Where Did You Go Joe Dimagio? part 2

The bear came down from the mountain in the late afternoon. She wasn’t hungry. She had eaten well, but she was missing the cub.

Thus I began my mystery in the summer of 2014. I was temporarily marooned in a hot hotel room. I could see the mountain from my balcony so why not weave it into my mystery. I wrote and wrote. Various things happened. I found myself writing in widely different rooms with different scenery and colder temperatures. I ended up in another place I never expected to be, on the 14th floor of an apartment building. In a suburb of Toronto! There I discovered I was ready to publish my second book.

So, find an agent, find a publisher. I had the tools: books that told me how to write a killer query letter and three kinds of synopsis. An almost up-to-date copy of Jeff Herman’s comprehensive list of both. It’s a fat book, so the  one before that and the one before that, etc. had gone into the recycle bag.

Somewhere I still have a collection of rejection letters for my previous book, most formulaic, but at least one from an agent called Victoria dissecting my character. So self-publishing again, an ebook but now, hurray, a paperback, print-on-demand.

Things had changed since 2012. My nephew is now capable of designing a cover and a website. (Sorry Stewart Williams) I can now format my own book using Vellum. (Sorry 52 Novels) I can now use Twitter to access help self-publishing. I am following  half a dozen companies that gave me advice and offer to publicize my work. Among them is Book Marketing Tools, more than generous with free information and advice.

Helpfully, they inform me that 6,500 books are published every day. What do I care? Last year I declared an income of $120 from my writing, with a net loss of only $571 (all figures Cdn). Clearly, I’m on a roll.

I had looked at Book Marketing’s time-line for how to prepare for a book launch earlier, but now I downloaded an up-to-date one and set about reading it in front of that floor to ceiling window on the 14th floor.

I wish I could say that it left me laughing. I wish I could say I didn’t go for the Alan key to remove the locks that kept my windows from opening more than 4 inches. Evidently, I should have started marketing this book long before it became a gleam in my eye. Ideally, the week I was born.

Book Marketing sets off its timeline a year before the book launch. It  continues with a list of tasks to perform at  3-4 months, 2 months, one, etc., climaxing with a book launch party. The list assumes I have many friends. I have maybe 6, several of them relatives, two even older than me, several living many thousand miles away. One of my friends refuses to read the book, which focuses on eco-activists, because an animal dies-off-stage and before the action starts. Only my niece and my son-in-law stuck with me through the endless revisions, and even son-in-law could do so only because I read it aloud into iTalk and put it in a shared dropbox. (He has a long commute.) I am extremely grateful for the excellent advice I got. But…

There’s a strategy that’s been around for 20 or 25 years. Artists are encouraged to draft their friends into their marketing process. Thus I was instrumental in getting a friend a show hung in a club I belonged to. I thought I had already done my bit by buying more of her canvases than I needed. Then I found I was also expected to serve refreshments.

Exactly why would anyone from that group of six people want to become my ‘street marketers’? And are they actually expected to knock on doors?

I am called upon to seek endorsements from other writers. “Dear Margaret Atwood, You don’t know me but I am a young beginner novelist and I would like you to take four or five hours to read my mystery. I expect you to do this because I have read all your books and taught Surfacing to my Can. Lit. class…” Dear Peter Robinson, You don’t know me, but we both live in the Toronto area and my ex-husband came from Yorkshire, (where your Inspector Banks does his sleuthing). And I make an excellent Yorkshire pudding. I could drop one by, but it would be better if I came to your house for fear of it falling. I could bring my new mystery..” “Dear Mar Preston, You met me once in the lobby at the Pine Mtn. Club. I have set my mystery  Hour of the Hawk in the same town as your book The Most Dangerous Species and there are striking coincidences, although honest, I wrote my book before I read yours…”

How am I doing?

But this is mean. Book Marketing Tools just wants to help – and possibly to sell me advertising space on Twitter.

Agents demand to know if we indie writers are up to editing, proof-reading, printing, publicizing, all those things a real publisher does. Well, yes, if Book Marketing Tools has anything to say about it?

 

 

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Getting the Hawk off the Ground: editing con.

red tailed hawkThis post is one of a series of posts about my experience writing and editing my mystery, Hour of the Hawk, which may interest and help other writers and mystery readers. The previous two are linked below.

https://115journals.com/2015/11/03/getting-the-hawk-off-the-ground-writing-a-mystery/

https://115journals.com/2015/04/06/writer-unblocked/

When you go on-line for advice on how to edit your novel, you are advised that you need a professional editor – by professional editors, of course. They say this is essential if you are going to self-publish. Been there. Done that. Paid for formatting in both Kindle and Smashwords by 52 Novels and for a cover design by Stewart A. Williams. Still haven’t made back the costs, so I’m glad I didn’t add another $500 for an editor.

It’s my fault Never Tell didn’t sell. It was a memoir about an abusive childhood , and, although it has a bouncy, resilient narrative voice, I lost heart trying to market it. Of course, I went the self-publishing route after a valiant effort to find an agent. Here I am again.

The Book Butchers also advise  that you do your own edit before you hire an editor, and let you download free advice: 25 Self-Editing Tips for Indie Writers. As we know, you have to give away your work to build a market these days. They say you can save money by getting your book into better shape before you submit it to them – if you have the nerve, given their name. Plus you save them the bane of my teaching life, correcting grammar errors.I found their ideas useful.

I downloaded Stein on Writing ($9.99) onto my iPad,and found his editing advice more helpful. By now I was taking multiple trips through my manuscript as I followed instructions. I also signed up for thecreativepenn.com. Joanna Penn advised a three step edit: a structural edit, a line edit for word choice, grammar and sentence structure and a proof reading edit handled by someone else. There were a number of other e-books I considered, but I figured the basics had been covered.

I have a friend who is a great proof reader, but she can’t do my book because a bear cub was harmed in its making. Off-stage,I hasten to add. We don’t witness the cub’s death by game warden, nor do we witness its mother’s revenge, which, while somewhat misguided, is fatal. I told her it is fiction, but she remembered that such a thing actually happened in the mountains where I was staying and that made it real enough for her. As I said last time, I taught English. Critic A learned from me. Critic B also taught English. Critic C can cover a page with red ink. I trust the real proof reader at the end of the line will find only typos. Or not.

In my next post, later today, I will go back to the topic of editing for narrative voice.

NeverTellCover-3

 

 

 

Square One Writer’s Block

The Writer by Mendelsohn Joe, 1982

The Writer by Mendelsohn Joe, 1982

Okay, I need a new direction. Writing the blog post on Cockroaches took three days and was absorbing. I had to go back through it on my iPad reminding myself of names and sorting out the red herrings from the real resolution. I neglected to say in my review that the plot was not memorable.

The difficulty arrives from the fact that I’m more or less stuck here in a mountain village in Kern County, California far from Toronto, as a result of a family illness. There are days when I am superfluous to need, but then again, a relapse occurs and I’m fully involved. I don’t even have time to think. Other days like this one, I am at loose ends despite bear incursions.

Because I’m a big reader of mysteries, several people have suggested that I write a mystery. I thought about it.

Okay… I’d need a crime, a locale and a detective. I could set it here in this mountain village. Wait Mar Preston has already done in Payback, although I didn’t recognize the happy, friendly village I know in the misanthropic town she depicted. Besides hers had a town hall, whereas the real place has only one centre of administration, the club house. This village is unincorporated. In other words even its roads are private property and privately maintained. The streets are patrolled by security guards, although the sheriff rides in for serious matters. So I suppose I could write a truer picture of our remote mountain valley.

Then I’d need a crime. Darn. Something bad would have to happen. Something seriously bad. What stops me there is my own personal experience. My father had a way of being on the edge of seriously bad stuff. After his death, three different police forces spent $1,000,000 trying to figure out exactly what. I can only say it was not worth every penny. Even if he did look exactly like the police drawing. (See home page for ebook.)

Most of all, I don’t have a scientific background except for Biology 101 which taught me how to dissect a pig embryo. I suppose I could make it all up from my extensive reading and my watching of CSI, but I am loath to do so. It’s possible that television writers take liberties with fact. And I have no experience of group work in policing.

I could write about group life in a high school prep room. Pretty cut-throat especially before smoking was outlawed.

Actually I could depict two older women, who have no investigative qualifications except curiosity. And mystery reading. One of them, the elder, would be irrepressibly garrulous, a little deaf and charmingly dotty who could worm information out of a stone wall. The other an ex-English teacher, more reticent, but with a mind like a steel trap. I suppose Clara would want a slice of the royalties. Anyway, that sounds too fey and Agatha Christie has already captured the market.

I’m reminded of the conversation between the writer and the doctor at a party. Doctor: When I retire, I’m going to write a novel. Writer: And when I retire, I’m going to take up medicine.

So, no, I think not.

I could find another indecipherable novel like The Luminaries, study it carefully and blog about it. The Luminaries post draws about 150 hits a week, once 164 in one day. Any suggestions?

I have embarked on the project of following The Outlanders by Diana Gabaldon on Starz and reading the books, but those stories are pretty decipherable. They are historical romances, no matter what the author says.

I could start writing a memoir about this illness, but the patient will write her own as and when.

For the time being, I sit here on another sunny warm day on the edge of the pine wood, writing a blog about my inability to get a good idea. I swear I’ve marked a hundred “personal” essays from students just like this.

Help!

 

 

 

Never Let Me Go

never let me goWhen I finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, I sat still on the sofa and thought about it. I felt unbelievably moved. What is it really about? Is it about our inhumanity to each other? Certainly, there is that.

Set in an alternative 1990s Britain, Never Let Me Go depicts Hailsham, a boarding school where children are encouraged to be creative and are given frequent medical examinations. They don’t go home for holidays. Hailsham is their home. Are they orphans? Gradually, as they grow older we learn as they do that they have been cloned to become donors, organ donors.

The novel was short-listed for the Booker prize in 2005, but I steadfastly refused to read it  because I was too squeamish. Being stuck on a mountain made me less choosey and, having more or less enjoyed Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans, I downloaded Never Let Me Go on my iPad mini. Whereas the stilted voice of the detective in When We Were Orphans irritated me, the humane voice of Kathy in Never Let Me Go drew me in immediately. Very soon I loved the three main characters, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy.

They are being raised outside of normal society so when they are released into it to live out their abbreviated lives, they can only guess at how it actually works. For much of the time, they are equally in the dark about the donation process. Mercifully, so is the reader, although we do eventually see Ruth and Tommy in recovery between donations. Kathy is their carer supporting them through the process. Four donations seem to be the limit, during or after which, donors complete. Kathy is about to finish her years as a carer and start being a donor. Is it possible that there really is a way to get a deferral if donors can prove they are in love?

The book had a cathartic effect on me. Like a Greek tragedy, it incited “pity and terror”. No doubt this had to do with the fact that I had spent much of the last few days sitting by a loved one with a serious illness – a very heart opening if fearful experience. A never-let-me-go experience.

At the same time, Peter L. Bernstein’s book about risk Against the Gods came to my attention. Bernstein contends that people are not so much risk averse as they are loss averse. He quotes Amos Tversky who says that “the human pleasure machine is much more sensitive to negative than to positive stimuli”. We can imagine a few things that would make us feel better, but “the number of things that would make you feel worse is unbounded.” And some losses we know we could never recover from.

Reviewing Never Let Me Go in the Guardian, M. John Harrison said that the novel “isn’t about cloning or being a clone”. I think he is right. The donors endure, fulfilling their role as it has been laid down for them. The novel is about life as we all experience it. Harrison ends his review: “It’s about why we don’t explode, why we don’t just wake up one day and go sobbing and crying down the street, kicking everything to pieces out of the raw, infuriating, completely personal sense of our lives never having been what they could have been.”

 

 

 

 

 

Writing About Daniel #2:

(This is one of a series of posts about my estranged son, Daniel.)

I began writing about Daniel as I explained earlier (https://115journals.com/2014/02/08/writing-about-daniel/) because I wanted to “open the flow of my dammed up love for him” in view of the fact that we are not communicating. I talked about his birth, his unknowable infant self and considered the external world and its influence on him as a toddler. In the process, I have arrived at the spring of 1963  when he was 15 months-old. So how is it going so far?

Unexpectedly.

I thought I would gradually uncover the little person he was then and slowly move forward as he became his own person, distinct from his sister who was a year older. Instead, something else happened.

Out of the dusty attic of my mind, I retrieved another memory. It was of my father, leaning close to my ear as he was leaving after a visit, and whispering to me. He said, “You know I’m going to kill them both, don’t you? I’ve told you so.” Then he sniggered and got into his car.

By the time, Daniel was a year old I had heard this more than once. My father was a monster. Goes without saying. We all pretended this was not so. He was violent and abusive when the fit took him, but he genuinely loved children, especially these grandchildren. Unfortunately, his idea of love was way off-base as I knew from experience and I had warned him to keep his hands off Julia and Daniel. This was his revenge.

So why not report him to the police? The most I had ever been able to do was report him to a neighbour when I was eight. She was a pillar of the community, but her intervention consisted of scolding him soundly, with the result that I thought he was going to murder me, my mother, and my two baby sisters. Moreover, he always seemed to have the local cops in his pocket and, anyway, in those days, no one- nobody- believed such allegations.

I had assured him that if anything happened to my children I would write down everything he had ever done to us, mail it to the powers that be and kill myself. His giggling response was, “You’d never do that!”.”Wait and see,” I said. (We hadn’t yet learned to say “Try me”.)

So he sniggered in my ear and took off with my mother, back to Burlington where two of my siblings still lived under his roof, too old to tempt him and old enough to have designs on escape.

I didn’t believe him, but he terrified me. He had been terrifying me for years and years. He had almost killed me when I was six, but he deeply regretted it afterwards. (Is the sarcasm clear there?) Once he understood that I opposed him, he kept up a campaign of terror, oddly or perhaps not so oddly, combined with taking me and my sister, Georgia, with him whenever possible and referring to us as his angels.

So writing about this time on Benleigh Dr. in Scarborough in 1963, I came upon this whispered confidence and lost my mind. Post traumatic stress will do that for you. Transport you right back into the thick of things. Suddenly, you are in the midst of a flashback of feeling as intense as it was originally.

Basically, I feel a homicidal rage. I feel as if I could kill him. Then I remember that he is already dead and has been for 26 years. He phoned me and my sisters on the morning of the day he died and said to each of us, “If I have done you any harm, I’m sorry” -he couldn’t get hold of Rob in Europe. He knew he was going to die and not from natural causes.

I was late for class and I muttered something in reply -“That’s all right” probably. I had spent his old age trying to love the shambling wreck he had become.

Today, weighing the harm that got passed down the generations, I told my sister Georgia that if he died violently everyday, it would not be enough. And sure, that feeling has to be acknowledged, given some head room, but I can’t stay there. I must let it go- for my own mental health. I must forgive that monstrous old man. He asked me to.

I can speculate about why Daniel won’t speak to me but I don’t really know, except that somehow this lies at the bottom of it. It is bred into us and into our relationship.

It was supposed to be a secret. Now it isn’t.

(Never Tell, my e-book tells the story of my childhood more fully. See 115journals.com)

To e-read or not to e-read: again

It was the First World War that made me realize the limitations of present day e-readers. I had loaded Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace onto my Kindle before I went to Brussels for Christmas. Just the place to read about the causes of that war, I thought. Of course, the season and my brother’s open house policy prevented such serious reading. I was lucky to sneak in two John Grishams. The Michael Connelly, the Lee Child and the Margaret MacMillan had to wait until my return. I got through the first two of those fast enough and once I had read the new Ian Rankin and Louise Penny, I started some serious reading about the early twentieth century.

Immediately I knew I was in trouble.I had to read much more slowly. There was a large cast of characters, which I couldn’t keep track of. Who exactly was the “doomed Fredrich Wilhelm”? I knew MacMillan had told me already, butI couldn’t just look in the index without losing my place – at least not on my aging Kindle. I couldn’t flip back until the name jumped out at me. Finally, I went on-line and found out he was the father of Kaiser Wilhelm II who died less than a year after ascending the throne. Bad luck since he was liberal and pro-British unlike his Prussian-loving son. Fredrich was just the first of many puzzles. Plus the pictures were weird. Their descriptions turned up on the next page and I had to keep flipping back and forth, counting group photos, for example, to see which was Edward IV and which Tzar Nicholas. Turned out being cousins, they were all but identical. And the maps made me crazy.

So after yet another doctor appointment, I rewarded myself by stopping at one of our few remaining bookstores, a giant outfit called Chapters/Indigo, I forked over almost $40 for a hard copy, hard-covered and complete with dust cover. (The e-copy had cost about $15.) As I waited to pay for it, I chatted with the woman behind me and we agreed -you can’t read a serious book on an e-reader.

I try to indicate in my book reviews whether I read the book on my Kindle. I see that I have done that for a Lee Child novel, a Jo Nesbo, and a Ruth Rendall. Even so, I remember realizing that I had loaned the other Jo Nesbo books to a friend when I wrote the post on  The Police. I was thrown back on the internet for forgotten details. When I wrote about Kate Atkinson’s books, I actually went out and bought a hard copy of Behind the Scenes at the Museum when the on-line search didn’t work. Besides I couldn’t do without that book on my shelf.

What about the argument that a real reader wants to have a real book in hand for its sheer tactility. Well sure, but is that practical at a certain point? I am no longer a book collector. Once I had several thousand books, which required their own room and left barely enough space for a table and chair. It was twenty years ago, but I was able to hop on that earlier real estate meltdown and lose my house. The solution was to move in with my sister Georgia and while I would have a den of my own, I would have to downsize my library. I made several trips to a second hand book dealer. I didn’t get paid. In fact I would have paid him to find new homes for my beloveds. After that, I weeded as I went. Each book had to pass a stringent test in order to stick around: was I likely to use it as a reference or to want to reread it. Otherwise, it was off to a charity book sale. True, every so often, I discover I have exiled a book that I desperately need RIGHT NOW.

The Kindle is good for urgent book needs. You want a book and as often as not, you can download it in a few minutes. John Le Carré books were the exception last time I looked. Another great advantage of the e-reader is that it saves on luggage. Years ago when we travelled in Europe for the summer, our cases were so heavy with books that we spent a lot of time in laundromats. This year, I kept under the one bag, 23 kilo rule by taking my Kindle.

And e-readers are getting better. Georgia’s iPad is easier to read than my old e-reader, brighter, whiter, more like paper. Previously, she needed a little attachable lamp to read her old e-reader in the dark.

No doubt, it will soon be possible to search a downloaded e-book the way you can now search a document for a name. Perhaps it is already and I just don’t know it. What would be most helpful is a meaningful way of keeping track of page numbers. Knowing that I am at 85% or locations 1975-82 of Christopher Hitchen’s Thomas Jefferson, doesn’t work for me.

Pending these improvements, I will buy hard copies of difficult books.

Jack Reacher Reaches Virginia: Never Go Back

Last year I posed the burning question -Will Jack Reacher ever get to Virginia? https://115journals.com/2012/11/04/jack-reacher-will-lee-child-let-him-get-to-virginia/ I can now answer that question. Yes.

It’s true that three of Lee Child’s Reacher novels – 61 Hours, Worth Dying For and A Wanted Man, describing his circuitous journey through South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, actually took only a matter of days Reacher time, but  it took several years in publishing time and, despite the thrills, seemed endless. In Never Go Back, he actually arrives there.

The novel begins: “Eventually they put Reacher in a car and drove him to a motel a mile away where the night clerk gave him a room, which had all the features Reacher expected, because he had seen such rooms a thousand times before.” The shower would be strangled, the towels thin, the television small and old. In short, he lives in such rooms. As faithful readers know he is in constant motion, travelling by bus and hitched rides across the United States. Earlier I called him a wandering Taoist, unattached to any notion of home. https://115journals.com/2012/06/08/jack-reacher-wandering-taoist/

Shortly after, he is dumped at the cheap motel, a plain dark sedan pulls up and two heavies attempt to persuade him to leave town. “They couldn’t find you before. They won’t find you now. The army doesn’t use skip tracers. And no skip tracer could find you anyway. Not the way you seem to live.” Now here’s a quandary. The guys in the first car have ordered him to stay. But of course, Reacher isn’t about to follow orders any more. He does follow his own rules one of which is “Get your retaliation in first” and soon there are dents to prove it. Such is his welcome to Virginia.

Why was he so intent on getting there? He was following the siren call of a woman’s voice. Not just any woman’s voice, but the competent, risk-taking woman’s voice that has helped him in his travels from South Dakota. His goal is the HQ of 110th MP Special Unit in Rock Creek, a place he knows well since he was its first commanding officer before he quit on principle in 1997, just short of being laterally transferred to the end of the earth. He announces that he is there to see the current CO, Susan Turner and sets the wheels in motion the mayhem that follows.

Turns out that Reacher is still a wanted man: he is wanted for the murder of a gunrunner in Los Angeles 15 years ago and for skipping out on a pregnant lover in Korea, who is now living in a car with her daughter and wants support. Fortunately, the litigant has the wisdom to be living in a car in L.A.

As for Susan Turner, she has vanished from sight and when Reacher tracks her down in a detention facility almost as secret as Gauntanamo, she has left word she doesn’t want to see him. That only encourages him of course.

Turns out her charges are even more serious.

Reacher doesn’t get a glimpse of Susan Turner until a quarter of the way through the book. “She was an inch or two above medium height. She was small-boned and slender, with dark hair pulled back, and tanned skin and deep brown eyes.” He concludes she was well worth the trip. Furthermore she can take care of herself.

It is not brawn but ingenuity that enables them to go on the lam with no papers of their own and a “borrowed” $30. They head for Los Angeles in an attempt to sort out Reacher’s problems before they tackle Turner’s. As they sort his out, they speculate about why they are being targeted and who has the power to pull such strings.

One of the delights of the story is the “daughter”, a 15 year-old who seems as if she should be Reacher’s child. She already has powers of observation well beyond the FBI agents, the Army MPs and the heavies who follow in Reacher’s wake.

The good news is that Reacher’s face doesn’t take on any more damage, but it’s not news at all that he ends up waiting for a bus.

(I read this book on my KIndle.)

Richard III: evil or good

In a previous post, “Richard III: lost and found” (115journals.com), I described the recent discovery of the bones RIchard III who was killed by Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry then became Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch in England, followed in turn, by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The question I promised to address at the end of my previous post was whether Richard deserved the reputation that has come down to us, citing Shakespeare’s play, on the one hand, and Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time, on the other.

Shakespeare’s play Richard III was probably produced in 1594, during Elizabeth’s reign, over 100 years after Richard’s death. The playwright drew on Holinshed’s history which in its turn drew on Thomas More’s account of events. More was solidly in the Tudor camp, having served both Henry VII and Henry VIII. In any case, according to Tey’s research, More did not actually write the history of Richard that is attributed to him, but rather re-copied in his own hand an account actually written by one John Morton, a participant in events. This re-copied account was found in More’s papers after his execution and published as his own work. The Tudors -namely Henry VIII- repaid More’s service by beheading him.

Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time, was published in 1951 and is not the first debunking of the evil Richard legend, which held that he was a usurper of the throne, guilty of fratricide and regicide, and a man without honour who proposed to marry his own niece. Other writers – Buck in the 17th century, Walpole in the 18th and Markham in the 19th – also contradicted that legend. Indeed there is something called the Rickardian Society devoted to that same task since 1924.

I came to love Shakespeare’s play when I saw Alec Guiness play the lead at Stratford, Ontario as a teenager. It was a brilliant portrayal of a villain who rejoiced in his villainy. Like all school children I had learned that Richard was the boogeyman who had killed the poor little princes (Edward V and his younger brother) in the Tower of London and it didn’t occur to me that might not be true.

I’m not sure when I first read The Daughter of Time, but it would have been probably 15 years or more after it was first published. A few days ago, I loaded it onto my Kindle and read it for the 3rd time. It is just not possible, for me at any rate, to keep its complex ideas in my head. The daughter of time, by the way, is truth.

Shakespeare’s play begins with a long monologue by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was depicted by Guiness as hunchbacked and twisted, drabbly dressed with greasy hair sticking out from under a red cap. He begins by asserting that he was
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up –
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them –
And yet, so skilled is he at seduction that by the end of the scene, he has talked Anne Neville into marrying him despite the fact that she began by hating him. She has good reason: Richard has murdered her husband, the Prince Of Wales, and her father-in-law, the deposed king, Henry VI, to secure the throne for his brother. Richard carries on throughout the play murdering his way to the top. He kills his brother, Clarence, who is next in birth-order to Edward IV, and therefore, an obstacle to Richard’s inheriting the throne. He pins the murder on Edward thereby accelerating his illness and when Edward dies, he imprisons his sons in the Tower of London. He kills the nobles who support the child Edward V although he (Richard) has been appointed Regent to rule until Edward is of age. He kills his wife, Anne Neville in a plan to marry his niece, Elizabeth. Then, infamously, he hires James Tyrell to kill the little princes by smothering them. When Richard’s horse is shot out from under him at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry of Richmond finishes him off and becomes Henry VII, the first Tudor king. Shakespeare counted Queen Elizabeth, Henry’s grand daughter as the chief patron of his theatre company, plenty of reason to seize on the dramatic possibilities of Richard’s villainy.

Now, even before we turn to Tey’s refutation of these charges, it is worth noting that Richard’s hired hands are supposed to have dispatched his brother the Duke of Clarence by drowning him in a butt of Malmsey, that is a large barrel of wine. This was actually a Cockney expression indicating that Clarence died of drink, although, in actual fact, he was executed for treason.

Josphine Tey’s novel is constructed like a mystery. The detective, Grant is lying flat in a hospital bed recovering from injuries sustained while he was chasing a suspect. To pass the time, he is trying to solve the riddle of whether Richard deserved the reputation that Shakespeare hung on him. He has the help of a “research worker”, Brent Carradine, who looks things up at the British Museum. Those were the quaint old days when sitting in a library was the only way to do such research. By this time, Grant has figured out that More’s account was highly suspect and not even his own. Curiously, even the historians who castigate Richard, have to admit that he was devoted to Edward IV throughout his life and that he was an admirable administrator, an excellent general, and a brave soldier. Yet they also picture him as suddenly becoming willing to wade through blood to get to the throne, even though he is already safely ensconced there as the Regent. Grant and his researcher decide to focus not on such accounts, but on actual documents from the time – accounts, letters, decrees, court records, legislation.

It quickly becomes clear that  Richard’s rule of 18 months was not only orderly but progressive, the people being granted such things as the right to bail and freedom from intimidation as jurors. Richard dealt with those charged with treason in an even-handed way returning confiscated property, for example, to the family to be administered. In the light of future events, when the Lancasters and their Woodville allies rose against him, he would have been better to be a tyrant. Yet he seems to have been a decent fellow who was popular with the people.

The research In The Daughter of Time turns up information that, just as Richard is planning Edward V’s coronation, one Bishop Stillingham announces that he had presided over a marriage of Edward IV  to   another woman prior his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. As a result, Edward V is deemed illegitimate and the throne passes to Richard.

In the matter of the princes in the Tower, It is true that Richard sent them to live there. It was a royal residence at that time and to live there was not a punishment unless you were in the dungeons. The princes were not. They lived royally as their mother did once she came out of hiding and they were taught by their tutor. Their sisters attended events at Richard’s court and the mother, Elizabeth Woodville, accepted a pension from the man historians say is her sons’ murderer.

After he killed Richard, Henry VII moved to get an act of Attainder, declaring Richard was never entitled to be king, but in the posthumous charges, there is no mention that Richard has murdered his nephews. Indeed there is no mention of them again in any documents until James Tyrell is charged with their murders 20 years later and executed. True they have vanished. The documents that the research worker uncovers indicate that Tyrell is granted a general pardon by Henry in early June 1486 and another one a month later. What has he done during that time that makes the second pardon necessary? Shortly thereafter, Henry makes him Constable of Guisnes and Tyrell goes to live there near Calais. (England still had sovereignty over part of what is now France.)

Why would Henry want the princes dead? He has married their older sister and set about restoring her legitimacy, but if she is legitimate, so are her brothers and they have a much more lawful, hereditary claim to the throne than Henry. The researcher in Tey’s novel finds an abundance of evidence that Henry also eliminated anyone else who stood in Edward IV’s line, including Clarence’s son, whom Richard had made his own heir. Henry VIII carries on executing those who seem to threaten the Tudor claim to the throne.

Shakespeare’s Richard is a brilliant portrayal of an evil person who rejoices in his evil and his final end while tragic, is richly deserved. Tey’s Richard, the more historically accurate one, in my opinion, is an altogether more honourable fellow; moreover, apart from one shoulder being higher than the other, he does not seem to have been disfigured.  I regret that Richard’s reputation has been thus sullied for the past 500 years.

To e-Read or not to e-Read

This week, I read another pronouncement by a Book Lover that he, bibliophile that he is, would never consider reading an e-book, he being Joe Queenan, who has written a memoir One for the Books. Robert Fulford, critic for the National Post calls the memoir “a funny, fractious and ecstatic book about his (Queenan’s) life as an obsessive reader.”

Queenan spends 2 hours a day reading and claims to have read 6,000 books since he was 7 when he began reading to escape his violent, alcoholic father and emotionally distant, manic-depressive mother.

Well, good for you, Joe, and la-dee-da. Who hasn’t? Who didn’t? And I swear I have already given away that number of read books while still retaining a couple thousand more. You can see Joe has rubbed me the wrong way and I haven’t read his book yet, but I intend to enjoy it nevertheless.

In addition, Fulford reports that Queenan refuses to read any book in which the character attends private school, including Catcher in the Rye, self-actualization books, books described as “luminous” and he considers To Kill a Mockingbird a historically suspect novel about Just the Nicest White Man Ever. That is not the end of the list of what he will not read.

Queenan enjoys the sensual experience of the book as object, the feel of it in his hands, the visual impression of print on paper, the smell, the memories evoked of where and when he got it.

Fulford, himself, recounts the 3 life rules he taught his daughters: 1. never fold down a page, 2. never leave a book open face down, 3. never leave the house without a book.

Once we have enjoyed the irony of the fact these are supposed to primary life rules, we can evaluate them. Number 3 is – it goes without saying – undeniably a prime directive. You can endure the interminable waits that transit companies, airlines, hospitals, doctors, and city hall throw at you with your mind buried in a book. Today I watched a young woman walking up from the main bus route reading every step of the way. And I have a friend who got a ticket for reading in a traffic jam. Well, they weren’t going anywhere!

Personally, I do not regard books as sacred. They are too important.

I do not turn down corners except in dire emergencies. Having said that, dire emergencies do arise, times when the bookmark has vanished and there are no available sales slips, transit tokens and certainly no dollar bills, here in the Great White North, to make do as markers. Since many of the mysteries I read are 3rd or 4th hand or more, I spend time straightening other people’s dog-ears. I would never dog-ear a library book nor would I underline or write in one and more than once, I have wanted to hunt down someone who did. Their comments are without exception puerile. (Look that up, desecrator!)

My own books are a different question. I write on the back flyleaf reminding myself of ideas that struck me as interesting and noting the page number. I generally don’t underline but I might note a word at the top of the page to help me find the idea later. Of course, I read in the bathtub, although not in the shower. Of course, I read at my solitary table at home and in restaurants. Of course jam gets involved and grease, but never ketchup. I hate ketchup.

Once my young daughter came home indignant that her school librarian had told her that never, never, under any circumstances, should she read, even her own books, in the tub or at the table. Daughter and I just shook our heads in pity: librarian was not a true reader.

A true reader is omnivorous and will find books wherever possible -in discard bins, big box bookstores, second hand stores in mouldy basements and, of course, in e-readers. Even Robert Fulford, Queenan’s reviewer, confesses that he read One for the Books on his Kindle.

I have an old Kindle that my sister, Georgia, gave me. She has its twin. Mine is still in her name, so whatever book she buys also downloads to mine and vice versa. I bought Lee Child’s new book A Wanted Man and she also downloaded it. She did wait until I had finished; otherwise, we would have got confused. It would have automatically gone to the last page of whoever had used it last. Note to Lee Child: if I had bought the hardcover, I would have loaned it to her.

I love the Kindle for that reason and because I can hear about a book and have it in my hands in seconds. (Full disclosure: I have also published an e-book Never Tell: recovered memories of a daughter of the Knights Templar. See 115journals.com) So if I am snowed in or too sick to go out, if I can’t get to sleep, if I need to consult a book I don’t have, I can find it easily on Amazon and download it. It all goes on Georgia’s charge card!

Apparently, it is now possible to download e-books from our library, but I haven’t got there yet.

I can’t write notes on the back flyleaf of an e-book. I can’t even keep a record of page numbers -there are no page numbers, just % of book read – and ideas, but I am dealing with 5 year-old technology and I’m betting other tablet users can. It is annoying to go back and search for a reference as I had to do when writing the post “Jack Reacher: a long way from Virginia”. But it was not impossible and was no doubt instrumental in building me new neural pathways, so necessary in one of such advanced years.