Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Monday, 16 December 2013

Longhand versus Keyboard: How To Write

Working on my latest Tudor novel, I occasionally resort to more creative methods of generating inspiration than simply staring at the computer screen and hoping something will happen, that another sentence will be added to the last, and in a reasonable amount of time.

Back when I only had to write about a hundred thousand words a year, I used to write longhand all the time. I would saunter along to a café I favoured, order a latte, put on my headphones, and write to my heart's content. It felt leisurely and rather ladylike, as though I had been transported back a century and was part of the Bloomsbury set.

But then I grew more successful, my book contracts outstripped my handwriting speed, and production rates became an issue. So I dropped the whole Virginia Woolf pretence and just banged the words down, straight to keyboard.

Recently though, I have started writing new sections longhand again, only transferring them to the computer later that day or the day after. I also rather cunningly expand and revise this written work as I type it up, so that 500 words by hand can grow and develop organically into 1000 words on screen.

This seems an ideal solution to keeping up with the daily word count, which can feel inexorable at times, especially since I have been known to become inexplicably blocked at the mere sight of my laptop. Association of object with activity, I suppose.

Though 'blocked' is the wrong term, and misleading to boot; I am lazy rather than blocked. I can chat online with ease, but knuckling down to my novel requires considerably more effort than Twitter and Facebook!

The old ways can be soothing when you have had surfeit of technology. It's so nice and undemanding for a writer, sweetly old-fashioned, to be penning a few carefully-chosen words in a specially designated notebook. Especially when those words can later grow, line by line, into paragraphs, and thence into pages and chapters.

I couldn't write a whole book like this, of course. It would probably kill me - and take over a year to do so. Let's face it, I can type much faster than I can write longhand. Legibly, at least.

But when it's cold and damp outside, as it is today, and I can curl up on the sofa with a notebook and ink pen, there's a Virginia Woolf feel to the process of writing a novel.

Shh, if you listen carefully, you can hear the birds singing in Greek.

A short version of this post first appeared on Raw Light.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

HIS DARK LADY Giveaway Winners



The winners this time are:

Anne Harvey
Juliet Azahara
Sally Quilford


Winners, please get in touch and ensure I have your current snail-mail address - victoria.lamb44 AT - so you can receive a signed copy of HIS DARK LADY.

Commiserations to those who didn't win. Maybe next time!

Please do keep watching the blog for further giveaways, as the final book in my Lucy Morgan trilogy HER LAST ASSASSIN is out in hardback early in 2014.

Victoria x

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Identity of Shakespeare's Dark Lady

William Shakespeare's sonnets from 127-152 are popularly known as his 'Dark Lady' sequence, being dedicated to a problematic female muse whom Shakespeare both insults and adores by turns.

But what precisely does 'Dark Lady' signify, and was there ever such a person?

Tudor court beauty, Mary Fitton, a candidate for Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady'
Experts tend to disagree on her identity. Some believe Shakespeare's mystery woman must have been a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty - possibly even Mary Fitton, one of Elizabeth I's maids of honour in the late 1590s, whose apparent promiscuity makes her a likely candidate for some of his more insulting sonnets about her lack of faithfulness.

Others take Shakespeare's descriptions of his mistress more literally, i.e. that she was exotic and darker-skinned rather than simply an English brunette. The poet Emilia Lanier has been considered as one possible candidate for this - a notorious Tudor beauty, Emilia was descended from Venetian Jews, and may even have inspired one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, The Merchant of Venice, and perhaps the character of Rosalind in Love's Labour's Lost.

Possibly a portrait of Emilia Lanier, nee Bassano, a courtly poet and one of the candidates for Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady' - it should be remembered that Tudor women often painted their skin to look fashionably pale.

Another possibility is the shadowy figure of Lucy Morgan, one of Elizabeth's lesser-known ladies at court, whom some historians have associated with a 'Lucy Negra' of more dubious fame in Tudor times. According to contemporary records, Lucy Morgan married a Thomas Parker in the late 1500s. This would also fit, given how angrily Shakespeare refers to his Dark Lady's cruelty, i.e. that she teased him and would not return his love, but loved another instead.

It could be that Shakespeare was deliberately writing anti-romantic sonnets in this sequence, and that a dark-skinned mistress merely made a strong contrast with the pale beauties of Elizabethan fashion. After all, Sonnet 131 finishes with the assertion, 'In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds', which would seem to negate his previous references to her darkness.

But the case for his Dark Lady being nothing more than a literary device is weak, given the sheer number of sonnets that mention her - and their emotional vehemence. Besides, darker-skinned peoples and those of African descent were far from unknown in Tudor England, as demonstrated by a 1575 painting by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder which depicts a group of black musicians and entertainers performing before Queen Elizabeth herself.

Of course, none of this proves the assertion that Shakespeare's mistress was dark-skinned, nor that she even existed outside the poet's admittedly fertile imagination. But since we have no absolute proof that she wasn't dark, or even actually 'Moorish', nor any way of determining her identity for sure, it's certainly both fun and exciting to speculate who Shakespeare's Dark Lady was - and what their fiery relationship might have been like!

My own take on the identity of Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady': out now in paperback.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Thoughts on Writing: the Revision Process

It's always been a secret thought with me that prose rhythms are akin to poetry, or ought to be. Certainly I take my time over sentences that don't sound 'right' to me in their context, whatever that may be.

A good sentence should flow, should be both elegant and fit for purpose - by which I mean it should communicate whatever the writer needed it to communicate, which might be nothing or everything, or any point in between.

Clumsy writing is the last thing I want to find when looking back over what I've written.

Unfortunately, it's almost unavoidable in early drafts.

This is how it happens. You need to present a thought or a situation or a mood, and the words don't want to come, but you don't have time to coax them. You're a professional writer, you have deadlines, you have bills to pay. So you bodge it. You write what is needful and make a mental note to return later - preferably after dark when no one but the cat is there to witness your shame - and rewrite the damn thing so that it says what is needful without leaving mental splinters in your reader's head.

That's one part of the revision process. Sanding off the rough edges.

I'm joking, of course. But when you change even one detail, you quickly realise that nothing happens in isolation. Everything in the novel is interconnected. This is where we get our word 'text' from, a marvellously hard-working word which is related to 'textile' and the idea of weaving.

A less pleasurable part of revision is having to rejig characters who now have beards, or no longer have beards, or whose motivation is entirely changed, or who must now swim the moat instead of swinging across it with the help of trailing creepers.

So once you decide, at the revision stage, that a minor change needs to happen, you also need to find places where a knock-on effect will occur following that change, and to make sure everything remains consistent within the world of your novel. Once you have six or seven 'minor' changes like this to make, the process of scouring the book for places where further changes need to happen becomes quite time-consuming and fiddly.

Meanwhile, you can't help little dabs with the language sander ...

But once you are at revision stage, the hardest work is more or less over. Then you only have the next book to plan and begin. The sunny uplands to climb, where anything is still possible. Until you start writing.

A version of this post originally appeared at Raw Light, February 2011

Friday, 6 December 2013

WITCHFALL Cover Reveal

Available for pre-orders 

In Tudor England, 1555, Meg Lytton has learned how powerful her magick gift can be. But danger surounds her and her mistress, the outcast Princess Elizabeth. Nowhere is safe in the court of Elizabeth's fanatical sister, Queen Mary. And as the Spanish Inquisition's merciless priests slowly tighten their grip on the court, Meg's very dreams are disturbed by the ever-vengeful witchfinder Marcus Dent.

Even as Meg tries to use her powers to find guidance, something evil arises, impervious to Meg's spells and hungry to control England's fate. As Meg desperately tries to keep her secret betrothed, the Spanish priest Alejandro de Castillo, out of harm's way, caution wars with their forbidden desire. And with her most powerful enemy poised to strike, Meg's only chance is a heartbreaking sacrifice.

(The UK edition is already available)

Thursday, 5 December 2013

His Dark Lady GIVEAWAY!

Leave a comment below to enter the draw for a FREE UK paperback of HIS DARK LADY
I am thrilled that PUBLICATION DAY is here at last!

To celebrate the publication of HIS DARK LADY in paperback today across the United Kingdom, I am giving away THREE copies to UK readers.

You can also find the novel in Tesco supermarkets, most good bookshops and from online retailers.


"A powerful portrait of the pain incurred by the queen who turned herself into a living legend" (The Lady) 

HIS DARK LADY: out NOW in paperback

To go in the draw for a FREE copy of this 528 page novel of intrigue and romance at the court of Elizabeth I, told by Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare, Lucy Morgan and spy Master Goodluck, just leave a comment below this blog post.

In your comment, please let me know why you think Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, never married!

HIS DARK LADY, Book Two in the Lucy Morgan, Shakespeare's Mistress trilogy

London, 1583

William Shakespeare has declared Lucy Morgan the inspiration for his work. But what is he hiding from his muse?

Meanwhile, Lucy has her own secrets to conceal. Tempted by love, the lady-in-waiting also bore witness to the one marriage forbidden by the queen.

England is in peril. Queen Elizabeth's health is deteriorating, her throne under siege. She needs a trusted circle of advisors.but who can she turn to when those closest have proved disloyal?

And just how secure is Lucy's fate, now she has learned the dangerous art of keeping secrets?

Please note: this Giveaway closes on Thursday 12th December, when the winners will be revealed!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Taverns and Inns of Tudor London

Tudor London was awash with inns and eating houses. Some were galleried and doubled up as playhouses - like the famous Cross Keys Inn, used by many theatrical companies before the dedicated theatres began to spring up - and others were shadowy establishments where drinking and gambling habitually went on and prostitutes openly plied their trade, much to the disgust of local residents and the city fathers.

The Swan, one of many bustling theatres on Bankside in the Tudor era

The south bank of the Thames, particularly in the Southwark region of Bankside, was the most popular with visitors to the capital in the later Tudor era, largely because it was outside the city bounds and therefore not subject to the restrictive laws of the city fathers. That was where old London Bridge stood, its narrow gate opening to allow a steady stream of vendors, city workers and tourists back and forth across the bridge during daylight hours. The only other mode of transportation across the broad dirty river - the Thames was much wider in Tudor times than today - was in a boat. Bankside in the late Tudor and early Jacobean eras was among the busiest areas on the river, especially on feast or holy days when there might be a play or bear-baiting to see, beyond the reach of the conservative city fathers.

So where might you go for a drink or a bite to eat in busy, disreputable Southwark with its many inns and brothels? The choice was almost limitless, depending on the depth of your pocket, with the names of the establishments both traditional and fanciful to suit every taste.

Here are a few names of Southwark inns in the mid-late Tudor era, some of which I reference in my forthcoming novel His Dark Lady:

The Dolphin
The Swan with Two Necks
The Green Dragon
The Saracen's Head
The Salutation
The Blue Maid
The White Cock on the Hoop
The Axe
The Goat
The Tabard

"In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay": Chaucer's General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

This last one, The Tabard, was a very old and famous inn even in Shakespeare's day. Referenced by Chaucer, it stood at the end of Long Southwark, just before St Margaret's Hill, and welcomed visitors travelling towards the capital from the south - or vice versa, in the case of Chaucer's pilgrims. Its name was later changed to the Talbot, before the rickety old building was finally demolished in 1876. By then it must have seen many thousands of customers spending the night under its well-known roof - charged at perhaps six shillings a night - drinking ale at its counters or consuming a bowl of hot beef and carrots on their way in and out of London.

'Shakespeare and His Friends at the Mermaid Tavern': John Faed, 1851
Back in the city, the Mermaid Tavern, found on Cheapside with entrances on both Bread Street and Friday Street, is celebrated as a place where leading literary figures, particularly playwrights, were known to gather on the first Friday of every month, for a jar of ale and a 'solemne joviall disputation' as Richard Braithwaite put it in his 1617 book, The Law of Drinking. (See partial title page below.)

But if you could not afford a sit-down meal, or had to eat on the hoof - literally! - London's tireless hawkers were always working the streets with a generous array of stewed or fresh fruit, chestnuts and hazelnuts roasting on braziers, various types of cooked fish and shellfish, and of course the kind of hot greasy takeaway food you might expect to find there today, though without a global franchise behind it.

Title page illustration of The Law of Drinking by Richard Braithwaite (1617): many believe from the hanging sign that this is a depiction of London's infamous Mermaid Tavern. (Note the long-stemmed pipes!)
For the better class of merchant or city-worker, there were more elegant taverns to be found in the commercial areas north of the river. Some perennially popular areas with the well-heeled visitor, such as Covent Garden, had busier and more impressive premises which sometimes got into trouble with residential neighbours for spilling out noisy customers late at night. There a wealthy man could hire a large private room for a party, or demand a more intimate space for a discreet dinner with his latest mistress.

London then, even in Tudor times, was a city of great variety, especially in terms of its eating places and watering holes. Whether you were a poor man looking for a quick bite to eat in your daily search for work, or an important merchant wishing to impress your clients or entertain a courtesan behind your wife's back, London had the perfect spot for you. Which perhaps indicates how little times have changed.

You can read more about the history of this amazing city in London: The Illustrated History by Cathy Ross and John Clark (Penguin Books).

This post was originally published on 11/10/12. 

HIS DARK LADY, the story of Shakespeare's mistress set against the backdrop of theatrical Tudor London, is out in paperback this week. 

HIS DARK LADY: out in paperback THIS WEEK.