Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More on Securea Blinda.

My thanks to Ania Vesenny, or rather her Romanian brother-in-law, for translating some of the Romanian publisher's blurb about me:

“Born in 1960, R.N. Morris is the author of two succesfull novels, with a different theme and different in style – the very modern and extremely appreciated Taking Comfort (2006), about a character who ends up involved in a chain of bizzare, kafkaesque, events, and the mistery historical novel “A Gentle Axe”… which re-creates on its own the landscape and the athmosphere of Dostoievsky’s books and even borrows a character from “Crime and Punishment”. R.N. Morris wrote also short stories published in various antologies. He lives in London with his wife and two children. “A ‘thriller’ dark and impactful, whose lieterary parents are Dostoievsly and Gogol.” (The Independent).

I'm really intrigued, and gratified, that they have mentioned Taking Comfort in such detail. And that they have used the adjective 'kafkaesque' to describe it. I have always wanted to be described as Kafkaesque. Or Dostoevskyan. Anyhow, publishers only ever say positive things about their own authors, I know that - but they are nothing to do with Taking Comfort and I didn't even know they knew of its existence. Nobody at Faber will have told them about it, because Taking Comfort was published by Macmillan New Writing.

What's also interesting is to compare that translated quote from the Independent with what the Independent actually said. I think that is taken from the headline to Virginia Rounding's review, which was: "Dostoevsky meets Gogol in a seamy, St Petersburg murder mystery"

The Romanian publisher, like the Polish, have also been very taken with a quote from Stephen Lewis in the York Press ("A worthy sequel to one of the greatest novels ever written: and a cracking thriller in its own right"). The only problem is that they have both ascribed it to a publication called The New York Press, which doesn't actually exist.

Hey, old York came before New York. The original and best, if you ask me.

Securea Blinda

The Romanian edition of A Gentle Axe, which translates as Securea Blinda, seems to be available. It's published by editura polirom. Here's an extract in Romanian, for those of you who speak it!

PS check out the monitor stand in my movie, and you'll see I once tried to learn!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Nameless Nobody caught in the crossfire

If you caught Radio Four’s Broadcasting House last Sunday (Jan 20), you’ll have heard the actress Vera Filatova speaking about further cultural fallout from the current diplomatic problems between Russia and Great Britain. It seems that her Russian directing team were mysteriously denied visas, so that at the last minute she had to revert to a piece she had originally performed in 2006, an adaptation of an obscure Dostoevsky fragment. I happened to be there for the first night at the New End Theatre Hampstead.

Produced by Luminous Arts and Russian Nights, Netochka Nezvanova – Nameless Nobody is a one-woman show astonishingly performed by Filatova. The staging is a simple black set, which at first sight seems sealed on its three sides. I wondered where the performer would make her entrance, which introduced a strange, musing tension even before the play began. But just as there was no obvious entrance point, there was no way out too. Whoever set foot on that stage, however they arrived upon it, would be trapped there. All very Dostoevskyan, I thought.

In fact, the minimalist staging worked to great effect. There were few props – a suitcase and a violin and some sheets of paper - but they were enough to conjure up a vision of nineteenth century St Petersburg. That’s the trick with theatrical minimalism: to give the impression that you wouldn’t stage it any other way, even if you had limitless resources.

Luminous Arts earn their name, firstly through their judicious lighting design, which seemingly expands the dramatic and imaginative space; and secondly through the luminous presence of Filatova. Her Netochka is a creature of light, drawn to it and yet at times terrified of it. And the light she is drawn to is her brilliant, flawed, seductive, appalling stepfather. It says something about Filatova’s performance that Yefimov the violinist is just as powerful a presence on the stage as Netochka Nezvanova.

The adaptation wisely concentrates on one self-contained episode of the unfinished novel. Netochka Nezvanova was to have been Dostoevsky’s first great novel. By 1846, after publishing two novellas (the literary sensation, Poor Folk, and the disappointing flop, The Double), the writer’s ambition was ready for a bigger challenge. The conventional critical view is that his skills weren’t. He abandoned the attempt before completing the first section of the book, with only seven chapters written, a meagre 170-odd Penguin pages. The narrative breaks off tantalisingly.

In fact, Dostoevsky had a valid excuse for putting this one permanently on the back burner. He was arrested for alleged revolutionary activities, subjected to a sadistic mock execution with a last minute reprieve and then exiled to Siberia. He emerged a different man, a different writer. It would have been impossible to go back to a work begun before all that.

So Nameless Nobody was abandoned by her author, as she was by her stepfather.

Perhaps Dostoevsky really was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task he had begun and couldn’t get past this brilliant opening. It is certainly an audacious bit of writing, a first person ‘confession’ told by a young woman looking back on her grotesque childhood. What struck me when I read the book was Dostoevsky’s skill in managing the psychological complexities implied in that narrative point of view, as the adult Netochka recollects and analyzes her childish perceptions of the monstrous behaviour of adults. In this production, this aspect of the original writing is retained and vividly realised. Dostoevsky’s heart-wrenching story of betrayal and exploitation – and love - becomes an emotionally intense theatrical experience.

In the Duke of Hamilton pub after the performance, as we mingled with other Dostoevsky devotees (ranging from Russian oil executives to a sculptor from Devon), Vera Filatova confessed to me that when she first read the book, she did not believe that it could be staged. Director Alexander Markov, who from his photo has the eyes and beard of a true Russian visionary, is to be congratulated for persuading her otherwise. I only wish he’d been there for me to congratulate him in person.

Netochka Nezvanova – Nameless Nobody is on at the New End Theatre, Hampstead until Sunday 3 February.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nameless Nobody and a new review.

On Friday I went to see a play called 'Netochka Nezvanova - Nameless Nobody' at the New End Theatre in Hampstead. It was an astonishing one-woman show, based on an unfinished Dostoevsky novel, performed by Vera Filatova. Vera was on Broadcasting House this morning talking about how the current Anglo-Russian difficulties have impacted on the production.

I was lucky enough to chat to Vera in the pub afterwards, along with some very friendly, and not at all melancholic, Dostoevsky fans. Well, most of the people there were Dostoevsky fans. A young Russian woman called Marina told me that she didn't actually like Dostoevsky because the books are too grim. I argued that there was quite a lot of humour in Dostoevsky. "Yes but it is very dark humour," she said. And to be honest I couldn't argue with that.

I can thoroughly recommend the play, which runs until February 3. I will be posting a bit more about it - either here or elsewhere - soon.

In the meantime

The book blog Lizzy's Literary Life has put up a review of both A Gentle Axe and A Vengeful Longing.

I'm totally bowled over by it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Who's who in Crouch End?

Me, it seems. My thanks to Vicky Bottrill for the questions. In another section of today's Ham and High, there's a snippet about our forthcoming Gaslit Vices event. Apparently, according to the reporter, A Gentle Axe was written by some guy called Wilson. Well, apart from getting my name wrong, the piece is factually correct in almost every detail.

There's also been another writer's life video, this time by my Writeword pal, Nik Perring. Nik says you should blame me if his turns out boring. I hardly think that's fair!

I thought I invented a new word the other night. Stoogle. To stalk someone over the internet. But it turns out it already exists. A friend, who shall remain nameless, was soliciting my help in contacting an author, whose name I shall also withhold. I don't know the author, so I'm not really sure how I was expected to bring about a meeting. Anyhow, I asked her if she had tried stoogling him. I felt pretty pleased with myself, I can tell you. A quick check on google revealed that someone had got their before me.

So maybe I can have 'woogling', checking a word on google to see if it exists. Or perhaps 'choogling', which is simply checking something on google, is better. Yes, I quite like that. I'll just go and choogle it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It seems I started something.

Inspired, she says, by my little video, author Kate Allan has made her own film, which she has rather cheekily entitled 'The Real Writer's Life'. Is she suggesting I'm not a real writer, or that my life is not real? She claims to be more disorganised and messy than me, but I don't see how that could be possible. I mean, she has a ring binder!

Another early review for A Vengeful Longing.

My thanks to crime fiction reader for this one.

Friday, January 11, 2008

And now for something completely different.

A piece I did for The Guardian about the detective as a metaphor for the writer. Coffee is involved.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Day three of the writer's life.

And it's come to this:

My thanks to everyone who left messages of support yesterday.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The first day of the rest of my life?

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve packed in the day job. Today is my first day as a full time writer. Shit. Scary. Especially when you read stuff like this.

So what have I done today? I got down to serious work on my next Porfiry Petrovich novel. I’ve been making character notes, on index cards of course. And trying to tease out and develop the various story strands.

I’ve also tried to do some work on something I call ‘the visual structure’ of the book. I find it quite interesting to approach writing in this way, to think of visual themes for the book, and possibly to imagine the story as a progression, or journey, from one predominant visual motif to another. To put it in its simplest terms, from darkness to light. Or, in the case of the book I’m working on, from mist to clarity.

It’s all very sketchy and just now I’m not sure where it’s going, if indeed it will go anywhere. But I do feel it’s important to give the book some texture and depth. I hope so anyhow.

It’s tempting to write purely rationally, especially when you’re writing crime – or more specifically – detective fiction. That is to say, to pin down the plot in terms of what needs to happen, the essentials. I worry that in my own case this could make my writing too mechanical and formulaic. By approaching the construction of the story visually, as well as rationally, I’m hoping to allow space for the unexpected to occur. I hope to surprise myself, and my readers too.

That’s the theory. I’ll let you know how it works out.

The first review of A Vengeful Longing has appeared, on the book website Vulpes Libris. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer one!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year and here we go again!

Goodbye to 2007. Hello to 2008.

First important date for your diary. February 7th. The launch of my new Porfiry Petrovich novel, A Vengeful Longing. By an amazing coincidence, I will be taking part in the above event at Waterstones in Hampstead with three other historical crime writers, Lee Jackson, Andrew Martin and Frank Tallis. The event will be chaired by Barry Forshaw, editor of Crime Time Magazine.