It has been a busy month! First there was our trip to London for the classes at City Lit. In the end ten people signed up for two days on ‘writing historical fiction’ and we had a most enjoyable time. It was a very varied group, some of whom were already in the throws of writing their first novel, while others had come more out of curiosity than any definite plan to write. The important thing was that they all seemed to enjoy the classes and find them useful, and we had some very interesting discussions on the different genres which come under the umbrella of historical fiction; creation of character; shaping of plot; and styles of writing. The final assessments which the class was asked to provide resulted in five ‘excellents’, four ‘goods’ and one ‘satisfactory’ -not a bad report! (The 10th person didn’t turn up for day 2 – it obviously wasn’t what she was looking for.)
There was a slight hiccup in the arrangements for the weekend, when we arrived at the b&b I had booked at the appointed time of 4.30 and found no one at home! It later transpired that the proprietress had sent me an e-mail saying there would be no one there until 6.30. Well, a) the email didn’t arrive till after I left home; and b) we had arranged to be in central London by 6p.m for dinner before the theatre. In the end we had to check into a hotel for the night.
That night we went to see ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, the adaptation by the RSC of Hilary Mantell’s novel. Sadly, we were both disappointed. It is such a cerebral novel, with such intricate depictions of motivation and thought, that it does not lend itself to the stage, in my opinion. Also, the Aldwych Theatre is a big, old-fashioned building and from our seats in the circle it was impossible to see the subtleties of expression or hear the variations of speech that the play demanded.
Next night we went to ‘Billy Eliot’. What a contrast! Loud, energetic, full of action and movement and the dancing is wonderful. How the boy playing the name part kept gong all through the performance I do not know! He was dancing his socks off almost all the time.
After a brief respite, spent with friends in Surrey, we were off to High Wycombe library where I was booked to give a talk. This was very well received and I sold quite a lot of books.
The following Saturday I was at the Penistone Literary festival in Derbyshire. This is a new venture and I must say the organisers are to be congratulated. Over two days they had brought in a wide variety of speakers and there was a real buzz about the place, with lots of people coming and going. Once again, my talk went down very well and there were good sales.
The one sad thing to report – and it is a major setback – is that my agent turned down the Matilda novel, on the grounds that it wouldn’t make the shelves of Tesco or Asda. Apparently, this is the only criteria upon which publishers make their decisions these days! What does that say about the future of fiction! However, all is not lost. I have other outlets and if all else fails I can do what so many writers are doing these days and publish it myself.
Have any of you been listening to the controversy about the use of the historic present, between John Humphreys and Melvin Bragg? To clear up any confusion, this is when writers or speakers say things like ‘She walks into the room and sits down’ when they are talking about something that happened in the past. Mantell uses it in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and I like it because it gives sense of immediacy, as if you are watching a film or a play. But I know some people dislike it intensely. Oddly enough, I wrote the first draft of Matilda that way, but I’ve changed it to the past tense because I know it is unpopular; but I did feel as I did it that it was making the events more distant – a story that was finished, rather than one which was still in progress. I’d be interested to know what any of you feel about the matter.
My main focus now is on getting ready for our trip to Canada for Robin’s wedding. I’ll be back at the end of the month and then it will be time to start thinking about the next book. It might turn out to be a sequel to ‘Operation Kingfisher’ but I haven’t made up my mind yet.