Actor and Writer – My life as both

Since JACK ABSOLUTE relauched in the States last week, he has been bothering my mind. To the extent that I left my desk and the Great Plague and I searched my bookshelves for the script I used when I played Jack Absolute in Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’ for the Oxford Playhouse Company, touring England from the Autumn of 1986 to Spring 1987. In it I discovered the notes I made at the time – both during rehearsals, and later when I developed the role in performance. Now I marvel at how fresh it all seems.

This is me, playing Jack:

Malvern Festival Theatre, England, January 1987

Malvern Festival Theatre, England, January 1987

It was a wonderful time. I’d returned from Los Angeles not long before, having decided that my dream of living and working there was, in reality, not what I wanted at all, nor where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be an American TV actor. I desperately needed to return to my roots in the theatre, to really find myself again as an actor – I’d been playing the Hollywood game too long.

I’ve always felt that my true theatrical form was 18th Century comedy – give me thigh boots and a sword and I’m your man! So when I found out that a director I knew a little was casting The Rivals – and I remembered seeing a performance of the play once and coveting the role of Jack Absolute – I got in touch, auditioned, got the part.

So here’s my playscript open before me on my desk in my hut on a small island on the West Coast of Canada – quite a long way from The Malvern Festival Theatre where I opened in the play. And at the back of the book I find my ‘letter’ to myself. Written in pencil. A series of things I came up with to get myself into the part, to be read to myself every night before I went on stage. What’s  most remarkable is how much of my stage Jack found his way into the novel that I wrote sixteen years later. Take the opening sentence:

‘Life is absurd. I have seen men love and I have seen them die. I have seen them do the latter without ever achieving the former. Tomorrow may well be my last day on earth so… Enjoy it. Live it. Live fast, furious and fun.’

Pretty much the philosophy my ‘novel’ character has. (Pretty much the philosophy I have too!) Even stranger, a little later I find myself exhorting my Jack to action with these words (I’d developed quite the ‘back story’ for him):

‘Climb the Heights of Abraham, mount a stallion for a gallop across a moor…’

The Heights of Abraham? Well, in the prequel to the first novel, (out in the US later this year “The Blooding of Jack Absolute” my young hero does exactly that: is one of the first soldiers up the cliffs at Quebec, paving the way for the British victory over the French that gave them North America.

Ah, its fun to look at the script and revisit my 31 year old self! It’s as much fun to consider where the ‘playscript notes’ took me: around the world, researching every aspect of period and place; around the world now ‘by blog’, connected once again, differently, with my boy Jack.

You’ll find a lot of actors who mourn a role’s ending. Sometimes they mourn with the bottle. I think I found a better, healthier way: write novels about my favourite character and live him still.

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Rebel’s early release: Shock on ferry!

A friend arrived for the weekend. ‘Look what I saw on the ferry,’ he said.

And showed me this photo:

ImageI don’t really mind that it’s out three weeks before its meant to be. I mean, look at the positioning. I’m under Danielle Steel. (No comments please). Far more importantly, according to my nine year old…

… I’m next to ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’.

At last, in his eyes, I’ve made it. I am  nearly cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Second Draft – My Favourite Part?

There is something special about the second draft. As those who read my previous post about not outlining till I finish the first draft – (What madness is this?) – will remember, I let my characters have their heads in my first go through. Let them, given the constraints of the actual historical events I am describing, largely dictate the plot. Only at the end do I outline, to see finally the rough overall shape in this mountain of words I have. And while the ultimate buzz still has to be those rare moments in a first draft when all is invention and I sit there filling the blank page as if taking dictation – usually chuckling aloud – I do love getting into the nitty gritty of the writing with all I know now. Making my adjustments, some minor, some vast. Words are substituted, sentences and paragraphs altered. Whole chapters are excised (rarely). New ones appear (often).

There’s such satisfaction to be had in this narrowing down, this crystalizing of vision.

A case in point. I realized in this read-through that my villain had been a little cursorily dealt with. He did interesting, villainous things – but I couldn’t quite figure out why. And I then realized that I didn’t know his back story as well as some of the others. He has less ‘page time’ in the book perhaps than the others who, because of their prominence, had revealed their pasts more fully to me.

So I went back. I especially considered forms of mental illness. Factored in more heavily the 17th century equivalent of PTSD – most of my male characters are suffering some form of it having fought in the brutal English Civil Wars that killed, they reckon now, close to a quarter of the population. Then I remembered a syndrome that fascinated me when I read about it years ago: De Clerambault’s – the complete certainty that someone is in love with you despite there not being a shred of evidence to support that belief. It is what many stalkers suffer from. It is what I discover my villain has – and it is shaping my rewrite accordingly.

Delving in, rearranging, rewriting, adding, switching pov’s – this is the stuff of creation. I don’t believe like some that ‘writing is rewriting’. It’s all writing, just at different stages, each equally important, each with their own rewards and challenges.

My favourite part? Yes, I think so – until that moment when the author’s copies arrive and I hold one up, sigh, and say, ‘That’s done then. Next!’

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The Return of a Novel

Does this ever get tired? Never!

A new publisher: the ever wonderful Sourcebooks.

A new snazzy cover (still a picture of me, different angle!).

Yes, it’s true…

JACK ABSOLUTE RETURNS TO AMERICA!

(And I’ll be ‘with him’, going to various US cities: See ‘Appearances’)

Yes, he’s back. What the Good Book Guide in the UK called: ‘The finest series of historical novels since Patrick O’Brian’ is published in the USA on May 7th.

Meet the real Jack Absolute – not the comic captain from Sheridan’s play ‘The Rivals’. Meet the Redcoat. The Mohawk. The Lover. The Spy.

Jack US Front Cover“An absolute delight! Swashbuckling adventure, eighteenth century wit, hugely entertaining plots, and one of the most appealing military gentlemen ever to wear a sword.” – Diana Gabaldon, Author of ‘Outlander’ and the Lord John Grey series.

You can buy at your local bookstore or online at:

Sourcebooks: Buy direct from the Publisher!

Barnes and Noble

Amazon.com

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Outline after First Draft? What madness is this?

It’s true! I don’t do an outline until I’ve finished my first draft. Here’s the photographic evidence, taken in my hut not two hours since.IMG_1097

And the reason? I have become quite good at this part of writing, at least: separating out the various drafts’ functions.

For me, the first draft is about characters dictating story. I don’t want to box them in, in any way. As far as I can I want them to tell me their story. So I try not to know everything about them. That way, they can surprise me.

 

It’s not as if I know nothing. More than likely there has been a treatment, submitted to a publisher ‘outlining’ the main characters, part of their journey – the punchier parts that might earn me the contract. But that’s a sales document. It’s in my head but not open on my desk. Being that I write historical fiction, usually about some intense period or event – you can see one of my text books on the current subject on my outline – my research will have given me some incidents that I know I want to write about in the course of the novel, and chronologically. In the case of ‘A Place Called Armageddon’ about the Fall of Constantinople, the details of the siege dictated quite a lot of the structure – but I still didn’t do an outline first, just a Timeline. With the Great Plague, it’s more an especially vivid backdrop to my characters’ stories – and obviously directly impacts on them.

I also like the notion of getting to know characters as I write them. When I teach this, I always say: would you know everything about a person you just met? Spend time with them, place them under stresses, give them comfort, withdraw it, see how they react. By the end of the first draft I feel I do know my characters – and now can go back and rewrite them from the beginning with that knowledge. I also find I really start to recognize a character when they crack their first joke.

The outline above? Very simple. Left column for Chapter Number and page count. Next column: Chapter Title. Next, characters involved and their basic actions. Last, for notes. You’ll see that last is largely blank for now – because I haven’t actually read the book through yet, just marked it out. I’ll read next, and make notes. But what the outline already tells me are things like – a character’s prolonged absence. In this case – the villain goes missing for about 60 pages in the middle. Can’t have that!

 

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Terror of Number 13

Really, I have to get over this. And truly I wasn’t frightened… until the moment when I actually wrote ‘The End’ on the first draft today. Then suddenly the number 13 began to concern me.

Why 13? Is it the number of the coven, the witchcraft connection? I’ve always liked witches. But no… research tells me different. Apparently I am not alone. Apparently I am one of many suffering from… Triskaidekaphobia!!!

I can barely say it, so how can I suffer from it? OK, I know that’s not a good argument but really… I suffer because there were 13 at The Last Supper and one of them betrayed the saviour? I suffer because the Templars were ordered arrested on Friday 13th?

No, I know why I suffer. Its because like all authors I feel essentially out of control of the whole process and fear it collapsing like a wormhole in space at any moment.

Now there’s a thing to fear: wormhole collapse. Should take my mind off the fact that I’ve finished the first draft of my…. duh duh duhhhhh!!! THIRTEENTH NOVEL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author Buys Sword – Hurrah!

I am so excited! I was like a kid in the proverbial candy store, cruising the great website of Darkwood Armory

Because I’d decided that I was going to treat myself to a true fighting sword – an English Basket Hilt Backsword, no less, such as my hero from SHAKESPEARE’S REBEL - John Lawley – would have wielded in 1600. The very sword I shall be wielding at the Canadian launch for the book (as I mentioned yesterday) at BARD ON THE BEACH Vancouver on July 22nd.

This is it – or a part of it anyway.

English Basket Hilt Backsword, circa 1600

English Basket Hilt Backsword, circa 1600

Though I’ve decided, quite unlike my plain speaking hero, to gussy it up a bit. I shall have a crimson grip. I shall wear oxblood calf skin gloves.

Well, how often do I get to throw my dodgy lower limbs around a stage these days clutching bladed weaponry?

Might as well go for it, eh!

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