Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Category: news

So, what’s happening?

The problem with keeping web site content turning over is that, for a writer like myself, there are long periods where nothing much appears to be happening. That’s not the case, of course, but on the other hand, much of what is actually happening is ongoing stuff, or issues regarding which I’m waiting for someone else’s action.

vic1I could say, I suppose, “I’m still writing my next novel,” but how many times can I repeat that before ‘no news is good news’ becomes simply ‘no news is no news’? As it happens, I am still writing that novel. What’s it about? Well, I’m playing my cards close to my chest on that one, for many reasons, not least of all that it is a dynamic project that has changed course several times already. That’s largely because the leading character has taken over – the novel is not only in her unique voice, but governed by the way her unique mind works – and she is defying the concept of an end-driven story. I can say that it is the novel, or if not the novel then one of the novels, I have always wanted to write. Also that it is set in Victorian London, or is set there as far as can be gauged, given that the leading character’s psychology has telescoped the entire Victorian era into her short life. There will be murders and detection, but also obfuscation and doubt. English folklore characters from the countryside will encroach onto the bustle of the metropolis, there will be both psychic fakery and psychic peril, and a strange, silent figure will stalk through the narrative.

What I actually need to do at this stage is to allocate more time to writing this novel, the main obstacles being sleeping, cooking, eating, washing, and cleaning. Plus ça change. Something needs to give, so if you happen to see me in town wearing yesterday’s blouse…

Other projects currently maturing include:

  • Providing oversight and further ideas to a Scottish screen-writer, who is currently working on a screen adaptation of my short story about girl gangs.
  • vera1Assembling a chapbook-length selection of my poems inspired by the 16th century Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco, to present to a Scottish publishing house during their twice-yearly ‘window’.
  • Various poems and short stories currently with publishers and competition-promoters – I won’t mention what and who, because there is nothing more boring than a blog post that says “Hey guys – I just entered a competition!” only to be followed shortly after by “I didn’t win!”

fmcuh-cover-2001Meanwhile KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, the sequel to my novel From My Cold, Undead Hand, is now with P’kaboo, and is awaiting publication in due course.

So you see, there is a lot going on, just none of it exactly seismic. I have decided, however, to suspend my daily blog of poetry fragments, in order to give myself more breathing space. I know a daily snippet of poetry seems like no big deal, but I actually spend the bulk of my scheduled on-line time dealing with it. I shall continue to write fragments, when I feel the ol’ urge in me, and I might occasionally post one or two, but for now I think standing down from the daily obligation would be a good thing for me. I was one of several poets originally taking part in the daily project, and I think I’m one of the few who is still doing it five years later, so perhaps I deserve a rest. Please feel free, however, to go over there, look through the archives, and leave me some comments if something catches your eye.

I shall, I promise, keep you posted if anything interesting happens.

A free copy of a major poetry anthology!

How would you like a free copy of a book that has been described as ‘a groundbreaking anthology of poetry’?

I was privileged to work on the editorial team of The Phoenix Rising from the Ashes: Anthology of Sonnets of the Early Third Millennium, which came out in the winter of 2013/2014, and brought together a collection of formal poems all written during the new century.

Producing the anthology was not a smooth ride, there was much pain bringing it to birth. During its production, one member of the editorial team left under less than happy circumstances. Since publication date, that person has made a point of touring each and every web site that invites reviews – Amazon, Goodreads, etc. – and leaving lengthy, detailed excoriations of the book. Whether these ‘reviews’ are an honest opinion or the product of pique I can’t say, but I can say that they greatly distressed the Editor-in-Chief, who invested time, effort, and money in the production of the anthology.

The ‘reviews’ in question have, undoubtedly, damaged sales. So the Editor-in-Chief has decided to offer a free PDF copy of the anthology to anyone who is willing to read it and to write one or more reviews on the various sites. They do not have to be glowing reviews, just honest ones, and the more the better. It is not possible to have the openly hostile review removed, but more balanced opinions would help to redress the situation.

If you would like to volunteer to help out, please email me (please use the ‘Readers, fans, and friends’ email address on my ‘Contact’ page), and I will arrange for the Editor-in-Chief to send a PDF copy to you.

Thank you.

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Gang time.

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Today’s task is reading through the screen-writer’s work so far. Slowly but surely, he has been turning my short story Axe into a screenplay – we’re looking at small or large screen! I have expanded the plot beyond that of the short story, giving a back-story to a couple of the characters, suggesting an overall resolution, and the writer has been working on that, giving it precedence over the main narrative. Some marvellous work has been done so far, the script is actional and attention-grabbing, there’s so much movement to it, and I think the finished product will be great. Watch this space.

M

Silver threading – among the gold

091815_1943_inherownwor1Silver Threading is a web site that has as its theme ‘Authors Supporting Authors’. This support can take the form of interviews, book reviews, articles, and so on. Recently they featured me, in an article mainly drawn from my own words. You can read it here.

Poetry about morning, afternoon, evening, and just before midnight…

1There’s an excellent poetry enterprise, over in the USA, called PoCo Publications. It’s the child of poets Mary Boren and Toni Christman, and one of the projects it supports is the Poets Collective, having now published two anthologies of work by contributing poets. Mary and Toni were gracious enough to invite me to contribute to their most recent anthology – Collect the Day – in which we deal, metaphorically and literally, with the subjects at the head of this item, four times of day. Thirty-one poets have their work featured in the book, and I have eight poems in there, including four extracts from my A dem●n’s diary series, all unpublished elsewhere, all therefore entirely new to you!

The collection is available via Amazon UK of course, and Amazon USA, but you might like to consider buying direct from the publisher.

So, what has my demn been up to, in the pages of Collect the Day? Well, morning finds him musing on the craft and artistry of demn-kind needed to produce petty annoyances. Afternoon finds one maverick demn from amongst the army of Pandemnium settling down for a picnic. Evening comes, and his is in his favourite Italian restaurant. Just before midnight and he’s eating again – fish and chips from paper – as he watches young women stagger home on their high heels. I think you want to know more. I think you want to read the book. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Marie Marshall – Lady wot writes

Just a little note to say I have revived my occasional blog for humour, politics, and folk dancing.

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Thunderclap, Intertwangle, and Wotan.

ccapuanowsdI share a literary agent and a publisher with English novelist Carmen Capuano, whose YA novel Split Decision will be launched in a week’s time on the 4th of July. Our publisher – admittedly not one of the heavyweights – is utilising the ‘Thunderclap’ web application to promote the launch. If this promotion is successful, then they will use it for future book launches, including those of any book(s) of mine they may publish. This means I have a vested interest in seeing that their current campaign on behalf of Carmen is a success.

In order for it to work, we need one hundred people to support it. Yes – one hundred, and in less than a week! This means that we need to drum up people who are prepared to publicise it on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. It only takes a click or two. Please go here and read about this campaign.

Thanks in advance for your support.
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In yesterday’s PM, BBC Radio 4’s late-afternoon current affairs programme, there was a light-hearted item about the use of the word ‘intertwangled’ by (I think) management consultant Peter York during a radio interview. According to a representative from the Oxford English Dictionary, the word isn’t in the current OED, but, she said, it is a word by virtue of someone’s having used it. There was even a possible earlier coining. PM’s presenter invited listeners to bring the word into currency, the first line of attack being Twitter #intertwangled.

I love new words, inventive language, and so on, so I have jumped on the band-wagon by using it, in a poetic context, in one of my series of dem●n’s diaries. All in good fun. So there’s another campaign you can get behind!
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Wotan 1The other day I found, to my delight, that someone had loaded the whole of the Jahrhundertring onto YouTube. The Jahrhundertring was the production of Richard Wagner’s four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, that was staged to mark the centenary of the Bayreuth Festival. This production, staged between 1976 and 1980 was marked firstly by the conductor’s baton being in the hands of probably the greatest modernist composer of the 20c, Pierre Boulez, and secondly by the stage direction being by Patrice Chéreau. Together they managed to realise George Bernard Shaw’s socialist analysis of the cycle, lifting the story almost totally out of Nordic/Germanic mythology and placing it in the 18c and 19c development of the Industrial Revolution. This might seem a fanciful idea, but, if you have the patience to watch the four operas, collected from the 1979 and 1980 stagings, and to absorb the concept, it works, and in fact becomes difficult to fault.

The humanising of the characters reminds us that the supernatural beings of Germanic mythology were, in many ways, the personification of human traits and emotions – courage and cowardice, love and anger, honesty and deceit, triumph and tragedy – but magnified far beyond the human range. Sir Donald McIntyre’s Wotan is a magnificent, tragic figure; if gods are more powerful than mortals, and their traits greater, then equally the contracts that bind them are more constraining. Wotan is bound by the agreements he has made, and each attempt he makes to find a way round them is doomed.

Wotan 2We first see Wotan amongst the other gods, gorgeously clad in 18c finery, in Das Rheingold. Valhalla having been secured and occupied, in Die Wallküre he has taken on the appearance of a bourgeois, 19c banker, frustrated in his scheming by his wife, the goddess Fricka (Hanna Schwarz) who is a picture of uxorial respectability. By the time of Siegfried, Wotan has become ‘Der Wanderer’, a rootless ranger of the world, limited by choice or by fate in how far he can intervene, and his clothes are a nondescript brown. He is still an imposing figure, but his clothes seem no longer to fit well, and he has already discarded the band that hid his empty eye-socket, reminding us that, for godlike power, paying a price is more than a mortal would endure. In my opinion, Richard Wagner would have considered McIntyre as the man he wrote the role for.

I said that the production was ‘difficult to fault’. In fact, one scene in Die Wallküre always fails to convince me, and that is at the beginning of Act III, where the Valkyries are lugging dead heroes’ bodies around like so many sacks of coal. However, the culmination of Act III also contains the farewell scene between Wotan and Brünnhilde (Gwyneth Jones), which is an almost unbearably emotional depiction of the irrevocable breaking of a father/daughter bond. It is the stuff of pure tragedy, and I love it.

Sieglinde SiegmundOther singers deserve recognition in their roles – in fact they all do, but I am going to single some out. Firstly Peter Hofmann and Jeannine Altmeyer as the incestuous lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde are not only brilliant singers, but bring physical beauty to the roles. They even manage to look like twins. Perfect casting.

Not least of all Heinz Zednik, who steals the show in Das Rheingold as the cynical demi-god Loge, his 18c costume, a modest black contrast to the shimmer of the gods’ adornment, covering a slightly deformed shoulder, the lace of his shirt-front and cuffs shabby and loose. He also took the role of the hapless, shambling Mime in Siegfried, and managed to wring pity from the viewer, under the bullying of the hero-tenor Siegfried (Manfred Jung).

LogeWhen, at the end of Götterdämmerung, the age of gods, giants, dragons, heroes, and dwarves perishes and Valhalla burns, the front of the stage is full of crouching figures, dressed in grey. They are cowering in awe, their backs to us. Suddenly, as the flames die and only smoke remains where once Valhalla stood, one figure – a young girl dressed in white – emerges from the middle of them, standing and turning to face us. Gradually, more and more of the nameless mortals stand and face us. It is a powerful moment, the culmination of the cycle, bringing the message that the age of ordinary humanity has come into being – no more meddling gods, scheming gnomes, doomed races of heroes – we are on our own, and had better face forward.

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This is, of course, not the latest production of the Der Ring des Nibelungen. It is already thirty-five years old. But it is a milestone performance, and the fact that modern technology has made it accessible (whether legitimately or not) means an opportunity for the experience of a lifetime. Watching this cycle of four long operas, the shortest lasting two-and-a-half hours, can be an endurance test. But to my mind it is well worth it.
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By the way, it is often remarked upon that Wagner was the favourite composer of one A Hitler. So what? If Hitler ever truly ‘got’ Wagner, then I’m a flying Dutchwoman!

In case you’re wondering…

It must seem to my regular readers that nothing much happens in my literary life. I have no whistle-stop tours of signings and readings, no local radio appearances and so on to report. However, I’m far from inactive, and the notion that nothing happens couldn’t be further from the truth. So what is happening?

writing-clipart-1Well, firstly I am writing a new novel, or rather one that I had had some notes for a while ago but had shelved while I finished From My Cold, Undead Hand and the sequel KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE. It would be difficult to say at this stage what it is ‘about’, because I am trying to walk a tightrope between experimenting with form and style and producing something that is readable. For a while now I have been taking part in discussions, notably with Millie Ho and her blog-followers, about… well… how to write. Millie has some brilliant ideas, and if I take issue with many of them it is merely because they stimulate thought. One topic in particular has been that of working towards an ending, and my concern is that literature has been stuck in a pattern that has lasted for centuries, if not at least a couple of millennia, going back to the concept of ‘catharsis’ in classical Greek drama. What this has meant for fiction is that it has largely resisted major innovation, and that it is alone as an art form in doing so. I have written on this subject before. Fiction, pretending to give us a narrative progression from a beginning to an end, more often than not is driven by that predetermined end in a way that life is not – ‘Destiny does not send us heralds,’ said Oscar Wilde in The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and neither should the writer of fiction be obliged to function as some kind of prescient, wiser than the rest of us. As readers we ought to be able to cope with fiction that hands us a slice of life to look at, and the knowledge that life continues after that slice is finished.

In our discussions we have been looking at the problem of how to give a novel ‘closure’ – giving the readers the sense of its completeness – without necessarily having a structural ‘resolution’ driven by the dictated need for catharsis.

For my current novel project (working title The Deptford Bear) therefore, I have a probable direction of narrative travel rather than a definite ending in view. I can see where the narrative may possibly lead, but I am open to the journey of exploration taking a turn and leading instead to somewhere unexpected. For this reason, and because it’s the way I actually enjoy writing, I haven’t been plodding, chapter-by-chapter, from the beginning. I have been writing ‘episodes’ in an almost random order, which I will sew together later. I have been writing from inside the head of the protagonist, hopping from happening to colourful happening in her life. An added challenge is that the whole of her story is being told to a third party – a Scotland Yard detective – and there is probably a lot she is holding back, even from the reader. The story has a strong element of ‘detective mystery’, though whether the mystery will be cleared up when the novel closes is another matter. It has elements of ‘steampunk’, being set in a Victorian London where nineteenth-century history is telescoped or concertinaed in on itself, ‘Montgolfier’ balloons traverse the city from mooring-tower to mooring-tower, and messages are passed between police stations by a vast, steam-driven network of ‘Lampson’ tubes. But how much of this is real, and how much is in the imagination of the protagonist is hard to say. She is, apparently, an amnesiac, and has a strange way of relating to the world, and of expressing herself, learned since she lost her memory as a child; she is a clairvoyant who admits to being a mountebank but who might be genuinely psychic; and she may be something much, much darker than that. Her London is peopled not only with thieves and murderers, toffs and paupers, but with hawkers and buskers, with carnival people and mummers, perhaps with monsters and changelings, and is haunted by one sinister, silent figure – the ‘Deptford Bear’ himself, a creature of deep ritual significance. Or is it she who is haunted rather than the city?

Regular readers of the blog section of this web site will know that I have other novel ideas on my shelf, for which I have written sketches. It’ll be The Deptford Bear I’ll be working on for the foreseeable future, and the others will remain on the shelf. I’m up to about 15,000 words so far.

Secondly, work continues on turning my short story Axe into a film or TV script. I have provided some extra narrative material, and a Scottish screenwriter is currently working on it. I have seen his summary of how he would like to tackle the dramatisation, and the first draft of the opening, and it is developing in quite an exciting way. To go back to the matter of how to end a piece of fiction, those of you who have read the short story will notice that it did not ‘resolve’ in any conventional way; the extra narrative material I have given, along with the creative input of the screenwriter himself, perhaps a little more of a conventional resolution. Nevertheless, this is an exciting project and something totally new for me.

Thirdly, other stuff. You will no doubt remember that my short story Voices was amongst the winners at the Winter Words festival a few months ago. Well, as often happens, that win gave me a boost, and I have already written two further macabre short stories, and sketched out a third, which will fit well as entries for next year’s competition, and the year after that… and the year after that. Also I’m preparing some new poetry for a forthcoming anthology.

So, although my blog section here isn’t full of a mad social whirl, inactive I am not. I’ll keep you all posted.

More Veronica Franco

Click here, or click the image below, to be taken to Sappho’s Torque, the blog of Angélique Jamail, who this month is featuring a different poet every day. This particular link will take you to a brand new poem of mine, not published anywhere else, from my ‘Veronica Franco’ series.

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Cultural appropriation: that ship has sailed!

The question of whether anyone from one community can or ought to take something, in whole or part, that is the practice of another community, and use it as his or her own, is an issue that emerges, submerges, and reemerges. We would all, it seems, like hard-and-fast rules to tell us what we can take and on what terms, and what we can’t. But surely that is unrealistic? Cultures and the communities that sustain them have always been porous, transferring ideas, bringing their influence to bear on each other, sometimes one giving way under the pressure of another, but never standing still.

Henry Reaburn's 1812 portrait of Alexander Ranaldson MacDonnell of Glengarry, wearing a costume of almost total artificiality.

Henry Reaburn’s 1812 portrait of Alexander Ranaldson MacDonnell of Glengarry, wearing a costume of almost total artificiality.

In 1746, following the Battle of Culloden, the clans of the Scottish Gàidhealtachd, irrespective of which side they had fought on, were banned outright, by Act of Parliament, from wearing their native costume. This Act was repealed thirty-six years later, not at the protest of the dispossessed Gaels themselves, but at the instigation of The Highland Society of London, an organisation of English-speaking landed gentlemen and aristocrats of Scottish origin. By this time a generation of clanspeople had gone, and the habit of making and wearing their native dress had been all but lost – they were after all, only a peasant class and therefore insignificant. Soon great numbers of the people themselves would, as the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, be forced out of their native glens and into coastal villages, or to the big cities of the central belt, or away to Canada. Meanwhile a commercial version of their tartan was being produced in the lowland town of Bannockburn, specifically for military use. In 1822, in order to stem popular radicalism in Scotland, novelist Sir Walter Scott and others arranged for King George IV to visit Edinburgh, and for him to be greeted by a pageant largely of their own invention. Highland dress was to be on display, worn by the Clan Chiefs – whose private life was now much less like that of their paternalistic forebears and more like that of English landowners – and by bands of such ‘clansmen’ as still could be mustered. The tartans they wore, specially designed by the company in Bannockburn, were largely the fanciful inventions of the Chiefs themselves. What we now think of as ‘Highland dress’ was a nineteenth-century invention.

However, its artificiality did not stop its being adopted, in due course and merrily, by high and low as the national costume of Scotland. At weddings from Stranraer to Lerwick, on high days and holidays, and whenever the Scotland Rugby team is hosting a match at Murrayfield, you will see kilts and tartans. At Carter Bar, high in the Cheviot Hills where no native ever wore a kilt in antiquity, you will find a piper in Highland dress entertaining the tourists who stop at the English-Scottish border. Go much further afield and you will find the Pipes and Drums of the Chicago Police Department resplendent in their tartan kilts; even the hatbands that Department uses are in the ‘Sillitoe Tartan’ – actually a checkerboard pattern rather than a true tartan, but first used as a police identifier exclusively in Scotland until 1961. Meanwhile, back in Scotland, you can now buy Star Wars sporrans in the image of a Wookie.

Now, I don’t say all this in a spirit of ‘me-too-ism’. I have simply picked it because it is close to home and readily researched, and more importantly, it illustrates a warp and weft of many complex systems. It is not a straightforward picture of a straightforward process. There are so many different attitudes on show, to what was once exclusive to the peasant culture of the Highlands – violent disruption, appropriation by a different class, misunderstandings and assumptions about its nature, gaps in knowledge filled in with invention, adoption as a national identifier, dissemination as a cultural export, re-importation with external influences, all these and probably more interwoven and difficult to unpick. I only know that I am no longer in a position to feel any direct resentment about this element of Scottish culture, if such a feeling in me could ever have been justified in the first place. I have both Scottish Lowland and Highland heritage, but I am who I am here and now. I am looking at a current situation which was not determined by a small number of great forces, but by billions of little ones; and history is a very fragile thing, within which we have no idea whatsoever what might have happened had one of those ‘little forces’ flipped.

I had managed to get as far as that last paragraph without mentioning ‘the A-word’. Well, it had to come at some time! The term current for the adoption of a cultural asset across a social boundary is ‘appropriation’. Often, sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly, it is a code-word for outright theft; unfortunately that connotation colours its entire use and too often enables it to be employed as an accusatory bludgeon. Whilst I will grant without reservation that there are points of contact between social and cultural communities that are understandably very tense – I am thinking in particular of the racial dynamics of the USA, where the subject of cultural appropriation is probably most hotly debated today – it would take, in my estimation, a very blinkered outlook to ignore the fact that we now live in a world almost entirely without walls. From our corner of the world we are able to see into all the others, in a way without precedent in history. The porosity of cultures has never been more obvious. The kids of a family in Wales paint their faces in Dia de los Muertos masks, a Tibetan exile makes Hip Hop videos, the presence of economic migrants in Scotland means you can buy Eastern-European food in the corner shops, every indigenous, folkloric, or local music can be searched on YouTube – the walls are down, people, the walls are down! The mechanics whereby culture travels are now almost entirely on the surface, and are intensified!

Bobby Darin, one of the artists who recorded cover versions of Ray Charles's 'What'd I Say'.

Bobby Darin, one of the artists who recorded cover versions of black music.

Is it not high time, therefore, that we say of ‘cultural appropriation’ that that ship has definitely sailed? I am aware that there are still sore places on the cultural body, such as the way in which, in living memory, mainstream American music businesses took and repackaged African-American music, and sold versions of it performed by European-Americans; but to me that says at least as much about the American strain of aggressive capitalism, in which anything which can be commodified will be commodified, as it does about the actual purloining of culture. Moreover, it is a particular case, not a representative case or a test case. Again, complex systems at work, from which it is difficult to narrow our scrutiny to a single point of principle.

I am asking the question. I’m not seeking to close the debate, but to open it out, so please do not think that I am being heedlessly dismissive of your own particular concerns, whatever they may be. Maybe the proposition I have advanced will make you think again – or afresh – and find new reasons why this still seems an issue where we have to tread carefully. Maybe, on the other hand, your reappraisal will open the possibility that we can start to celebrate when our own culture rolls out beyond its former borders, no matter how that happened in the beginning. Let’s see.

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If you click here, you can read an interview with me, conducted by Robin Ouzman Hislop on behalf of Poetry Life and Times.