Displaying items by tag: medieval

Thank you to Diane Watt of the University of Surrey, for her interview about 'Vixen' - featured in the Women's Literary Culture blog.

You can read the blog here – or click on the link below.

Telling the truth and telling it slant: writing Vixen

Rosie Garland won the Mslexia Novel competition in 2012 and her debut novel The Palace of Curiosities was published in March 2013 by HarperCollins. Her second novel, Vixen, published in 2014, is set in the plague year of 1349. In this post, Rosie writes about writing a novel set in the medieval past.

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I am fascinated by times when the world is on the cusp of massive change, specifically that moment before those changes take place. I view it rather like an indrawn breath, held and not released. Vixen is set during one such period of upheaval: 1349, the year the Black Death struck England. I wanted to capture that sense of a deadly force and its inexorable advance. In an isolated village deep in a forest in the south west of England, the arrival of a mysterious young woman – the Vixen – turns the lives of the villagers upside down. Amongst other things, the novel is about love found in unexpected places; the impossibility of escape if you won't accept you are in a prison; how people refuse to see what's right in front of them and the consequences of that refusal.

These are themes with personal resonance.

A very early memory is of my grandmother reading fairy stories. Magical elsewheres and elsewhens that transported me far away from childhood rural England. Which was, and is, a delightful place to be unless you are in any way different. This wasn't restricted to sexuality – anything that wasn't marriage and 2.4 children (preferably with one on its way by the age of 16) was regarded as deeply suspect. Suckled on the boundless possibilities of fairy tales, I grew up with a passion for medieval history, possibly because it too was elsewhere, other, and I yearned to get away. As a child, the Middle Ages was 'The Black Shield of Falworth'on Sunday afternoon TV. In glorious Technicolor Cinemascope, it boasted bleached-blonde damsels in crimson lipstick, knights in neatly-ironed satin tabards and an awful lot of thwarting and jousting and choreographed sword fights. This was a Middle Ages where Tony Curtis proclaimed 'yonda stands da cassel of my fadda' in his salty New York accent (sadly apocryphal).

I learned this wasn't the full story. Nurtured by inspiring teachers who introduced me to Chaucer, I found a perfect home at the University of Leeds with its specialism in Old and Medieval English. I fell in love with the cadence of Anglo-Saxon poetry, a dance of language that feels fresh despite being 1000 years old. Ever seeking the story, my undergraduate dissertation explored the parallels between Saints' Lives and fairy tales (dear old Vladimir Propp & structural analysis). My MA was in Medieval Studies – not Creative Writing. My dissertation rejoiced in the title 'The Apocryphal Elements in the Benedictional of St Aethelwold', and combined art, politics, social history, faith and linguistics. I'm sure it sounds frightfully old hat, but in the early 1980s postgraduate study that drew together separate subjects was unusual. To my mind, the MS wasn't produced in a vacuum, so it seemed nonsensical to study it in one. (As a sidebar, I was offered a doctoral scholarship to study the Lives of the Virgin Martyrs, but life has its odd bifurcations and I chose the path of singing in Goth band The March Violets).

However much I like to keep up with current research, I'm clear that my novels are not academic publications. Nor should they be. The two have different purposes, goals and styles. History on its own is not a story, let alone one that compels the reader to turn the page. One of the first questions I'm asked at book signings is how I do my research, as if that's all that's needed. My attitude is that it's vital, but like high-fat food, best taken in moderation. Of course, I need to research the period assiduously. However, it's essential to know when to stop. I am driven to distraction by novels in which the narrative comes to a juddering halt whilst the author goes off on a tangent about Babylonian cylinder seals (a prime example is Dan Brown. If you think I'm joking, check out).

The way I see it, the art of good research is when the reader barely notices its presence, only that everything feels right. Personally, I don't care if an arrow is fletched with swan feather, eagle feather or magpie feather. I want to know who is shooting it, who dies, and why I should give a monkeys. A great example of a novel in which the history – pungent, gritty, humorous and ghastly – serves the story and characters rather than the other way round is Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. It had a profound influence on how I approach the writing of my own novels.

Dammit, Jim, I'm a storyteller, not a historian.

I don't write the past because I regard it as quaint, safe and charming. When I encounter fictionalisations that portray people from 'back then' as different and one-dimensional (tropes of the simple peasant, saintly maiden, evil sheriff, chivalric knight etc), I switch off. I am at odds with the saw 'the past is another country; they do things differently there' (LP Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953). My personal conviction is that we haven't changed much; that we share the same motivations. Love tastes like love and hatred like hatred, whatever era.

I don't see myself as a historical writer, specifically. Not that I've a problem with the label – I've been called worse. But it's where my characters and their narratives take me and in it I find a freedom to plunge into fictional voices. I link this to Emily Dickinson's 'Tell all the truth but tell it slant' and Michael Ondaatje's assertion that one can be 'more honest when inventing, more truthful when dreaming' (Interview with Eleanor Wachtel, June 1994, Essays on Canadian Writing; Issue 53). The very phrase 'historical fiction' is something of an oxymoron; a dislocation of truth (history) and lies (fiction). I relish the dance of that tension.

Taking a step back in time can make it easier to see the trees, so to speak. Historical settings provide a sense of distance, which can be particularly handy when tackling difficult subjects. These are what motivate me. In addition to Plague deaths, Vixen also touches on domestic violence, misogyny, hatred of the outsider, child abuse, the urgency of brief lives and how fear can make monsters of good men. I've found that historical settings can act as a buffer between the reader and the grimness, as well as providing windows through which narrative light can shine. Light is as vital as darkness.

I have a penchant for sneaking things in beneath the radar. One of Vixen's themes is how two women find each other. Anne is a young villager whose expectations run to husband, children and no further. Through her relationship with the Vixen she discovers love can transcend gender. However, they do not refer to themselves as gay, let alone queer (if there's one thing I find more irritating than cod-medieval romps full of corsets and yea forsooths, it's modern people in wimples).

In 14th century Europe, women's sexuality was of such little importance there was no word for lesbian. The idea that women might have sex with other women was largely incomprehensible, for the simple reason that sex was dependent upon the presence of a penis. The fulminations of the church were almost entirely directed at men who practised sodomy ( (but see Judith C. Brown, Immodest Acts, OUP 1986; and The Lesbian Premodern, edited by Noreen Giffney, Michelle Sauer and Diane Watt, Palgrave, 2011). Whatever else fenced them in, Anne and the Vixen are not hemmed in by vocabulary.

One of the many pleasures of historical fiction is the opportunity to give a voice to those who don't make it into the history books. A motif running through all my writing is that of the outsider; someone who won't (or can't) squeeze into the one-size-fits-all templates on offer and the friction that occurs when they try. It explains my choice of first person present tense for Anne and the Vixen. I wanted them to speak for themselves, rather than endure the ventriloquising that comes with third-person.

At heart, I'm interested in creating characters who are greedy, curious, yearning, silly, striving, hopeful, cantankerous, nurturing, disobedient, sneaky and self-serving. Characters with unrequited sexual desires because of guilt, self-denial, or fear of social condemnation. In short, characters who live and breathe and change; and as they change their desires change and develop too.
Rosie Garland

Posted on June 6, 2016

Click for Women's Literary Culture Blog

Published in News
Diva magazine has given 'Vixen' a great review!

'A compelling story about love and devotion set against the backdrop of superstition, pestilence and hardship that dominate the muddy 14th century landscape. Poetic, surprising and ultimately deeply moving, Vixen will have you hooked faster than it takes to drink a jug of ale and – unlike ale – it will stay with you long after you've reached the final page.'

Diva august 2014

Published in News
Sunday, 10 May 2015 14:44

4.6.2015 - Ebb & Flo bookshop, Chorley

ebb and flo bookshop
12 Gillibrand St,
Chorley
PR7 2EJ
Tickets available from the bookshop or Eventbrite (link below)
£5 (glass of wine included and £2 redeemable against the book).

Rosie Garland – reading from Vixen, talking about writing and answering questions!
Arrive from 7pm for a 7.30pm start.

Click link to buy tickets from Eventbrite

 

Published in Gig List
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 10:39

22.7.2014 - VIXEN BOOK LAUNCH - Liverpool

Rosie Garland - author of 'The Palace of Curiosities' - will be launching her brand new novel 'Vixen' here at News from Nowhere.

News From Nowhere,
96 Bold Street,
Liverpool L1 4HY
Phone on 0151 708 7270
Time – 7pm
This is a free event - all welcome!

Rosie is an eclectic writer and performer, ranging from singing in Goth band The March Violets through touring with the Subversive Stitch exhibition in the 90s, to her current incarnation as cabaret chanteuse, incomparable compere and electrifying poet. She has published five solo collections of poetry and her debut novel, The Palace of Curiosities won Book of the Year in the Co-op Respect Awards 2013 and was long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize.

DEVON, 1349
In Brauntone, where seagulls screech across the fields and the wind has a mind to change, Father Thomas arrives as the new priest. Determined to impress his congregation, he quells fears of the coming pestilence with promises of protection.
For Anne, the priest's arrival is an opportunity. Convinced a grand fate awaits, she moves in as Thomas's housekeeper, though hopeful of more. But his home is a place without love or kindness.
Meanwhile, a strange mute Maid is dancing with Death through the forest. She is discovered, washed up in the marshes, and taken in by Anne. Their friendship is to give Anne the chance of a happiness she thought she'd never know.
But soon the plague strikes Brauntone, spreading panic. And as the villagers' fear turns to anger, Thomas must sacrifice anything to restore their faith in him.

Click to go to News From Nowhere site

Published in Gig List
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 10:26

18.7.2014 - Latitude Festival

Latitude Festival
Time – 6.15pm
The Shed of Stories
Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk

THE SHED OF STORIES
Tucked away in the Faraway Forest, The Shed of Stories will house storytellers from all walks of life, lighting the imagination and weaving the audience into their tales.

Click to go to Shed of Stories link

Published in Gig List
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 10:21

17.7.2014 - VIXEN BOOK LAUNCH - London

Announcing the London launch of Rosie Garland's second novel, Vixen.
Along with Sarah Waters we at Gay's the Word are massive fans of Rosie Garland's beautiful writing and are incredibly happy to be hosting this publication day launch event for her second novel, Vixen.

Event entry £2, payable on the door. Complimentary refreshments. Please RSVP on Facebook.
Click here for Facebook event page

66 Marchmont Street,
London WC1N 1AB

The Novel:

It is 1349.

In Brauntone, where seagulls screech across the fields and the wind has a mind to change, Father Thomas arrives as the new priest. Determined to impress his congregation, he quells fears of the coming pestilence with promises of protection.

For Anne, the priest's arrival is an opportunity. Convinced a grand fate awaits, she moves in as Thomas's housekeeper, though hopeful of more. But his home is a place without love or kindness.

Meanwhile, a strange mute Maid is dancing with Death through the forest. She is discovered, washed up in the marshes, and taken in by Anne. Their friendship is to give Anne the chance of a happiness she thought she'd never know.

But soon the plague strikes Brauntone, spreading panic. And as the villagers' fear turns to anger, Thomas must sacrifice anything to restore their faith in him.

Praise for Rosie Garland's debut novel, The Palace of Curiosities

'Garland's lush prose is always a pleasure' Guardian
'An alternately brutal and beautiful story about love and belonging' Metro

'Bewitching' Good Housekeeping

'A jewel-box of a novel ... Garland is a real literary talent' Sarah Waters

'Reminds me of Angela Carter' Jenni Murray

'Fabulously strange historical debut... sheer, demented fun' Suzi Feay

Click for Gay's The Word website

Published in Gig List
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 10:10

16.7.2014 - VIXEN BOOK LAUNCH - Manchester

Announcing the Manchester launch of Rosie Garland's second novel, Vixen.
The Portico Library is hosting this PRE-publication day launch event. Bookshop provided by the lovely folk at Chorlton Bookshop – copies available a day before publication!

Contact the Portico Library for tickets 0161 236 6785
www.theportico.org.uk
Price tbc

The Novel:

It is 1349.

In Brauntone, where seagulls screech across the fields and the wind has a mind to change, Father Thomas arrives as the new priest. Determined to impress his congregation, he quells fears of the coming pestilence with promises of protection.

For Anne, the priest's arrival is an opportunity. Convinced a grand fate awaits, she moves in as Thomas's housekeeper, though hopeful of more. But his home is a place without love or kindness.

Meanwhile, a strange mute Maid is dancing with Death through the forest. She is discovered, washed up in the marshes, and taken in by Anne. Their friendship is to give Anne the chance of a happiness she thought she'd never know.

But soon the plague strikes Brauntone, spreading panic. And as the villagers' fear turns to anger, Thomas must sacrifice anything to restore their faith in him.

Praise for Rosie Garland's debut novel, The Palace of Curiosities

'Garland's lush prose is always a pleasure' Guardian
'An alternately brutal and beautiful story about love and belonging' Metro

'Bewitching' Good Housekeeping

'A jewel-box of a novel ... Garland is a real literary talent' Sarah Waters

'Reminds me of Angela Carter' Jenni Murray

'Fabulously strange historical debut... sheer, demented fun' Suzi Feay

Click link to go to The Portico Library events page

 

 

 

Published in Gig List
Saturday, 27 September 2014 15:06

Vixen

Rosie Garland's extraordinary tale is a story of superstition and devotion in the time of the Black Death and will bewitch both new readers and fans of her much-loved debut, The Palace of Curiosities. It was nominated for the Green Carnation Prize, 2014.

'Vixen' is a fine example of how to marry a stunning cover to a book's contents. The cover features original artwork by Lindsay Carr http://www.littlerobot.org.uk/ and was designed by Alexandra Allden at Borough Press.

About the novel - Vixen

Devon, 1349. In Brauntone, where seagulls screech across the fields and the wind has a mind to change, Father Thomas arrives as the new priest. Determined to impress his congregation, he quells fears of the coming pestilence with promises of protection.
For Anne, the priest's arrival is an opportunity that at sixteen, she feels all too ready for. Convinced a grand fate awaits, she moves in as Thomas's housekeeper, though hopeful of something more. But his home is a place without love or kindness. So when a strange, mute Maid is discovered, washed up in the marshes, and taken in, Anne is grateful for the company. Their friendship is to give Anne the chance of a happiness she thought she'd never know.
But soon the plague strikes Brauntone, spreading panic. And as the villagers' fear turns to anger, Thomas must sacrifice anything to restore their faith in him.


Reviews

A great review in Diva magazine (August 2014)
"Poetic, surprising and ultimately deeply moving, Vixen will have you hooked faster than it takes to drink a jug of ale and - unlike ale - it will stay with you long after you've reached the final page."

Praise for The Palace of Curiosities:
'Garland's lush prose is always a pleasure' - The Guardian
'An alternately brutal and beautiful story about love and belonging in a vividly conveyed underworld, rich in carny phantasmagoria and lyrical romance' METRO
'Bewitching' Good Housekeeping
'A jewel-box of a novel ... Garland is a real literary talent: definitely an author to watch' Sarah Waters
'Reminds me of Angela Carter' Jenni Murray
"Fabulously strange historical debut... a romp filled with sheer, demented fun." Suzi Feay

Link to order Vixen -
https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780007492800/vixen

Published in Novels

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