Leslie Tate is to be thanked for this post as his interview with Kate Innes caught my eye…
It was the mention of Zimbabwe that drew me in, only to discover that Kate has South African links too. Although not explicitly discussed in connection with Kate’s books, she does mention the influence her experiences in Africa have had on her. It is a continent that draws one in and teaches much – if you care to listen.
Africa has had a huge influence on TSL too, with a number of our authors either living on the continent, or from there – writing a mix of local and global stories: novels, short stories and poetry, non-fiction…all come ‘out of Africa’.
Take a peak and see what grabs your interest… (and please, try and buy from the author direct or a little shop).
Mermaids are magical. And spurred on by some book titles which flittered across my social media channels thought I’d share the TSL books which mention mermaids.
To start, a mermaid to lure you into Warm and Wet by Philip Philmar
Army of Angels in Sai-Ko by Gabriela Harding
Lucifer’s Child by Gideon Masters
The Dream Speaks Back by Sue Hampton, Leslie Tate and Cy Henty
Family are the Friends you Choose by Marthe Kiley-Worthington
The Ballad of Crookback and Shakespeare by Clive Greenwood and Jason Wing
Ravelled by Sue Hampton
And the Mermaid Theatre, London features in Big Name Hunting by Arnie Wilson
And the books which influenced this post:
The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (thanks to St Ives Bookshop which supports The Green Man and the Raven’s Quest)
The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Osterley
Playing with History
On the historical writing spectrum, I fall into the more academic category for the majority of history readers, however, for my academic colleagues, I am a little too casual in my tone and I make use of novels, short stories and film.
So, I was rather intrigued to read Leslie Tate’s interview in two parts with Katherine Ashe who writes historical fiction. My perception is that to do it well, you have to know your history or use an incident to spark a story. William Boyd’s An ice cream war and CS Forrester’s The African Queen spring to mind as examples respectively – both dealing with World War 1 in Africa. I don’t believe you can stay plausible if you don’t. Maya Alexandri’s The Celebration Husband recognises this, whilst Hamilton Wende (The King’s Shilling) and Wilbur Smith (Shout at the devil and The Burning Shore) both go off on tangents in their accounts. Smith’s Assegai is better. The cleverness of the BBC2 series Cunk on Britain reinforces the importance of a solid grounding in historical knowledge – you can’t break the rules meaningfully if you do not know what they are; a point authors are very aware of in crafting their stories.
My fascination with the novel and how it could be used in non-fiction historical accounts stemmed from being asked to explain the social scene in South Africa for readers who were in the UK. Having read Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing a little while before being asked this question, it immediately sprung to mind as a means to doing so. When this was allowed to stand in my thesis, I had the necessary approval to continue using fictional accounts to try and explain non-fiction contexts. This in turn engendered a fascination of how it works for others, hence this reflection.
What struck me in Katherine’s first interview was the following:
- A return to the source material – she notes that historians were contradicting each other so she returned to the 13th century documents. New angles and ideas are always hiding in the original primary source material. We read things today differently to how they were read even five years ago, let alone twenty or a hundred.
- Simon de Montfort found Katherine – it does seem this way. We each have our own journeys to what we study and engage with, and as with Katherine, it can take a long time in coming to the fore. Thirty-five years of research and relationship building with the man before she felt able to write about him.
- The tangents one follows to discover new and confirm other information – in Katherine’s case, brushing up on her Latin and learning Old French. I too, have done similar things – studied French and read up on all sorts of seemingly unrelated topics (railways, Serbian barrels to name a couple). Language is an incredibly important part of writing – not just the language used for the writing, but the languages used by others to record their stories which form the basis of the research. Learning another language means engaging with the culture behind the language and that in itself brings a sensitivity to characters and events denied to those who only have access to one language. This was brought home by the third part of Michelle Payette-Daoust’s ‘lyrical essay’.
- How we explore alternatives because of the high prices institutions demand for use of images. This in itself opens up new ideas and avenues to explore.
From the second:
- Details are often surprising, and the most counter-intuitive are most persuasive. An historical novel with details that could be true for any period make me doubt the author’s depth of research. Anachronistic details are a danger and require breadth of research into the target period. This needs no further comment, it is so true.
- I look upon the first draft as my having created an equivalent of a block of marble. Editing is what sculpts it into a literary work. The corollary of this, in writing first draft, is don’t let yourself get hung up on the words. Leave a blank space for any word you can’t think of – just get the draft written. Again, a statement that can’t be bettered.
- I never leave off writing for the day without knowing what I’m going to be writing tomorrow. That’s my technique for avoiding writer’s block. And what good advice this is. I know if I sit down to write without having thought or primed myself to do so, I struggle. It’s almost as though you need to prepare the brain for what to focus on. And it works. Using one of my favourite analogies – the cow chewing the cud: give it the right food and it will produce quality milk.
- Many readers are devoted to the ‘truth’ of their favorite author and don’t understand that all writing of history, whether novelized or academic, is by its very nature speculation. This is so true for non-fiction writing too. It took me a while to realise this but doing so has been liberating. Using the documents and taking inspiration from what others say allows the material to create its own story or truth. Keep true to the documents and you can’t go wrong.
Writing history is an art in whatever form it takes. Patient research and developing empathy with and a sympathy for one’s characters is crucial to creating something others see as plausible, irrespective of the audience and form.
Leslie is a novelist, poet and teacher, with an MA in Creative Writing, whose stories are driven by language and character. Leslie admires Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Carol Shields, Marilynne Robinson and Michael Ondaatje. He runs mixed-arts shows, a poetry reading group and a comedy club, and has led writing workshops at universities, libraries and festivals. He uses music and art as part of his performances which offer surprising insights into prose and how authors ‘reread the world’. He often performs with his wife, author Sue Hampton. Calling themselves ‘Authors in Love’, they live together in Hertfordshire. www.leslietate.com
For a taste of Heaven’s Rage, see Leslie’s blog posting My Outing Part 1
Hear Leslie and others on the theme of cross-dressing
See too Theatre on Wax and From Book to Film
Theatre on Wax and Heaven’s Rage shortlisted for Weird Wednesday in Stuttgart – finals in June 2018; Best Experimental Film at TJ Indie Film Festival
Leslie reads from Heaven’s Rage
Books by Leslie
The Ashes – Cricket
I couldn’t resist. When this post was first written (June 2015) England and Australia faced each other to battle it out for the urn containing the ashes of English cricket. It has since been updated.
Cricket’s a game you either love or hate, although it seems that even within the sport there are strong opinions: you either love the 5-day test and detest 20/20 or vice versa. The one-day or limited over 50-ball game seems to be firmly in the middle, having moved up in the rankings of Test specialists. Coming to the game late, I understand those who have little time or interest in it. But there are some wonderful benefits to a day at the cricket. Think sun shine and a patch of grass to sit on (and a good book in the bag in case…).
TSL has been lucky to sign the BBC Test Match Special Cricket Statistician, Andrew Samson. With Andrew as one of our authors, we just had to feature a post on Cricket.
The most famous books concerning cricket are no doubt the Wisden‘s Cricketers Almanack. Our main interest though is novels or works of fiction, although if you’re interested in what the life of a Cricket Statistician entails, why not read Andrew Samson‘s The Moon is Toast?
Books mentioning Cricket
Prominent on the novel front is Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers (1836) and Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes (1857).
The game features on the cover of PG Wodehouse’s Mike (1909) and in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe (1982) the Ashes trophy gets stolen.
A game of cricket features in Shaka are Dead and Powerless by John Samson and a cricket cap in Ray Wooster‘s A Boy’s War Journal. Mention is made of the game in Anna Ryland‘s A Second Chance and David Ferris‘ The Secret Life of Creatures