Friday, October 27, 2017

Poem: Tapestry by James McAuley

For one reason and another, I haven't had a lot of time to read this month. So, as usual, I'm going to share a poem instead of a book review. This one is a favourite new discovery from James McAuley's Collected Poems...



Tapestry
by James McAuley (b1917)

Alert to the waldhorn
The silent poplars tremble;
Spearmen and hounds assemble
To hunt the unicorn.

Beside the fount at bay
They have him fast surrounded;
The mort is already sounded,
When he springs clear away.

But see, at a virgin's beck,
He enters at the walled garden;
Proudly he stoops his neck,

Subdued to his fair warden;
A banderole bears above
The monogram of love.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Writerly Updates + Snippets + TEN THOUSAND THORNS cover!!!

I really ought to be keeping everyone better updated on all my various writing projects! October has been busy, and that's a fact. However, I have been sitting on a number of exciting announcements, and I suppose it's time to reveal a few.

OUTREMER: A Wind From the Wilderness


Oh, goodness! I can't believe I never made an official announcement about this, except maybe an offhand comment on Twitter. On the last day of September, after an extremely intense month, I finished the second draft of OUTREMER book 1, A Wind From the Wilderness. It's still very rough and not yet ready for beta reading; I intend to do at least one more stiff edit before seeking feedback. With new characters and plotlines appearing, and at twice the length of the first-draft material, it's going to need some serious plot and character surgery.

However, I'm excited by how much it improves on the first draft, and I can't wait to dig back into the next edit/draft, hopefully no later than December. I have a perhaps unrealistic hope of having it beta-reader-ready by February. We'll see.

Snippets!

“I was on watch this morning. I could hear what those boys were saying. ‘It’s the filthy Turks,’ they say. ‘Let’s burn it,’ they say, ‘like good Christians, and send them all to hell.’” He spat into the bilge. “So I went down the hawser and bit one of them.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Didn’t like their talk.”
“That was a stupid thing to do.”
Kismet shrugged. “Not really. I know their sort. Cowards. Knew they’d run.”
“They weren’t running when I came up.”
“Mm. So I s’pose I owe you.” 

*

“Don’t expect to live long if you betray us, Greek,” the count added.
Before he realised what he was doing, Lukas lifted his chin and gave the count glare for glare. “I do this for love of my master, not for fear of you,” he said disdainfully.
The instant the words left his mouth he knew they were a mistake. The count turned his head in a queer sharp little movement like the challenge of a bird of prey, and Lukas steeled himself for wrath—
“That’s enough, Lukas. Be on your way,” the bishop said very hurriedly.

*

They were on opposite sides of something much, much bigger than themselves. Something that had begun long before either of them was born. Something that would go on long after both of them were dead.
Something that not even love could conquer.

*

Thatoul’s own residence was a low stone house built at the citadel’s knees. Round pillars supported a portico, and the entrance-hall led directly into an inner courtyard which was small but delightfully decorated with a fountain and lush greenery. Saint-Gilles, Galdemar and Bessarion followed Thatoul around the pillared portico to where chairs of polished wood softened by dyed sheepskins awaited them by a low marble-topped table.
Saint-Gilles sank into one of the chairs with a sigh of satisfaction. “Your house is like a pool of water in the desert, Thatoul. It does me good to be in it.”
“You have no such places in your own country, my lord?”
Saint-Gilles stifled a smile with his hand. “We have our own luxuries, naturally. But for the last year we’ve lived as nomads, travelling from place to place, through deserts, over mountains, in battles, in sieges, and often in fear.”
“Too long at war,” Thatoul replied, “and men forget what really matters.”

*

“My freedom,” he whispered into the dark, under the rumble of the snores of the others. “And what will I do with it? Starve?”
“God be merciful, Greek. Forget I said anything. Lie in your hammock and whine some more! You’ve done nothing else since you got here!”
The boy’s disgust stung him, and he sat up, swinging his feet over the side. “Why should I bother? Everyone I know is probably dead.”

Kismet’s voice was suddenly level and cold. “Then you ought to avenge them.”


The City Beyond the Glass


With A Wind From the Wilderness on hiatus and Ten Thousand Thorns gearing up for release, I'm trying to get another draft written on The City Beyond the Glass, my retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses set in Renaissance Venice. Did you know that for 100 years spanning the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, over 60% of young patrician Venetian women were forced into monasteries in an effort to preserve the exclusivity of Venice's oligarchy? And that this very quickly led to many of the old houses dying out completely? This is the historical backdrop to a story that I'm really excited about. I've only just begun nibbling away at the second draft. Look for this one, DV, sometime in the first half of next year.

More Snippets!

“Plenty of girls don’t get to see their husbands before the betrothal.”
She was right. I didn’t have to take this risk. With only daughters to carry on the family line, Papa had long since resigned himself to the extinction of the Caloprini name. Nevertheless, he hoped that the Caloprini trading empire would continue under the watchful guidance of a capable son-in-law. Whoever he’d chosen as my husband, it would be someone like himself. A patrician on the Great Council. Someone respectable. Someone steady.
Someone old.
A simmer of rage coiled through my stomach, and I stood up, snatching mask and gloves from Lucia’s hands. “Plenty of girls are gutless.”

*

“One of these days,” Gonzaga said wearily, “I’ll wake up and it will suddenly occur to me. Aha! Signora Gemma doesn’t like me! And it will all make sense.”

*

“I begin to think this house is bewitched, Signor. I begin to think that this is a case for the Inquisitors.”

*

“Do you ever think of anyone’s interests but your own?”
“Frequently. You’d be surprised how far a man can advance his interests through serving the interests of others.” 

*

“Oh ho, is that your game, is it, my Delilah? ‘Tell me wherein thy great strength liest.’ I think not.”

*

Filippa gave a hiss of annoyance as Lucia fumbled with my hair, and took over, screwing it into a hard knot on my head and jabbing it with pins. “If we have to go, let’s go,” she whispered, glancing over her shoulder at the open door. More softly she added, “He’s going to follow us, Gemma.”
“I know,” I said again. 

Ten Thousand Thorns

Most exciting of all: Ten Thousand Thorns is coming on November 30, 2017! And here's the cover, if you haven't seen it already:

Now on pre-order!
Princess Morning Light meditates in a hidden temple surrounded by ten thousand thorns. Guardian of a long-lost sword skill, the princess is destined to wake after a hundred years to return justice to All-Under-Heaven.

Or so legend says.

As the Vastly Martial Emperor extends his brutal domination across the world, rebel leader Clouded Sky flees the capital for the safety of his martial sect at Wudang Mountain. Meanwhile, the renegade martial artist Iron Maiden seeks a hero to awaken Morning Light. As bounty hunters and imperial guards close in, Clouded Sky must determine who he can trust - and who may be planning to betray him.

An action-packed retelling of Sleeping Beauty in the style of a Chinese martial arts epic! Novella, approximately 39,000 words.

I know, I know, it's been ages since I announced the first draft of this story. And I was working on the research for several months even before that. This has not been a quick project, partly because it's the longest novella I've ever written, partly because of my intense focus on Outremer, and partly because the research has been so onerous. I was blessed to find a beta reader who in addition to being Chinese was also a big fan of the wuxia genre, but although he was very encouraging, he did give me a lot of homework to do. Ten Thousand Thorns is finally here, however, and it's going to be huge fun!

Now, the release date is November 30. But!!! Ten Thousand Thorns is available for pre-order right now on Amazon. So, if you're keen to have it land on your ereader the red-hot second it appears, pop off to Amazon and snag a copy now, and in the meantime you can add it on Goodreads.

Or...if you're super keen to read it before anyone else, email me at rosa(dot)gaudea(at)gmail(dot)com, and I'll book you in to receive an advance review copy!

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Ahahahahaha! You didn't think we were going to slog all the way through Shakespeare's history plays right up to Richard III, and not follow it up with The Daughter of Time, did you?

Because we totally are.

Twelve years ago, I'd never heard of this book in my life - nor, for that matter, of its author. Then a lady at church produced this book. I gulped it down in one sitting that very afternoon. By the time I ran out of book, I had not run out of afternoon, and I was filled with a burning sense of historical injustice. I wanted to take some long-misunderstood historical figure and vindicate them so thoroughly that nobody would ever forget it.

Why exactly I picked Queen Guinevere, I'll never know. It's not like she was actually historical. But did it stop Teen Me? Nah! Six days later, I had the first draft of what would later become Pendragon's Heir written. It's still the fastest I've ever written anything in my life, and it came out of me in a white-hot streak purely as a result of Josephine Tey and The Daughter of Time.

As I picked the book up a second time last week, I wondered if the old magic would have dissipated - or whether I'd be waking from a creative daze a week from now to discover that I had inadvertently written another book.

The Daughter of Time is a detective story. Inspector Alan Grant is recovering in hospital from a broken leg sustained in the course of chasing a criminal around London, and is slowly going crazy from boredom. Just in time, his actress friend Marta Shearing turns up to suggest he use the time to reopen a cold case...a very cold case, some historical mystery that has never been fully explained. Grant turns up his nose at Mary Stuart's Casket Letters and also at the Man in the Iron Mask, but then Marta sends him a sheaf of pictures of historical personages. Grant finds himself captivated by one particular portrait, a Renaissance gentleman with the wise and weary face of a judge.

When he turns the picture over, he's shocked to discover that the man is Richard III, English history's most notorious murderer until Jack the Ripper. Fascinated despite himself, Grant is sucked deeper and deeper into an investigation of the facts concerning Richard's short but able life. Did Richard really usurp the throne? Did he murder his nephews in the Tower of London? What does the circumstantial evidence indicate?

This book was every bit as good the second time around, and almost as irresistibly inspiring (thank goodness that there are a few juicy unsolved mysteries in Crusader history, and I don't have to go looking for more). By now, almost seventy years after it was written, The Daughter of Time is recognised as one of the great detective stories of all time, and must have created thousands of passionate Ricardians (or so Richard III's current-day apologists are called). And yet, it somehow does this while defying a whole heap of tested story conventions. The stakes, for instance, are low to nonexistent. There are no villains lurking in the corners of Inspector Grant's hospital room, and he'll suffer no more than a slight injury to his pride if he fails to vindicate Richard. The case is cold, and I don't believe the scene ever shifts out of Grant's hospital room, where he lies in bed looking at books and his ceiling and having conversations with occasional visitors. It's not what you'd expect to form the raw material of a gripping detective yarn. And if Josephine Tey was such an avid Ricardian, you'd expect her to write a weighty non-fiction tome instead of trying to shoehorn all the evidence and scholarly debate into a light detective novel.

And yet she does it.

Partly it's her sophisticated and witty authorial voice. Within the first couple of chapters, Tey lampoons a whole stack of genre and literary fiction in terms that will have you giggling out loud. Partly it's her deft understanding of plot. She doesn't just give her hero a mystery to solve, she constructs the mystery out of the historical facts, complete with twists and turns. Christopher Nolan defines story as "a controlled release of information", and that's what Tey does here. With consummate skill, she has distilled her historical argument into a series of nicely-weighed and controlled factual revelations. She takes the skeptical reader on a journey of discovery along with her hero, and it's wonderfully compelling.

Most of all, too, it's Tey's evident passion for this subject. I've read a couple of her other novels, and none of them seemed to measure up to this one (though Brat Farrar is fun). History is clearly something she was very serious about, and in this story she's avidly debating a subject she loves. The Daughter of Time is full of crusading fervour, and this is a big part of what makes it so irresistible.

It was interesting re-reading this book after becoming much more serious about history, myself. While the main focus of the book is on vindicating Richard III as a good man and a good king, Tey has a bigger point to make in this book: that history can be, and often is, completely fabricated from half-truth, exaggeration, and sometimes downright lies. While I wouldn't agree with all her perspectives on history (I think it's quite possible that the Covenanters were both political rebels and martyrs to their faith at one and the same moment, for example), this is clearly the truth. If you think "revisionist history" is innately a dirty concept, then you should definitely read this book for an excellent example of what revisionism should really be about.

Does Tey successfully vindicate Richard? Well, the debate continues to rage. Nobody denies that Richard III was a supremely competent and brave man (not even Shakespeare), and there are a couple of strong counterarguments that Tey fails to address in her novel, including some that have come to light with more recent research. But Tey does provide good reasons to preserve an open mind.

In The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey has done an excellent job of marshalling and presenting a historical argument within the medium of fiction. No textbook or peer-reviewed scholarly article would have done so much to rehabilitate Richard III, travelled so far, or produced such passion in so many people. There's definitely a place for historical non-fiction, but The Daughter of Time is a wonderfully inspiring example of the power of fiction.

And, it's a wonderful, original, gripping detective story. You can't go wrong reading this book!

Find The Daughter of Time on Amazon or The Book Depository.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

100 Years of James McAuley

A hundred years ago today, on October 12, 1917, James McAuley was born.

McAuley has been one of my favourite poets since I was first introduced to his work five or six years ago. In his own words, McAuley felt "the persistent desire to write poems that are lucid and mysterious, gracefully simple but full of secrets, faithful to the little one knows and the much one has to feel." His poetry was accessible, but multilayered; lyrical, perhaps with debts to the Metaphysical poets. It took the Australian landscape as a perpetual inspiration and wove legend into it, and sometimes it became sharply satirical.

I still haven't read a great deal of his verse (though I recently managed to track down a rare Collected Poems). Here's one poem:

Anonymous Message

Believe O believe a native
Of the country of despair:
You must never give up hope,
Even just as something to wear.

The dry well choked with corpses
After the razzia, the need for flight,
The underground tricklings of pain,
The black empty wind all night -

They can't hinder, they even help:
Quite suddenly time uncloses
The most ancient, most fragrant, the most
Medicinal of all the roses.

You can read more James McAuley at the Australian Poetry Library, which I highly recommend that you do.

Have you seen any interesting articles on James McAuley for his centenary? If so, drop a link in the comments!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Richard III by William Shakespeare

And now for Richard III!

We last saw Richard of Gloucester, easily the most dominating and memorable character in Henry VI Part 3, crossing the line into villainy by murdering Henry VI himself, whom everyone in the Wars of the Roses can agree is personally a harmless and holy man (if a terrible king). As Richard III opens, peace has finally come to England--but Gloucester has discovered a terrible talent for war, and as a hunchbacked monster, he feels that the only good use for his talents in peacetime is to scheme, plot, and murder his way to the throne.

Never mind the fact that those standing in his way include both the brothers with whom he formed a "league inviolable" in the previous play. And those are just the ones he begins with.

This play is incredible, and I'm honestly a little amazed, because even though I've seen a number of productions of this play, none of them contained anything near the full text. And obviously none of them managed to communicate the sheer weight of backstory that hurls the play toward its ending. To experience Richard III the way it was always meant to be, you simply have to begin with Henry VI, Part 1 and work your way forward from there.

Why? Because the whole point of Richard III is that you can do evil today and maybe tomorrow, but sooner or later justice happens. Over and over again in this play, characters suffering trauma, humiliation, and death at Richard's competent hands are driven to acknowledge their guilt. For instance, take the Duke of Clarence. All the history plays are punctuated with breezy prison murder scenes. The Tower of London has assassins the way other castles have mice, to steal a simile from PG Wodehouse. But when the assassins arrive to collect Clarence, the scene is one long drawn-out battle of wits as Clarence attempts to awaken their consciences. The amazing thing? He very nearly succeeds. In fact, he succeeds with one of them (and Shakespeare takes his time in this scene to show the murderers wrestling with conscience). What ensures Clarence's death is that ethically speaking, he hasn't got a leg to stand on: every single plea he makes to God, to righteousness, and to divine justice condemns him. "How canst thou urge God's dreadful law to us/When thou hast broke it in such dear degree?" demands one of the murderers. Clarence has crimes of treachery and murder on his own conscience, and by the time his killers finally silence his pleas, we understand perfectly that divine justice has come for him.

And for everyone else in the victorious Yorkist camp, from the three York brothers who slaughtered Prince Edward to the retainers who stood by in silence without preventing it, to the women who simply enjoy the fruits of an unjust victory. York has won the battle against Lancaster. But this doesn't mean they were more righteous than Lancaster: both sides have committed atrocities. 

It simply means that their doom will be shocking, bloody, and completely unprecedented.

The play spirals to its conclusion in a succession of heavy dramatic ironies. Curses come home to roost, often upon the very people who pronounced them. Even Anne Neville, whom Richard woos and wins over Henry VI's bleeding corpse, acknowledges her complicity in her own destruction. Oddly, the play featuring one of Shakespeare's most fascinating and irresistible villains is also the one with the most brutally stark distinction between right and wrong.

Which brings us to Richard himself. The play is shocking in all sorts of ways. There's the body count, which includes two young children. There's the way that Richard masks his ambition behind a facade of affability and even piety. There's the fact that this facade is so badly cracked that most of the most important characters know he's a monster and yet fall for his manipulation anyway! But all these things pale in comparison to the shock of realising that in all his evil deeds Richard is acting as the agent of a just and longsuffering God. Nobody likes to think of Providence acting through the medium of insane murderers. 

Except Flannery O'Connor, I guess, God bless her.

Don't misunderstand me. When I say that Shakespeare makes Richard the instrument of God, I don't remotely mean that he should not be seen as a villain. On the contrary. Most stories with such a magnetic and fascinating villain protagonist wind up garnering all sympathy for the villain. Ahem, Milton. In the unforgettable wooing scene, Lady Anne makes this exact mistake, but it's as if Shakespeare is making fun of us. Anne is quickly disillusioned and unceremoniously murdered. So much for loving the bad boy. (As an aside, I relished Richard's outspoken misogyny in this play, which Shakespeare rebukes by using the Duchess of York, Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth, and Lady Anne as a powerful but complex chorus to comment upon his crimes.) When Richard faces the future Henry VII in the final act, the battle comes as a breath of fresh air. After four play's worth (or even eight, if you count the Major Tetralogy) of murky grey-and-grey wars, we finally get an unambiguous moment of good versus evil. By this point, we can't wait to see Richard, the last man standing, get his just deserts.

Historically, of course, the battle of Bosworth Field was nowhere near as clear-cut. Richard III was probably not a villain, and Henry VII unheroically spent a good deal of his time imprisoning and slaughtering the last survivors of the house of York. In Richard III, Shakespeare presents a stirring bit of Tudor propaganda painting both the previous dynasties as hopelessly morally compromised. But he was a good enough storyteller to make it work.

Richard III is without a doubt the best play in the Minor Tetralogy, and a more satisfying piece of storytelling (in my opinion) than any of the Major Tetralogy except, perhaps, Henry V. The Tudor-propaganda aspects do become a little obvious in the final act, and unlike pretty much all the other history plays in either series, it is not subtle in the least. Henry V forces you to chew it over long after watching, while the themes and intent of Richard III are blatant and repetitive. But even with these shortcomings, I think that ultimately, it's my favourite.


I've seen three film versions of Richard III

I saw the Laurence Olivier film many years ago. I can't remember very much about it, but I do remember being captivated. Also, the violence is mostly kept offscreen, so if you want to share this play with the very young (which, why? WHY?) then this version is the one to go for.

Ian McKellan's 1995 production is brilliantly conceived but not particularly faithful, and should definitely come with a content warning. Updated to a nightmarishly gorgeous dieselpunk 1930s, it imagines Richard as a fascist dictator, which would suit the play even better if most of Richard's most fascist moments hadn't been edited out. At just over an hour and a half, this version cuts out a huge amount of the dialogue and everything to do with Queen Margaret. The result is sleek, fast-paced, blackly humorous, and almost completely detached from the backstory, which also detaches it from its own theme. It's stylish, but it leaves many of my favourite moments on the cutting-room floor.

The Hollow Crown production starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role is the only one of these films that includes Queen Margaret, and therefore the only one that comes with the important backstory attached. Cumberbatch has the time of his life as Richard, but the cutting-down of the play compromises some of the most important and memorable scenes, especially Clarence's death and Anne's wooing. On the other hand, Judi Dench and Sophie Okonedo absolutely own every scene they're in, and the film does a very smart job of utilising Queen Margaret in several more scenes than the play, strictly speaking, demands. It's a reasonable, but not an inspired, production.

You can find Richard III on Amazon, the Book Depository, Project Gutenberg and Librivox.

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