Alex's Historical Fiction
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
Boudica and the lost RomanIt took me a while, but I finally managed to get hold of Mike Ripley's Boudica and the lost Roman, 2005, Severn House. He seems to be quite a popular author, although mostly known for Crime Stories. But his Boudica book was out on loan every time I tried to get hold of it, so finally I put in a request.
It's a horrible, awful, realistic and rather good book. It's almost an antidote to some recent Boudica novels. Told in two first person characters and through a couple of letters, it follows the events of Boudica's Iceni uprising in AD 60. Olussa is a merchant who reluctantly gets recruited as a spy by the nasty Procurator Catus Decianus. Roscius is a soldier in Suetonius Paulinus' bodyguard. Olussa manages to get held by Boudica, who gets him to write her story, so is witness to the all sackings of the Roman towns. Needless to say, it all ends rather badly. There aren't many characters to really love in this book, and it amply shows the atrocities of war. There's plenty of period details and a few in-jokes to delight the reader.
Concerning those short storiesI have removed two blogs concerning my historical short story experiences. It appears that my intentions may been misconstrued.
Friday, October 27, 2006
The Last Place on EarthBit of a coincidence. When I was quickly looking for links to do with the previous blog, I came across a link to The Last Place on Earth. All well and good; it's the title of Huntford's account of Scott and Amundsen's race to the South Pole. I wasn't exactly rushing to read it, as after reading his Shackleton and reading Fiennes' excellent Scott book, I knew I would be in more another dose of sustained negativity (I can generate that all by myself, thanks). But this Last Place on Earth is the DVD of a tv 1980s series I never saw. I was probably out digging somewhere, with no access to a tv. It's still based on Huntford's book, but I'll give it a go.
Anyhow, for a short while, it looked like I would have to purchase a Region 1 NTSC version which may or may not play on my DVD. That's the cover shot showing in this blog, btw. A slightly broader search brought very good news indeed. The Last Place on Earth is being issued on Region 2, ie playable in Europe, on 20th November. Looks like at the very least, W. H. Smith will be stocking it. Er, that'll be just in time for my birthday, or failing that, Chrismas will do :-)
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Cheery BlackguardThe other week, I got a bumper crop of books from the library. I had requested four books which were either out or at another library, and they all turned up together. So I have a great heap of library books to read and return in good time.
First up is Cherry : a life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard by Sara Wheeler. This book was warmly recommended by a friend, and finally I've got round to seeking it out. Cherry was with Scott on Terra Nova, Scott's last (and fatal) expedition to the Antartic. Cherry had plenty of money and was looking for something to do. He met Scott through a friend and was eventually taken on the team. He was only 24, which is a bit young for this sort of venture, in terms of the physical hardship. I've noticed, time and again, the best performers in this respect seem to in their 30s or early 40s. His particular friends were 'Uncle Bill' Wilson (Scott's 2nd in command) and 'Birdie' Bowers - both of whom were in the ill-fated party who reached the Pole, but died on the return. Particularly because Cherry was involved in a team which suffered the deaths of its leader and good friends, as a youngster, he was perhaps going to take on too much responsibility for what happened. I'm about 3/4 of the way through now, and he's written his much-praised book about the expedition, The worst journey in the world. George Bernard Shaw helped Cherry with the writing of the book.
The other books in my library heap: The Moon Riders by Theresa Thomlinson, Boudica and the Lost Roman by Mike Ripley, and The Lost Luggage Porter by Andrew Martin. Somehow, I think I will have to do a bit of renewing. At least I can do this online these days :-)
Cheery Blackguard? That was Cherry's nickname whilst in Antartica
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Being let outPerhaps I shouldn't be let out to the house in general. I had two days out in a row, and I rather liked it. Though it made me tired, as I was being sociable. Had a good time cutting out paper patterns for shoes. Then yesterday I was trying to actually cut leather. My main problem is not being able to 'give it some welly' as the Leather Guru exhorts. I can't consistently press as hard on the knife as needed, and I don't quite cut through all the leather. And this was apparently relatively easy stuff. Sheesh. So when I make the initial cut, I have to go again, and hope I'm cutting along the partial cut exactly. In effect, I have to cut the leather pattern out twice, and then of course there's the other shoe of the pair to do ... Hopefully the more I practise the easier it will get.
Today, I couldn't go back to help finish off the shoes, and I feel rather regretful. It's good making shoes, as you can see the outcome relatively quickly. Not so in researching and writing articles. It all takes time, and sometimes the publication reports can be submitted years before they actually appear in print. My very first report (submitted c1989) still hasn't seen the light of day.
I've now had my flu jab, so I'm even more confident about trotting out in public. Cinemas (and other busy enclosed spaces) were more or less banned from September, when bugs started to appear. I had to go shopping though, and that's where I caught my pre-flu-jab bug, I'm pretty sure. Now I'm at least partially protected. I wonder if The Devil Wears Prada is still on in town?
Monday, October 16, 2006
Roman Mysteries - BBC seriesI caught wind of this a few months back, and just found something about it on the author's website. They are making a series of Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mystery books. Looks like there's lot of big names in it, and, judging from the pic, the author will also be appearing (along with Simon Callow as Pliny). I do rather like Lawrence's books, and she doesn't shy away from the more unsavoury aspects of the era, despite the books being junior fiction. There'll be five episodes, each one hour long. Some changes have been made - for example the children are a little older than in the books. It all looks very promising, and I can't wait to see it on tv.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
JobsAs I thought, I didn't get any interviews for the library jobs I applied for. I really don't fit in. So my latest wacky idea is to look for possible finds jobs in the archaeology field. Well, I suspect I'm doomed to failure there as well, since my age and/or specialist profile is against it, as well as the fact I'm looking for something local. There just aren't many advertised finds jobs. There are broadly two types of finds work in archaeology. On-site/Finds Management posts, and specialist jobs (often freelance). Been there, done that, still got the t-shirt in the case of the latter. Been there, done that, but lost the t-shirt (or perhaps don't fit in the t-shirt) for the former.
I always loved working on finds excavations, or occasionally I was inside, just managing the finds for access and the such. It didn't really matter to me, I just liked doing it. It was why I did a library degree rather than archaeology - I love putting things in order, enjoyed cataloguing and the like. Anyway, a job has come up, but it's in Cumbria, outside daily commuting territory :-( Then again, it's only temporary for three months. And it is only three months too, I checked with them. At least it's in the right half of England, rather than down south. So I've applied, though I left it till the last moment. If the post was slow, it will have missed the deadline, actually. Plus, I botched the form slightly too. Ah well.
btw, the Roman bow brooch illustrated above has probably been photographed the wrong way up. The brooches would have been used in pairs, probably to hold up a peplos or tube dress. The loop at the 'top' of the brooch would have had a chain running through it, and the chain would have been suspended between the two brooches. It probably dates to the 1st or 2nd century. The effects of bronze disease can be seen on some of the edges of the brooch.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Tristan & IsoldeThe recent film version of Tristan & Isolde (T&I) didn't really seem to have much in the way of publicity, but I heard slightly favourable things about it so watched the DVD. In a way, it serves as an antidote to 2004's lumbering King Arthur, particularly as they are both set in Post Roman Britain. Whilst the material culture is off the mark in T&I there are some really interesting concepts introduced. The Irish are shown to be the attacking Britain. A big round of applause. The Irish were raiding the west coast of Britian, whilst the Jutes, Anglians and Saxons were niggling away in the east. In the film, the Irish are painted as the baddies, actively trying to cause the break up of any sort of alliances that the British are trying to make amongst themselves.
After the heavy-handed anti-English sentiment in King Arthur, it's great to see some Jutes and Anglians included in British alliances in T&I. Actually it's close to mind-boggling. Some of the complexitites of the era are at least being hinted at, even if they aren't being fully explored. It gives me hope that at some point before I pop me clogs I might see a decent film about the 5th-6th centuries.
However, all is not sunshine with T&I. As I mentioned, the clothing, artefacts and the architecture are completely to pot. And there seems to be some confusion between the usage of 'British' and 'English'. I might also pick at the idea of the Anglians being in charge of York so early. And the story is a bit dodgy as well. The writers have clearly taken their own line with the legend, and that's fine by me. King Marke is seen as a good chap, which makes a change. But the method of story-telling ensures that this is a very down-beat, if not poe-faced, film to watch. Of course it is a very sad, doomed, tale, but there are ways of lightening the tone in scenes that don't need to be gloomy. More camaraderie between the characters might have helped. There were plenty of scenes with butch warriors that could have been turned into jokey blokiness, for example. The leads could also have been a bit more mischievous with one another on occasion as well.
But, overall, T&I scores highly for me in that it attempted to show some of the more difficult areas of the Dark Ages. It didn't fall to easy Hollywood stereotypes. It was more subtle than that. It tried to bite the bullet, so bravo. So for me, T&I holds the laurels for the best Dark Age film.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The star search finally hits paydirtFurther to my mournful declaration that I was cr*p at star-spotting, today I bagged one. There I was, minding my own business, trotting out of City Screen after picking up a programme, and I saw him. No, not Maximus, but Jimmy Carr. Who? I couldn't remember his name at the time, but knew he was a comedian. But was I right? Was it perhaps his doppelganger? A quick look at Mr Carr's website confirmed it. He is on stage tonight at the Grand Opera House. My quest is now complete. I can die happy - I have seen a celebrity in York. :-)
(Photo by Ellis O'Brien)
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Wolf GirlI'm sure it was Carla, via her review, who brought Wolf Girl by Theresa Tomlinson to my notice. I got it out of the library and have just finished reading it. I really enjoyed this 7th century set story. It's a children's book and is written in a very clear, direct manner. There was little in the way of material culture gaffs for me to pick up on, which fostered a general trust of the author. The story was deeply rooted in its time on several points, and it just feels right. From the author's website I learnt that it's the first part of a trilogy. I will keep my eyes opened for the sequels as I'm intrigued to see if Tomlinson can keep up the standards she has so ably set. But also, I wouldn't be at all miffed if I managed to produce a book like Wolf Girl at some point, so it's worth my while studying Tomlinson's style.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Another lesson in storytelling ...Last Saturday was the first episode of BBC's new series Robin Hood. Or perhaps it should be called Chav Robin or Robin Hoodie. With little attempt at a proper historical setting, awful costumes and a truly terrible script, it was not exactly a joy to watch. The lead has little charisma, though it's probably not the actor's fault as he hasn't much to work with. The only scene of any promise was Much taking a bath, having a short conversation about the war he'd been in (i.e. one of the Crusades) and then he began crying. That created a bit of intrigue, but it really was the only scene that even slightly piqued my interest. The best thing about it, for ladies-of-a-certain-age like me, is Richard Armitage playing Guy of Gisbourne (a baddie); his photo adorns this blog entry. Overall, the series seems very laboured, and there is much talk in reviews of it trying too hard to tick boxes. It's in the Dr Who time slot, presumably till the glorious TimeLord returns. But it's a hard act to follow, and Robin Hood is failing miserably.
In stark contrast, and this was very unfortunate indeed for the Beeb, Channel 4 showed A Knight's Tale on the same evening. This film, despite modern rock music and all sorts of anachronisms, triumphed. It was storytelling at its most confident. There was strong characterisation, good themes, great action and a cast that knew it was looking a gift horse in the mouth so played the material to the hilt. It seemed effortless. It made Robin Hood look even more pathetic. Oh. Dear. Definitely a lesson in being committed to telling a strong story, rather than trying too hard tick the boxes.
The Michael Palin Diaries: the Python YearsCurrently on Radio 4 at 9.45am and 12.30am, the Book of the Week is The Michael Palin Diaries. It's on for the rest of this week and includes episodes convering Monthy Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. No need to worry if you miss the episodes as they're on the the Beeb's Listen Again facility for a week after broadcast.
Funny (doctored) paperback covers ...On the right, you can see a taster. The focus was actually on romance covers, but this one particularly amused me (note the subtitle: Book Twenty-nine in the Unending Saga ...) Priceless. Found this Longmire site via another list, and it made me laugh so much I cried. There are a couple of pages, and don't miss the covers submitted by readers.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Maximus Pastius ...Flippin' 'eck, I've missed him again. Russell Crowe was sighted in York again yesterday:
STAFF at a York food shop Russell-ed up a treat for a visiting Hollywood film star when he stopped off in the city centre.
Eagle-eyed Press reader Ruth McMonagle, 25, snapped a picture of Gladiator actor Russell Crowe in the Cornish Pasty Bakery in Colliergate, off King's Square.
The family of Crowe's wife, Danielle, comes from Nether Poppleton, and he is a frequent visitor to the area and has been spotted in the city in the past.
Abandoning his gladiatorial attire in favour of a casual tracksuit, Crowe, who also starred in A Beautiful Mind and LA Confidential, took time out to enjoy some meaty fare in the heart of the city.
Sharon Grima, branch manager at the bakery, confirmed Crowe had visited the shop as part of a group on Monday afternoon.
She said: "He was here at about 12.30pm and then sat out in the square for about an hour, so he must have really enjoyed it. I was surprised to see him come in. He's just like everyone else, but you recognise his face.
"He had about three guys with him and was really polite and then they went."
And what does an international film icon eat?
Ms Grima said: "They got traditional Cornish pasties then water and coffee - most people from out of town get that."
She said it was not her first brush with fame while working for the Cornish Pasty Bakery. She said that when she was based at the firm's Coney Street branch, TV duo Ant and Dec visited - but while her colleagues were all abuzz, Australian Sharon didn't know who they were.
Ms Grima said a couple of people had gone up to Crowe to chat to him, but most people had left him in peace.
Ms McMonagle, of Bishophill, said: "Me and my friend, Victoria Stone, were quite surprised to see an A-list celebrity in York. He was with about six men - probably his entourage."
Last November, The Press exclusively reported that Crowe had been spotted in Bettys Tea Rooms with Danielle and her aunt and uncle, Anne and Peter Horsfall, before later heading to the Blue Bicycle in Fossgate for a meal.
Anne said the Crowes had stopped in to visit Danielle's grandparents briefly on Sunday, while on a promotional trip in London.
Source: The Press, 4th October 2006
I'm just no good at spotting the stars.
Monday, October 02, 2006
(cough, cough)Still coughing. Still a bit knocked out, but generally getting my body back from the bug. Will venture out to Tescos on the Free Bus tomorrow and see how I go. I should be OK for the Small Museum on Thursday (I hope).
Managed to look at the yuck stuff, but couldn't tell if it was Roman or not. There was one fragment of stuff in it which looked a bit post medieval to me, but overall I just couldn't say. And that's why it was 'yuck' - it was probably never going to give its dating secret away ... Darn. Anyway, I didn't charge the friendly archaeology unit for casting my blurry eyes over it, even though I wrote a couple of sentences for them to cut and paste into their report if they wanted to.
Meanwhile, York is going great guns in the comedy Roman stakes. It made the national news, this did. Two Romans (and an unfortunate daughter) got into a tussle over the Roman Baths Museum and some of its equipment. Actually the whole event was rather unpleasant but the outcome was not surprising. Virtually every afternoon that I work in the Small Museum, we get visited by one or two of the very nice chaps (including the present proprietor) working or volunteering at the Roman Baths. It's a pleasure to see them, and they cause a bit of a stir for our visitors and passers-by. I just say the legionaries are ghosts ... But in fact they're just coming to see the Leather Guru about getting new sandals, extra hobnails fitted, or general leather repairs :-)
Sunday, October 01, 2006
A song of the weatherI was reminded of this, by the gloriously funny Flanders and Swann, as it was on the radio today. Since this ditty would have been written in the 50s or 60s, I'm a litle surprised it fits weather in recent years. Or is it just that I'm British and by definition obsessed with the weather ...
January brings the snow
Makes your feet and fingers glow
February's Ice and sleet
Freeze the toes right off your feet
Welcome March with wintry wind
Would thou wer't not so unkind
April brings the sweet spring showers
On and on for hours and hours
Farmers fear unkindly May
Frost by night and hail by day
June just rains and never stops
Thirty days and spoils the crops
In July the sun is hot
Is it shining? No, it's not
August cold, and dank, and wet
Brings more rain than any yet
Bleak September's mist and mud
Is enough to chill the blood
Then October adds a gale
Wind and slush and rain and hail
Dark November brings the fog
Should not do it to a dog
Freezing wet December then:
Bloody January again!
(January brings the snow
Makes your feet and fingers glow).
-- Michael Flanders