Monday, 30 June 2008

Storytellers ... on the road

Two storytellers, Peter Chand and Giles Abbott, have begun a storytelling journey from Avebury to London. Like itinerant monks, they will depend on the charity (or love as it has long been translated) of others for their welfare along the way, and in return they will tell stories.

Their storytelling journey will also raise money for the Parkinson's Disease Society, the MS Society and Chelsea Children's Hospital Schools.

Iris, in Speaking of Love, becomes an oral storyteller and oral stories inform the novel. I fell in love with oral stories as I was thinking about the novel that eventually became Speaking of Love and it seems to me that what these two storytellers are doing is reincarnating the ancient art of the troubadour. Catch them if you can, on the road.

PS: they're blogging about their journey as they travel too ... on their website.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The Reader: Philip Pullman and The Storyteller's Responsibility

The Summer issue of The Reader is, as usual, full of wonderful things (I discovered The Reader over on dovegreyreader's blog a while ago, thank you dovegrey).

But the reason this issue (No. 30) is particularly wonderful to me is because of the essay by Philip Pullman called The Storyteller's Responsibility. It beautifully describes what it is that we storytellers think about - or should be thinking about - when we write.

Pullman writes about financial responsibilities: 'We should sell our work for as much as we can decently get for it' in order to support our families; and the responsibility to, and for looking after, the language: 'We should acquire as many dictionaries as we have space for.'

He discusses clarity and emotional honesty and keeping a check on our own self-importance, but the responsibility that Pullman feels 'trumps every other' is:

the storyteller's responsibility to the story itself. ... When the story's just a thought, just the most evanescent little wisp of a thing - we have to look after it ... to protect it while it becomes sure of itself and settles on the form it wants.
He writes eloquently about how the writer doesn't know why a story wants to go in one direction and not another, just that that is true. The story is 'the boss' and 'this is the point where responsibility takes the form of service ... freely and fairly entered into. This service is a voluntary and honourable thing.'

And on planning, my sometime difficulty, he writes these wonderful, and wonderfully clear, words:
Telling a story involves thinking of some interesting events, putting them in the best order to bring out the connections between them, and telling about them as clearly as we can; and if we get the last part right, we won't be able to disguise any failure with the first - which is actually the most difficult, and the most important.
Wonderul summer reading. Thank you, The Reader.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Literary fathers

Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book has prompted this post, with his post today.

He asks who our favourite literary fathers are. I commented on his post, here, but I feel so strongly that Mr Bennet is the best literary father in my literary world that I've turned my comment there into a post here.

Mr Bennet is undoubtedly the best literary father, to me, for these reasons: when Lizzie Bennet turns down the obsequious Mr Collins's offer for her hand in marriage (a match that would keep the Bennet house in the family, that would save the Bennets from losing the roof over their heads when their father dies, but a match that Lizzie cannot make because she cannot love Mr Collins) Mr Bennet says:

'Well, Lizzie, from this day henceforth it seems you must be a stranger to one of your parents.' (He looks at her while she nervously awaits his decision. He keeps her waiting ... .) Then he says: 'Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins ... and I will never see you again if you do.'

Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet in the BBC's 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Mr Bennet's deep love for his favourite daughter shines through these words, as does her subsequent relief, her slight surprise and then her gratitude and her laughter at what he has to say.

And Mr Bennet's amused, and sometimes not-so-amused tolerance of his desperate-to-marry-off-their-daughters wife (see here for some more of the wise and wonderful words Jane Austen gave him, adapted for various screenplays), his asking of the right questions of his daughters at crucial moments and his understanding of them (for instance, when Jane becomes engaged to Mr Bingley it is Mr Bennet who understands why they will never quarrel - because they can only see good in each other) - all these things make him the father of literary fathers, to me.

But I also feel this deeply because my own too-long-dead father loved Mr Bennet himself, and sometimes thought himself in a similar twentieth-century version of Mr Bennet's position because he had four daughters of his own and no sons.

Why don't you suggest your own favourite literary fathers, either in comments here, or where the idea began, over at Stuck in a Book, here.

Monday, 9 June 2008

South East London reading

I'll be talking about and reading from Speaking of Love tonight at Penge Library in south east London. It's part of The Blurb, Bromley's June festival of Books and Reading and it's free, but if you'd like to come you need to book. The event has been organised in association with Spread the Word's bookchat series ... because Speaking of Love came fifth (of 500) in Spread the Word's Books to Talk About competition earlier in the year.

It would be lovely to see you there ... .

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Rose Tremain wins Orange ... HURRAH!

One hundred years ago a great friend told me about Rose Tremain's short stories, and since then I haven't stopped reading her work. She's written at least two collections of short stories and ten novels and today, wonderful writer that she is, Rose Tremain has won the Orange Prize for Fiction with her tenth novel, The Road Home (a wonderful portrait of an eastern European immigrant and his struggles to settle here and, more importantly, to find that place that we all long to call home). Tremain's work has been shortlisted for the Booker and for the Orange before, but this is the first time it has won. I can't think why it hasn't happened before. Her work is brilliant and deserves all the awards.

I've read every novel she has written (she's been writing for more than thirty years), but if you haven't, I recommend Restoration, whose central character, Robert Merivel, physician, transforms himself from King Charles II's idiotic vet (and cuckold) into an empathetic and wise-before-his-time doctor at a Quaker asylum for the insane. This, as Merivel tells what has been revealed to him about the treatment of the insane, had me in tears:

'Madness may be born of many things but yet for all except those who are lunatic from their births there was a Time Before, a time when there was no madness in them ... madness is not a static thing but, just as all things in the world are changeful, so is madness and, like them, may change for the better or for the worse. But we do not ask what were the Footsteps of each case of madness ... and we should try with each one of those in our care to look back into past time and ask them to ... remember how it was to be in the Time Before and what thing or calamity came about to put them into the Sickening Time ... .' And now [out] poured all my ... cures by dancing, my suggestions for story-telling and the playing of music.
Or there's the wonderful Music and Silence set in King Christian IV of Denmark's court (1630) who lives in fear for his life and his country's ruin, and his wife's not-so-secret adultery. He comforts himself with music which is played by his Royal Orchestra in the freezing cellar at Rosenborg, while he listens in his cosy Vinterstue above. Music, he hopes, will create the sublime order he craves but Kirsten, his devious wife, detests music.Or you could try The Colour, which is set in the New Zealand Gold Rush of the mid-19th century (I never knew there was a New Zealand Gold Rush until I read The Colour) - to which Harriet and Joseph Baxter (and his mother) have fled from East Anglia to escape the consequences of something he did ... and to build a new life.
All Tremain's work is peopled with vivid and often strange characters, and will live long after you've read it in your head because of its glorious settings and, above all, its emotional and psychological honesty. She's written seven other novels that I haven't even mentioned, but read her work ... you won't be disappointed.

Here's a big HURRAH for Rose Tremain (and for the friend who told me about her all those years ago).