Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Walking with the gods ..?

Perhaps it's because the Greek Gods each represent facets of what makes people human that they are so easy to imagine. They influence the characters in the story I'm writing at present, so they naturally invade my own daily life!
   When I'm working on something, I try to take a walk each day. Sometimes this helps me plan the next day's writing, sometimes it's just for fun and exercise. Yesterday, Zeus was practising playfully with the spring weather. He bombarded me with thunder, lightening, hail, and rainbows, and kept me from doing much planning.

But the day before, he had been busy elsewhere and my walk was idyllic. 

I went inland, away from the sea for once ...

campion and blue bells

Was it possible I was in company with an Arcadian nymph or two (all those flowers and the chattering river), or Artemis (riding the moon behind the ash tree), or even her brother Apollo (checking out the flocks of sheep perhaps, and sparking my brain into creativity)?  
wood anemones


blousey dandelions

delicate vetch and star of Bethlehem

looking back towards the sea on my way home.
The perfect weather gave me time and peace to 'feel' them all, and to breathe the scents of spring and listen to the lambs and the birds. And while I walked, I worked out the complex relationship between two of my characters which had been confusing me.  

So I put this post together just to record, and give thanks for, that lovely, productive walk.

@JuliaMNewsome on Twitter
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all photographs © Julia M Newsome unless otherwise credited.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Three years of Two Heads ...

My novel The Boy with Two Heads is three years old today. It was published on February 29th, 2012, the year of the London Olympics. To celebrate this, I have been putting 'shameless ads' on Twitter as listed below, quoting from Goodreads and Amazon reviews. I can't say sales have been huge, but the five star reviews from people I've never met are a wonderful psychological boost. 

from the official Ways With Words website
To change the subject, and as reported in previous years, March is the month for Ways With Words to bring their "Words by the Water" Literary Festival to Keswick. It starts on Friday, March 6th, and I volunteered to chair some events again this year. They gave me Eric Chaline's The Temple of Perfection (about the history of gymnasiums from Ancient Athens to the present day), and Levison Wood's Walking the Nile (about his 4,250 mile walk from the jungles of Burundi to the Mediterranean at Alexandria). 

Unfortunately, Levison Wood will not be able to be in Keswick after all. In preparing to chair his talk, I enjoyed the Channel 4 TV series, but learned more from his book. As I have spent some years of my life in Africa, I find his observations of the people and issues that he encountered thoughtful and enlightening, sometimes amusing, sometimes harrowing, and often riveting. So I am disappointed that I won't meet him at the festival to learn even more - and to share in his growing celebrity, of course!

Meanwhile, Eric Chaline's book has taught me a great deal about how the gymnasium has evolved in Europe and the US since its recognisable beginnings in 7th century BC Athens. As one blurb about The Temple of Perfection states, "Chaline surveys the gym's many incarnations and the ways the individual, the nation-state, the media, and the corporate world have intersected in its steamy confines". The agenda behind the setting up of a gym has not always been to help people pursue individual fulfilment or make millions, as we think of it now. There have been both more sinister, and more philanthropic, stimuli, it seems.

Apart from his many journalism articles, Eric has written about 30 books on a variety of subjects. I found I already had one of them on my shelves, although I hadn't realised who it was by! It's called Traveller's Guide to ... Greece in the Year 415 BCE. So I am really looking forward to meeting him at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick on March 8th and to finding out more about those 7th century BCE Greeks, those 20th century CE Californians on Muscle Beach, and all the entrepreneurs and idealists in between. 

I wonder if you'll be there too? We might enjoy tea and cake together in celebration of The Boy with Two Heads' third birthday!

These are my shameless ads on Twitter for The Boy with Two Heads

Shameless ad 1: #theboywithtwoheads time-slip novel "captures the atmosphere of Ancient Greece". "Enthralling".

Shameless ad 2:  #theboywithtwoheads time-slip novel "a gripping read" "brings Ancient Greece to vibrant life".

Shameless ad 3: from my time-slip novel: "when #theboywithtwoheads wins without a fight, Athena will pay her dues."

Shameless ad 4: #theboywithtwoheads: "extremely well written ... I would love to see this book used in schools." 5stars. Thank you, Fiona!

Shameless ad 5: from my time-slip novel #theboywithtwoheads: "You don't get to the Olympics unless you're the best."

Shameless ad 6: #theboywithtwoheads: " A very enthralling read, I did not want to put the book down.” 5 stars. Thank you, Bill!

Shameless ad 7: (last one - I promise) My time-slip novel #theboywithtwoheads is three yrs old today! Happy birthday, Themis and Suzanne.

@JuliaMNewsome on Twitter
'J M Newsome, author' on Facebook

all photographs © Julia M Newsome unless otherwise credited.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

No triremes on the Solway

These days I'm rather boring to other people. My daily routine is: write and research in the morning, walk in the afternoon, do domestic stuff in the evening. Even my research isn't exciting on its own, though lately I've been learning a lot about Ancient Greek warships called triremes, which could be of interest to some (see below). 

So as a sequel to my January posting about walking in London, this posting is mainly about my walk by the Solway Firth in Cumbria on Friday. It's been foggy since then, but on Friday it was almost Greek weather ...

On the way down to the beach and a milky-looking sea ...

... I found snowdrops right beside the road.

As I arrived on the beach I put up a flock of seagulls, but there was no one else there, just me and the birds.
The Romans had a lookout on that hill - Mile Fortlet 21. 
They may have beached their boats on this shore.
The Hellenes (Ancient Greeks) I'm writing about were 500 years earlier and never left the Mediterranean. They pulled their ships up on land every night by a tideless sea.
What would they have thought about a water-line that could move up to half a mile, twice a day? 
The triremes had around 170 rowers. They couldn't have hauled them out of reach of the tide here, even with that many men and these windless conditions.
But there goes the sun ...

... and there go the birds. Time to turn for home.

Even the factory can look nice on an evening like this. It's not often it makes a question mark with its steam.

Goodnight, Solway Firth. 

So back to my desk, and my research. This is a rather confusing photograph because the poster is very reflective. But you can see the overall shape of the war ship, with the sharp ram at the front and the stern like a scorpion's tail.  The caption is a quote from The Birds by Aristophanes in which one man asks 'Where are you from?' and another answers 'From where they make the beautiful triremes.' He means Athens.

The poster was on the railings beside the reconstruction of a trireme commissioned by the Greek Navy and built in 1987, called 'Olympias'.

She stands under her specially constructed ship shed by the sea in Faliron, near Athens. She is beautifully cared for and there is no entrance fee. There's a comprehensive blog post about her, written last year by Ellen Brundige, here, with facts, figures, photographs and impressive videos of her underway. 

from Hellenic Navy's website, linked from Ms Brundige's blog

Imagine seeing something like this being rowed up the Solway Firth and turning towards you as you stand alone on an empty beach ...

all photographs © Julia M Newsome unless otherwise credited.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Walking through history ...

Writers often extol the virtues of walking to get the brain working. I try to get out for an hour or so each day, though the weather at this time of year does not always help. So any clear day must be taken full advantage of.

A few days ago, the sunshine drew me out for a longer than usual walk. In a loop across Blackheath and through Greenwich, I took in hundreds of years of history, from Henry VII's riverside terrace to views of the sky scrapers of Canary Wharf:

Near Elizabeth I's oak in Greenwich Park 
(a royal park since the 15th century).

Looking towards the River Thames through the Old Royal 
Naval College, (built in the early 18th century) 
now part of the University of Greenwich.
(looking away from the river) These buildings were designed by
Christopher Wren and, by 1712, were the Royal Hospital for Seamen
at Greenwich. The Hospital closed in 1869 and the buildings became the
Royal Naval College until 1998. The 'bundle' is explained below.
They've bundled King George II (1727-1760) up for the winter. 
He can usually look across the River Thames to Canary Wharf.
And this is what he usually sees. The gates are 18th century,
with the seal of the Hospital in their centre,
the sky scrapers and the boat 21st century.
The terrace along by the river is all that is left of Henry VII's
 early 16th century Palace of Placentia - 

500 years of history at a glance.

Not 200 metres from those Royal Hospital gates, the Cutty Sark 
floats oddly on her glass skirt beside the Greenwich Foot Tunnel 
south entrance.
You can just see the northern entrance/exit to the Foot Tunnel 
in this shot down-river towards the sea.
There have been settlements at Greenwich since the bronze age.
This terrace of houses was built in the 18th century.

But these houses are older still - perhaps from the late 1600s.

And yet across the railings is a block of flats and the tower of
the local police station built in the mid 20th century.

The Hill is now a restaurant, but there has been a public house on
the corner of Point Hill and Royal Hill for centuries.

Point Hill is a steep climb up to the The Point - a viewpoint 
on the extreme western edge of Blackheath. 

Looking west, from left to right: The Shard (finished in 2014) at 
London Bridge Station, the misty dome of St Paul's (late 1700s), 
the Walkie Talkiethe Cheese Grater, the Gherkin
all in the City and built in the last 20 years.
And looking east, Canary Wharf's windows reflect the sinking sun
in the rejuvenated Docklands (1988 ongoing) 

across the river from Greenwich.

I had walked a little under two miles, but through history I had travelled almost 600 years (even if you don't count the prehistoric barrows in Greenwich Park) from the Palace of Plancentia's river terrace to the towers of Docklands.  

As I stood looking at that vast view, I felt it would be appropriate to  do a posting about this area's long history at the start 2015. By then it was time to go home for tea and Christmas cake. And, of course, to get back to writing. That's what the walks are for, after all, isn't it?


all text and photographs © Julia M Newsome

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Phidias' workshop - using real places in fiction

Last year in the summer, I prepared part of this posting. I didn't finish it because I have been looking for a particular reference (see second to last paragraph). 
As you can see, I had a wonderful trip in 2013. 
It was a mixture of holiday ...
...  research ... 
... and socialising.

Part of the research was another visit to Ancient Olympia. I went to have another look at Phidias' Workshop. I took liberties with its design in The Boy with Two Heads and I wanted to see whether I had really changed it so much. This is how it appears in my story:

The main road was busy with traffic for the market and the precinct. Panainos and Themis paused on the forecourt, looking at the front of the Workshop. It was a huge, rectangular stone building with a high-walled yard behind. 
‘He really did it,’ said Panainos quietly. 
‘Did what?’ asked Themis, surprised at the plainness of what seemed to him to be just another warehouse.
‘He said to me he’d build the workshop the same size as the inner room of the temple, so that he could get the statue in the right proportion.’ 
‘Why wouldn’t he?’ replied Themis. ‘It’s a very good idea.’ 
‘Because it must have cost the Elians a lot more than they bargained for,’ laughed Panainos. ‘Phidias never lets mere price stop him when he plans a monument.’ 
No one seemed to be around, but the small, heavy door opened as they approached it. A guard in full armour with sword and spear stepped out and confronted them. With him was a scribe, tablet and stylus at the ready. 
‘Name and business?’ growled the guard. 
‘Panainos, son of Harmides, brother of Phidias,’ intoned Panainos, ‘and Themistokles, son of Kallistos, my apprentice.’ 
The scribe wrote this down. The guard bowed his head slightly and stood back. ... 
[Inside] They turned through an open doorway. 
‘Wow!’ breathed Themis as they stepped into a huge, bright space where dust motes hung sparkling in the air and soft music played. It was as high as a temple, with pillars painted on the walls. Cupboards and storerooms lined the left side, workbenches the right. Light streamed in from windows half way up the walls, and from panels in the ceiling. 
Panainos swept over to a long bench where four young men were bent over their work. Themis saw trays of labelled pebbles, rows of minute tools and the sparkle of cut gems as Panainos asked for Phidias. 
One gem-cutter gestured to the high back wall that was almost all door. They could see a sunny yard beyond. ‘Out there,’ he said ... 
Two more armed guards stood on either side of the doorway. They saluted Panainos as he and Themis stepped out into sunlight. Acrid smells of vinegar and burning bone caught in Themis’ throat. 

Phidias' workshop now
That was my fiction, but in reality there is no sign of the large door I gave the Workshop at the back, or of a yard. And the front door seems to have been quite large, not small as I made it. I had the columns inside painted on the walls when in fact it seems they were probably real and perhaps held up the roof. 

However, the building was turned into an early Christian basilica around AD440 and then destroyed in the earthquake of AD551, so perhaps my fictional view of it is not too impossible.

This is the west wall where I made the huge door into a yard behind ...

... and this is the south wall.

This is what it looks like inside now, with the early Byzantine church arrangements, now also ruined.

There is a story that, during the excavations, a cup was found with the ancient Greek for 'I belong to Phidias' scratched on its bottom. This appears in most of the guide books and articles about the Workshop. But I read somewhere that the man who found the cup confessed on his deathbed to scratching the inscription himself. However, from the descriptions in Pausanias and other sources and the archaeological finds of moulds and tools, it is quite clear that this building and its environs were where the statue was made and its golden, ivory, bejewelled and carved adornments prepared. 

And perhaps the story of the man on his deathbed is as fictional as my story. The cup might have been a tourist souvenir, as these were also sold in antiquity, according to the website 'Ancient Olympics'. But if anyone reading this can vouch for the deathbed story, I would be very grateful, as I have searched for it again and again since I got back from that trip, and failed to find it.

On the subject of using real places in historical fiction, I have come to the conclusion that we writers should use our common sense about what might have been, without making any glaring errors. Places readers can visit give an extra dimension to a story, as long as there is no disappointment involved. What do you think?

All photographs © Julia M Newsome, except the aerial view of Phidias' workshop, which was taken from a postcard with no credit given.