highly doubt you'll care much that lil' ole me is not going to be a viewer of Atlantis. But if you'd done it even a little decently, you would have had an AVID viewer and advocate. Now, I'll just seek comfort in the saying, 'If you don't like the way it's done, see if you can do it better.' I shall sirs and madams, I shall indeed.