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Monday, September 25, 2006

WORDS ON THE STREET

"Copy your forefathers, for work is carried out through knowledge; see, their words endure in writing..."
The Teaching for Merikare Par. 4 2135 - 2040 BC
(a treatise on kingship addressed by a king of Heracleopolis whose name is lost, to his son and successor, Merikare.)

Yesterday was the annual "Words on the Street" festival of written and spoken word presented by the Public Library. Tents are set up around Library Square and there are booths with various writer's organizations and magazine/book publishers as well as indoor lectures. It's all free and a wonderful opportunity to hear from the experts, listen to poetry and readings from published fiction or non-fiction works and attend lectures. As well, it's a good day for schmoozing with other local writers and for this it becomes a pleasant Sunday afternoon social event.

The day was bright with sunshine and very warm. I headed down a little late so missed some events I'd have otherwise attended. But I did sit in on a very informative lecture by an agent who gave some excellent tips for submitting queries etc. And later I sat in on a workshop for "Writing for the Stage" which provided a little inspiration for me to once again tackle my Sappho play. In the tents on the street, a number of people I know were reading poetry and some well-known published authors were presenting their work along with short discussion. I wish I had paid attention to the program and got there early enough to sit in on the historical fiction writer's performances as I need some inspiration now to get back into my own writing.

I'm pretty well all settled in my new apartment, and let me tell you that this is heaven! On these bright Autumn days the sun streams through the skylights and I have no need to use the electric lights until early evening. From my balcony is a panoramic view of the sunset and twinkling city sky-line. I can visualize myself sitting on the balcony writing once I get a table and umbrella for shade. And now I have my work space set up, though it's a bit crowded, I am all set to get back to writing.(There wasn't as much floor space here with the built-ins, so it was tricky fitting my furniture in, but I'd done it and it is very cozy!)

My classes started last week too, and it looks like a successful season has begun. That in itself is an inspiration. To be among writers, and even the wanna-be-writers is stimulating to me. So I plan to start work back on the novel this week after this little break. Between the packing/moving and trip to New York it hasn't been possible for me to concentrate on the complex political goings on of Alexander's world. But things are calmer now and I am ready to start.

One last little bit of sticky business with the old landlords, and then my life should resume its serenity. (Yes, of course those nasty people intend to gyp me out of my damage deposit but I won't let them get away with it. So it looks like another trip to arbitration. Then I'll be rid of them!) I will post my rants about these sleaze-artists on my "Conversations with Myself" blog at http://ruthakik.blogspot.com)

In spite of the move, I've managed to do a little bit of writing the past two weeks, posting all the blogs about my short, sweet vacation in the Big Apple. You can see these on my travel blog site:
http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com

I note by reading some other writers' blogs that sometimes it's necessary to abandon one's projects, sad as it is. I know this well as I had to abandon my Celtic story and have also abandoned my Sappho play -- temporarily of course -- though it's been a number of years since I revisited Olwen's world, "Dragons in the Sky". Sometimes it's necessary to take a break just to let the idea brew for a longer time. Scott, do not despair because Medjay will speak to you again when he's ready. I have already heard Olwen's voice whispering to me -- and Sappho's too -- but they know they have to wait awhile longer before I can 'speak' for them.

So here's to Autumn! And for me, a new beginning. Alexander and his friends are waiting and I must focus, and get their story finished!

"In the world of words, the imagination is one of the forces of nature."
Wallace Stevens 1879-1955 "Opus Postumous - 1957 - Adagio"

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

TRAVELING AND WRITING

"The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are."
Samuel Johnson 1709- 1784 from "Mrs Prozzi - anecdotes of Samuel Johnson" 1986

'Way back in the late '70's, after taking a long break from writing, I began taking Creative Writing Classes. Up until that time all my writing had been in the form of short historical novels and plays, although when I first started my writing 'career', fresh out of high-school as a copy-runner for a newspaper, I had aspirations of becoming a journalist, specifically a crime reporter. That never came to be, and I ended up as a news librarian instead. But this basic knowledge of journalism never left me, and when I began to realize that to get a large piece of work published, such as a novel, I should first try to get some publishing experience, I decided to try my hand at travel writing.

At that time I was making some interesting trips abroad as well as to Central America and Mexico. I knew I had plans to eventually move to Europe, mainly Greece, so I decided to try my hand at travel writing. The very first piece I sent out in 1981 was published, and that was the beginning of my 'career' as a travel journalist. When I moved to Greece in 1983, I had already established a contact with a travel editor of the Globe and Mail newspaper and he was happy to accept any stories I mailed to him. Meanwhile, I was also working on my Celtic novel, Dragons in the Sky.

At that time I was writing on a little portable red Brother typewriter. I had it set up on an upturned drawer on the floor of my apartment in Athens. I wrote about all my journies around my new country, and I sent home hundreds of letters about my adventures, which fortunately my friends saved for me. Eventually I will compile stories from those letters to write a memoir about Life Under the Acropolis.

When I came back to Canada to live (regretfully) in 1987, I decided to start on a new novel, which was to be a short juvenile historical. This project grew into the Homeric saga Shadow of the Lion a story about the fall of Alexander the Great's dynasty, which has kept me occupied all the years since including researching in libraries and at sites in northern Greece. This is when I began combining research trips with travel journalism, and because of my love of history, most of my travel stories have a strong slant toward the history of the places I visit.

I've been fortunate this past year to make some fantastic journies. Usually my destination choice is Greece, via England. Last year I won the door-prize at the B.C. Travel Writer's Association yearly gala -- a trip to Malaysia. This year, recently returned from Malaysia, I again won the door prize, two plane tickets and City Pass tours to N.Y.C. I was floored by my good fortune as I had just purchased my ticket to visit Chile, a sentimental journey in memory of my friend Anibal, by invitation of his ex-wife. That trip is scheduled for mid November. And plans are already forumlating to visit Greece via Venice next May.

I just returned from the Big Apple, and I'm starting to write my blogs about that short, sweet adventure (see my travel blog at http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com )
I've found that by writing the blogs first, and taking the time to do the research about the places I've visited, then I can go back and easily write the travel articles.

Of course the problem these days for a free-lance writer, is finding the markets and because I am also busy writing my novel and teaching writing classes, I'm not as diligent as I should be when it comes to marketing. I don't always get the travel stories written that I've intended to write either. But I'm hoping to mend my ways!

This weekend I'm moving up in the world, out of an apartment building I'd consider my 'home' for some years, into a beautiful new condo apartment. I'm excited about this move. As much as I have loved my current 'home', there have been on-going hassles with the building owners/managers for the last two years and the place is getting run-down and happens to be in a neighbourhood where there are constant distractions like police cars, fire trucks, and noisy folk on the streets not to speak of the infamour Dragon Lady (the landlady) who makes me cringe every time I see her or hear her grating annying voice.

So I anticipate this move with great excitement. I know my new home will be quiet, clean (no more roaches and mice!) and will be far more conducive to conjuring the Muse.
It make take me a week or so to reorganize before I can start seriously writing again, but I know I will be back at the keyboard and in Alexander's world before too long.

I'll sign off here by this Saturday and be back as soon as they come to hook up my internet again. See you all then!

"I've never believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances."
Anne Taylor

Friday, September 01, 2006

HISTORICAL FICTION BOOKS THAT MADE ME WANT TO WRITE H.F.

"Advice to Persons about to write history - Don't."
John Emerich Edward Dalber-Acton, Lord Acton 1834 - 1902
Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton April 5, 1887

I'll clarify that statement. If you want to write history, be prepared to spend hours, maybe years, researching your subject. May sure you are avidly keen on the subject and willing to devote yourself to long periods of time immersed in that other world. It will be an adventure that you will never regret taking!

Recently there was a blog about the five historical novels that inspired the writer to write historical fiction. As long as I can remember going to the library most of the books I borrowed or collected for my own use were historical fiction themes. Some of them had a profound affect on me at an early age. Being brought up in a Christian family where the Bible was daily reading material, and my father a Baptist minister, I became keenly interested in the Holy Lands and from there, Greece and Rome. I not only read all the books I could find with those settings, but saw movies as well and was totally drawn into that ancient world. By the time I was sixteen I had already written a few short novels (and plays) with Biblical themes set in Palestine, Rome or Greece. And then, I discovered Alexander the Great and my life was to be changed forever as I grew to know this amazing young man. I wrote my first novel with an Alexander theme the last year of high-school. Almost failed my grades because of it. But I was consumed, intrigued, and totally in love with the character. I spent all my spare time in the library researching. And from that time on Alexander and his World have become a major part of my life.

I also grew up reading about British history and was greatly influenced by Shakespeare when I saw my first Shakespearean play "Richard the Third" when I was 14. Other writers of ancient and medieval and Victorian Britain also influenced me. My second work-in-progress
Dragons in the Sky is a Celtic novel set in Iron Age Britain near Stonehenge.

What did I read (and what do I read?) that inspires me to write in this genre?
Here are some of the writer's and their books that have definitely influenced me.

CHARLES DICKENS I was particularly fond of "Oliver Twist" and, of course,
"A Christmas Carol."

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE All his plays. I can watch them time and time again and never grow tired of them. My favorite, of course, is Richard the Third. But I also love Othello and A Midsummers Night Dream.

SIR WALTER SCOTT: "Ivanhoe"

THOMAS B. COSTAIN I was particularly impressed by "The Black Rose" and always thought it was written by Sir Walter Scott. It turns out that Costain was known as the Canadian Sir Walter Scott. He also write The Silver Chalice . Both of these were made into movies which I loved. I googled the Black Rose which was filmed in 1950. I knew that it had starred Tyrone Power, but was amazed to find that the cast also included such notables as Orson Wells, Michael Rennie, Laurence Harvey, and get this: Robert Blake of "In Cold Blood" fame. The other film , The Silver Chalice, starred Paul Newman.

HOMER "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" are my Greek history 'bibles'

SOPHOCLES & EURIPIDES All their plays. I love Greek drama, especially the tragedies.

MARY RENAULT I read her novels over and over and refer to them constantly. I have learned from her how to construct stories from ancient history and make them live. She, in a way, has been my historical fiction 'mentor'. My favorite is Fire From Heaven but I'm also fond of The Mask of Apollo and the two books about Theseus and the Minoans, The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea

MARY STUART Her Celtic stories, especially Song for a Dark Queen

MARGUERITE YUCENOR "Memoirs of Hadrian" and "Fires"

MARGARET GEORGE Memoirs of Cleopatra

STEVEN PRESSFIELD He's my current favorite historical writer. "Gates of Fire" is a masterpiece about the Spartans. And his newest novel is "The Afghan Campaign"
(check out the dedication!) I can dream, can't I? Or is it a dream come true?

What books (or writers) have influenced you?

"A few hints as to literary craftsmanship may be useful to budding historians. First and foremost, get writing!"
Samuel Eliot Morison 1887 - 1976 History as a Literary Art, Old South Leaflets 1946