July 14th, 2016Posted by Nancy
I find visual inspirations very helpful when working on a book (see my earlier posts about the “mood boards” for the novels). I’m just starting on what might be the new novel, but I already have a couple of touchstones.
This girl with the wary eyes is part of the painting The Coronation of the Virgin by Filippo Lippi. This was one of the highlights of the Uffizi gallery for me and, as I often do, I singled out a small part of the overall work to photograph. I didn’t know at the the time that this would become my image for a new character.
What can I tell you about her? Her name is Leontine, she is the daughter of a noble house in something that is currently modelled after Provence, and she is very good at math. She likes bees. She will become the King’s Magician, Protector of the Realm – at least for a while.
There are two other key characters in this both so far, but I have not yet found their paintings.
And if you ever have the chance to see the original in the Uffizi, take it. It’s a thing of beauty, with touches of humanity and humour.
Posted in Art · Influences · Travel · Writing
July 11th, 2016Posted by Nancy
I’ll be in Kingston at the Limestone Genre Expo the weekend of July 23, 2016. This is the second year of this event and there’s a great line-up of writers and some fascinating panels. It’s a small, friendly convention in a beautiful town.
I’ll be taking part in three panels (Where is Fantasy taking the modern reader? The Feminist Journey in Fantasy, and Magic Systems) and reading from Cold Hillside (and maybe something else).
Hope to see you there.
Posted in Events · News · Writing
June 20th, 2016Posted by Nancy
I’ve been working full-time since I was twenty-two (that’s 35 years, for anyone who’s counting). I started doing data entry at a sleazy mail order company whose principals eventually were arrested in the U.S. for mail fraud, moved to the magazine business in the circulation department, worked in magazine consulting, and then ended up in finance and business management, despite the fact that I have a degree in English Literature and no patience for balance sheets.
I spent the last 26 years at one company, as it went through three owners. And on last Tuesday, I was “restructured” out.
Regardless of any other feelings I have on the matter (and they range from “wait, didn’t you appreciate me?” to “not my circus, not my monkeys anymore!”), I will in theory have much more time for writing, blog posts, book promotion and many other things, at least for a little while. I may have no more ideas – but I will have time.
I will try to use it productively and not spend the rest of the my life on the internet.
(Image above is from Thomas Edison’s winter estate in Florida. I don’t think I’ll be quite that productive, though).
Posted in Books · Gardening · News · Uncategorized · Writing
April 28th, 2016Posted by Nancy
I’ll be doing a panel at 10:00 on the ongoing imaginative power of Camelot and then I’ll be around until mid-afternoon. Say “hi” if you see me looking lost…
Posted in Uncategorized
April 18th, 2016Posted by Nancy
I’ll be at Ad Astra at the end of the month, but only on the Sunday (May 1st). I’ll post my schedule when it’s available.
Posted in Uncategorized
April 18th, 2016Posted by Nancy
The key question from The Witch, the movie most of my friends were seeing in February and March. I go along with the unanimous praise. Even the parts I didn’t think quite worked (I understood what they were getting at but the execution didn’t quite hit the mark) were thought-provoking. One of my coworkers and I came up with at least four defensible interpretations of the film, which always makes me happy.
I found it especially intriguing as I had just finished reading The Witches by Stacey Schiff and was looking at using witch trials and grim Scottish Presbyterianism in the story I’m researching right now.
I’m quite fond of research. It makes a lovely substitute for actually writing so it can be particularly dangerous for people like me. Still, because world-building isn’t my strong suit, I need to do a lot of reading and looking to create a society and ground myself in it.
Things currently on the list for the current work in progress :
- a stack of books about witchcraft, trials and Dr. Dee that I borrowed from a friend
- The King’s Mistresses, a book about the strong-willed nieces of Cardinal Mazarin
- rewatching Dangerous Liaisons and Ridicule
- Richard Feynman’s book What do you care what other people think?
I warmed up for today’s writing by looking at pictures of Provencal gardens, which at least is a pleasant way to start the day.
Posted in Books · Film · Uncategorized · Writing
January 29th, 2016Posted by Nancy
Spurred by reading Mary Beard’s book about Rome, SPQR, and by memories of our tour of the Colosseum, we decided to rewatch Gladiator the other night. Not withstanding my affection for men in period armor (with wolfskins), the film still works. Oh, parts of the plot don’t make any sense, Rome was apparently to be seen only through a blue haze and the geography and time frame is a bit … elastic. It looks gorgeous, the music is perfect, the costumes are lovely and the acting is uniformly excellent.
Watching it again, I appreciated the little moments of acting grace. Crowe was perfectly cast as Maximus. He had a gift not only for the big moments but the small ones as well: the dismay in his eyes as the emperor asks him to become guardian of Rome, the way he turns his head away a little when faced with having to dissemble because, as Lucilla notes, he was never any good at it. By the second part of the film, he rarely does it anymore, because he has nothing left to lose. I admit that the duel scene in Cold Hillside owes two key moments to the match between Maximus and Tigris. One is the moment of mercy and the other is Daen’s entrance to the arena.
“He walked into the courtyard, helmet under his arm, armoured in serviceable leather. There was grace there, but it was economical and solid, the confidence of a workman come to do a task without drama. He unhooked the sword across his back and let it fall to his hip then donned his helm, a curved shape of dull metal with no trace of ornamentation.
“It was theatre of its own sort, I realized. Every gesture, from stance to walk to armour, was calculated to define itself in opposition to the fey, to turn their grace and glamour into nothing but a showy reflection of his straightforward competence.”
But the revelation of rewatching the film is Connie Nielsen as Lucilla. Crowe and Phoenix got most of the attention, but Nielsen creates a devastating portrayal of a woman who is arguably the bravest person in the story. When we first see her, she seems as shallow and corrupt as her brother. Our first clue that she might be something else is her father’s observation “What a pity you were not born a man. What a Caesar you would have made.” The praise suggests intelligence, resolve, and courage. Coming from Marcus Aurelius, they could also suggest honor and compassion, but his own ambivalence to power hints at other things: cruelty, corruption, deceptiveness.
Gradually we realize that Lucilla’s perfect, regal composure is a mask she has perfected over years of survival in the imperial palace. With the death of her father, she needs all her skill to survive the attentions of her dangerous brother and to protect her son. She risks everything to try to change the situation and the scene in which Commodus reveals that he knows of her schemes is chilling.
It was fascinating to watch her mask fall away and that beautiful composure become despair, clear in every shift of Nielsen’s expression. The contrast between her pale, brittle face at the beginning of the film and her naked, drawn one, red-eyed from weeping, at the end is stunning. Before the final resolution, Lucilla faces the hardest fate of anyone in the film. Maximus faces death for his rebellion but he has been waiting to die for half the film. She faces a lifetime of obedience to her needy, all-powerful brother, in which any perceived disloyalty on her part will mean the death of her son. Maximus just has die – Lucilla has to endure. I know which character I’d rather be.
Posted in Film · Influences · Writing
January 23rd, 2016Posted by Nancy
I’ve been buying clothes from Annie Thompson for years (probably close to twenty) and in that time I’ve gotten rid of no more than about ten items. I wore one pair of pants out and have sized myself out of a few other items – though of course I’ve hung on to most of them in the hopes that someday…..
For January, I decided to do an “outfit of the day” project on Instagram featuring the various outfits I have and have put together over the years. One of the best things about Annie’s clothes is that they express a singular aesthetic vision. The vision grows and changes but the basic DNA of it stays the same. This means that a jacket you buy in 2000 will go very nicely with a top you buy in 2010 and a pair of pants you buy 2015. Everything is made here in Toronto so the clothes will last for years.
My good friends at The House of Pomegranates came over and took some photos so they’re a step up from my own awkward selfies.
Just search #30daysofAnnieThompson on Instagram and you’ll find me.
Posted in Fashion
December 29th, 2015Posted by Nancy
Which is not precisely the same as the best books of 2015. These are the books I read in 2015 that moved me to talk about them, recommend them, think about them, or buy my own copy.
H is for Hawk
by Helen MacDonald
I love good nature writing because the best of it is always about something more than that – and I’m a sucker for a good descriptive passage. Helen MacDonald is mourning the sudden death of her father and seizes on the ambitious project of training a goshawk as a way through her debilitating grief. In consulting the literature on this process, she revisits a book from her childhood, The Goshawk, by T.H. White. It’s not a perfect book but her descriptions of the goshawk are astonishing: “She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary. Something bright and distant, like gold falling through water.” This is probably the best book I read all year.
Kindred/Parable of the Sower/Parable of the Talents
by Octavia Butler
During the whole kerfuffle about the Hugos and “the year of not reading straight white males”, I went hunting for lists to expand my own reading. I rarely read straight white males but my reading is generally dominated by white women, so this seemed an opportunity to go looking for new books. I’d read a number of Octavia Butler’s novels twenty years ago but not these. All brilliant and thought-provoking, especially the “Parable” books, whose depiction of environmental and economic collapse in California is scarily timely.
Signal to Noise
By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Magic and music in Mexico City over two decades. I’m at the age where I remember mixtapes and the eighties and the intense bond of outsider friends, clinging to their music and differences to keep themselves sane. Highly recommended.
Falling From Horses
by Molly Gloss
The Dazzle of Day is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read about space exploration. I kept finding this book at the library and dismissing it, but finally I borrowed it. It’s about Hollywood in the 1930s, stunt riders, horses, the hardscrabble farming life in rural Oregon and artists finding their way. It was much richer and more fascinating that I’d expected.
by Gemma Files
Full disclosure: I’ve known Gemma for years and we’re both part of the Bellefire writing group. While the aforementioned it true, it’s also true that I’ve admired Gemma’s dark imagination and razor-edged prose for years. I read various parts of this book when it was in progress and knew it was going to be good. And it is. Lois Cairns, a 40ish film critic facing failure and a challenging home life, discovers the eerie traces of a film made by a previously unknown female filmmaker in the early 20th century, but her pursuit of the truth about Mrs. Whitcomb will jeopardize everything she values. The folk tale at the heart of the mystery is one of the creepiest things I’ve read in years.
Katrina: After the Flood
by Gary Rivlin
This is a fascinating and infuriating picture of the flood and the challenges, failures, grassroots successes and political chicanery that came afterwards.
Posted in Books · Influences · Uncategorized
December 6th, 2015Posted by Nancy
Landscape with a Sailboat, by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1874.
It’s been a year since Cold Hillside was released, which seems unbelievable. (What, you haven’t read it? Go read it. f you have, thanks!)
I would like to thank everyone who took the time to post a review on Goodreads or Amazon or reviewed it on their site. It’s been really gratifying that most of the people who enjoyed the book seemed to like it for all the same reasons that made me want to write it.
It’s been especially satisfying (if somewhat baffling) that so many people said that they found themselves immersed in the world of Lushan. One of my struggles with the book was my belief that I suck at world-building. I agonized over every decision (how does the government work? What colour is that doorway? What do people eat? What are the funeral rites? Who gets married and why?) and I was becalmed for years in a sea of choice paralysis. For years, I used placeholder names for cities and countries and the manuscript was littered with XXX marks where I knew that if I stopped to think for one second about whether something was white or black that I’d lose all momentum.
Since I finished the novel last fall, I’ve been poking away at a short story (proving that yes, indeed, I am a VERY slow writer) that was inspired by one of my main influences, the divine Tanith Lee. I’ve just about finished it – but now my writer’s group has said that they think it should be longer. A novella, at least. Maybe even, gasp, a novel. I sit here, baffled once again, terrified once again. This will require world-building. This will require knowing what happened 20 years earlier, 75 years earlier. How do magicians get chosen to serve the king? What happened to the witch to make her who she is?
But I have an image of a triptych painting in my head, and an idea of structure, and three very interesting characters. I can always read a few books about the history of France and Italy. I can use placeholder names. I can leave XXX marks. I can’t write like Tanith Lee for an entire novel (hell, I can barely write like Tanith Lee for an entire short story) but maybe I can write like myself instead.
Now I just have to do it.
Posted in Books · Influences · Writing