Saturday, August 22, 2015

Recent Reading . . . and Some Writing . . . Part 3

I have an interest in history. Not because of anything educational. I was doing 'A' Level History and 'A' Level English Literature at Mander College in Bedford as I was supposed to have gone on to do a drama degree at Bristol University but didn't get on with any of the course and left to go to work as a student  A.S.M. at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham instead of doing a degree course in 1969. I have to say that the 'A' Level courses I did were so boring they would have put anyone off English literature, particularly Shakespeare, possibly for life. We were studying Othello and The Tempest. Just plain DULL for an 18 year old. The history course, just the same, so dull it would have driven anyone to not want to look at history again, American history as well as European. I think I have got my interest in history from being a member of the National Trust and visiting their properties. I came across a book called "The Real Oliver Twist: Robert Blincoe- A Life That Illuminates an Age" by John Waller. There is no actual proof that Charles Dickens read about Blincoe and that he used it as a basis or background for his novel "Oliver Twist", but it certainly gives you a good idea of what life was like for those working in factories during the Industrial Revolution in the early years of the 19th Century. A real eye-opener. I have to say that I prefer 'real' history rather than 'historical fiction.' I never got all excited over the 'Wolf Hall' novels of Hilary Mantel or the television series or, for that matter, the R.S.C. stage productions. I think perhaps I know the Tudor period it covers too well. I did see the first episode of the B.B.C. production but didn't get drawn in to watch any more of it. There is far too much material available, such as documents, letters and archives, to start making up fiction to really interest me. Another book I read which I found in the amazing The Works shop in Milton Keynes Central Shopping Centre is "Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth" by Mary S. Lovell. An amazing lady living during the Tudor period. She was married at one time to a husband who was responsible for inspecting the monasteries and other institutions at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and for keeping Mary, Queen of Scots imprisoned during  the reign of Elizabeth I. A really fascinating read and I can highly recommend.

I am a subscriber to "B.B.C. History Magazine" and have been reading it for several years now. The first couple of years you got a free book with your subscription and the first year I had the first of Peter Ackroyd's series of books on the History of England called "Foundation" and then the following year it was "Tudors" and the most recent volume "Civil War," which Carol bought me as a Christmas present last year. There are to be six volumes which presumably brings the history right up to the present day. I'm not sure when the fourth volume will be published, but, considering the number of books that Peter Ackroyd writes I imagine it will be until next year. Just have to wait and see when it is released.

Having delved into the world of Sherlock Holmes and his side-kick Dr John Watson, I then got into other crime literature. I have read and enjoyed P.D. James's novels, the Adam Dalgliesh series, with "Devices and Desires" and "The Private Patient." Then the Dalziel and Pascoe books written by Reginald Hill and the television series which starred Warren Clark as Andy Dalziel. The part was made for him and he seemed to inhabit the character. Colin Buchanan played his opposite number, Pascoe. I like the books because they have an underlying comedy which so many 'whodunits' and crime fiction seem to lack. I have also read quite a few of Val Mcdermid's novels, "The Grave Tattoo" being one, but the last two I read, "The Skeleton Road and "Vanishing Point" were not as good as her earlier work and rather a let-down. Too predictable and formulaic as far as I was concerned, as good as her earlier work and rather a let-down. I don't think I'll bother with her newest novel when it comes out.

As regards my own writing, I have been working on a project which I have been developing slowly for the past couple of years which has multiple 'layers' or story, seen from different perspectives. It's set in one location, much like a soap, with characters who come and go. I have up managed to publish some of this on a website called Shortbread so at least it's got people reading it and making some comments.I  have  been keeping notes on story ideas and doing observations for characters which is useful for developing my own material. I did a one-day creative writing course at Milton Keynes Art Centre nearly two years ago and that sparked off a lot of ideas and shoed me how to get started with writing. I had signed up to do a 10-week follow-up course which would have been even more useful, but unfortunately it was cancelled due to the lady who lead it being ill. It has not, unfortunately, been re-scheduled, which is a real pity. I did, however, sign up to do another course run by Milton Keynes Council and running over 8 weeks at the Milton Keynes Academy last September (2014) but I just couldn't get on with it and didn't complete the course. I have since bought a book on creative writing and used some of the exercises in that as well as doing a free on-line course run on something called Futurelearn which was quite useful. I have since done several other of their courses, one on Shakespeare and another on archaeology.

I read "Les Miserables" a couple of years ago. I managed to get the Vintage Books paperback edition which is in a translation by Julie Rose. I saw the original London stage musical back in around 1989 or thereabouts and loved it and have since seen the film version, which I was very impressed by. I had grave doubts that it would ever do justice to the original stage show, because, on balance, the film versions of musicals never seem to be as good, usually because they seem to insist on using actors who were never in the original or at least can't sing. In the movie they didn't use 'dubbed' voices for the singing of the songs but used a system whereby the actors sang 'live' and had tiny ear-pieces through which they could hear a pianist playing 'live,' which meant that the finished performances were far more spontaneous than having the actors dubbing to a pre-recorded soundtrack. You always seem to have the feeling in a lot of  musical films that the actors are miming and in some cases they don't use their own voices. Think Audrey Hepburn's voice being dubbed by an actress called Marni Nixon for "My Fair Lady." I was surprised how well Russell Crowe managed to perform and sing the role of Javert in the film of "Les Mis." I was determined to read the novel first before I saw the film when it came out in 2012 and as a result it made the story a good deal clearer. Actually, that was another thing I noticed about the film version: the story was a good deal clearer. I wasn't aware that Gavroche and Eponine were the children of the Thenardier's. The book is some 1100 pages long and, to be honest, there are huge tracts of it which are extremely heavy-going and it took some effort to skip. Victor Hugo, the author, does tend to put his point of view in far too much, intervening in the story many times. I know Charles Dickens does use his novels to point out social issues in his novels, but he doesn't let his 'voice' get in the way of the plot. There are certainly many chapters which are nothing to do with the story at all but talk about subjects related to the plot and nothing more. In some ways the film improves on the original because these bits are cut out, thankfully.
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