Silent upon a peak in Darien?

Or perhaps that should read silent beside a little canal on the Guidecca?

Brick wall on Guidecca.

The garden of no return

 

How could I have thought, when I embarked on the mad enterprise of writing  a novel for the first time, that today I would be printing up the first 42,000 words – half the drafted book – in a form I am happy to share with any good friend patient enough to take it on?  This will  be the twelfth draft, of which the remaining 40,000 words are waiting for just one more edit before they come on stream.

In other words, The Venice Book exists.

I shall be talking about the journey, briefly, as my contribution to the morning workshop at the June 1st meeting of the Bath Writers & Artists group.  Specifically, the problems for a novice of coming to grips with the question of Point of View.  An ‘angels fear to tread’ issue, this one, and only someone as ignorant as me would have let a story evolve over places and generations without realising what an issue Point of View was going to be.  ( I didn’t at all feel like pretending to be an Omniscient Narrator, unsurprisingly for someone so new to this hard game!)

Dorsoduro puppets

The origin of every puppet in my book

I am also doing a short slide presentation in the June 1st afternoon session showing how some of the camera images I brought home from Venice evolved/dissolved into key content in my book.  Evolved/dissolved so much that I now see the original pictures as if they were taken by another person and came from another place – at the same time  knowing that collectively ( I took 1,500 over three years ) they were indeed the inspiration for almost everything in The Venice Book.

Calle Amor dei Amici

How could I not have been inspired by this street name?

 

This seems a good time to begin thanking the people who have supported me on this journey.  I have three ‘readers’ who have kindly borne with me almost from the start – they came on board the early chapters of the fourth draft, and two of them were brave enough to come back with the questions and comments which made it possible for me to carry on doggedly to reach the twelfth.  ( The friend who never raised an eyebrow, the wonderful illustrator of my Letters from Mexico, Jude Wisdom,  just made me glow with hopefulness every time she ‘liked’ the latest section of the book.)

Poet Antony Mair has been one of my readers, poet Ann Preston another, and I am hugely grateful to them both.  Audiences at Bath Writers & Artists have listened kindly to a few short readings at different times and this sense of having a supportive constituency has meant more than I can ever say. I am also very grateful to Dawn Gorman for having bent the rules at one of her marvellous Words and Ears events in Bradford on Avon and let me stand up as the prose writer I was trying to become, rather than as the poet I had been.

When I began The Venice Book, it saw itself as a fairly conventional love story which happened to locate itself behind a particular red brick wall on the island of Guidecca. (See my photograph above.) The tragedy of the surrounding city was not my subject and I would not have felt competent or confident to take it on.  But as I started following blogs by some Venice residents, it became less and less possible to keep the encroaching darkness off the pages of my book.  It insisted on seeping in.  It became the story which refused not to be told. I am still not competent to tell it well, but I am trying.  And in the end, I hope that the Venetian writers I follow so respectfully might  be able read The Venice Book as a small contribution, by an outsider,  to their testaments.

Writer Erla Zwingle is one of the people I need to thank, for her excellent blog I am not making this up and the Campaign for a Living Venice site for reminding me all the time that a true city is not a tourists’ comfort zone. I try very hard not to ‘borrow’ (aka ‘plagiarise’)  from these posts, but I hope they are keeping my head open to the things which I used to be too raptured by the dazzling surface of their city to understand.

Guiseppe's point of view

Guiseppe’s point of view

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update on The Venice Book

PROGRESS REPORT 6 NOVEMBER 2018

THE VENICE BOOK is in complete draft now  ( fourth draft complete and fifth draft on its way out chapter by chapter to the wonderful friends who have offered to read for me.) Huge thanks to ANN PRESTON, JUDE WISDOM and SARAH GREGORY for being willing to do this.)  It actually has a bit of structure now.   The index page looks like this.

PART ONE : THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD
Chapter One: Photographs in the Snow
Chapter Two: A Trip to the Puppet Barge
Chapter Three: The Costume Seller’s Child
Chapter Four: To Live  in Readiness
Chapter Five : The Underbelly of Masquerade

Here is a paragraph from Chapter Two that Sarah Gregory has liked. Angus is not a lover, but a dog.

If anyone else likes Mrs Maybury, I would be delighted to have more critical readers to help me improve my book.

Mrs Maybury’s  living room was packed with salvage from productions in which visitors were encouraged to believe she had taken part, the walls festooned so thickly with her scraps and trophies that they closed in like a womb. An ancient sofa had pride of the living space, its missing leg replaced by a pile of tattered encyclopaedias. Visitors assumed that the flat must have a bedroom, but the ancient sofa was, in fact,  also the bed on which she and Angus curled up companionably at the end of their busy days. Many years later, when Frederick Westwood offered Mrs Maybury a set of rooms in his house in Sussex, she declined.  I do not feel the call of the wild, Mr Frederick.  Even when Angus was with me, I can truly confess we never felt that call.

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The Letters from Mexico

Coming up to the Queen Square launch and I am really delighted that marvellous SARAH ACTON of Black Ven Press is allowing me to use what she wrote about my book.

“entering the dark theatre of the wood…”

I have been reading Letters from Mexico and feel very moved. The blend of extracts, beautiful illustrations and sonnets brings a dream-like quality of film scenes wrapped in a ghostly voice-over, and in my head, the tragedy of the ending is present in every line. Since very young, too young really for Pope, I have loved Eloise and Abelard. It is a joy to have this book, fresh and exciting to read, with a hint of the danger of the lovers.  I bet it is quite an experience with music too. Congratulations, a fine book, and great collaborations.

Sarah Acton is the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site poet-in-residence, working with local organisations and museums along the 95 miles of Jurassic coast and 185 million years, to produce site-responsive work inspired by the living coastal landscape and earth history. Sarah also runs poetry workshops, walks and an open mic night in East Devon and West Dorset under the name Black Ven Poetry, connecting creativity with the local natural environment. Black Ven is Europe’s largest mudslide, and sits between Lyme Regis and Charmouth beach. It’s famous for its rich ammonite and other fossil deposits as the cliff naturally erodes and slips into the sea.
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Safe Passage with the Fire River Poets

Written over the four years following the publication of Too Late for the Love Hotel, the poems in Safe Passage were not imagined as part of the collection in which, last summer, they so happily found themselves. For each poem that reached the book, there was at least one waiting in the wings, unchosen, clamouring, finally uncalled.  Composing the collection was rather like making up a jigsaw from twice the number of pieces that were required.  The final picture was therefore more provisional and tentative than it was complete.

The guest reading slot at the Fire River Poets‘ evenings in Taunton is arranged in two halves, interleaved with the open mic sessions, one half either side of the convivial interval.  I wanted not to repeat the mood of the first half – whatever that would be – but to give Fire River Poets a programme that rose to the opportunity offered by being allowed in one evening to suggest two contrasting pathways through my book.

Preparing for this Taunton guest reading, I seem to have discovered at last what Safe Passage is about.

Uccelli di passo  ( birds of passage ) is the title of the Aldo Patocchi woodcut I chose for the cover design.

Flying to the Light

A wooden surface carved and chiselled away to discover light within the dark plane of the inked-up printing block – this became my personal metaphor for my book on Thursday night. It was important that the cover image was a woodcut rather than a pen drawing : this would have laid dark thoughts/ black moments on a clean white field and made quite a different statement about the lives who passage through my book. My more fortunate characters find ways to discover light in a rather sombre, often alarming world.  Light has to be worked for/ is threatened with extinction/ is found in surprising places/ is all the more dazzling against the background of the dark.

L’amore, la morte, how close they are ….

I ended my first half-reading with ‘Waterlilies at Schönbrunn’, the poem from Report from the Judenplatz twice chosen by Matt Holland for his reading at the cenotaph on Swindon’s Holocaust Memorial Day.  The image of the crowded waterlily leaves ‘imploring light from the indifferent sun’ was the closest that poem dared approach the unbearable truths about what happened to the Jewish citizens abandoned by the gentile populations of the european cities to which they belonged. Imploring light ….hoping for illumination…. imagining a brighter world….the denial of light ….the awareness of the tantalising proximity of light … working towards light …losing the light …that hunger linked so many of the poems in Safe Passage –  I wondered whether it was peculiarly an ex-picture dealer’s way of interpreting the world.

A dealer in pictures is what I am, a poet said…

The light in the Safe Passage poems doesn’t seem to be a metaphor for an otherwordly state of grace. Light is simply standing in for / the visual equivalent of its near namesake, life. The incalculable blessing. The incalculable good. Planning my Fire River reading, I realised that in its quirky, metropolitan, troubled, yearning, rather old-fashioned, unambitious way Safe Passage is a passionately hopeful and optimistic little book.  If you look again at the cover, you can see that darkness does indeed seem to be gathering about the buildings, but the birds are flying, together, out of the dark passage in the left hand sky  and towards the light. 

Life does sometimes engineer the reprieve of her Illyrian nightingales.

I have to thank the Fire River Poets for allowing me to spend such a pleasant evening in their talented and receptive company. But I also have to thank them for making me think properly about my little book.  I suspect every future reading from Safe Passage will be shaped in some way by the March Thursday evening I shared with them.

So I will end this post with the lines that mean so much to me, for very personal reasons, from ‘New Things’, one of the poems there wasn’t time to read….

Look at our lagoon, signori.
Luce sull’acqua. The light of heaven.
The dancing of the water.

 

Safe Passage is available from Oversteps BooksFlying to the Light