All Done – Off to Jupiter

img_3538A taste of my fiction… Ghosting Europa is a little sci-fi, a little science-fantasy, a little metaphysical and wholly made up.  After offering instalments throughout December the full story in a straightforward reading format is now offered in full under the above tab, Ghosting Europa.

I hope you like it. If you do, I’d be thrilled if you shared.

A wonderful 2019, to you all.

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My Fiction

Sci-fi, romance? No, fantasy. No, not really. Romantic – sort of – science fiction, fantasy with space travel but not with space ships, with sea shells – well, not quite. Ammonites, space travel with ammonites – fossils of prehistoric organisms. But they are more than just organisms. They are curious, adventurous and a wee bit unethical.

During the lead up to Christmas and New Year I’ll be posting four instalments of a novella that I’ve written that coincides with the holiday period and the major focus of this blog – the theatre. It’s set in the Sydney CBD and railway tunnels and, drum roll… Sydney’s subterranean, Theatre Royal.

It’s a work of fiction that I’ve drawn from my experiences working in stage blacks as well as taking in the sights, exhibitions and traffic of my city. I call it, Ghosting Europa, as in the moon orbiting Jupiter. As each new post is blogged out, I’ll be transferring each instalment to the tab in the horizontal bar above, Ghosting Europa. I hope you like it.

If not, no fear, the new year I’ll be questioning history and theatre with my usual appetite.

Revisiting the Nemes Crown

It’s been over two years since I began making the first Nemes crown to interest my son in Ancient Egyptian history. Since then the posts on my thoughts and process have been viewed many times more than I could have anticipated. Initially, they were getting too few views to persist with, but I did. I was entrenched in a 12 hour a day job in hospitality and believed that if I didn’t keep blogging that I’d lose whatever ground I had made with it and perhaps forget how to write. I had to publish something. Reading over them the other day I cringed. What has made them so popular?

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I ended up making two crowns as I wasn’t happy with the first and blogging about both of them. What intrigued me at the time was the difference between Tutankhamen’s crown and other King/Pharaoh’s. There was the uraeus and vulture coupling at the forehead and the ponytail at the back. I encountered many considerations in making them sit evenly:-

  • should I use a support for the fabric – as starching fabric didn’t come into use until about the 16th century CE in Europe
  • ensuring that the stripes presented correctly
  • ensuring that the shoulder lappets stood perpendicular to the face and sat on the shoulders
  • ensuring the lappets didn’t flap
  • and an unexpected one, making sure that the crown didn’t ride back.

I had to consider the possibility that the golden crown was a figurative representation of a religious idea – that the pharaoh shone golden light. The problem was in choosing a fabric – what colour should the stripes be – golden thread and applique would not come into use until the time of the Romans.

With all of these considerations, wouldn’t it all be easier if it was made out of gold? And if it was to be gold why didn’t they just bury it with him when the time came?

Two years down the track and I’m faced with another possibility. Recently there has been an announcement that the artefacts from King Tutankhmen’s tomb will be making their way Down Under in 2021. Very exciting news – more work for me. You see, if I were to take my son to see the exhibition wearing either of the Nemes Crowns that I made, he would look ridiculous. He has out grown them already. Twelve years old when I made them, he is now nearly fifteen. His age coincides with that of King Tut when he reigned. If Tutankhamen wore a linen Nemes crown then several must have been made for him over the course of his reign. I wonder whether there will be a few in the exhibition if any at all.

I hypothesized at the time that perhaps King Tut never wore a cloth Nemes Crown. As a child growing up, wouldn’t it be convenient to have an official pharaonic mask and crown that someone else could wear on ceremony for him? How awe-inspiring could a child-king be? Could this be the idea that has inspired interest in visitors to this blog?

Or could it be questions about the coupling of the vulture and uraeus. Looking at many images through Lionel Casson’s Time-Life Books, Ancient Egypt,  and confirming my suspicions with google image searches, and Pinterest searches I noticed that the vulture on his Nemes Crown only appears on his funerary artifacts – something that he couldn’t have arranged for himself. Why would his successor, Ay, have instigated this? Was it politically motivated to present a united Egypt – each animal representing a different half of Egypt? Did it have more to do with added protection for the boy-king in the afterlife?

What I’ve taken away from the exercise which saw me comparing crowns from different eras of Egyptian history is the belief that in the Old Kingdom Nemes crowns were linen and the king didn’t necessarily have to wear a uraeus. By the time of the New Kingdom –  I will believe until I get to that exhibition in 2021 – the uraeus was entrenched in the presentation of the Pharoah and his crown was made of gold.

An index to all of my Nemes Crown related posts appears at the end of the post, King Tut’s Crown: A Lapidary Jeweller’s Perspective.

My interview with History of Egypt podcaster, Dominic Perry, appears here. I was listening to this wonderful podcast while I was crafting and researching my ideas. Joyce Tydlesley’s Tutankhamen’s Curse and Carl Roebuck’s World of Ancient Times were also very informative and thought provoking.

Now my challenge is to write something just as interesting, if not more.

Cranky Ladies of History

Cranky Ladies of History! read, Cathartic Ladies of History. Fablecroft Publishing, you’ve got my attention. Short stories, little windows into the living rooms of history; whose sill should I perch on first? Eleanor of Aquitaine? Elizabeth I? Hildegard of Bingen? Mary Wollstonecraft? Empress Theodora… Hatshepsut!

Hatshepsut, the queen who ruled Egypt as a man. The glorious queen until her newphew/step-son obliterated her memory. Damnatio memoriae! That’s something to be cranky about… after she was dead. Will the story focus on her relationship with her newphew – or her brother whose rule she gave legitimacy to? Or something else entirely? I’m too familiar with her life, what if the story disappoints?

I fan across the edges of the near-shut book. There’s Lady Godiva, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Tudor and exotic names I haven’t heard of before; women from the Middle East, Asia and Scandinavia that are equally intriguing for being made peers in this anthology.

There are so many names, so many women to choose from. Which to read first? The contents page further confuses matters. The authors – some names are familiar, most are not. Not that, that’s a deterrent.

Where’s Hatshepsut again? In the middle, Neter Nefer. Will the story talk of her possible romantic relationship with Senenmut and his fall from grace? Their alleged child together? What if nothing I can relate to is dealt with? I fan the pages again.

What of Theodora, the beloved wife of Emperor Justinian? He changed the law so that he could marry this burlesque dancer, come actress, come prostitute and make her Empress. Resplendent in pearls and jewels she remains an enigma. Was her influence really the cause of all that was bad in the Byzantine Empire? Her charitable work and religious devotion don’t add up to our modern, cliched way of seeing women. Who was she really? With the scurrilous recounts of her life by “Saint” Procopius doing her no justice, there is satisfaction in Barbara Robson’s portrayal of Theodora getting some of her own back at him.

Fitting a life into a short story is a tall order. How do you make sense of a lifetime, the journey of a soul and its many transformations in a few thousand words? Do you choose a defining moment? Or do a general sweep? And if you did the sweep how effectively could the reader be entangled? In Theodora I’ve been inspired to look for her long form biography.

I wonder if I’ll be doing the same after Hatshepsut…

In this anthology, different approaches are taken by the various contributors with varying success. When it comes to dealing with famous people whom we have a pre-existing bond to, any changes that may threaten the veracity of our investment isn’t going to be received well. Ditto for well known and loved stories. If you’re going to muck around with a legend or myth you had better improve the experience or risk disappointment. The legend of Lady Godiva, her naked ride through Coventry and the peril of Peeping Tom would seem to be in the category – you can’t touch this. But then there’s Garth Nix. Not only does he play with the story, his uplifting adaptation will stay with you long after you have finished it. It celebrates women’s strength in their solidarity, their sisterhood.

Writing speculative fiction really lends itself to the short story format. History doesn’t shackle the narrative. It’s easier to make a pithy point or shape a savvy parable when your imagination is unbounded. There are quite a few stories with speculative elements and they are enchanting but the quirkiest tale of the lot is set in the early 20th Century, in Brisbane. The charm of Sylvia Kelso’s cantankerous lady doctor Lillian and her madcap flights to the rescue will leave you smiling long after you have finished reading Due Care and Attention. I’m smiling now.

In writing a biography or historic fiction the author takes on a burden of conscience. Will their story resonate the truth? Would their interpretation be approved by their protagonist? I’d like to think that Hildegard of Bingen would have of Juliet Marillier’s Hallowed Ground. The story shows the saint’s devotion to her work, her god and living a life of humility. It shows her honesty and her strength in terms of her vocation and the society and times in which she lived.

There is a lot of variety in this anthology. It has an international feel. There are many different women to meet and diverse cultures to experience as a strong female. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable read. If there were to be a Crankier Ladies of History, I’d be looking forward to reading that one too.

And Hatshepsut…well, you’ll have to buy the book!

The Mask, the Monument, the Antiquarian & the Antipodean SF

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”

George Vertue, c.1737.

Writing an, “about me” page or biog is daunting. Attached to my blog, I inevitably feel that I have to somehow justify why I would have the knowledge or know-how to interest you. The other question that it confronts me with is, why blog? And then, why WordPress? The simple answer is that I’ve been told to. Along with, ” If you want to write you must read a lot, and write every day.” As well as the idea that when you blog you put yourself on the line. You have to push yourself to be clear in your thoughts and focus on communicating your ideas. Because WordPress was the buzzword at writer’s festivals, I chose this platform. I think it was a good choice as we who blog here are a part of a writer-reader community. I think it’s paid off. Why?

I’ve just had my first short story published in the Anitpodean SF – issue 206. My story is Regene-eration and, yes, there is a theatrical element to it. If you are interested in reading it – GO AWAY NOW!!!!! Because I’m going to write about the inspiration behind it before my thoughts trail off.

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

We write about what we know, what we think we know or what we can imagine. In my case I had recently read Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s, The True Face of William Shakespeare and was inspired.  I read the coffee table version of her thesis that used forensics, professional criminology techniques, old fashioned reading and archival research to find the true likeness of William Shakespeare and in the process test the authenticity of the Darmstadt Death Mask. What is the Darmstadt Death mask? Why, it’s an authentic plaster cast of the face of the man from Stratford, complete with an inscription date of its execution, 1616, and with the down turned moustache and gaunter face of the first sketch-picture of the Stratford monument by antiquarian William Dugdale! So we are told. Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s thesis is an impressive case study.

Her extraordinary research techniques are fun and fascinating, if not convincing. (I can’t have faith in the results of a study that seriously considers images painted with the subjective eye of another human being as being true and precise testimonies of the appearance of their sitter. One of the first pitfalls I was warned against in studying life drawing is that we who draw/paint portraits will err with our judgement primordially making our sitter look a little like ourselves.) Where I admire Hammershimidt-Hummel’s work is in her archival research. The Darmstadt Death Mask turned up in the 19th Century with the claim that it was Shakespeare’s Death Mask but its provenance was incomplete. How did it come to be in Germany?

Hummel tells us that it first appeared in 1842 in an auction catalogue for the possessions of Count Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt, former Canon at the Cathedral in Mainz. It was displayed in the British Museum in 1864 as Shakespeare’s Death Mask, despite the lack of explanation of how it came to be in Germany. Hammerschmidt-Hummel came across the following quote in her archival searches:

“After his return from Vienna, he (Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt) went to Strasbourg and Nancy to improve himself, stayed there until March 1775, and then set off on his Journey to London.” (1)

So he went to London. She presents no evidence for his having purchased the mask and indeed whose mask it may have been. Many men died in England in 1616. It could be anyone’s death mask. Where is the evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford had a plaster death mask made?

When I read The True Face of William Shakespeare, I got sooooooo excited. You see I had gone through the Walpole Society’s compilation and publication of the 18th Century English antiquarian, George Vertue’s (1684-1756) Notebooks, and read this:

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”(2)

Vertue I [v.106, BM 586],The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930)

And then he repeats this in a different notebook:

“. . . to Stratford on Avon – W(m) Shakespear Poet his monument in the Church his bust got a cast of it in plaister”

Vertue [v.47 BM 30] (3)

Vertue furnishes us with two mysteries here.

The First Mystery

Could Kesselstatt’s mask be the plaster cast John Anstis made from a monument to Shakespeare residing in a room adjacent to the Church in Stratford? The Charnel House perhaps? George Vertue’s notes are intriguing. He was compiling information about all the painters, limner’s and engravers who were active in England to his day. Like many early antiquarians, he gathered a lot of information that he never edited into a history. His Notebooks were not kept for the use of anyone outside of himself. They are lists of art and in whose household he had seen them or where one of his antiquarian buddies had. Entries are not dated nor in chronological order and he seems to have filled some of them simultaneously.

Just before Vertue’s death, Horace Walpole (1717-1797) purchased his Notebooks and compiled the first history of artists working in England. Walpole, a connoisseur in his own right, edited the Notebooks and presented the history from his own understanding.Could he have also purchased the plaster cast? The plaster cast is not listed in the auction catalogue for the sale of Vertue’s books. He may have sold it privately before his death. Walpole being a connoisseur with a taste for the macabre would have been a candidate to purchase it.

Walpole is credited with writing the first English Gothic novel, The Castle of Ortranto (1764). Shakespearean scholar, Samuel Schoenbaum, in his Shakespeare’s Lives(4) reports his more macabre interest in Shakespeare. Apparently in 1769, Walpole offered a challenge to anyone who could furnish him with the skull of Shakespeare.  When it was presented to him in 1794, he declined to pay. If we entertain the idea that Walpole purchased the mask along with the Notebooks in the 1750s, he may have offered the challenge so that he could validate the authenticity of the mask. By the time he was offered the skull, he may have already on-sold the mask and therefore had no need of its authentication. Why would he sell the mask you may ask? In building his dream manor, Strawberry Hill, he was conscious always of his available funds.

Walpole is remembered today as a letter writer as well as an art historian and connoisseur. His letters are an important source of information for his times. He wrote them with his eye on posterity. He is said to have asked them all back and edited them and so they survive in a form that he would have approved for print. Did he mention the mask or Kesselstatt in any of his letters for 1775-6? Not that I could pick up. Would he have wanted posterity to know of such a deal if he did?

Thus the mystery of the provenance remains. But then there is the other mystery. George Vertue makes reference to there being TWO monuments in the 1730s – one in the Chancel and one in the room beside it! Are these the two he meant. . .?

File:Dugdale sketch 1634 Detail.jpg

A thumbnail sketch, from life, of the monument before by William Dugdale (1636). Notice the sack of grain?wool?agriculture! See the differences in the top of the monuments.

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since about the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

References

(1) Hammerschmidt-Hummel, Hildegard, The True Face of William Shakespeare, Chaucer Press, London, 2006, p.117.

(2)George Vertue, “Notebooks”, The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930), XX (1931–1932), XXII (1933–1934), XXIV (1935–1936), XXVI (1937–1938), XXIV (1947; Index), XXX (1951–1952; Index).

(3) ibid.

(4)Schoenbaum references Argosy and C.C.Langton, A Warwickshire Man, How Shakespeare’s Skull was Stolen and Found, (1879) in:

Schoenbaum, Samuel, Shakespeare’s Lives, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991.

photo credits

The cover of Antipodean SF issue 206 features the cover art  – Who wins? (credit – Photovision, Pixabay)

1636 thumbnail sketch by Dugdale (1605-1686) of the Stratford Monument, from Wikimedia Commons

Stratford Monument as we know it:

Image from page 183 of “Shakespeare’s England” (1895)

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images /Foter / No known copyright restrictions

3. What Authorship Question: Shakespeare? Who? Homer?

Stylometry: using maths to interpret English! No, this is not science fiction. Sacrilege? They’re doing it to Shakespeare. It’s been done to his works for a while. It’s being taken seriously. No, this is not horror. Pythagoras reduced music to numbers you might say, but I would contend that Pythagoras rose numbers to art.

So, what’s my issue? Even before statistics became involved the works of Shakespeare were being questioned as the product of one mind, one pen. These different minds were recognized for their differences in style of writing.

“Oh, this bit isn’t by Shakespeare, it’s too droll.”

“Droll? It’s doggerel!”

“He only helped out with that bit and that bit.”

Computers can only prognosticate when data and calculations are given to them. So how do the Stylometricians discern which part is by Shakespeare and which parts are there for the ride? It’s subjective.

“Only the best bits are by the Bard!”

“He was a genius after all.”

I have a problem with that too. Over the course of your writing career, your style will change. You will experiment with different voices as you are exposed to them. You will change your voice depending on the form of writing you are communicating with e.g., letter writing, poetry, playwriting, short story or novel writing. With practice you will hone your own style and you will improve. So if the completed works of Shakespeare are actually complete, then his juvenilia must be represented.

How do stylometricians choose their standard, “true” extract with which to compare all other sections of his works? How do they discern between his evolving style and that of the works of other playwrights with whom he is said to have collaborated? Can an entire play be chosen as a touchstone? Is there a certain world-view or mindset that runs through his works that underpins them as the work of one writer? I think there is.

Here’s an hypothetical experiment. Like all experiments it has limiting parameters. Imagine that Shakespeare wrote only plays. Imagine that you have only read his comedies. How would you sum up his women? Witty, intelligent, feisty and living within the framework of their patriarchal society. Portia (Merchant of Venice) and Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing) are brighter than the men around them but they subject themselves to the social mores of patriarchy. Shakespeare could then be said to believe that women were men’s equal in intelligence and wit but perhaps not interested in assuming the authoritarian role of men in society. Just to look at the comedies it could be said that for Shakespeare, women’s chief concerns were falling in love and getting married.

Now imagine that your Shakespeare-loving friend had read none of his plays outside of the English Histories. Your friend could be forgiven for understanding Shakespeare to have had a much shallower understanding of women. The women of the English History plays are presented two-dimensionally as prizes and ornaments e.g., Katherine (Henry V); foils, Lady Anne (Richard III) and Blanch (King John); and adjititors e.g., Constance and Elinor (King John). His women rarely portray more than one emotion or have more than one drive. In the case of Anne, in Richard III, her transition from hate to love is a showcase of Richard’s ability to persuade, but forces any actress attempting the role to scour her personal emotion memory for the triggers to making the transformation real. Your friend may say that Shakespeare just didn’t understand nor value women. Had he been able to, wouldn’t he have done something more with Eleanor of Acquitaine (King John) and Joan of Arc (Henry VI part 1)? He treats the first as a shrew and the second as a fighting machine.Place Saint-Augustin (Portrait)

Now your other friend has read nothing but his tragedies. Now s/he would be the silent one in the interrogation. The first observation would be that, generally speaking, Shakespeare doesn’t take us on emotional journeys and soul-searching with his female characters. In fact, at best he offers us their crisis e.g., Ophelia (Hamlet) and leaves us to question. Whereas, Hamlet, reveals to us every inch of his labyrinthine emotional landscape. Lady Macbeth goes from Femme Fatale to psychologically unhinged without a spoken process. But then there is Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) and Cordelia (King Lear) who are more well-rounded, more self-aware. For a female to read the tragedies, she has to treat the lead as an every-person because Shakespeare of the tragedies rarely sees women as persons.15_Verona.jpg

There are of course exceptions to all of these sweeping generalisations. It is these exceptions that I would look closely at to find a different mind or different form of theatre being presented e.g., The Taming of the Shrew, Kate is outwitted by Petruchio but the shallow rendering of the characters begs to question whether this play was written as an English attempt at Commedia Dell’arte.

To compare The Taming of the Shrew with Twelfth Night is a real eye-opener. How differently they deal with female identity and human relationships! Here he tackles sexual identity and personhood head on. Could the same writer have written Joan de Pucelle?

My argument over the last two posts has been that an author exposes his/herself by her/his mind-set. For Homer, the problem lies in the humanity he treats his soldiers with, in his almost personal account of the Trojan War, in The Iliad, as compared with the almost, nonchalance he treats the sailors with in The Odyssey. In Dr Who we have an interesting collaborative environment that follows the world view prescribed by a shepherding producer. Interestingly enough, when the previous shepherd, Russell T. Davies, was replaced with the current, Steven Moffat, his replacement was from within the flock. However the stories changed in atmosphere and preoccupation. For Shakespeare, I argue that there is a different mindset that characterises most of the comedies from most of the histories, particularly the English Histories, and perhaps the tragedies have a third or fourth mind in tow. The crux of my arguement is that Stylometry isn’t able to detect a different mindset nor the nuances of a developing mind expressed in finished works on paper. Could more than one person have written the plays of Shakespeare? How were they created if collaboratively? And if they were created in a group environment, how is it that no one spilt the beans?

Photo Credits

Joan de Pucelle (Joan of Arc)

Photo credit: Djof / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Juliet

Photo credit: Tomato Geezer / Foter / CC BY-ND

The Nightmare : Where? What? When? . . . Homer, Shakespeare, Dr. Who

The glare. In front. Above. In your ears; on your skin. Radiation. Run! Run outside! Where? The corridor is here, it paces with each of your strides, just ahead of you. Run! It will come into view. That’s all you know. Run, it will meet you. Matter:you create it. Look back: the corridor is long, white, dim. Lockers on either side. Forward: it’s still there, a void. Stop here. Lockers: overburdened, over hanging, over your line…falling. Get up! The weight: white, above. Red trickles down. Cold metal, bare skin, gash. Push up, hard! The hinges pop. Out falls a tee. Clothe yourself. Walk. Don’t look back.

Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drurydrama/5203232967/

Doors separate blocks of lockers. With each footfall, another room comes into view. And another block of lockers. There’s more with each step, canter, jog, run. Where is an exit sign? Don’t slow. The white begins to fall. Dash! Grab, turn, yank . . . bang! Silence. The speaker stops. Homer is projected, enormous behind him. The auditors turn to face you. They’re bearded, like Homer.

“Sorry. Late. I’ll just take a seat.”

They rise, all of them. No one smiles. They scowl. They glare. They lift their chairs, each with one hand. The free hand drags across a collapsing trench through their foreheads. They approach. They don’t look at your eyes, just your t-shirt. Homer’s face is written over: Odyssey into Authorship Fraud. You back away from them, a foot at a time with your chair in arms until you reach the door. Turn the knob and push back. Move back and back and back until you feel another door knob to turn.

Cheese, crackers, wine and goatees. English-Lit. Tap-tap on your shoulder.

“When did they start letting your ilk in?”

“I don’t know what you mean. Please?”

A poke is drawn out long, over your shoulder blades while the accompanying voice, louder than polite conversation allows, enjoins, “I Swear, Shaxpere, was wearing red herring!” You run your fingertips over your back. You can discern the rise and fall of paint and cotton. A decanter, shatters. You feel the stares as the silence spills and runs towards you once more.

“I must be in the wrong room.”

“Stay. It’s been a while since they served the meat here, raw.”

Run to the corridor. Close your fingers over the hem of your tee. Shut your eyes. Blue rectangles emerge in the blackness. Yellow rectangles make towers in the blue. Pixels of neon lights organize themselves into a recognizable shape. Pull over and off the tee. Flutter up your lids. Close them again. The blue box! A blink and it’s gone. Pull the tee back down, inside-out. Run. The hall is creating itself once more with your every stride.
You hear a commotion. There is a break in the wall on the right. The echo of feet drumming the floor in measured, robotic pounds, broadens the opening. Another corridor emerges in the wall opposite. It’s the Chinese state army. You stop to allow them to parade by. They may have just created an exit. Will they be your saving grace? A command is called. They stop and turn towards you. The commander picks you with his eyes. Guns are raised. You look down at your t-shirt. “Falun Dafa is Good!” is printed around the wan symbol. You dive into an open doorway. More bearded men. Ringlets escaping their black hats and murmurs fibrillating history and religion in a foreign tongue. One, only needs to see your t-shirt. Revulsion, pain, anger and fear transform the air. It is a different kind of radiation, one of darkness. So black that only sound can warp its way through.

“Hahhhhh-uh. Hahhhhh-uh” The blue box emerges. Run. He is here, the alien-man with the screwdriver. He will fix it. He has to. He’s the Doctor. Who?*

Tardis in the Dark/in black

Nightmare, parable – is there a difference? Ask Jung. When we speak or write we censor our content depending on our audience. Why? For many reasons. Inevitably, individuals outgrow the institutions and social constructs that previous generations have built to deliver needs like education and social harmony and etiquette. Plain speaking in the open isn’t always possible, from reasons of the personality of the speaker to the fear of the government one may be speaking out against. To bring about change and growth there has to be an acceptance of the need for change. How is it managed?

Pseudonyms, allonyms, disguise and deception are the tools of many writers, not just for revolutionary purposes. Could you pick a fraud? Computational text analysis has been used to delve with the mathematical ability of a computer into the Shakespeare Authorship Question. Apparently by counting instances of words, their forms, spelling and usage a computer can determine the authorship of a work purported to be by Shakespeare. But isn’t there more to writing than the words themselves? In my next post I’ll be looking at Homer, Shakespeare and the Doctor as interpreted by Russell T Davies vs Steven Moffat.
Could a computer tell a script by Moffat from a script by Davies?

• For any Whovians among you, in the Nightmare sequence the disguises of the hordes once doffed would reveal in order of appearance: The Slitheen (you guessed it); the Sycorax (Shakespeare actually did get there first – see The Tempest); the Cybermen; and the Ood.

High School Lockers

Photo credit: Len Radin / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drurydrama/5203232967/
Tardis in the Dark

Photo credit: Boyce Duprey / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

An obnoxious interview with Mike the Spike’s author, Stella Tarakson

Mike the Spike, the new for juniors (7-9 year olds) novel by the prolific Stella Tarakson is being launched on Friday, 26th September at Kogarah Municipal Library. Being one of Stella Tarakson’s camp followers, you can imagine my excitement. True to her style, the plot sails along with incidents breaking over incidents and incidences regaled with laughter. Having had the privilege of reading the ms early during the creative process has given me the confidence to ask some pretty, obnoxious questions of the author.

Stella Taraksn

Stella Tarakson

1. Have you ever had a spike ( even if it was in the 80s ) ?

I don’t know what you’re talking about 🙂

2. What about the nits?

Oh yes. Several times. Not when I was a kid – but I had them when my children were in primary school. It was awful and has left me permanently scarred, hence the book.

3. Are you Mike?

No.

4. The range of books you have written covers educational books, self-help, legal, science fiction, YA, Tweens non-fiction , junior novels etc. How does writing comedy differ in the creative process from the more serious forms of writing you’ve had published? ( Or, have you ever laughed yourself so senseless as you’ve frantically tapped down the inspiration that you’ve left out the punch line ?)

Writing is all about voice. The hardest part of any project I’ve attempted is getting the voice right – once I’ve got it, the rest flows. I’ve written books about the law, about dealing with death, about euthanasia, terrorism, obesity and on and on! They’re all totally different voices, but other than that, the writing process is similar. My workshop students often ask me how they can find their own writing voice. It’s a hard question to answer. The only way really is to experiment and see what works. I remind them that we all have different voices for different occasions. We speak one way to our parents, another to our friends, another to our workmates/clients and so on. When I write, I think about who I’m writing for – and why. I love writing comedy for kids. It’s one of the most satisfying ways of connecting with the audience!

Mike the Spke

Mike the Spike

5. Is Mike obnoxious? Why? Please explain.

Little Mikey? No! How could you even think that?

6. How important is it that you like your main character?

For me, it’s crucial. I’ve read a few kids’ books where the main character is obnoxious and unlikeable. Maybe kids are expected to like them, but I don’t see how they could either! If I’m going to spend time inside a character’s head, I’ve got to like what I find there.

7. Plot or Character?

Plot. And character. Character and plot. One bounces off the other and it’s all mixed together. I start with an incident or problem, then think about the sort of character that would be most affected by it. For instance – nits. Par for the course for most girls, who tend to get them regularly. But a vain little boy, whose pride and joy is his spiky hair? Disaster! Then I think of ways the character can try to solve that problem, and the obstacles s/he will face. That’s how the plot takes shape in my mind. I like to have a fairly good idea of both before I start writing the story. Then I show it to someone like your good self – who is great at offering reader feedback! Thanks for your role in Mike’s success 🙂

It was my pleasure.

Mike the Spike is being launched at Kogarah Municipal Library on Friday, 26th September. Both Stella Tarakson and the illustrator of the book’s very funny drawings, Ben Johnston, will be there reading from the book and drawing, on-the-spot, for their young audience. There will be drawing and nit-making craft for the kids as well.

Book now at Eventbrite!

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Tea with Cavafy and a Brontosaurus called Bard

I never had you, nor do I suppose will I ever have you.
A few words, an approach,
As in the bar yesterday, and nothing more.
It is undeniably a pity
But we who serve Art sometimes with the mind’s intensity can create pleasure which is almost physical.
But, of course, only for a short time . . .

extract from the poem, Half an Hour* by C.P.Cavafy

Cavafy’s poem, Half an Hour, spoke to me in my twenties more than any other poem. It summed up my yearning for and unrequited love. It was powerful. It was self aware. The poet knew that he was entertaining a fantasy. His muse knew how he felt and allowed him his fantasy, but no more. Instantaneously I felt that this was my poem. Incredibly I knew that somehow, Cavafy wrote it for me and about me. Immediately I felt that we shared a common experience. Reading the poem in its entirety, I all but understood that all of his sentiments I had experienced. Almost all. But I knew that Cavafy was a gay man. He was a gay man, a Greek man, an Orthodox Christian living in Egyptian Alexandria in the early 20th Century. This added other levels of meaning to his words, hidden meanings that once unearthed subsumed the meaning the poem had for me. I stopped empathising and sympathised instead.

I couldn’t ignore his biography. It wasn’t just the state of my mind but there was a physical barrier when I tried to access his poetry as well. At the time, to read Cavafy in English I had to look for him in anthologies of gay poetry. A special section in some bookstores. His writing although not explicitly gay was relegated to a marginalised audience because of his biography. Was that necessary?

When considering somone’s art, is their life story really necessary? When emotions are communicated from an anonymous pen don’t we have a freer license to feel? To feel without prejudging? Doesn’t the power of art assert itself in its ability to break us out of our existential prisons and deliver us into the arms of abstract, communal experience?

A Tunisian Sepulchre with a marked resemblence to  the architecture of the earliest Renaissance stage in Italy (15th C.)

A Tunisian Sepulchre with a marked resemblence to a 1490’s staging of Terence in Italy

When I consider Shakespeare as a man and as an actor, poet, playwright, poacher, pennypincher, theatre entrepreneur, grain merchant, gentrified farmer, father, I’m pleased. His is a skeletal biography, a structure without flesh, a structure indicative not particular. Not quite anonymous, but almost. Regardless, the bones of his story indicate that he had his faults and his virtues. The good outweighs the bad. Reading his works and enjoying them on stage and screen has given me a lot of pleasure, as it does for many people, past and present. I can ignore some big inconsistencies in his biography. History is full of inconsistencies. They drive further enquiry. But then there’s this:

Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten:
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’erread;
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all of the breather’s of this world are dead;
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen),
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Sonnet 81, by Shakespeare

The sonnet is telling us something. It seems the great poet was great via the work of another. This other’s penmanship will be forgotten once his contemporaries have passed away. He is resigned to it. There is a lot of yearning in this poem. He yearns for it to be another way.

It’s eerie too. The, “eyes not yet created, ” that’s us. He is off-loading on us. It almost feels like a challenge. Will we see through the fascade? He is too defeated to even hope.

So what are we going to do? This poet who gave the English language and stage pride and credibilty is languishing, entombed in obscurity or infamy. Do we do anything? Do we owe him anything? The poet is dead. Does it matter? What about the truth? Should it be pursued when the status quo is easier? If we uncover the poet’s secrets, unmask his real identity, will we lose the potency of his words? Should the emotional truth that spirals up from his pages, concertina down again to serve a historical, biographical interpretation? What if he or she has done something we couldn’t equate with our expectations for our literary hero? What if we find behind the mask an adulterer or a paedophile or a matron or a Catholic, bricklayer, bisexual, spy or a tyrant?

Biographies complicate matters. How much should we expect the life to reflect the art?

In looking through Shakespeare’s skelton closet will we find another Brontosaurus ? Have the specialists known about its existence and for how long ? Is it taboo? Could there be a reason for history to carefully guard this burial? Are we not approaching history’s sepulchre attired in the correct robes? When this metaphoric tomb is opened what will lie there? Will the hand that held Shakespeare’s pen disappoint us?

A recurrent theme in Shakespeare’s plays is the importance of honour. It’s a virtue more read about these days than upheld. Reading Shakespeare has nostalgia value. His world is one of honour, chivalry and grace, antiquated notions today. Embarrassing even. How do we honour the poet if we ignore this plea? Are we beyond chivalry, honour and grace?

* The translation of Cavafy’s poem is from the murky depths of my memory. Cavafy draws inspiration from personal moments in the lives of Byzantine personalities. 

Photo Credit – Sepulchre in Tunisia
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/