It isn’t just in post modernism that books are made of other books. Even in ancient Greece writers would be influenced by other writers and use their works as a jumping off point for their own writing. So in writing The Revolutionary Tapestry I have been doing a lot of research and general background reading to try and make sure (a) it is accurate and (b) it “feels” right in those parts which are invention rather than historical fact.
Although the novel is an alternate history the bits before the change have to be real history and the parts after the change have to be realistic.
The key books are Alastair Brotchie’s wonderful Alfred Jarry a ‘Pataphysical Life, and the Atlas press editions of Jarry’s oevre and other books of the period with their invaluable notes. On the broader canvas of Fin de Siecle Paris Alex Butterworth’s The World That Never Was, David Sweetman’s Explosive Acts, Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years and the invaluable Bohemian Paris of Today by William Chambers Morrow were great.
I’ve attached a copy of the key list with links to where you can find them for anyone who is interested. I would also recommend the joy of Google – searching for people, places and events as you come across them in reading will throw up lots of other connections you can cut and paste into word documents – my background notes are nearly as long as the novel will be, although I will use only a small fraction of them. I want to avoid the trap of writing up the research rather than the story.
There are lots of other books that have also contributed in a less direct way – works by other authors of the period including Dr Faustroll’s Equivalent Books, fiction which is set around that period although written later, and fiction that also has Jarry or his contemporaries as characters. In a real way I’ve been preparing for this unconsciously since I first bought Jarry’s Supermale, Ubu plays and The Banquet Years in 1972. And, of course in a work that is Postmodern there are a lot of references that are to books, films and music that are not of the period but reference back, forward and sideways.
Part of what makes Jules great is her ability to get the audience involved and feel as if they are having a show in their living room rather than the more formal environment of a comedy club. Her background as a youth worker also means she has a great grasp of when people have something to disclose – generally when she asks them a question and they look at someone else before answering.
We had a group of students in today who started off hung over and tired after a heavy weekend and ended up disclosing they had been to a gay bar where one had managed to pull an older gay man, one (who was a lesbian) saying she had had sex in the toilets with a transsexual man, and a third admitting he had had a blow job from a man despite being straight.
At another session a man told her he had an erection as a five year old and was upset when his father refused to explain what was happening It was his first attempt at heckling and we were not sure he had fully grasped the principle.
Others were less surprising – a deep sea diver who, when teased about whether that meant he went down regularly said he did but his girlfriend didn’t like it, and a man who said his name was Manuel and was a waiter from Barcelona who then was a target for lots of jokes.
And many more I shouldn’t discuss!
Best of all, they all seemed to enjoy it and didn’t regret participating and thanked Jules afterwards for a great show.
As well as being great on the day, it is storing up lots of comedy for future sets.
Just about to start our third week in Edinburgh of My Sister Says I’m Special. Phil has been replaced by Donna and Chris as roadies and Jules has done some great shows – she is definitely more in the moment when she is on stage and is comfortable enough to really play when she is on stage. We have also managed to see a lot more shows – mostly compilations of comedians (what is the collective noun for comedians? A chortle?). Some of these are great, some not so, but a lot depends on how many are in the audience compared to room size.
I’ve also finished doing the research notes on the novel and should incorporate these into the synopsis next week when it is just Jules and I. I now know a lot about Alfred Jarry and Fin de Siecle Paris.
The best English language biography of Jarry by some way is Alastair Brotchie’s Alfred Jarry a Pataphysical Life which is imaculatey researched and includes lots of material not in other biographies. It is also bias free – Alastair rehearses the speculation about Jarry’s life and works but is careful to identify his own and others’ opinions so the reader can make their own mind up. The Jill Fell book An Imagination in Revolt includes a lot more “creative” biography on Jarry’s art influences – he may have been influenced by various things around at the time but no evidence trail is cited.
The research has deepened my view of many of the subsidiary real characters in the novel but has not made me have to change it radically – just identify ways in which I can give a better picture of who they are in the appropriate parts of the plot. It has also thrown up lots of serendipitous detail I can incorporate to enrich the book and incorporate some in jokes. The danger now is to avoid it being a novel about Jarry rather than one about the two other lead characters so I will have to work on enriching their back stories and emotional depth. There is also the little challenge of making the “villain” a real person when they are off screen for most of the time for the very good reason that they are supposed to be a shadowy figure.
Thankfully I’ve not had to change any of the action, or alter history more than in my original conceit. Some events will change dates slightly or happen in a marginally different way, but not enough to seem like undue artifice.
One week in and we are still enjoying Edinburgh. As well as being co-tech with Phil setting up the show and busking sessions , I have been wandering around town dressed as a Qtapotamus with him and been in the Qtapotamus exercise class with Jules.
I’ve also been keeping all the social media stuff up to date – quite a big job as Phil has now set up Jules website www.julesmaxine.com with links to all the material including videos, media pack info, pictures etc, and posting new stuff to facebook, twitter, flikr etc – both Jules pages and my own, and keeping up to date with correspondence on our email accounts about potential drop in slots.
We’ve only managed to see a couple of shows so far – apart from ones Jules has done slots in – the best being John Otway who was wonderful as always despite having to cut short his set and suffer the sound check of the Spanish balladeer who had double booked the venue.
Phil goes back tomorrow and Jules sister Donna and her husband Chris arrive Monday. Week two? Bring it on!
Jules and I are in Edinburgh with our son Phil and Bo the dog. Everyone apart from Bo are here to support Jules’ first one woman show My Sister Says I’m Special.
Yesterday was the first performance of the show and Jules’ first busking slot at the mound. Both went really well and she has had her first positive customer review on twitter https://twitter.com/iamjulesmaxine. As well as being the tech for the show (and coping with a mysterious echo on the PA today which we discovered with 15 minutes to curtain up) Phil has done a great website for Jules at www.julesmaxine.com with links to all of the videos pictures etc. I’ve been busy doing the admin – picking up passes etc – and doing the PR – media releases, postering, leafleting, talking to the Festival Press Office and posting lots of stuff on social media. Oh, and appearing in a Qtapotamus suit.
Bo has been relaxing and being quite well behaved for a Border Collie. We are training him up to sit on a blanket while we are busking, or possibly have a collection cup round his neck.
I’ve not posted much recently as we have been preparing for Jules one woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe My Sister Says I’m Special.
With four days to go until we travel the 450 miles there and just over a week until the show starts there is still a lot of things to do. The show is written and rehearsed and the posters and leaflets, equipment and the hippopotamus suits are all here (don’t ask). The first press release has been sent and the second is about to go out and the media packs just need to be printed out and assembled. I’ve even remembered to buy blu tack to out the posters up.
I now have a wall filled with lists – what we till have to do, what to remember to take, and the diary of what we are definitely doing – busking and drop in slots at other comedy shows, the media photo event, various launch and other “social” events – as well as a list of other people’s shows we may go to see while we are there.
There is a lot of work to prepare properly and a lot of expense – accommodation at festival time in Edinburgh is not cheap. However it should all be worth it. Jules works a lot better with more space than is usually available in a five minute slot. These work best for comedians who do jokes. If you are a storyteller, or, like Jules, you do comic songs, you need more space.
Still, I’m not fully looking forward to handing out flyers in one of those hippo suits if the weather is as hot as it has been, and even less I the Scottish rain no matter how much fun it will be.
I’ve just finished doing the first draft of the synopsis of the novel – The revolutionary tapestry. I’ve also been doing some character studies of the main protagonists as exercises for my Open University course in creative writing so killing two birds with one stone. Now comes the hard slog!
Not that writing the synopsis was that easy. It was a very useful exercise in blocking out the setting, plot, characters and some detail, but there is a challenge in deciding what to put in and what to leave out. As usual Jules was a great first reader as (a) she doesn’t know as much as I do about the setting so is able to say when things are not clear because I haven’t translated what’s in my head to the paper and (b) because she has great emotional intelligence so is able to say if what the characters do doesn’t feel realistic. What is happening inside the characters heads and hearts is one of the things I knew I would have to put in, but I got a bit engrossed in making sure I get down the quite complicated plot structure.
She was also perceptive enough to spot the points at which my energy levels flagged and the writing became more bullet point notes than sentences.
Although having someone read your work is always a bit frightening, the discussion afterwards meant we were able to think about the two sequels as well as the current book – I already had a broad idea for the second one but the third wasn’t even on my horizon until Jules came up with a suggestion that was perfect.
There may well be changes to the plot of the first novel but I think I’ve got the core set out – a hard task as there are several strands happening at once which all need to link together and tie up any loose ends.
Now I need to go back to the research I’ve done and look at where and how facts are woven into the story so I avoid big chunks of exposition, and do more work on all of the characters – not just the main ones – who have more than a walk on part in the book. With more than a dozen books providing core background on setting and characters, and about 50 pages of information gleaned from the internet, this next phase is another big chunk of work. However, when it’s done I will have a solid base to draw on in writing the actual novel.
Building a world that shares a lot with real history, but has some core differences which affect a lot of detail in that world is a challenge. It’s a bit like writing a historical novel, thriller, and science fiction novel all in one. What you invent has to be consistent with aspects of real history as well as internally. Oh what fun!