Rosemary Sutcliff (b. 1920; d. 1992) was the subject of many magazine profiles. But sadly she is no longer alive to create a ‘This much I know’ feature in The Observer newspaper’s magazine. But this much she did know—revealed within her answers to Roy Plomley on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs.
- A spinal carriage is like a coffin.
- Chiefly I had books read to me, which is a thing I love to this day.
- I was never allowed to bring friends home.
- Miniature painting is cramping.
- I feel most at home in Roman Britain.
- I think I do believe in reincarnation.
- I can only create from the top of my head, down my right arm, and out of the point of my pen.
- I start with an idea; never a plot.
- I do not write to a standard length.
- I take great pains that details should be right.
- I don’t think I’m a particularly masculine kind of woman.
- I don’t know whose decision it was not to marry.
For more, see fuller post here
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.’
I am trying to collect here in the comments (and via Twitter @rsutcliff) people’s views about which is Rosemary Sutcliff’s best book, and why….
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature has an entry on historical novelist and writer of literature for children, Rosemary Sutcliff. It comments on her use of language:
Critics of Sutcliff’s work sometimes comment on its difficulty both in terms of the language she employs and in terms of the historical depth her novels embrace. But for Sutcliff herself, these sorts of evaluations of her writing were welcomed as compliments. She prided herself on never writing down to her readers, expecting them instead to be enticed into enjoying a compelling and demanding tale by the pageantry of history and the warm humanity of people in every era. She carefully creates dialogue in her novels that recollects the speech of a bygone era without falling into what she termed “gadzookery.”
- Source: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Ed. Jack Zipes. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Rosemary Sutcliff spoke to a ‘Children’s Literature New England’ conference in 1989, in Cambridge (UK). Her contribution was entitled ‘History and Time’. At one point she told an anecdote to indicate that she saw her task as a historical novelist to be to breathe life into the bare bones of the accounts of academic historians and teachers.
Many years ago, when I was sure of myself as only someone scarcely out of their apprenticeship can be, I was talking to an audience of school teachers in the Midlands that are sodden and unkind, when a County Inspector of Education stood up and asked what was my justification for writing historical novels, which he clearly considered a bastard form, instead of leaving the job to legitimate historians who knew what they were talking about. I looked him straight in the eye and said: “Historians and teachers, you and your kind, can produce the bare bones, all in their right order, but still bare bones. I and my kind can breathe life into them. And history is not bare bones alone, but a living process.” Looking back I’m rather shaken at my hardihood, but I still think I was right.
- Source: Historical Fiction for Children: Capturing the Past by Fiona M. Collins, Judith Graham. Routledge (2013). p 112