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Monday, 28 January 2008

Hard as Flint

Flint Castle was built by the Hammer of the Scots, Edward I, as part of his 'ring of steel' of fortresses designed to subdue the rebellious Welsh. Construction began c.1277 and took seven years. The King's master builder, James of St George, took a hand in the later stages of the design. Sadly, like so many other castles during the Civil War, Flint was 'slighted' by Cromwell's forces to render it useless for defence. But the eyeless towers which gaze out to sea still have an air of solitary grandeur.
Find out more in my Footsteps feature for the February issue of BBC History magazine.
Photo © Nigel Wilkes.

Friday, 25 January 2008

At last!

My book is out at last, and available to order! I hope you enjoy reading Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives as much as I've enjoyed researching it. Lancashire folk, both young and old, displayed true grit and courage as they bore the brunt of some of the biggest social changes in British history.
Inside you'll find stories of youngsters such as seven year old Hellin, working long hours for his block printer father; Lump Lad, a waggoner in the coal pits; and James Salisbury, who died from overwork. But there are happier stories, too, such as cotton worker Jane L., a spirited mill lass who treated herself to nice clothes and made bonnets in her spare time.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Good News!

I had an email from my editor today to say Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives has gone to press at last! A precise publication date hasn't yet been fixed, but at least things are moving now.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Andrew Davies and Jane Austen

Is it a truth universally acknowledged that a Jane Austen novel looking for a TV script must be in want of an Andrew Davies treatment?
Persuasion (2007, ITV1) was so relentlessly downbeat, I found myself hoping one of the carriages which kept hurtling towards Anne Elliot would put the poor girl out of her misery. My teenage daughter commented it was the Brontë version of Jane Austen! Half of Jane's sparkling dialogue, and vast tracts of the storyline, were jettisoned at sea somewhere off Lyme Regis, now seemingly lashed by a perpetual hurricane. I couldn't help wondering if Davies had actually read the book.

So it was with feelings of trepidation that I finally sat down and caught up with the new BBC version of Sense & Sensibility last night. My premonition of doom was fully justified. This lacklustre offering was a disappointment; many viewers new to Austen's work were more likely to reach for the remote control rather than stick it out to the end. The screenplay was very pretty to watch, but Davies has once again seen fit to tinker with Austen’s dialogue and substitute his own. Although Hattie Morahan (Elinor) and Charity Wakefield (Marianne) were obviously trying hard (perhaps too hard) Elinor comes across as gormless rather than strong and silent and Marianne has none of the fire of her fictional original. I much prefer Emma Thompson's 1995 screenplay. Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet's performances were beautifully judged and gave us a much more human and believable Elinor and Marianne.

Of Andrew Davies’s most recent adaptations of Jane Austen, I would say Mansfield Park (2007, ITV1) ranks above Sense & Sensibility and below Northanger Abbey (ITV1). I feel he did a workmanlike job of rendering some of Austen's more complex characters, such as Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price, approachable for modern audiences.
However, Northanger Abbey last year had a charming Henry Tilney and all the fun of Austen's original work.
It goes without saying that all Davies's screenplays will be judged by his deservedly popular adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for the BBC (1995). I wonder if Davies has got bored with Austen.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Flashman's creator

I was shocked and saddened this morning by the death of George Macdonald Fraser, creator of the Flashman novels. A master craftsman, he created ripping yarns underpinned by a humbling depth of impeccable historical research.
On a brighter note, it was cheering to hear about a success story : Catherine O'Flynn's debut novel What was Lost has won one of the top literary prizes, the Costa First Novel Award. Catherine suffered the heartbreak of many rejections from agents before her novel was accepted, so it just goes to show that perseverance pays off.