Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The advantage of dusty archives over online research...

...is that you can read up on the history of women in science without being bombarded by ads offering "stunning Moldova girls waiting for your call".

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


The proofs for book 1 are almost ready! Glad we spotted the bit where it says "Sophie Hardach asserts his rights...". Let's hope the typesetters get the right PDF file.*

* Speaking of which: what I find most surprising about the Great Franzen Recall is that this doesn't happen more often. My own editing process involved various electronic copies (FinalFinalDraftTHIS ONE PLEASE.doc) as well as three printed manuscripts that were marked up by hand. The result was an amalgamate of ink, pixels and pencil marks spread liberally over 400 paper pages and a Word file...how the typesetters figured that one out is beyond me. Sometimes it's best not to ask.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

"Filthy Luck"

Dorothy could emit, at any hour of the day or night, a waterfall of debutante chatter (...) 'I'm desperately well, thanks, how are you?' (...) It was some time before she was to put her head round Jane's door and announce, 'Filthy luck. I'm preggers. Come to the wedding.'
(Muriel Spark, 'The Girls of Slender Means')

Writing a historical novel is a great excuse for re-reading old favourites - in this case, The Girls of Slender Means and any Graham Greene novels that feature raids and rationing. The downside: why would anyone want to write another 1940s novel set in London after reading Spark and Greene? They've said it all, and so well.

The awful thing about a raid is that it goes on: your own private disaster may happen early, but the raid doesn't stop. They were machine-gunning the flares: two broke with a sound like cracking plates and the third came to earth in Russell Square; the darkness came coldly and comfortingly back again.
(Graham Greene, 'The Ministry of Fear')**

Hmm. Well, neither Greene nor Spark wrote about conscientious objectors, so I can always tell myself I'm filling a gap in the market.

**(Incidentally, Greene writes about this feeling in at least two books, The Ministry of Fear and The End of the Affair. Norman Mailer describes a similar moment in The Naked and The Dead. There is that sense of outrage and incomprehension that the raid - or battle - simply goes on even after the protagonist has been hit. To those who experience it, the feeling is often worse than the moment of terror itself. The human mind somehow expects stress and tension to be followed by reprieve, and finds it absolutely unbearable when this doesn't happen. It's almost as if our minds were built to cope only with a typical narrative arc: ie Hansel and Gretel escape from the witch's hut and are safe... rather than stumbling across another witch, and another, and another.)