A pointless reflection, I know, but I wonder whether there are more books than people in the world. We’re drowning in books but, like people, there’s always room for one more and when a really special one comes along it’s as if the world’s been waiting for it.
Why would anyone want to go writing another book? In a lifetime, nobody can read even a fraction of the existing books that should be read. Yet we keep adding more. Nowadays, not just books but blogs. We think that the whole world is holding its breath for our book or our blog.
And we dream. I know I can write a book that will hop off the shelf and into someone’s hand. Imagine! Someone walks into a bookshop, ignores the deftly arranged rows of books calling out to them and goes straight to the exact aisle, genre and shelf for My Book. But that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? If everything is clearly mapped then nobody will accidentally come across a book. That only happens at the airport when your plane is delayed.
And another thing. Maybe there should be a section called Readers who are Characters in Novels. A lot of people who are writing today about suburbia are really writing about people they know, including their own potential readers.
Some people read novels because they want to see who they can recognise from real life. For some it’s an obsession.
Banality is full of potential. I once met a man in a pub in Kerry who offered me and my Italian fiancé a meal because his only daughter Patricia was in Italy. He spoke about her all evening and told us to look her up even though we were at opposite ends of The Boot. Well, if I wrote a book he might well be a character in it because I’ve never forgotten him. He offered us the meal when we needed one and we offered him a way to pass one evening of his long, lonely life. But if he wrote a book I wonder would I be in it. So, are we constantly character hunting? Maybe, in my book, Patricia’s Dad could be trying to coax unsuspecting teenagers into a worldwide porn ring. No limits.
What does a reader really want from a book? I think it all goes back to our childhood and how we were introduced to books, whether they created magic for us, whether someone took the time to read us a book and let us live it, encouraged us to read or considered us a lazy so-and-so for wasting you time with your nose in a book.
A treasured possession in boarding school was a torch and a supply of batteries. A friend who would lend you her torch so that you could finish a book after ‘lights-out’ was a friend indeed.
Books opened up the world for us adolescents. We learned to discern, share, advise, name-drop on books that only a restricted group would have read. D.H. Lawrence started to circulate and it would become a matter of life or death to get our hands on The Virgin and the Gypsy and you steamrolled through the pages during religion class to get to The Pages.
And that leads to the question: Should we share our opinion on a book if the characters are mentally created by each one of us from the pointers the writer gives us? What if writers should give their readers other points of reference as if we were watching a film?
Let’s say I’m writing a thriller. The bad guys want to transfer the Book of Kells to their buyer in Tokyo so they hire a good looking “Western” couple.
It could read: The customs agents watched as the couple laughingly manoeuvred their trolley through the airport arrivals exit. He, tall, slim, elegant and tanned. She, ravishingly beautiful, her perfect body turned heads, her blond hair made fingers ache to caress it. They sailed past the hypnotized agents and sighed as they were bundled into a waiting car. Mission accomplished.
We form our idea of the couple.
But what if it read: The customs agents watched as the couple, Liam Neeson and Gweneth Paltrow lookalikes, laughingly manoeuvred their trolley through the airport arrivals exit. They sailed past the hypnotized agents and sighed as they were bundled into a waiting car. Mission accomplished.
So much verbal economy and precision. But alas, so much less creative.
(c) Frances Fahy
About The Last Duchess: The Life of Ippolita Maria Ruffo di Bagnara
The Last Duchess is loosely based on the true story of Ippolita Maria Ruffo, who lived in Maida, a small village of the Kingdom of Naples and one of the homes of the Ruffo Dynasty of Bagnara.
During a period of great change and unrest, Carlo Ruffo the fifth Duke of Bagnara dies in 1761, leaving three young daughters and no male heir for their possessions in the Calabria region of today’s southern Italy. His wife Anna Cavaniglia leaves the children in the care of the sisters at the Convent of Santa Veneranda and of their paternal grandmother Donna Ippolita d’Avalos d’Aragona and goes back to her native San Giovanni Rotondo where she remarries.
Donna Ippolita manages the estate until 1772 when she makes a dramatic decision. In order to keep the Ruffo line in the hands of her first-born’s heirs, she arranges for Carlo’s eldest daughter, the fourteen-year-old Ippolita Maria, to marry her uncle Nicola, Carlo’s younger brother. This decision has the approval of the clergy.
We follow the fascinating story of Ippolita Maria, first in Maida as the Duchess of Bagnara where she tries to grasp the intrigues of the Court and has to renounce love over duty towards her husband. We see Maida and much of Calabria devastated by an earthquake in 1793. Later, we watch Ippolita Maria’s efforts at adapting to a more modern environment in Naples where she transfers after the fall of the Dynasty of Bagnara.
Order your copy online here.