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Photo of Dennis Lehane, US writer of Mystic River Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and writer for hit TV show The Wire, has told the ever popular Hay Festival in the Wales in May 2015 how he went from a working-class life in Boston (USA) to literary acclaim. His comments were reproduced in The Telegraph (10 rules for making it as a writer). His prescriptions include the instruction to ‘read whatever you can lay your hands on’ and develop ‘an ear for dialogue’; and advice that the approval of your parents is not ‘that important’!

Read whatever you can lay your hands on We were working class. There were no books. There were some encyclopaedias – I always say it was the day my father didn’t see the salesman coming. And there was a Bible. I read the Bible from cover to cover when I was a kid. The Bible is an amazing piece of narrative storytelling. Then my mother heard from the nuns – probably the only nice thing a nun ever said about me – that I liked to read. So my mother took me to the library. To this day, I’m a big benefactor of libraries. Without libraries I couldn’t be sitting here.

Have an ear for dialogue Where I grew up, everybody knew how to italicise. People knew how to hit just the right word in a sentence. I was living in Miami and felt I was losing the voice of Boston. I went back home and ran into a friend of mine. I said, ‘How are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I’m good but actually I got stabbed. And I don’t know what you’ve heard, but getting stabbed can kinda take the fight out of a guy.’ ‘I don’t know what you’ve heard’ – as if you might be under the impression that getting stabbed is like a hot rock massage – and then the gross understatement of ‘it kinda takes the fight out of you’. Not, ‘I was praying to my God’ or ‘My intestines were on fire’.”

Parental approval isn’t that important My old man slept through all of my three movie adaptations. He slept through Mystic River, got up at the end and said, ‘Oh, your mother said that one was dark.’ He slept through Gone Baby Gone and said, ‘Oh, your mother said you used the f-word too much in that one.’ And then with Shutter Island he said, ‘Your mother didn’t know what the hell to make of that one.’ He never read any of my books and everybody said that was so sad. What my father would have said to that is, ‘Your brother works in a prison but you don’t see me going there.’

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Arthur Conan Doyle Birthday Quote

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In the summer of 2009, The Daily Telegraph newspaper asked children’s writers and critics what books they would recommend for holiday reading. Acclaimed author Philip Reeve urged what he called classics, by Rosemary Sutcliff.

Philip Reeve recommended Rosemary Sutcliff reading

 

Source: The Daily Telegraph, 3 July 2009

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I have just discovered the  Google Books Ngram Viewer. When you enter phrases  it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g. in “English”, “American English”, “British English”, ”English”,  “English Fiction”, “French”) over the selected years. I tried comparing Rosemary Sutcliff, with Geofrrey Trease, Georgette Heyer, JK Rowling, and Terry Pratchett, in the US and UK. This clearly shows the rise and decline in attention to the books of Rosemary Sutcliff.

Comparing use of Rosemary Sutcliff in English corpus of words with other authors

 

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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.

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Portrait of Rosemary Sutcliff by Mark Gerson

I have just discovered, courtesy of Bing search and never found on Google,  two portraits of Rosemary Sutcliff which I had not seen for many a year. They are  at The National Portrait Gallery. I have applied for full size reproduction rights. Meanwhile two thumbnails must suffice. The one below is by Lord Snowden, for the Sunday Times who I think had compiled a list of top twenty authors of the 20th Century

Rosemary Sutcliff in a poprtrait at The National Portrait Gallery

The others in the photo are:

  • Dame Beryl Bainbridge (1932-2010), Novelist and actress.
  • Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984), Poet Laureate, writer and broadcaster.
  • Sir Malcolm Stanley Bradbury (1932-2000), Novelist and critic.
  • Anthony Burgess (John Burgess Wilson) (1917-1993), Novelist and critic; composer.
  • Leon Garfield (1921-1996), Writer.
  • Laurence Edward Alan (‘Laurie’) Lee (1914-1997), Poet and prose writer.
  • Rosamond Nina Lehmann (1901-1990), Novelist.
  • Sir Victor Sawdon (‘V.S.’) Pritchett (1900-1997), Writer and critic.
  • Sir Laurens Jans van der Post (1906-1996), Writer, farmer, explorer and conservationist.

Source: National Portrait Gallery

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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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