NEW LIFE FOR OLD

Sebastian Faulks, Charlie Higson and Anthony Horowitz have all done it for James Bond.  Alexandra Ripley did it for Scarlett and Rhett.  Jill Paton Walsh did it for Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and PD James did it for the characters from Pride and Prejudice.  There have been numerous attempts to solve Charles Dickens’ unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood.  And even Thomas the Tank Engine has been given a new lease of life, by the son of his original creator.

So what is it that makes authors want to write new stories centred on existing characters?

In one respect, I think, it’s because once the original author has died, there can be a great sense of regret that there will be no more from the same pen.  So if the authors’ stories and characters are popular, why not give their fans more to enjoy, in the form of sequels, prequels, or simply more adventures?  Or you can even give the original story an alternative ending. More on this later.

You don’t need to be a famous, or even a published, author to take advantage of this very useful literary device.  Using a well-loved character (or set of characters) as the basis for a new story can be an excellent way of dealing with an attack of writer’s block.  Think of a favourite character from a book, a play, or even a poem. Imagine what it might be like to meet that character face to face.  What would you say to them? How do you think they would respond?  Try writing a short dialogue between the two of you, and see where it leads.  You may well find that it gives you a springboard to a whole new story.  No writing is ever wasted, even if it doesn’t end up in the final version.

Or think about how the character behaves in the original work.  If his or her behaviour is unusual, what might have happened in the past to affect actions in the present? Let your imagination run riot – prequels make fascinating stories!

When, more than forty years ago, I saw Franco Zeffirelli’s wonderful film of Romeo & Juliet, I came away thinking:  This is the world’s greatest love story, so why did it all have to go so horribly wrong?  That question has haunted me ever since.

Then, a few years ago, I read one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die. To be honest I found most of them pretty underwhelming, but the one which stood out was Write the book you want to read. And this was what first inspired me to start writing the book I’ve always wanted to read: the version of Romeo & Juliet which has a satisfactory outcome. (I’m not by any means the first person to have attempted to re-write the Bard and reduce the body-count. As far back as 1681, a writer called Nahum Tate produced an alternative version of King Lear, in which Cordelia and Edgar are lovers, the goodies survive, the baddies get their come-uppance, and Lear regains his throne at the end!)

The Ghostly Father

The eventual result was The Ghostly Father – a part-prequel, part-sequel to the original Romeo & Juliet story, told from the point of view of the Friar.  I’ve often wondered why, in Shakespeare’s play, he behaves as he does – and by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible answers.

In addition, the novel explores what might have happened to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers if events had taken an alternative course. In the play, the lovers fall victims to a sequence of misfortunes which combine to produce a maddeningly avoidable catastrophe. But what if just one of those unfortunate events had not occurred? What difference could this have made?

Read the book and find out…

Food, Glorious Food!

This week (11-17 May 2020) is National Vegetarian Week here in the UK.  The aim of the event is to make more people aware of vegetarian food and to encourage them to try something new.  Whilst I’m not a vegetarian myself, I’m very interested in vegetarian cookery, and I’ve written a short post about it elsewhere, which you can read here.

But in any case, I never need an excuse to think about food – and that includes in my writing.  I like to use food as a metaphor, and it works very well in a romance-based plot.  It gives the heroine (and the readers) an insight into how much more enriched her life could be if she chooses to share it with the hero.

This can be seen in the following extract from The Unkindest Cut of All.  The heroine, Sarah, would be the first to admit that her cooking and housekeeping skills leave much to be desired.  Enter Martin, bearing culinary gifts and much more besides…

TUCOA front

 

Whilst [Sarah] was waiting for the kettle to boil she realised too late that the bread she’d been keeping for toast had gone mouldy. Ferreting around in the cupboard, she eventually unearthed a half-consumed packet of breakfast cereal of unknown vintage. As she poured a bowlful, she found herself thinking that it looked like lumpy sawdust. And as she took a mouthful, she found herself thinking that the resemblance didn’t end there.

When her phone rang, it was such a welcome diversion from her inedible breakfast that Sarah didn’t have time to wonder who on earth might be calling her so early on a Sunday morning. Her heart leapt as she saw Martin’s name on the display. She chewed furiously to empty her mouth of the tasteless gunge.

“Hello?”

“Sarah? It’s Martin. I hope I didn’t wake you up.”

Sarah usually had a stock response to this: “No, that’s all right – the phone was ringing anyway.” But this, she decided, was hardly the time for wisecracks.

“Hi, Martin. No, you didn’t. I’ve been awake for a while. Didn’t sleep terribly well, to be honest. How about you?”

“The same. Look, I need to talk to you. Can I come round?”

“Yes, of course.” Sarah’s heart leapt again. “When?”

“Any time now. I’m in the road outside.”

Sarah caught her breath. “Hang on. I’ll come to the door.”

By the time she had fumbled with her keys and got the front door open, Martin was already standing on the doorstep. He looked tired, but was smiling, and holding a bulging paper bag.

“Breakfast? I wasn’t quite sure what you’d like, so I got some of each.”

The bag felt warm in Sarah’s hands as she took it and peered inside. It contained two croissants and two large pains au chocolat. Sarah’s mouth watered as the buttery scent caressed her nostrils. She looked up and smiled gratefully. Martin’s eyes were as dark as the chocolate. She looked down again quickly, hoping that her cheeks didn’t look as flushed as they felt.

“Mmm. Thank you. These look divine. Please, come in.”

As Martin hung up his coat, Sarah gratefully cleared away her unfinished bowl of cereal and set out two plates and knives and an extra mug. Her earlier excavations in the cupboard had also yielded an unopened jar of apricot jam. She put this on the table too, positioning it carefully so that Martin couldn’t see the Best Before date…

 

The Unkindest Cut of All is an Ocelot Press publication, and is available in paperback and e-book formats.

VERSE AND WORSE

April is the cruellest month for poets.

It is National Poetry Writing Month (often shortened to NaPoWriMo, or sometimes just NaPo), which takes place every year throughout the month of April.  Each day a prompt appears on the NaPoWriMo website, and poets throughout the world are invited to take up the challenge and post their efforts on their blogs.  The latter probably calls for far more bravery than the actual writing.

I first did NaPo way back in 2013.  Here is one such pathetic effort from that far-off time:

THE BALLADEUSE’S LAMENT

There once was a wannabe poet

whose verses were dire, sad to say.

Then one April, she found NaPoWriMo:

thirty days of a poem a day.

 

Each morning she looked at the website,

and in the available time

she grappled with form, structure, metre,

enjambement, content and rhyme.

 

‘Twas the twenty-fifth day of the challenge:

“Write a ballad” the task on the site,

but by bedtime she’d still written nothing

and her muse had retired for the night.

 

She woke up at three in the morning

with a wondrous idea in her head,

but she could not write down this great epic,

for alas she’d no pen by her bed.

 

Then sleep once again overcame her

and hijacked her poor addled brain.

On waking, her great inspiration

had vanished like snow in the rain.

 

And if this sad tale has a moral,

it is this: always be on your guard,

for if you let go of the moment

you’ll never succeed as a bard.

 

My original blog, which you can find here, even owes its title to poetry.  Fans of Robert Browning (I’m sure there must be some of you out there) will probably recognise the sly reference to one of his best-known works.  Here is an unashamed spoof of one of his others:

THE PIED PIPER OF LIMERICK

A town in a faraway nation

had a terrible rat infestation,

about which the mayor

appeared not to care

(to the townspeople’s rage and frustration).

 

The plague had become so acute

that the townsfolk were quite resolute:

“We must do something here!”

Then who should appear

but a man in a weird coloured suit.

 

“I see you’ve a problem,” said he.

“Now listen: if I guarantee

to dispose of your rats,

give me one thousand crowns.  That’s

my fee.”  Said the mayor, “I agree.”

 

The stranger, with fingers a-quiver,

piped a tune which made all the folk shiver.

But the hypnotic air

made the rats leave their lair

and leap to their deaths in the river.

 

Oh, great was the joy in the town!

Then the piper said “My thousand crowns?”

When the mayor, looking shifty,

just offered him fifty,

the piper’s smile turned to a frown.

 

He glared, strode out into the square,

and, raising his pipe in the air,

played another refrain.

The town’s children came

and followed him – Heaven knows where.

 

The mayor’s desperate pleas went in vain,

for the children were ne’er seen again.

So the lesson inferred

is “You must keep your word”

and to think otherwise is insane!

 

And finally, in homage to Shakespeare, here are two limericks based on Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar (which inspired my Ocelot novels The Ghostly Father and The Unkindest Cut of All respectively).  My long-term aim is to produce a limerick for each of the Bard’s plays, but that is still very much a work in progress.

 

ROMEO & JULIET

Two households, one ongoing row;

sprogs meet and exchange true love vow.

Next day they are wed;

three days later, both dead.

Their tale makes me weep, even now.

 

JULIUS CAESAR

A soothsayer (very astute)

tries to warn of impending dispute.

But though told to beware

Caesar claims not to care,

then he’s killed by a backstabbing Brute.

 

If you’re still with me, well done.  Go and pour yourself a stiff drink.  

BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH…

My first encounter with Shakespeare was at secondary school.  Then, as now, studying his works was a non-negotiable part of the English Literature curriculum.  Like most stroppy teenagers I found it very hard to understand the plays, and even harder to understand why anyone in their right mind would ever want to read them.  Faced with a few hundred pages of solid text written more than three centuries earlier, and in a near-incomprehensible style into the bargain, our collective response was “What on earth is the point of all this?”  (That, at any rate, was the gist of our collective response…)

What we stroppy teenagers had totally failed to appreciate, at least at first, is that the plays are not meant to be read in the same way that one would read novels.  They were written for performance.  It’s only when the text is translated into speech and action (on stage, screen or radio) that it really comes alive – and nowhere is this more apparent than in works which consist entirely of dialogue.

In an attempt to keep us interested, our English teacher allocated the main parts in the play to members of the class, and the key scenes were acted out at the front of the classroom.   Our efforts were hardly RSC standard, but they did serve as an early lesson in the basic principle of “show-don’t-tell”.  After this, Shakespeare did begin to make some kind of sense.

The play which we studied for O-Level (the equivalent of modern-day GCSE) was Julius Caesar.  As I struggled with the idiosyncracies of rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter, little did I realise that more than forty years later this very play would form the backdrop for what was to become my third novel.

TUCOA front

The Unkindest Cut of All is a murder mystery set in a theatre, during an amateur dramatic society’s production of Julius Caesar.  The novel’s title is adapted from a quotation from Mark Antony’s crowd-turning funeral speech after Caesar’s death.  The play is staged during the week which contains the Ides of March – March 15th, the date on which, according to tradition, Caesar was murdered.

Continue reading “BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH…”

MEET THE OCELOTS: LORENZO and IAMO

Today marks the halfway point in the Ocelot Blog Hop. 

This interview first appeared in June 2014, under the heading Brothers in Arms.

The Ghostly Father is available to purchase here.  Ailsa’s books should be coming to Ocelot Press at some point in the future.  Believe me, they are well worth waiting for.

Whilst recently chatting over a glass or three of wine, I and fellow-author Ailsa Abraham realised that our male lead characters (Lorenzo in The Ghostly Father and Iamo in Alchemy and its sequel Shaman’s Drum) have a great deal in common.  They come from similar backgrounds, they’re both monks, and they’re both somewhat unorthodox in their outlook on life.  So we decided to get the two of them together and ask them a few questions.

Let’s start at the beginning – what made you enter a monastery in the first place?

LORENZO – I had no choice.  I was told by my father that this was what I must do, and he threatened to disown me if I did not obey him.  To say that this was a shock does not even come close to describing how I felt; he was a kind and just man, and for him to behave thus was completely out of character.  I did not find out the real reason for his actions until almost twenty years later.

IAMO – I had felt a sense of vocation from my early years and studied with the Temple while I was at university. It was a natural progression for me to take my vows as soon as I finished my studies.

Did you have a happy childhood? Had it always been your ambition/vocation?

LORENZO – My childhood was privileged.  My father was a Venetian count and we lived in a palazzo.  All our needs were taken care of by our servants.  I had one brother, three years my senior.  Sadly I never knew my mother, who had died at my birth.

It was never my ambition or vocation to enter Holy Orders.  My one desire was to become a physician.

IAMO – Not particularly. Like Lorenzo I was born into an aristocratic family but I found myself unable to take an interest in the things expected of me and I became interested in the Path very early on. I had almost no contact with my parents but adored my Nanny. It was probably through her that I found my vocation.

Were you not bothered about the vows of chastity etc that you had to take? Did you give those a lot of consideration before making your decision?

LORENZO – Having lost the love of my life before I entered the order, the vows of chastity did not cause me any problems.  I knew that I could never replace her.

IAMO – in my Order we were only required to take celibacy vows after a certain time and by then I was so set on my career as a priest that I gave it very little thought. I had never been in love and felt that the pro outweighed the con inestimably.

Once in the order, were you happy?

LORENZO – To my great surprise, yes.  I am sure this is due in no small part to the influence of Fra’ Roberto, the Father Superior who became my own “ghostly father.”  He displayed a level of kindness, sympathy, compassion and good sense which I had never anticipated of a monastic.

IAMO – Probably less so than Lorenzo. I became the assistant to the High Priestess of our Order and my responsibilities were onerous. I failed in my duties several times. Although Scribe has never said so, I think she has hinted that I was itching for adventure.

Did you ever envisage leaving the order?

LORENZO – Never.  Indeed, I did not imagine that it would even be possible.  I had always understood that the vows were for life.

IAMO – As far as my past life was concerned, I had burned my bridges. All contact with my family had been cut and they were furious that I was not going to return to give them the heir they wanted. Not having considered any other way of life, I never imagined anything else.

Did you have much of a life on the outside “in the world” before taking your vows?

LORENZO –- I was eighteen when I first entered the friary as a postulant, but for the year before that I was apprentice to an apothecary.  This is where I learned the skills which prepared me for my later tasks as herbalist and infirmarian.

IAMO – Yes. Like all privileged little boys of my class I went to prep and public school. My studies were then pursued at university because I wanted to study under Professor Oliver, so I had the life of a student with all the attendant excesses. Also, in an effort to marry me off and dissuade me from the monastic life, my mother had shoved various prospective brides at me. Yes, I think it’s fair to say I had my share of “real life”.

How did you decide on your monastic name?

LORENZO –- My real name is Sebastiano Lorenzo Matteo Giovanni Battista Da Porto.  I was always known as Sebastiano, but when I came to take my vows I was asked to choose another name because there was already a Fra’ Sebastiano in the friary.  I chose Lorenzo because it is my second given name.

IAMO – I would rather not reveal that as I have been Iamo for so long now and will stay that way. Perhaps if I just say that it is composed of my initials.

When you entered the order, what did you miss most of your earlier life?  How did you cope without it?

LORENZO – It was all so different from what I had previously known that for a long time I was not comparing like with like, so the question did not arise.  Once I had accustomed myself to the new way of life, the biggest difference was being a servant rather than a master.  But that was the way of the Franciscans – their task was to serve.

IAMO – Nothing. Oh yes, the occasional cigarette. Mostly I was very happy in the Temple.

Was there anything you were glad to leave behind when you entered the order?

LORENZO – Unhappiness.  I had just had to bid farewell to the love of my life.  And also (I am ashamed to say this), following my father’s inexplicable change of demeanour, I was glad that I should not have to have any further contact with him.

IAMO – Yes, killing. My father belongs to the “hunting, shooting, fishing” brigade and such things leave me cold. I cannot bear the taking of sentient life for no reason. I’m vegetarian and the only things I kill willingly are demons, but that is a moot point. Are they in fact “living” in the first place? I was glad to get out of a world I didn’t fit into.

From what we can gather, neither of you seem to have had much difficulty about bending the rules when it suited you.  Do you feel guilty about that?

LORENZO – I had to (as you describe it) “bend the rules” on one particular occasion – which was to help a desperate person out of a desperate situation.  I have no feelings of guilt about that – but I cannot even begin to imagine how I would feel if the outcome of my actions had been different.

IAMO – I have to agree with my brother monk here. I didn’t just bend the rules, I broke them, threw them on the ground and jumped up and down on them. I had to pay for that but no, I do not regret it for a moment because I did it for the finest of motives – love.

Thank you both, gentlemen – this has been a fasinating discussion!

This post is also available on Ailsa’s blog here.