Thursday, November 15, 2012

Literary names and updates

I was thinking recently that someone ought to, if there wasn't already, make a study of the function of names in literature. In an odd instance of synchronicity, it seems that that book is here: Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature by Alastair Fowler, reviewed in the London Review of Books (linked).

Several readers have noticed that I take a suggestive or descriptive approach to names in The Raven's Seal. This is not just a Dickensian technique, though Dickens was a master namer, but a way to tag or expose something about a character that can be wonderfully evocative. In fact, there are several buried clues to character in The Raven's Seal that I'm waiting for an astute reader to notice, but even if they remain unseen, they add something to the texture and sense of a character.

There is a very warm review of The Raven's Seal on the historical novels society site, and in this guest post for the Historical Fiction Society I write a little about composing The Raven's Seal and the way historical details were brought into and shaped the story.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dickens and his 'mysteries'

I'm back from travelling in the USA, stopping in Nashville and San Francisco. San Francisco, wonderful city that it is, puts me in mind of Dashiell Hammett and The Maltese Falcon.

I admire the classics of American 'hard-boiled' mystery, particularly Hammett and Chandler, because these mysteries, with their intense action and dynamic interaction between the detective and the crime, are so different from the detached English style of detective fiction. It reminds me that there really is no one kind of mystery, and that a mystery plot is not necessarily confined to an intricate, logical puzzle with a definable solution, conducted solely as a game between author and reader.

Dickens, for instance, was drawn to mysteries and mystery plots. He dropped a murder into Bleak House, and we can be pretty sure that The Mystery of Edwin Drood was going to be the portrait of a murderer, but he resisted the idea that he would use mystery to baffle, trick or even fool the reader. The guilty figure in a Dickensian mystery is usually pretty clear (see 'Hunted Down', for example). Dickens used mystery to create suspense, to draw us into stories, to make the reader wonder, and also to illuminate the darker recesses of the human mind. Dickens did not want his reader to solve a mystery, but to experience many mysteries. His detectives could show a sharp light on certain events, but the light also made the shadows dance.