A Sting In The Tail

August has gone – thank goodness! But it didn’t leave without a sting in the tail, putting me in hospital for a few days. Embarrassing really, turning up at the doctors feeling rough to be sent off in an ambulance – not something I expected. Whatever was troubling me (it felt just like a sting from an angry tail) was snuffed out by large doses of antibiotics and I hope it doesn’t come back.  

More to the point, it’s September now, one of my favourite months. Perhaps that’s because I always enjoyed going back to school; I wasn’t a swat but missed my friends in the holidays. And September still feels to me like the beginning of something. Something good? I hope so. No longer feeling at death’s door, I am in optimistic mood about my painting and writing. I know what I want to do, where I want to go, and, at the moment, have the energy to try to make things happen.

I’m currently going through a period of untangling. For some time I’ve felt bound, hemmed in by knotty problems which, it seemed, I could do nothing about. Now fate is nudging ever so slowly on to something new and I’m hoping that something proves to be the realization of my dreams – to share my work more widely and become self-supporting.   

Days and Dreams of Nonsense – it must be August

It’s back again, this weary time of the year when sense and progress have packed up and (unlike me) gone off on holiday.

It started with a feeling of lethargy, brought on no doubt by the heat wave.  Then I began having ludicrous dreams, one of which involved Alan Titchmarsh making a pass at me at the opening of his new garden centre featuring plastic dinosaurs and live hippos.  Unlike the majority of ‘women of a certain age’ (which I take to be mine) I find him unattractive; although I do accept he fronts a good garden programme – I just wish he’d stick to what he knows, i.e. gardening. 

I think the state of my brain (it feels like mashed potato and I hope it’s only temporary) has a lot to do with my birthday falling at the end of this month.  I never celebrate it and would rather not have such a thing as a birthday.  It must be very hard for friends and relatives to know what to do as I get tetchy at the mention of it – however, it does save them money.  It’s always seemed to me a ludicrous concept, celebrating living an extra year as if you’d done something to deserve it; though, of course, the older I get, the more it seems like an achievement.

I dislike Christmas too because it gets in the way of things I want to do.  My August phobia might even go as far back as pre-birth since, after days in labour, my mother absolutely refused to go into hospital and almost died, taking me with her.  She was, thankfully, overruled and I was born by Caesarean section.  Following our release from hospital, I cried so much the midwife advised her to put me at the bottom of the garden* (in my pram) and forget about me.  There’s post-war child care for you.

* Perhaps this is the A.T. link.

Anyway, I had another dream a couple of nights ago.  The main character in my novel, Tribes, died.  Yes, he just up and died part way through the book.  I was devastated because it meant, of course, that the novel was no more; and could never be rewritten.  What did the dream mean?  Was it a portent of some literary disaster?  I do occasionally have dreams which seem to connect with what’s about to happen.  So it turned out.

A few weeks ago I was inspired (not sure that’s the right word) to submit a short sample of my next book to Curtis Brown, Agents.  Being perverse is also a symptom of my present state of mind as I fully believe the days of agents are numbered.  But I gave way to that feeling all writers get from time to time of wanting to be in with the ‘in crowd’, to receive the pat on the head (or back) and experience the warm glow that comes with knowing you are selected by the chosen to be one of the chosen.  And – and it looked so easy!  Even I, with my limited grasp of techno, was able to fill in the gaps without angst.

You guessed it, my work was rejected and the message came the day after my dream in which my Tribes hero died.  It contained the usual kindly platitudes: An agent must feel 100% committed to the work, doesn’t mean another might not see its worth, etc.  However, the most curious thing was, at the end of the email came this statement : Thank you for giving me the chance to consider your grandfather’s work, and I wish you both luck in your search for a suitable agent to assist you.

What do I make of it?  I haven’t a clue.  Both my grandfathers died well before I was born and I didn’t mention either in my submission.  Ah, well.  It is August, after all. 

And then I remembered why I stopped submitting my work to publishers and agents.      

     

What is Art and what is an Artist?

006Art is the pleasant picture you have hanging on the wall of your lounge.  Art is the act of an artist whatever the visual result.  And also art can be anything between those two extremes.

Confusing?  Of course.  Art has always been so and arouses strong emotions.  Here, I will attempt to describe what I believe to be Art created by an Artist, knowing that my interpretation will  differ from that of others’ – and perhaps yours.

First in my list of necessary requirements for someone to be an Artist is that they create something visible or, in the case of sculpture experienced by a blind person, something which can be appreciated in a tactile way.  I also believe what they create should remain in existence long after they have created it.  That puts me in contention with huge numbers of conceptual artists whose art is of the ‘performing’ variety.  All ‘performance art’ is, for me, drama.

Secondly, I expect an Artist to be in possession of a level of technical skill.  Damien Hirst has admitted that he cannot draw and wishes he could.  In my book, that rules him out as an Artist.  However impressive his works, he is a compiler of interesting things and his works have more in common with dioramas.  The fact that there might be a message behind what he makes doesn’t bring them any closer to being art because art is only partly about ideas.  For me, the basic skill required by an artist is the ability to draw (I do not exclude the skill of drawing with a computer).

Nearly a hundred years ago Marcel Duchamp exhibited items such as urinals (which he called Fountains).  He also drew moustaches on copies of the Mona Lisa (those who know my theories on Leonardo’s love-life will appreciate why I like those).  These, and the other  bits and pieces he exhibited, he dubbed ready-mades. They were art, he claimed, because anything could be – as long as the artist declared it to be.  Now you may debate that as long as you wish to (and people do) but the bottom line is – Duchamp was an artist, not because he produced ready-mades, but because he could draw and paint well.  He was also a clever man with a sense of irony so I wonder what he would think of  the fact that his theory was still being banded about in the present day as ‘modern’ and challenging.  His Fountains, etc., were exhibited in 1917.

Pre the invention of the camera there was little discussion on the meaning of Art or Artist.  It was obvious; most Artists painted pictures for rich people or organizations to hang in their homes or establishments (including churches).  Apart from religious subjects, paintings were often portraits or classical scenes in which the patrons’ relatives were depicted.  Then the invention of photography sent the pigeons scattering.  What future for Art when a camera could reproduce what was in front of it more accurately? The hunt was on for  justification. 

First came the Impressionists, then the Expressionists, Surrealists – the list goes on and on.  Being a recognised and successful artist no longer depended on how well you could fool the onlooker into believing your pictures were real.  Now an added dimension was the Artist him/herself.  What were they trying to say?  Most people these days expect to have an element of this in the art they choose to decorate their homes and being purely representational (however impressive) is no longer considered enough to justify a work’s existence. So art today is an amalgam of technical skill and message and, of course, style – the artist’s personal ‘signature’ which permeates their work. 

Skill, message (if there is one) and style. Three things which define a work of Art for me.  And the Artist?  Well, he or she is simply the person who made it. 

   

 

 

 

The desire to make a lasting contribution to the accumulated works of the human race

Long title, short blog.

My most popular tweet by far (and still so, even though it was posted some time ago) is: ‘Would writers be content to have their entire works in ebook form if they knew the world was about to end?’ (Or something very close to that).  I’ve been surprised by this as it didn’t seem a particularly earth-shattering (sorry) tweet yet it has been ‘favorited’ a number of times and mostly by young people.

Perhaps the desire for permanency does burn within them more than we realise and maybe because the world of the young is filled with so much that is transitory.  It’s not surprising, however, that the prospect of the world’s end is more interesting to the young.  It appeals to their angst-ridden psyche.  In addition they tend to be lone thinkers and, as yet, have no dependents.  Like it or not, parents – the prospect of losing you doesn’t strike panic into their hearts.  That kind of dread comes only with parenthood itself.

Another tweet on the same theme, which I thought to be a better one, has largely been ignored; that being: ‘Perhaps knowledge is safest when written down on a piece of paper and stored in a fire-proof box.’ (Again – or words to that effect).  But my point, I think, is clear.  In embracing technology so willingly and speedily, are we at risk of losing forever the most valuable possession of the human race?

The desire of human beings to express their thoughts is so powerful, some are prepared to die to ensure they survive.  More terrible than their own physical destruction was the idea that their work would perish and be lost to present and future generations.  Lets hope then, in our giddy race to become entirely virtual, we don’t allow a tragic re-run of the destruction of the library of Alexandria.     

 

End Of All Things

The Last Post on My Old Blog, Migrated Here To My New Blog

This is my last post on this blog before migrating to my website annelewington.co.uk

I considered hard and long today whether to write about the following but, since it’s certain nobody will read it, here goes.

Last night I had an intense and scary dream. Some despot who looked like Max Von Somethingorother (Ming the Merciless but without the fancy gear) was determined to destroy the planet. No idea why. He began by sending wasps which wiped out a few people and caused a lot of panic; then spiders which were too skinny to do much in the way of destruction or scaring. Then a kind of fog created by wierd pollen engulfed the world. Various government reps came to him to ask him to desist but fell under his control. Finally he created a wave which spread about the world devouring mainly lovers and their bodies became part of a psychedelic mush. By now the world outside the despot’s bubble was almost black. Some said he would retreat to a better place. I asked if such a thing still existed.

Throughout this nonsense I was, mercifully, an observer. At one point I saw the despot cradling in his arms a sickly young boy who was apparently his son. Perhaps this was the reason for his hatred of life. The only others remaining in the bubble were gathered in a sycophantic group, paying the despot compliments so that he would not cast them out into the horror he had created. One woman had black lips and many piercings. How can they trust him – I wondered.

Then, as it became clear that all hope was lost for beauty and goodness, I tried to retreat from the dream I knew I was in. But suddenly, amidst the panic and confusion three orbs appeared; not orbs exactly because they had a skirt of shining silver around them and from that flowed a purple material which looked to be made from light. ‘May we live in your world?’ they asked the despot. ‘For it is sure we can do you no harm.’ I did not hear his answer; he may have fled to the other place. But the orbs hung in the air and their light pierced the darkness. ‘Shall we show you what you have done?’ they asked those who remained, the ones who had done the despot’s bidding.

And I heard the people cry and wail as they held in their hands some cloths. I did not want to look at what they contained but I did and saw nothing ugly. Instead I saw bright shining items of gold and silver such as bracelets and rings. ‘These are what your loved ones left behind,’ said the orbs. And the people were wailing because they knew that the most precious things of all were gone forever.’

Now, am I mad to have dreamt such a thing? Or is it just the fact that I’m suffering from a chest infection.

Goodbye first blog. I promise to write more sensible stuff on my new one.

 

People Are Brave

One Of The Last Posts on My Old Blog, Migrated Here To My New Blog

Nothing to do with any current nastiness in the world in the form of explosions; it goes without saying that, in general, people react admirably in the face of disaster. This is just following the ten minutes I spent sitting in a comfy chair in the corridor of our local hospital while waiting to pick up my grandson from nursery.

I watched people come and go into and from X-ray; the usual assortment of plastered ankles, etc., belonging to people not used to balancing on sticks as well as a number of beds wheeled from wards containing the frailest of souls. And, although a hospital is where you go because your body has been damaged or let you down and could well be causing you a lot of anguish and pain, every person I saw was smiling (or trying to), sometimes cracking jokes in an effort to make those who were tending them feel better.

There is something within most of us which comes to the fore at such times. And even at the very end, when everything medicine can do must be put aside in the face of the inevitable, most people think first of those they love. If things are going to be OK for them, then that’s all right. Yes, people are brave, tragically so sometimes but always worthy of admiration.

 

In Praise of Pollution (mk 2)

One Of The Last Posts on My Old Blog, Migrated Here To My New Blog

Trying again in the hope my laptop consents to publish this time.

When I was a child I spent every summer holiday with my Grandma in Bolton, Lancs. We visited relatives and the highlight of the stay was when we spent a week in my uncle’s boarding house in Blackpool.

But there was excitement too in the journey North. From the coach window I viewed changing landscapes and dreamt of magic times to come.  By the time we reached The Black Country with its funnel shaped chimneys there was no doubt we were entering a different land and, arriving at last after dark, our destination gleamed under street lamps. Yes, Bolton gleamed!

The women who lived in those back-to-back terraces took pride in their homes, both inside and out. Front steps were polished, as were windowsills.  I could have believed an army worked on hands and knees throughout the night, buffing pavements and cobbles.  Bolton shone like jet.

The Town Hall was magnificent, with an underground aquarium (bizarre).  My relatives told me the building was exactly the same as the town hall in Portsmouth – only theirs was black, they added with pride.  What colour is it now, I wonder? 

I loved the black of Bolton and I loved the smell; like bonfire night all year round.  Of course, pollution had to go.  But what a shame it took with it the splendour of black.

 

Do as I say – not as I did

This is by way of a letter to an internet friend who, being young enough to be my daughter, will, I hope, not take amiss some motherly advice of a literary nature.

Dear T,

You write really well, are dedicated and your blogs are full of common sense. However, I’m here to offer a friendly warning. Very much as I did years ago, you speak passionately about finishing your novel then finding a publisher (if I write well enough and my story’s worth reading, I’m bound to get published – that’s what I thought).  Once the product was complete and as good as I could make it, all the hard work would be done.  It was just a matter of time before someone in the business recognised its worth.

I’ll try to keep this short, although the timescale covers more than twenty years.  The promise of success came early for me with the commissioning editor of Orion’s fantasy & sci-fi imprint asking to see the manuscript of Tribes, having enjoyed the sample I’d sent her.  Almost unheard of!  A hit the first time out? Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready (I’d been advised to send some chapters out beforehand as it would be ages before anyone wanted the whole thing).  In truth, I could have sent it to her but I wasn’t happy with the writing.  It finally went and I waited – and waited.  I met the editor at a conference and she told me to be patient. ‘These things take time,’ she said.  Too right!

Anyway, I said I’d try to keep this short.  –  The editor suddenly left the company and another took over.  When I enquired about my manuscript the new man said he knew nothing about it but made it clear he wasn’t interested anyway.  My suspicions are – rather like a new alpha male taking over the pack and killing the cubs that aren’t his – he’d disposed of all previous clutter.  I doubt that I’m the only author with such a tale of woe.

Never mind, put it down to experience.  Tribes went out again – and again.  I received a nice phone call from the agent of Ian Banks (God rest his gifted soul) who told me that I was a born storyteller.  But, when I sent him the complete manuscript, he rejected it on the basis of it not quite measuring up as a fantasy novel.  I have to agree.  Tribes is no fantasy novel.

Tribes yoyoed back and forth with the usual encouraging remarks but no takers until ..  would you believe it?  An editor at Orion was impressed by the sample and keen to read the whole thing.  I don’t even recall sending it there but obviously I did (after a while you do a mad bulk send-out in desperation).  She read it, she loved it and her colleagues loved it.  But there was a very big BUT.  The same commissioning editor was in charge.  I waited for the inevitable and Tribes was rejected, not quite measuring up once again.

Onward and upward.  By now I had a second novel (third actually since I’d already sent Charybdis to Virago and received a pleasing but negative response – the standard card, yet on the back a hand-written comment to the effect,  We really are very sorry to have to turn this down but it’s not quite right for our list.  Send us anything else you have.)  That was OK. 

Anyway, Immortali.  That would be the one.  It took three years to write and passed muster at the writers group; it was revised at least three times.  ‘Take some of it to Julian Rathbone,’  I was advised.  (Look him up if you’re not familiar with his wonderful books, The Last English King, etc.).  In trepidation I approached Julian at a conference and he asked to read the whole thing, eventually pronouncing it to be, ‘the most original and imaginative thing he’d ever read.’  Until his death, he remained helpful and encouraging and even recommended the novel to his own publisher, Little Brown.  They rejected it on the basis of it being too close to Sarah Dunant’s (already on their list).  Ah, well!

So, what’s left?  Self-publishing.  Yes, I’m not proud. The golden glow of acceptance had eluded me but I still believed in my books.  And suddenly here’s the internet and the giant Amazon with self-published authors making life-changing sums. My publisher perhaps wouldn’t like the term self-published but I feel my books are.  However, the public has spoken.  They don’t care who publishes their books.  And those mainstream publishing houses who were so snooty about the whole thing now come sniffing around the winners with eye-watering offers of cash.  So much for integrity.   

So, what I’m saying to you, T, is – get your writing out there!  Even if you feed it out slowly in dribs and drabs (didn’t do the ‘Grey’ woman any harm, did it?).  And the fact that you are publishing, sharing the creation of your book with potential readers, doesn’t mean you can’t present it to a trad publisher once your satisfied with the end result – if that’s what you want. 

But those walls are crumbling.  Publishers may be putting on a brave face but they, agents (and unfortunately bookshops) are running scared.  They no longer hold the keys.  At a recent convention at the University of Southern California, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted a ‘massive implosion’ in the film industry.  OK that’s film, but the storm’s engulfing writing too.  The Barbarian Technology is smashing the old, ordered edifice to bits and, in the words of George Lucas:  ‘It’s because all the gatekeepers have been killed.’ 

Let’s talk politics

Mine, anyway.  I doubt I could ever vote Conservative; it’s not in my genes.  But that doesn’t mean I’m a lovey, duvvy, soft-touch Lefty.

Politics, to me, goes by the same rules as individual psychology.  Too much stick or too much carrot and the child turns out unbalanced.  It’s in our nature to make a bid for power but, if allowed to get away with it every time, most of us will turn into tyrants.  On the other hand believing that all children are by nature good and only turn bad through contact with a corrupt adult world is just daft.

No political party has the complete solution to a country’s woes.  Again, by nature, folk are contrary and, if you could present them with a perfectly fair and balanced society in which to live, they would inevitably get bored (and probably go to war).

A controversial belief of mine is that war is the natural state of mankind (a theme explored in Tribes).  The world’s problems would be better addressed with this fact in mind.  We do not naturally exist in a peaceful state then occasionally slip into mindless violence.  We are programmed with violence as an aid to survival and peace comes only when we manage that part of us socially.

The Tories bleat a lot about the population being law-abiding.  Let me remind them that most of their families received their privileged position (and the money) as a result of a certain King William wresting the land from the indigenous population and handing it out to his soldier cronies for helping him smash the existing regime.  Some law-abiding, eh? 

 

Immortali: Renaissance Italy, Commedia dell’Arte, a Love Story

 

anne lewingtonOriginally Posted on Suite 101 by Mari Nicholson

The much talked about novel, Immortali, by UK writer Anne Lewington offers a crash course in the life of Renaissance Italy wrapped up in an engrossing and entertaining tale of a group of travelling players in the tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte.

Having had a long love affair with all things to do with Renaissance Italy for as long as I can remember I found it difficult to put the book down. Apart from the great story, there is so much knowledge imparted in an easily absorbed way, that the book can be read on many levels. For anyone doing Renaissance studies I feel this would be a great background book to have on hand as Lewington’s research cannot be faulted yet the research never overpowers the story and the period is illuminated by the writer’s own voice.

Renaissance Tuscany and Venice, Settings for the Novel

Immortali is set in 16th century Tuscany and Venice and the story centres round the travelling players of the Commedia dell’Arte. The tale is told through events which befall the young Giulia Olivieri who falls for the company’s charismatic Arlecchino, in a plot that brims with sex, heresy, murder and intrigue. It is written in a style that reflects a romantic comedy but it has a sub-plot that also addresses contempory issues, such as the spiritual and philosophical themes that were prevalent at the time..

Impossible to single out a favourite parts of the book as I found the vivid insight into Renaissance life so intoxicating that I was swept along with the travelling players as they journeyed through areas of Italy still familiar to us. So much of the architecture and narrow lanes and streets of Tuscany remain medieval. that even today one can marvel at how Giulia, a young girl from a privileged background, survived life on the road with the acting troupe.

The Commedia dell’Arte

The Commedia dell’Arte was part of the Italian scene during the middle of the sixteenth century, when the Renaissance was at its height, and was active during a time of great creativity. It is perhaps not surprising that it was in Tuscany that the travelling players flourished because in that place of immense wealth and the growing influence of powerful men, their performances challenged the audience with tales of intrigue, jealousy and romance and, something quite new to that society, an awareness of the growing tension between servant and master: a case of art reflecting life.

The Mona Lisa and the Cover of Immortali

Lewington is also responsible for the intriguing cover, a re-working of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and there is a fascinating account of how this came about on her website. It is no surprise to learn that she is a former graduate of the St. Martins School of Art in London, that she had her own studio producing paintings to commission and that she founded a centre for the arts in her local area.

Read more about Anne Lewington http://www.annelewington.co.uk/about.htm

Buy the book online – click here

Immortali is available from all good bookshops (in the UK Waterstones and WH Smith) and is online at Amazon.co.uk

IMMORTALI – Indepenpress 2011

ISBN 978-1-907499-50-0

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Screen Shot Below taken from New York Times – What You’re Reading This Summer

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