Rosemary Sutcliff’s favourite instrument was the bagpipes. At my invitation, Steafan Hannigan, musician and composer, generously composed a fine lament for Rosemary Sutcliff shortly after her unexpected death in 1992. It was played at the memorial service for her in Novemeber 1992 at St James, Piccadilly— on some uelliann pipes.
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.’
There was an intriguing post late last year (2014) at The Economist’s Buttonwood Blog about Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth.
… Our leaders make promises to get elected but cannot fulfil them because of forces outside their control; this adds to voter cynicism.
… (For example) the hard power of military force. In recent weeks, we have seen Western governments struggle to come up with a strategy to contain ISIS, and forced to watch helplessly as hostages are beheaded. A decade of intervention (and billions of spending) leave Iraq and Afghanistan no more stable than before; Libya is less stable; there are regular atrocities in Nigeria; and so on.
The hard power of the West means that few countries would be foolish enough to put an army or navy into the field against it. But they don’t need to do that to cause massive disruption; the West is vulnerable at a million points because of its open model and worldwide network.
The example that springs to mind … is The Eagle of the Ninth, a rattling good yarn by Rosemary Sutcliff based on the story of the Roman ninth legion which (on some accounts) vanished in the wilds of Scotland. In the book and film (The Eagle), the soldiers are swallowed up in the mists, and picked off by local tribes. …
In other words, conquest of territory is one thing; holding that territory is quite another, in the face of the hostility of the local population. Perhaps the only “successful” approach is the ruthlessness of Genghis Khan—wiping out or enslaving the men and women—and that is rightly not an option.
So does all this matter to the global economy, or are the markets right to shrug their shoulders, and treat terrorism and rebellions as background noise? I think it does matter for a couple of reasons. For a start, economic globalisation depends on the different power blocs agreeing to co-operate in order to smooth the flow of trade and investment. But the example of Russia and Ukraine shows that co-operation can break down and Japan/China tensions may cause something similar.
Secondly, this powerlessness adds to voter dissatisfaction. I’ve dubbed this the “Starbucks problem” —people get their coffee exactly the way they want it, with soy milk, wet or dry etc—and they expect politics to be the same way. But you could also dub this the Hollywood problem. We are used to seeing Spiderman or Bruce Willis save the day and the enemies being soundly defeated. But real life is not like that.
Our elected leaders are dogged by Monday-morning quarterbacking as pundits and rivals declare that if only they had been tougher (or only if they had not been involved in the first place) said disaster would not have happened. If only we had bombed Syria in 2013, things would be better—maybe, but maybe ISIS would now be in charge in Damascus. Again, this voter dis-satisfaction may lead to electoral success for those who have simplistic solutions (blame the foreigners, blame the minorities at home) and this will only make matters worse. And then the markets will really have something to worry about.
Responding to the recently posted new ‘interview with Rosemary Sutcliff’, Helen writes:
1997 Newbery Honor Book children’s author Megan Whalen Turner (author of the historical fantasy series The Queen’s Thief) was a Rosemary Sutcliff fan. She writes about this in the afterword of her first novel, The Thief:
“…writes historical fiction the way Rosemary Sutcliff used to. If Sutcliff‘s name keeps appearing, it is because she [is] one of the authors who have influenced me the most.”
“If a writer has inspired me, I like to make a reference to their work inside my story …The Thief has an indirect quote from The Eagle of the Ninth. If you read it you will find an object there whose description I have copied as closely as I can for The Thief.”
This item—the Aquila family Dolphin Ring—features in many of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s Roman Britain books. Turner goes on to list The Eagle of the Ninth, Warrior Scarlet, The Shield Ring and Knight’s Fee on her list of favourite ‘old ‘books.
The Newbery Medal, named after the eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery, is awarded annually by the US Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. At the same time some runner-up books are called Newbery Honor Books.
This is the full list of ‘old’ children’s books that Megan Whalen Turner recommends—”This is just a quick list of some of my favourite old books”.
- Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne
- Puck of Pook’s Hill, Rudyard Kipling
- The Enchanted Castle, E, Nesbit
- The Treasure Seekers, E. Nesbit
- Half Magic, Edward Eager
- The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff
- Warrior Scarlett, Rosemary Sutcliff
- The Shield Ring, Rosemary Sutcliff
- Knight’s Fee, Rosemary Sutcliff
- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken
- Midnight is a Place, Joan Aiken
- Go Saddle the Sea, Joan Aiken
- Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
- Charmed Life, Diana Wynne Jones
- Drowned Ammet, Diana Wynne Jones
- The Children of Green Knowe, L. M. Boston
- The Secret of the Twelves, Pauline Clark
- The Crime of Martin Coverly, Leonard Wibberly
- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Time, Jane Louise Curry
- The Perilous Gard, Elizabeth Marie Pope
- The Sherwood Ring, Elizabeth Marie Pope
- The Dancing Bear, Peter Dickinson
- The Weathermonger, Peter Dickinson
- Heartsease, Peter Dickinson
- Playing Beatie Bow, Ruth Park
- The Princess and Curdie, MacDonald
- The Princess and the Goblins, MacDonald
- Mocassin Trail, Eloise Jarvis McGraw
- Little Britches, Ralph Moody
- Tom’s Midnight Garden, Phillipa Pearce
- Minnow on the Say, Phillipa Pearce