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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The film The Eagle (2011), based upon Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), involves the same start but a different final ending from the book. At the time of the film’s release I commented to reviewers and journalists that I thought Rosemary would have understood that film story-telling had its own needs, and that it was not the same as book story-telling. However, I have come to wonder if that was the appropriate reply. More recently  I came across this quotation from Rosemary Sutcliff, speaking of something else:

I do not think that you can be changing the end of a song or a story like that, as though it were quite separate from the rest. I think the end of a story is part of it from the beginning.

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I have found an article from 1982—which is new to me— by ex-MP and Minister Roy Hattersely about Arthurian legend, and  Rosemary Sutcliff ’s The Road to Camlann.

Roy Hattersely writes about Rosemary Sutcliff

 

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Joe Abercrombie is a writer of fantasy novels for adults, including the First Law Trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of King). He has now turned his attention to ‘young adults’, with his first YA fantasy book Half a King.

On bookseller Waterstones blog he comments that after writing several fantasy novels for adults he “felt the need to try my hand at something at least slightly different”. He turned to a novel for young adults. He was influenced by Rosemary Sutcliff  whose  books were “full of authenticity, honesty, moral ambiguity, shocks and tough choices. These were not books that ever preached, or talked down to their audience”.

I was at a ‘zany zone’ with my children one day…soft play, ball bath, slides, you know the type of thing. There happened to be a boy with a malformed hand there, who was having some trouble joining in fully with the rest. I was thinking how tough that must be.  Then I started thinking how much tougher it would be in the medieval sort of world I tend to work in. Especially in a Viking or a Saxon inspired world, where fighting in the shield wall was at the heart of their culture.  Where standing strong with your brothers, and holding a shield for the man at your shoulder, was the mark of being a man. And that was the seed for Half a King.

Rosemary Sutcliff historical and children’s book and novel Blood Feud cover… My main touchstones in the young adult arena were things I read and loved when I was younger – notably Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical books (Blood Feud especially) and John Christopher’s post-apocalyptic The Sword of the Spirits. These were books full of authenticity, honesty, moral ambiguity, shocks and tough choices. These were not books that ever preached, or talked down to their audience. I started from the standpoint that young adults are, above all, adults. Just young ones. What they want to read isn’t radically different from what old adults (like me) want to read. People in that 12-18 age range are dealing with serious issues of sex, money, identity, responsibility. The last thing they want to be is talked down to. What adult does?

So my aim was not to pull the teeth of my existing style, but to modify it for a new audience, a younger adult audience, but also a wider adult audience who might have found themselves turned off by the big size of some of the fantasy out there. To write something shorter, tighter, more focused, perhaps a smidge less cynical and pessimistic. A slap in the face on every page. No wasted space. Simpler in its narrative, perhaps, but certainly not simpler in the way it was written or in the themes that it tackles. Something a little less explicit in the sex, violence and swearing but absolutely with the edges left on, with the same shades of grey, moral complexity, shocks and challenges, visceral action, and rich vein of dark humour that I fondly imagine my other books have offered. Whatever I came up with, I wanted it to retain the strength of my other work, to bring new readers to that work, and absolutely to appeal to the readers I already had.

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From a now discontinued blog by a Canadian, Robin Rowland:

The main theme of many of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books is the life of the soldier. Her father was a naval officer and she grew up in a military atmosphere. Although she was physically handicapped and spent part of her life in wheel chair, she captures the uncertain life of the intelligent human being who must become a fighter whether a member of a regular armed force or a warrior band or an individual trying to survive.

Sutlcliff had a unique viewpoint on the military, the insider who is also a somewhat removed observer, a combination of the kid sister although she had no siblings, the know-it-all cousin or neighbor, and the chronicler somewhat like Princess Irulan in Dune. Marcus Aquila Flavius thought he would be a career soldier, then finds the wound in his leg has changed his life….a fact of life facing many soldiers today. His descendent, Aquila, deserts his army to defend his home, becomes a slave and suffers throughout his life with what would, a millenia and half later, be called post traumatic stress disorder. Her soldiers are rounded human beings, with conflicting loyalties mixed with personal and family problems, always facing uncertainty in campaigns.

An academic might say that all this was reflection of the decline of the British Empire. Sutlcliff had liked Kipling as a kid and it could be said that her books are the Kipling stories of that declining empire. But as our society has become more uncertain in the years since she wrote, the books are more relevant than ever.

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When the BBC adapted and broadcast Rosemary Sutcliff‘s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth in 1977, the BBC Radio Times wrote about her approach to children, writing, the Romans and her hero Marcus—’part of me was in love with him’.

Her passion for the Romans stemmed from her childhood. Her mother read aloud to her from books like Rudyard Kipling‘s Puck Of Pook’s Hill.  His three Roman tales entranced her.

I didn’t read myself till the last possible minute, about nine. I was brought up on Arthur Weigall’s Wanderings In Roman Britain and Wanderings In Anglo-Saxon Britain. He mentions this eagle dug up at Silchester and I’ve been fascinated by it since I was five.

(more…)

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Ursula Le Guin book cover(Adapted from first post: April 25, 2012)

On Twitter … Nick Cook quotes fantasy and science fiction author Ursula Le Guin on writing for children: “Sure, it’s simple, writing for kids. Just as simple as bringing them up!”  I was minded to find the context for the comment. It was was new to me, and Rosemary did not have children, just her appallingly untrained dogs, but I imagined she would have agreed.

Mind you, Rosemary Sutcliff did firmly resist using the word ‘kids’ for children; a kid, she used to say to me, is a young goat.

Anyway, the context is this: Le Guin wrote in an essay first published in 1979.  (more…)

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Veronica Horwell wrote about the life and writing of historical novelist and writer for children and young adults Rosemary Sutcliff with affectionate insight in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles—“Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?”—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth—that nothing iswholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life.So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present. When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

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Wonderful advice from Kurt Vonnegut to some high school students is re-produced at the Liberal Amercia blog. Practice any art! I believe and feel that Rosemary Sutcliff would have concurred!

Kurt Vonnegut letter

 

 

 

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Rosemary Sutcliff  was reviewed with affectionate insight by Veronica Horwell in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles —’Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?’—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth – that nothing is wholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life. So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present.

When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

Source: The Guardian, 3 August 1992. Used with the author’s permission

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John Rowe Townsend, author, who has died aged 91

Sad today to learn of the death of John Rowe Townsend, albeit aged 91, who The Guardian describe in their obituary as “not only a dominant figure in the academic study of children’s literature, but … a seminal influence on the entire development of modern children’s books.

Rosemary Sutcliff—as historical novelist and children’s book writer—was the subject an essay by him in his 1971 book  A Sense of Story. He observed  that Rosemary Sutcliff’s books amount to  ”a body of work rather than a shelf of novels”.

Day to day, minute to minute, second to second the surface of our lives is in a perpetual ripple of change. Below the immediate surface are slower, deeper currents, and below these again are profound mysterious movements beyond the scale of the individual life-span. And far down on the sea-bed are the oldest, most lasting things, whose changes our imagination can hardly grasp at all. The strength of Rosemary Sutcliff’s main work—and it is a body of work rather than a shelf of novels—is its sense of movement on all these scales. Bright the surface may be, and vigorous the action of the moment, but it is never detached from the forces underneath that give it meaning. She puts more into the reader’s consciousness than he is immediately aware of.

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