Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: A good read

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  • Lucy Stewart,

    I was very fortunate a few years ago to acquire a large book "The First World War- a photographic history" notably published in 1934

    Interesting - I was under the impression the term hadn't come into use at all until WWII had started. Though, as you say, the writing was definitely on the wall by 1934.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Yet again, Holmes manages to turn a story into something about him.

    Yes. That was precisely my response.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And nor should the standard be exactly the same. For example, I don't think that an author should have to give footnotes or citations throughout a piece of work.

    Indeed not, Tracy -- but I've mentioned Georgette Heyer before. It's easy to dismiss her as a remarkably competent (and popular) author of Regency bodice rippers. But it was also a point of pride to her that she just got her history right, to the very best of her considerable ability. Ditto for other historical novels I admire like Mary Renault, Patrick O'Brien, Dorothy Dunnett and Gore Vidal -- who may be a noxious tosspot, but his Lincoln is a wonderful work that returns 'Honest Abe' to the status of a human being.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    But it was also a point of pride to her that she just got her history right, to the very best of her considerable ability.

    I think this is the key skill of all really good historical novelists - they make you feel like you're there, because they've bothered to try and understand the time period they're writing in. Another excellent example of this is Lindsey Davis - her conceit is deliberately anachronous (noir detective stories in Ancient Rome) but it works because the rest of her setting is meticulously accurate.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    the occasional Dr. Gracewood would be nice

    Damn straight!

    Lord knows the pain of getting the degree doesn't reward you with money so just the occasional recognition especially when they are referring to the outcome of your professional expertise ...

    Besides very very very rarely that title might get you an upgrade from cattle class on the plane :).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I think this is the key skill of all really good historical novelists - they make you feel like you're there, because they've bothered to try and understand the time period they're writing in.

    And they also avoid what I call the undigested (and indigestible) info-dump, which is something else Reid pings Ihimaera for. The best kind of erudition is the kind that's lightly worn.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    - but I'm sure universities in general would not hold a piece of fiction to the same standard as an academic essay/publication. And nor should the standard be exactly the same.

    Actually I disagree completely. The person in question is employed in no small part by the University for his expertise as a novelist. It is his skill with the fictional word that is is his professional expertise. It is no different than a scientist copying a figure for a review without referencing the primary authors.

    And even if he were a chemist who wrote a novel that included plagiarism, it would speak to his integrity and that is important.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Actually I disagree completely. The person in question is employed in no small part by the University for his expertise as a novelist.

    And I'm still trying to get my head around the idea that it's worse if (for the sake of argument) it was discovered that Emeritus Professor C.K. Stead plagiarised 0.4% of a critical essay on Katherine Mansfield (or the editorial matter of his edition of her letters and journals), than if he did the same in his novel Mansfield .

    Stead, love him or loathe him, takes his fiction every bit as seriously as his poetry, critical essays or the two full length books on literary modernism that are the basis of his academic reputation. And so he should.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    And I'm still trying to get my head around the idea that it's worse...

    Don't bother; it's not. It's called a novel for a reason.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    Stead, love him or loathe him, takes his fiction every bit as seriously as his poetry, critical essays or the two full length books on literary modernism that are the basis of his academic reputation

    With you, Craig. I think one of the reasons Mansfield worked so well as a novel - and an ambitious and unusual one at that - was that the author's care and scrupulousness shone through. And rigour.
    I'd always thought of Stead as being a forbidding kind of figure, but I went to a reading he did from Mansfield here in Wellington and he was utterly charming and disarming.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 825 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    It's called a novel for a reason.

    Oh, touché!

    My first draft of the review -- back when I thought the main problem with the book was its failure to follow through on the heaving bosoms (brown and white, male and female) with a proper Georgette Heyer style consummation -- contained the phrase "Tell me something I don't know." I read to discover. Facts, perspectives, ideas. New things. Novelty. Novel.

    Even a by-the-numbers romance novelist will make sure to tell you something fresh about, oh, I don't know, ferrets or something.

    Funnily enough I was reading Richard Flanagan's Wanting concurrently, because it deals with a similar time and place and also confronts the problem of how or whether to include real historical figures. That novel told me things I didn't want to know. He concocts a queasy sexual subplot between two actual historical characters (English man, indigenous child) which seemed to me completely bogus in literary and historical terms. There are jolly good reasons to fictionalise your characters as well as their travails.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Stead, love him or loathe him . . .

    When you've produced lines like Lucan chanting Lucan while the suicidal blood / Marches true to one commander from the wrists in final flood, it's no longer a case of loving or loathing. Major respect.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    There are jolly good reasons to fictionalise your characters as well as their travails.

    But there are also some wildly successful novels incorporating historical figures - Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy springs to mind. I thought the way in which she wove in her historical figures - Sassoon, Owens, Robert Graves - was brilliant.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 825 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Belated response to Islander, whose first comment I inexplicably missed at the time:

    I have never struck a contract that didnt include variants of these clauses:
    *The author certifies that this is an original work in its entirety.
    *Where quotations are made, due acknowledgment is given to the original author and title.[...]

    How ironic the last paragraph on this page is, then. (I have the feeling that interview was mentioned further upthread but can't find it - apologies for repeating).

    Incidentally, in Mark William's "Leaving The Highway" he has a 'quotation' from either one of Witi's stories or one of mine (am away from home and can't check.) It is actually a mishmash of my words and Witi's.

    I think I know the bit you mean - is it about the ocean?

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    But there are also some wildly successful novels incorporating historical figures - Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy springs to mind. I thought the way in which she wove in her historical figures - Sassoon, Owens, Robert Graves - was brilliant.

    Yep, I liked those too - and agree that fictionalising real people can be done well. But as far as I remember, Barker didn't arrange for any of her real-name characters to - oh, I can't even type this - to sexually abuse a child. That seems out of line, even when Flanagan's characters have been dead for a century and a half.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    But there are also some wildly successful novels incorporating historical figures - Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy springs to mind. I thought the way in which she wove in her historical figures - Sassoon, Owens, Robert Graves - was brilliant.

    Indeed -- and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed Wolf Hall as much as I did, with its rather startlingly "revisionist" take on Thomas Cromwell. Hillary Mantel said she wanted to write the book in the first place because she came to the view that Cromwell always got a bum rap in received opinion, so "fictionalising" any of the characters or playing fast and loose with the historical record would have rendered the whole exercise pointless..

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    But there are also some wildly successful novels incorporating historical figures - Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy springs to mind. I thought the way in which she wove in her historical figures - Sassoon, Owens, Robert Graves - was brilliant.

    There's a crucial rule for historical figures, though: make their appearances fit the historical record. That doesn't mean you have to take the historical record at face value, but it does mean you have to write them in such a way that the record could plausibly have been recorded as it was, whether or not you assume it is actually correct.

    That takes a lot of effort, and if you just want to make things up out of whole cloth - especially stuff like child abuse - it's best to a) choose someone for whom the historical record is very sketchy or b) fictionalise your characters. Otherwise you're going to throw people out of your story, and then what's the point?

    (It suddenly occurs that writing historical fiction must be a lot like writing fanfiction; you're taking extant characters and trying to make your writing fit the record, or at least not contradict it blatantly. Add in the odd alternate universe and original character and it's practically the same thing, in fact.)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    Jolisa and Lucy - thanks for that, you're both quite right.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 825 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    It suddenly occurs that writing historical fiction must be a lot like writing fanfiction

    Funny you should say that, Lucy... the analogy did occur to me while reading. Young Hohepa's physical beauty is dwelt on at length (as it were), and what makes it really fanficcy is that some of those parts are told in the first person by Hohepa himself. People swoon when they glimpse him - men, women, white and brown. Especially when he emerges, dripping, from the water, all rippling muscle and ...

    Where was I? Oh yes - so there's an argument for a director's cut of the book that focuses entirely on Hohepa as a sort of Chattertonesque dead-too-young beauty and political martyr. But to make that work, I think the character would have to be entirely fictional, lest the writer risk upsetting the descendants by going overboard with the sexy times.

    I think he wanted the emotional payoff of the repatriation at the end, hence the actual factual historical character, but I still reckon the book would have worked much, much better had it been "inspired by" rather than "based on" the life of Te Umuroa.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    lest the writer risk upsetting the descendants by going overboard with the sexy times.

    Mind you, I can't imagine objecting to a portrait of an ancestor of mine that took care to notice how prodigiously physically gifted he was, especially in the trouser department.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    You mean, like Mel's portrait of Jemaine?

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 825 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Lolnui! "People don't appreciate art, do they?" Yep, pretty much like that. Only more NSFW.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Dinah Dunavan,

    I enjoy George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series all the more for the historical (etc.) annotations/footnotes.

    Dunedin • Since Jun 2008 • 186 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I enjoy George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series all the more for the historical (etc.) annotations/footnotes.

    This was the MacDonald Fraser who said he was amused by people who commiserated that being a historical novelist must be such hard work. Not at all -- creating from scratch the endless parade of outrageous characters in unlikely events that fill his Flashman books? That would have required real effort. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    When my mother (Lynley Hood) was researching her Minnie Dean book, she found that a British official involved with the relief effort for the Irish potato famine was Lord Pinetree-Coffin. A fiction author remarked that they could never have called a character in that role such a name.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

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