Hi everyone. I know I have been absent of late. I will catch up soon, honest. But I wanted to let you know that on 21st October I'll be hosting a Q&A here with the lovely Adrian Magson. He's dropped by before to talk about writing female characters and he's got a new Rocco crime thriller out on 19th October called Rocco and the Nightingale. If you've never read him before, you don't have to have read any of the previous Rocco novels to pick this one up, so please pre-order your copy or buy on the day. Release day sales mean so much to authors. If you have a question you'd like to put to Adrian, you can let me know via Twitter (@AuthorMGW) or Facebook and I'll try to slip it into the interview.
Saturday, 30 September 2017
Sunday, 24 September 2017
In Emma style, for those of you who don't know... Emma Newman is the voice behind the Rosy Hours audiobook. She's also a very successful author in her own right, and runs the Hugo award winning podcast, Tea & Jeopardy. In this special live edition from Worldcon, she interviews Game of Thrones creator, George R.R. Martin.
Monday, 18 September 2017
Oh, heck. I can't believe how long it's been since I last updated. I got swept away on the tide of life. So much has been happening.
We built a piano frame! The first ever in Rwanda.
All hail Samuel, modelling said piano frame above.
Suave. Sophisticated. Very gold.
The rest is causing a bit of brain ache, but we're getting there slowly.
My awesome cousin Tamsin came to visit with her partner, Guido. Last stop on a seven-month tour of Africa. You can follow their onward adventures in Dubai, Asia and India on their blog. We did lots of fun things, including drinking, partying and exploring a creepy abandoned funfair at midnight. Lots of sobering things too, like Kigali and Nyamata genocide memorials.
Mostly what's kept me away is another batch of textbook editing for Rwanda Education Board. I work through an education consultancy as a proofreader. There's a little team of us. It's hard work, but also quite a privilege to think that the words we help to polish will be read by school children up and down the entire country. That's fairly fabulous. I've been doing so much proofing lately: textbooks, children's books and two novels (not mine), one of which I'm due to start working on after I finish this contract.
I'll get back to blogging eventually but, after a heavy day of editing, all I'm really capable of is cracking a beer and watching movies.
Monday, 4 September 2017
I do apologise for going so quiet recently. It's because I've been making a lot of noise in other arenas. Namely as a piano tuner and repair lady. Busy sorting out my Kigali Keys project. I have done a small amount of writing, but that has rather taken over for now. That, and turning my back shed into a self-contained guest apartment. Lot of builders in the yard from early in the morning until dark. Off tile shopping tomorrow. Hard to get much done with that and a recent spate of internet issues. I have family visiting this weekend, and once the building's finished and things have returned to normal, I plan on returning to writing. Until then, I can mostly be found wandering around Rwanda dressed as a piano. What do you think - new uniform?
Tuesday, 15 August 2017
Very excited to read this article in the New Times today:
Activists are pushing for the recognition of sign language as one of the country’s official languages.
This would make it the fifth official language after Kinyarwanda, English, French and Swahili.
The development comes at a time when the country is awaiting a new sign language dictionary, which is expected to be ready later this year.
The dictionary, which would be the second of its kind for Rwanda, has been in the works since 2014.
I first came to Rwanda as a sign language researcher, and was involved with the inaugural dictionary right up to its publication in 2009. We travelled all around the country, documenting regional linguistic variations. It's really great to see it's being updated, and that the fight to recognise sign language is going strong.
Saturday, 12 August 2017
I haven't been making many posts recently as editing is keeping me busy. Just wanted to share this, though.
Possibly the world's first ever piano hammers made from recycled flipflops. Made for our Kigali Keys piano project thanks to our friends Ocean Sole in Kenya.
It'll be a couple of months before we can test them properly, but it's a really exciting experiment.
Monday, 7 August 2017
Extremely proud to be working as an editor for Perdua Publishers in Rwanda. Or, rather, extremely proud of how far my friend Firmin has come. We first met back in 2008 when he was running Kivu Writers, a project to get secondary school kids writing. Now he's helped to found a publishing house.
I've just taken charge of ten short stories for upper primary and lower secondary.
I'm excited to be involved in the project whilst doing what I enjoy.
Tuesday, 1 August 2017
Very happy to be reviewing this collection. It's a bit of a milestone. The first anthology of contemporary adult fiction I'm aware of in Rwanda. Published by Huza Press (pronounced hoo-sa - Facebook/Twitter). They hope to have it available in e-format by the end of the year.
Each year, Huza run a short story award for Rwandan writers, with a $1000 prize. The eight shortlisted stories from their 2015 competition have now been released as Versus. This is a really big deal. ImagineWe has been making strides into children's books with Oh Rwandan Child! and ABC's of Rwanda, but this is the first time contemporary adult fiction has been offered up, and it spans a wide range of genres including literary, fantasy and science fiction.
I was really excited to get my hands on a copy.
A couple of the stories that really stood out for me:
Today I Leave You by Jean-Claude Muhire (Twitter): I first met Jean a couple of years ago when I was country director of a youth and human rights program. He came to give a talk on LGBT rights, and he has been a passionate advocate of women's rights since. Many of my friends in the writing community became friends after I read their work (and gushed about it): Remittance Girl, Will Davis and the like. It's always really awkward when you start as friends first, then sit down to read somebody's work. You're always terrified by the thought: what if I don't like it? It's easy to write honest reviews about strangers, but it's always really hard when there's a personal connection behind the writing. Thankfully, I can honestly say, I really enjoyed this story. A harrowing, and at times poetic, exploration of domestic abuse written convincingly from a woman's perspective. I look forward to reading more of his work. He told me he is developing something at the moment, so watch this space.
Nomansland by Dayo Ntwari (Twitter): I've never met Dayo, but it's not for lack of trying. When I moved back to Rwanda and heard there was a science fiction writer here, I desperately wanted to read some of his work, but it's only now, with this compilation, that I've had the chance. I even turned up in the rain to a talk he was giving, only to realise the Facebook event was a year old and nobody had taken it down. He wasn't even in the country. Felt like a right plonker. Anyway. Finally got my hands on his work and it stood out a mile. A futuristic, apocalyptic war zone with shape shifting hyenas, spider-based hallucinogens and space castles. I bloody loved it. Very talented writer. Apparently he's working on a collection of short stories and a novel - absolutely one to watch on the scifi scene.
A Little Red Car at the Gusaba by Eva Gara: According to her bio, Eva is a retired teacher who began telling stories to her own children. This was a really touching one exploring childhood tragedy and how love has to battle to overcome family traditions. I just really enjoyed both her style and the flow of the story.
Back in 2007, when I did my VSO training before coming to Rwanda for the first time, there was a session on cultural adjustment. I remember we were shown a drawing of an iceberg, two-thirds submerged beneath the sea. As the little penguins on top, we were told that we would probably only ever come to understand a small amount of the cultures we were venturing into, and that there would always be a huge amount we would never understand.
That was until local authors started writing, and local publishers stared printing them.
At which point, that iceberg starts to rise rapidly out of the water.
I've been teaching a fiction course in Kigali, and was really intrigued to receive a piece from a local student recently which explored both lesbian and asexual characters. What often stands out about my students' work, and the work in this collection, is that issues are similar around the world: sexuality, love, death, violence, loss, happiness.
The fascinating gift that literature gives us is to see that, quite often, our thought processes as human beings are remarkably similar globally. What differs are our circumstances. Sometimes our laws, our religions and our social traditions force us to make different choices, or behave in a certain way, but, through literature, nothing is incomprehensible. Reading these stories has filled in a few blanks for me, and offered up some knowledge about local language and culture that I didn't know, but it's also affirmed that, thankfully - people are people. We can understand most things if we're willing to listen. Stories transcend any boundary.
That's why collections like Versus are so important.
|The Lovely Mr. Jean-Claude Muhire|
Saturday, 29 July 2017
Ah, those crazy Victorians (quite literally, what with lead in the pipes and arsenic in the wallpaper...)
Finally broke the 40,000 mark on Still Life. I would have gotten there sooner, only I took a break to write fairytales.
It's not all doom and gloom in the world of postmortem photography. Well, mostly it is, but I'm also exploring the early world of photography in general. It's quite incredible how something we take for granted today, which has become so point-and-click, took so much painstaking skill in the early days.
Thirty years after the invention of the Daguerreotype and collodion processes, we were still taking pictures in a similar way to the way we still use the internet today. It looks a bit flashier, runs a bit faster, but, essentially, we're yet to achieve the Polaroid or the digital camera.
It provides an interesting, and contrasting, insight into how technology moves forwards in spurts, interspersed with long periods of normalisation as existing technology catches on with the masses.
40-45k is roughly half a novel, but it's taking a lot of time as there's so much research required. Some days you can type a couple of lines then disappear into Wikipedia for an hour.
When I began this, I didn't really have much of an interest in photography. It was really the mortality and memento mori side of things that drew me. Since then, I've really come to appreciate just what went into creating early photographs, and what we might have lost with the invention of digital photography.
Friday, 28 July 2017
Recently finished reading an excellent debut novel, Antiartists, by author Ralph Pullins (website, Twitter):
What do you do when you don’t know who you are, when who you thought you were, who you thought you would become, is destroyed? This is the story of young man, Chris, seeking an identity after the seemingly catastrophic collapse of his life, seeking what it means to be a creator, and, ultimately, seeking a glimpse of hope and recovery after a rock-bottom event.
During his search, he comes to the conclusion that instead of creating beauty for an ugly world, he wants to destroy beautiful things. Because of his background and education in art, Chris knows of a secret: Michaelangelo’s David has a fatal flaw, a weakness that if struck correctly would shatter the marble into fragments. What will Chris and his newfound group of society’s rejects do with this knowledge?
Antiartists is both bleak and darkly comic, playful and serious. It is about broken people doing broken things, and about trying to find a reason to carry on when there seems no escape from the downward trajectory of one’s life. It is, in the end, about redemption and hope, about finding a way to keep living when everything seems lost, about finding a light in the darkness. It is the story of an outsider coming to terms with his differences. This story is ultimately about believing, once again, that it is worth carrying on - that even after seeing rock bottom, life can be beautiful again.
The book begins with the warning:
This is a story of broken people doing broken things. If there is anything in the pages that follow that seems like a good idea, please seek appropriate help.
I really enjoyed it. It played to my dark sense of humour and fascination at how far people will go in desperation. It reminded me a bit of DBC Pierre's Lights Out in Wonderland, in its exploration of addiction and self-destruction.
Very much looking forward to whatever he writes next.
Thursday, 27 July 2017
The Creative Industries Federation in the UK have released an interesting report into the state of the creative arts freelancing industry. It explores the experiences and obstacles faced by freelancers in the creative industries, including a lot of input from writers.
Wednesday, 26 July 2017
Another week, another questionable search history.
I've just returned to writing Still Life, a novel about the history of photography, and postmortem photography in particular. It's been an interesting journey, but you do have to be a little bit careful. Not everything is quite what it seems.
Whereas this gentleman in the centre is absolutely dead...
...the little girl at the top of this post isn't. Though the circumstances of Lewis Carroll taking a photograph of her sleeping may in themselves appear somewhat creepy, it's not an actual death photo.
And the slightly queasy feeling you might have in your stomach right now, is precisely why I've been looking into all of this. People do strange things, and it's interesting to try to work out why.
Unlike anything else I've ever researched, Victorian postmortem pics seem to have the greatest amount of misinformation. There were many photos I looked at and thought, these people don't look dead. It's been really nice to discover this Pinterest page, which lists the most commonly circulated pictures which are actually either forgeries, modern photos or people who were alive. I've seen a lot of them on postmortem sites.
There's also a helpful website about Victorian postmortem photos.
Some of the telltale signs it's not a postmortem photo:
- The subject is slightly blurry or soft-focused, especially in relation to the furniture around them. When photography was first invented, exposure times could take over a minute. It's quite hard to sit absolutely still for that length of time, and any movement would result in blurring. The image of a truly dead person is usually very sharp compared to anyone living in the photo.
- Because of the need to remain very still during exposure, stands were often employed: headrests for sitting poses and taller poles for standing. This was common in living photography and not to prop up a body, which was usually lying down.
- Closed eyes don't automatically mean dead. Pretending to sleep was a popular pose.
- Look at the clothes of the people in the picture. Mourning traditions were strict in Victorian society. If they're not dressed in black and wearing mourning clothes, the person they're posing with probably isn't dead.
It's an interesting piece of history. We've certainly got better at making people look more lifelike in death, even if we're taking fewer photos. Though mobile phones are seeing a resurgence in postmortem photographs.
Tuesday, 25 July 2017
Thursday, 20 July 2017
Had a lovely day editing in the CasaKeza garden with cheesecake and too much coffee. Then came home to continue, but ended up sitting through a four-hour blackout. Thank goodness for Paperwhite's screen lighting. Reading a stunning book at the moment. Looking forward to posting the review soon.
These are the three novellas: Wolfish, Red & White and Skin.
"Just one copy?" I said to the guy at Right Click as I waited for it to print out.
"Yes. It's almost four hundred pages."
Going to take me a few days to get through this, in between editing jobs for other people (one of which I get paid in cat food for, so it's a top priority for the kitties). I think I probably am going back to finish off Still Life after this. Then on to something slightly different. Feels good to be creating again.
Sunday, 16 July 2017
Project Common Voice is a really interesting idea by Mozilla (the guys who brought you Firefox).
Voice is natural, voice is human. That’s why we’re fascinated with creating usable voice technology for our machines. But most of that technology is locked up in a few big corporations and isn’t available to the majority of developers. We think that stifles innovation so we’re launching Project Common Voice, a project to help make voice recognition open to everyone. Now you can donate your voice to help us build an open-source voice recognition engine that anyone can use to make innovative apps for devices and the web.
Read a sentence to help our machine learn how real people speak. Check its work to help it improve. It’s that simple.
Saturday, 15 July 2017
Friday, 14 July 2017
Yes, we writers live a sedentary life. But hope shines eternal...
According to LiveStrong, citing Harvard Health Publications, whilst typing you burn the following calories in a thirty minute period:
- 125lb/9st - 41 calories
- 155lb/11st - 51 calories
- 185lb/13st - 61 calories
If you're wondering how many calories typing burns for your specific height, weight and age, there's also an online calculator.
Thursday, 13 July 2017
Just finished reading the latest anthology, Haunted Futures, from my publisher Ghostwoods. It got a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
You can't see far, and the footing is uncertain at best. Ghosts and phantoms stalk the haze around you, and their chittering will lead you astray. There are no maps to this territory, but sometimes a brave soul strides out ahead into the haunted shadows. Those who return to the campfire of the now often bear tales of the visions seared into their minds while they were out there, in the mists.
We have scoured the earth for these most daring of travelers the ones who have ventured out into the future and returned wraith-laden. Fifteen of them agreed to share their stories. Their enthralling accounts will seize you, and you might find it difficult to fight free of them afterwards, but any risks are overshadowed by the dazzling wonders that await. So muster your courage, and dive into the pages. Haunted Futures of all kinds await you, with open arms and suspiciously toothy smiles.
A collection that spans a huge breadth of styles and concepts.
A couple that really stood out for me:
Greenwood Green by John Reppion: This one wins the award for 'creepy-arsed shit.' Extremely atmospheric. A young gardener helping to keep the graves trimmed at a long-forgotten cemetery, goes in search of an abandoned railway house which appears as 'a great cocked hat amid the mouldering bricks and twisted iron rib-work; the mortal remains of some gargantuan witch from a Brothers Grimm nightmare.' It's got everything: bumps in the night, disappearing pathways and even a scarecrow. What more could you want? Stayed up late at night to finish it, then couldn't sleep. A place straight out of Hookland.
Spy Drug by Greg Stolze: I'm going to be honest. I can be a bit of a skim-reader with anthologies. I take some convincing into a story, and sci-fi more than most. When I started this one, I was reluctant. It's based around a drug which gives you super-sleuth capabilities: the ability to lie, know when others are, and piece together clues you would usually miss. You get the gist pretty quickly, and I wasn't wholeheartedly with it - seemed a bit far-fetched (said the woman who writes about shamanic dreamworlds, ayahuasca and blood-lusting conjurers). I'm not sure what switched. Possibly just Stolze's style pulling me in but, by the end, this was the story I most wished there was more of. The implications caught up with me and he left it on an annoying cliffhanger. What if the drug were tainted? What if you picked up on all the clues, but jumped to all the wrong conclusions? What then? Highly entertaining.
Mercury Teardrops by Jeff Noon: Purely for his writing style. It's unusual and deliciously poetic. Plus it broached a subject I do find particularly enticing: the idea that we will soon be integrating technology with our bodies. Enhancing our physical capabilities. Really loved the descriptive and gave the far future a really human edge.
A really interesting read, and I loved Alex Acks's assertion that 'There are no haunted places. Only haunted people.'
Wednesday, 12 July 2017
After the sad death of Greg Trooper earlier this year, my lovely friend Suki has set up Little Sister Music to promote Americana and Roots music in South East Wales. Tickets for their inaugural gig, Jess Klein & Mike June, are on sale for October. It's a work of passion, so please give all the support you can.
Sunday, 9 July 2017
Tried a little experiment. Stopped reading the news for a week. Only allowed myself to read the Science & Environment sections. Wanted to see if it had an effect on how I felt about the world. I usually get my news through RT and BBC, in that order. I don't have a telly, so I just read it online.
Years ago, when it was much harder to get online, I went for long periods without any international news. I really liked that. Most of the stuff that is news here in Rwanda and East Africa never makes it into the Western-dominated media, and most of what happens over there doesn't affect life here. It had to be something either really important or interesting for someone to come up and tell you about it, like when Michael Jackson died. It gave news a sense of value, that someone had taken time out of their day to mention it.
Only reading the science articles has been interesting. Beyond the information about climate change and pollution, there's a lot more hope in the world than you expect. A lot of medical advances, space exploration and new things being found. Certainly gave me fodder for meaningful conversations.
The weird thing is, I have gone back to reading news again. Not for any reason other than I enjoyed the gossip. It really brought into contrast how much of a gossip column the BBC has become - every article is sensationalist: rape, murder, politics, but not for any useful political analysis, just who rolled their eyes at whom. Even a student stealing a traffic cone made most-read news one week. Though I wince constantly that the Beeb, in their desperation to create 24/7 rolling news, has surpassed The Grauniad's reputation for spelling errors.
It's been an interesting experiment, but I've discovered I'm not immune to tittle-tattle.
Thursday, 6 July 2017
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Liking these guys' style:
For Tunglið, how you publish is as important as what you publish. Named after the Icelandic word for the moon, the tiny publisher prints its books in batches of 69 on the night of a full moon. So far, so weird. But keen readers must also buy their books that same night, as the publisher burns all unsold copies.
Monday, 19 June 2017
Friday, 16 June 2017
Teaching again tonight, so thought I'd share another little introductory unit on the importance of character perspective when starting your story. I've covered a bit about 1st person v. 3rd person before, but this gives you a bit more info, and there's a quick test at the end.
Thursday, 15 June 2017
And for my next trick...
Just finished my 5,000 for the day. Submitted Red & White (Snow White & Rose Red) to Ghostwoods last night, now cracking on with (Donkey)Skin / Peau d'Âne. Sort of a forerunner of Cinderella, but with more incest and dead animals. Urm... it's not as bad as that sounds.
Feeling cheerful. My writing's been a bit hit and miss this year due to other projects, so it's nice to know I'll have achieved something solid. The three stories together should make a decent-sized collection, and three stand alone stories with interweaving themes for those reading closely.
Unfortunately, it has given me pause for thought over the other novel I was writing, Still Life. I still think it's a good idea, and it's half written already, but I've stumbled upon something else which looks like an even better idea.
Keeping it under my hat for now. I'll see how I feel once Skin is submitted.
It's been interesting writing multiple stories these past few months, but I think one book at a time might be the way to go. It's nice to have another story to write when you're getting annoyed with the one you're looking at, but if you get annoyed with both, that's twice as much reason to goof off.
On with the donkey story!
Wednesday, 14 June 2017
Huh. Just after we crack the meaning of the Voynich Manuscript, a new mystery. Writing may be a few thousand years older than first thought:
Scientists argue that the Tartaria tablets are evidence of a writing system that predates the one in Ancient Sumer by at least some 2,000 years. They have dubbed it as the Old European Scrip or the Danube Script.
The so-called Tartaria Tablets are three artifacts recovered in 1961 from a Neolithic site in Tartaria, Romania. Since their discovery, the three enigmatic tablets have created confusion and excitement among archaeologists.
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Traumatic couple of days. One of my three kittens (technically now cats), failed to turn up for breakfast. Occasionally one is a few minutes late, but nothing keeps these guys away from food. More unusual, it was Sophie, who is a complete cuddle lump of a house bunny.
Naturally, I feared the worst. I printed missing posters and canvased the neighbours. I scoured the ditches and bushes along the road. I put up a flyer in the local café.
Before bed last night, I poured myself the ultimate comfort drink. African Tea is basically hot milk with spices. Sometimes people show it a teabag, but so swiftly it's hard to tell. Before bed, I make it like so:
- Cup of milk
- Dash of cardamom
- Dash of nutmeg
- Dash of cinnamon
- Heaped teaspoon of honey
Stir over heat until warm.
You can add ginger, but I don't before bedtime.
Anyway, I've noticed over the years that this drink is guaranteed to get me a good night's sleep, but also bestows crazy dreams. I used to dream a lot. Multi-colour surround sound. Now, not so much. But add a dash of nutmeg and I'm trippy till the sun comes up.
I had this really powerful dream that all three kittens were with me and I was giving Sophie an extra big cuddle.
When I woke, I assumed it was 'goodbye.'
Opened the back door and all three kittens tumbled in!
I'm currently typing this in my room, where Sophie has been allowed special bedroom privileges (usually reserved for rainy days). She's crawled under my quilt and is fast asleep. The other two are out, but she's staying home tonight with plenty of food and a comfortable couch. The poor love turned up with her eye swollen half shut, her head shaking, a squeak of pain and a flat nose. I'm completely mystified what happened to her. Will get the vet to come check her over. Just extremely glad to have her home.
Saturday, 10 June 2017
Just finished Red & White, first draft. Came in just shy of 29,000. That's quite a bit shorter than I was expecting. Maybe I can add a bit in the edit, but as it's one of three and the first is around 50,000 that's okay. Each of the stories stands alone, but there's a running theme throughout.
Will edit this week and see what Ghostwoods says.
I used to love editing, but I'm looking forward to starting the next one more than editing this one. I was listening to Tea & Jeopardy the other day. Emma was interviewing Robin Hobb, who talked about the stories you have yet to tell always being more interesting than the one you're working on. I can relate to that. The next idea is always sparkly, whilst the current one reminds you of the inadequacies of language in manifesting that brilliance.
Still, it's always better to have more ideas than not enough of them.
Friday, 9 June 2017
Watched a lovely sunrise over Kigali this morning as the election results for the UK rolled in. We're an hour ahead here. I made it to 7 a.m. and woke feeling very content. I'm a big Jeremy fan and it's wonderful to see the Labour gains. As one commentator pointed out, many of the Labour MPs who were strongly critical of Corbyn, tonight owe their seats to him. Very proud of all the young people of the UK who turned out to vote. They really did make a huge difference. Whatever happens now it's deeply satisfying to see a strong, hopefully more united, opposition. Politics worth waking up for.
Thursday, 8 June 2017
2/3 at 20k = 50/50²
Little bit of author algebra.
Novella two of three is at 20,000, which is halfway through the book and halfway through the overall project.
Long story short, the re-adulting of Riding Hood got a nod of approval from Ghostwoods and a request for a second darkling tale. So, I decided to makeover Snow White and Rose Red, but couldn't resist the idea of a trilogy, as the first is at around 50k, but the Roses are only likely to make it to around 40k. So, I've picked Donkeyskin (Peau d'Âne) as the final addition, and the one yet to begin.
The potential here is to release each as an e-book, culminating in a paperback compilation at the end.
It's just an idea at the moment, but a nice one.
The thing is, I haven't done any writing for weeks. I've been so wrapped up in other things, mostly getting my piano project off the ground.
I finally got back to it yesterday and I'm making up for lost time.
I've put Still Life on hold and committed myself entirely to these three fairytales. In two days I've written 10,000 words. Could never have done that with something that required research. It's such a freeflow - a lot of fun to write.
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
I've just returned from a pirate adventure.
I've spoken before about how I tend to do things topsy-turvey and read books after watching films. Like the film tells you whether you like the story, then the book lets you in on all the hidden secrets of what really happened.
Well, this time it was TV. I've been an avid follower of Black Sails. Though I must admit, I found the final run hard to finish. It had the air of a series that knew it'd been cancelled but wanted to make a poignant point about freedom, the will of mankind, the threat of civilisation - all that.
I was a bit annoyed as it took me the first two series to decide that it was brilliant, then one excellent series, then a soggy farewell.
Still, I knew it was a prequel to Treasure Island. I'd had a Ladybird copy on my bookshelves all my childhood but never opened it. Thought now was the time.
Black Sails married together fictional characters from Treasure Island alongside real pirates throughout history, such as Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, (exceedingly briefly) Mary/Mark Read, Blackbeard and Charles Vane. But the main story revolves around the relationship between Captain Flint and Long John Silver. In Treasure Island, Silver names his parrot Flint after a supposedly notorious dead pirate who everyone else was terrified of, except Silver.
I enjoyed Black Sails for what it was, but there were definitely some departures from the book, in which Israel Hands had originally been a gunner for Flint, Silver's leg was amputated above the knee (possibly theatrically quite hard to imitate), and both Long John and Billy Bones of Treasure Island appear much rougher and altogether seaward than the characters in Black Sails. Which isn't to say Black Sails wasn't good, but if you're a fan of Treasure Island, you might be scratching your head over the casting.
It was nice to know that Silver and Madi remained together, though she wasn't mentioned by name in the book.
I really enjoyed the story. I can definitely see how Long John Silver became such an iconic figure in literary history, and the strong influence the book had on every pirate story written since, with the 'shiver my timbers,' 'pieces of eight,' 'Huzah!', its parrots, black spots and buried treasure.
Apart from a slightly drawn-out voyage in a coracle, it was swashbuckling adventure from beginning to end, with a few plot twists I didn't see coming.
There were some nice lines, including wicked, old, wild sea-songs, eyes gleaming like a crumb of glass, cleansing a blood-stained knife the while upon a wisp of grass, a mast of goodish bigness, and a little cloud of pirates leaping from the woods.
In between Silver's catchphrase of telling everyone they could 'lay to that,' I also learnt that English gypsies carried around little goatskin tents, and that when you felt blue, you 'fell in the blues.' Oh, and perhaps the cutest word of all, a canikin (small can).
The language is of its time, written by Robert Louis Stevenson (as Captain George North) from 1881-1882 about the mid-1700s, but the adventure remains fresh.
The language is of its time, written by Robert Louis Stevenson (as Captain George North) from 1881-1882 about the mid-1700s, but the adventure remains fresh.