The Villainous Viscount Or the Cure of the Venns has won a BRAG medallion.

VillainousViscount_800 Cover reveal and Promo

After confessing to my less than uplifting news a short while ago – that I had to jettison 40,000 words of the novel I’m working on at the moment  – due originally, no doubt, to my usual disorganised habit of not writing a plan – I am happy to give some good news.

That is that ‘The Villainous Viscount’ has won one of the coveted a BRAG medallion.

To celebrate, I am reducing it in price to 0.99 for a few days and it is available from Amazon.com here  and from Amazon.co.uk here .

Thinking of it, and the pleasure I got out of writing it, has reminded me of one all important thing about writing which writers should never forget.

It is too easy as a writer to get so drawn into concentrating on concerns about honing one’s writing skills, comparing forms of promotion and debating how how far to use ‘social media’,  fretting over sales figures, the increasing difficulties of obtaining reviews,  the need for research and so on, that you forget something that you  never should forget: that joy in writing.

I loved writing that story about the Curse of the Venns, and the  memodramatic haunting of all the main perpetrators of a crime in the France of the Ancien Regime,  and the appearances of the Hooded Spectre (complete with clap of thunder and flash of lightning):

‘“Clarinda, you remember that you were the only respectable young lady who spoke kindly about poor Foyle’s death. You were not cold and implacable, then.”

Her lips thinned. “I am only so now in refusing your offer of marriage.” He dropped her hands.

“So be it, Ma’am.” Too outraged to make the normal civilities, he turned away.

A flash of lightning outlined the window, where a hooded, cloaked figure appeared, suspended on the air. It extended one skeletal hand as if reaching towards them and vanished even as the thunderclap came.’

I enjoyed writing about those highly contrasting characters, the down-to-earth, kind hearted Clarinda Greendale. It was great fun to write about the eponymous Villainous Viscount Harley Venn, wholly disreputable, given to every sort of wildness and excess, but  good humoured in his own clareless way, as is shown by allowing his manservant’s impossible small children to live with them, wreaking havoc:

“There’ll be no fire in your study… Your Honour,” drawled the man, who never called Venn either ‘My Lord’ or ‘Lord Venn’, almost as if he suspected him of being an impostor, while he often paused before saying ‘Your Honour’. “My lad followed the girl in there when she was banking it up, and was after hurling a jug of water over it before she could stop him. Practising for them bloody duns, he was.” A look of pride softened his face.

“Curse you, I’ve told you to keep the little brutes out of there,” Venn sounded resigned.’

I borrowed Harley Venn’s  habits of routine drunkeness, love of pugilism and brawling  of dressing as a costermonger from  the fascinatingly melodramtic 1894 novel The Outcast of the Family Or A Battle Between Love and Pride by the Victorian writer of best sellers, Charles Garvice, laughing as I did.

There is in fact a serious core at the heart of the story – the tale of the forced abduction, twenty years earlier, of the young country girl  Rose by Harley Venn’s uncle, egged on by  his debauched friends. I loved writing that part as well.

Thinking of this makes me all the more determined to shrug off my frustration about the difficulties I am having in resolving the problems with the plot with my latest. I had these same delays and difficulties with The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Venns, and sorted them out eventually.

With any luck I will do the same with this one, and meanwhile, I should make the most of the pleasure of writing it.

For those readers of this blog who write, and are interested in submitting their novels to the BRAG website, the link is here

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Anti-Heroine’s: Part Two Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Novels

Fourth Universe Cover

I wrote in my last post that I have difficulty in finding anti-heroines in both classic and modern novels. I must have been reading the wrong books. Surely an anti-heroine is to be found from amongst all those katana wielding, leather clad female warrior leads? However, as I mentioned, I haven’t read that much modern fantasy, and maybe I keep missing them.

I now recall that I have encountered a couple of versions of the anti-heroine in fantasy.

In The Dan Series Book four ‘Into the Fourth Universe  there is the heartless siren Rannie. This woman in fact is, in her own totally heartless way, sometimes on the side of right. Besides running a criminal empire, she is partly out to save the universe; it is just that she doesn’t let scruples about anyone, including the bumbling, hirsute space age detective Magus get in the way.  However, she underestimates his dogged persistence…

There is an hilarious confrontation between them at one stage at the novel.

‘“You know the first rule of investigation – never accept a drink off a dame ; it always has a Mickey Finn in it.”

 “Not this one; I poured it myself. See.” She took a good swig from the glass.

He tasted it suspiciously. “Seems OK. Ta.” He knocked the pint back in one draught. “Any more? This investigating is thirsty work.”

She poured another for him. “Right; now I suppose I owe you an explanation.”…

His vision blurred. The room shimmered. He felt his senses slipping. “What have you done?” he muttered as he felt his legs giving way. “You said the drink wasn’t drugged…”

“The first one no,”  said Rannie,  lowering him gently onto a couch. “The second one was. You forgot the first rule of investigation; never ever ever accept a drink from a dame.”

There is also another contender for the title of anti-heroine in this hilarious series, though there is the minor fact that she isn’t human. This is the sex android Kara-Tay, another seemingly heartless siren, who spends a great part of the first novel in the series ‘The Adventures of Dan’ trying to kill off Dan Smith, whom she has abducted to join her in a wild adventure across universes.

Kara-Tay was designed by an man as his sex slave; having escaped from her servitude from her creator, she has no high opinion of males. But she has a shameful secret…

Moving on to an anti-heroine who confined her activities to the deep south of the US here is Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara in the 1936 novel ‘Gone with the Wind’. I read it at sixteen, and never forgot the sweeping impact of the story.

This book always struck me as a ‘guillty pleasure’ type of read, with its swaggering anti-hero to Scarlett’s anti-heroine, the sentimental passages, generally good-looking characters (with a few exceptions, such as the supposedly plain Melanie and  the sad Frank Kennedy, that is), detailed descriptions of dresses, balls and feasts and the lifestyle of the plantation families (before they are ruined by the war, of course) and also, on the code of behaviour extolled by the Southern gentlefolk.

Scarlett is notoriously vain, flirtatious and is highly unscrupulous, both in her battle to survive and in her pursuit of the golden haired, suave Ashely Wilkes. She is also, as Rhett Butler points out, barbarically ignorant – she thinks that the Borgias are a family from Georgia, and that her father might have been in the siege of Drogheda  – but she is endowed with a wonderful zest for live and will to survive as the society in which she has grown up falls about her ears.

But even at an unpolitical sixteen, my pleasure in this classic anti-heroine was spoiled by my dismay at the racism. It is not just a case of an author depicting the institutionalised racism of the plantation culture. The writer herself often seems to  suggest that black people were happier as slaves and that the Klu-Klux-Klan was inspired by gallantry.

The Blood of Others cover

A less known, but remarkably engaging anti-heroine is the very young and passionate Hélenè in Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Blood of Others’ (1945) . A critic described her in this way: ‘Hélène, the little shop girl, wild as a hare with the morality of a pirate…is enchanting’. I found her so too.

She is as determined to have Jean Blomart, the guilt driven intellectual renegade bourgeois turned printer, as Scarlett O’Hara is determined to have Ashley Wilkes.  Also, like ‘Gone with the Wind’, the story deals with a desperate war –that fought by the French Resistance in occupied France during World War Two.

However, there the resemblance to ‘Gone with the Wind’ stops. This is a sombre and – for all its human warmth and flashes of humour – essentially serious novel. It is all part of the nature of its achievement of a depth of vision that the opportunistic Hélène becomes heroic, and that Jean Blomart, who was thrown out by his factory owner father for being a violent subversive, should come together with him to forward the aims of the French Resistance.

Another heartless siren anti-heroine is Xenia in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Robber Bride’ (1993). This woman destroys happiness and snaps up and spits out married or committed men like a crocodile and with about as many scruples. The ending is, in line with much of Atwood’s writing, ambiguous. Throughout, Xenia’s viewpoint and understanding of her victims is incomplete; perhaps she has overestimated her power. I believe some readings depict her as a woman who saves two of the female protagonists from unworthy men (the third allows her lover back after Xenia finishes with him). It doesn’t seem to me that either of the women who loses the said unworthy man is any the better for it. They remain heartbroken.

Robber Bride Cover

It strikes me that most of these anti-heroines are, in fact, sirens. Their attraction for men is no doubt invaluable for them as they shoulder their way through the world. Hélėne in ‘The Blood of Others’ perhaps the exception; although depicted as very attractive, and although capable of having affairs with men who mean nothing to her, she is not a siren as such; she is too lacking in artifice and finally, hypocrisy. She is too hot blooded.

Many of these sirens come across to the reader as in fact, sexually as well as emotionally cold. Perhaps sexual relations  with all men strike them as a tedious chore. This means that they can endure them with gritted teeth with the most unappealing of characters.

In ‘Vanity Fair’ Becky Sharp can apparently endure the thought of marital relations with the rebarbative Sir Pitt Crawley (unfortunately for her his wife dies after she marries his much more physically appealing but untitled youngest son) and is by implication the mistress of the repellent (and possibly diseased) Marquis of Steyne,

Becky Sharp’s appearance is dwelt on very little for a siren; we know she has a slim, curving figure, striking green eyes and sandy hair. Her fascination seem to be in her charm, her playing and singing, her mimicry and her manipulative skill in getting what she wants from men in particular. She has no emotional warmth and one assumes this must be evident to anyone who is either immune to flattery and/or reasonably perceptive.

It would be intriguing to see if there are many other sorts of anti-heroines besides femme fatales, and in fact, there is a wonderful example in the dreadful Miss Bohun in Olivia Manning’s ‘School for Love’ (1951) which I have always regarded as a greatly underestimated minor masterpiece.

That is, I am assuming that Miss Bohun is an anti-heroine rather than an antagonist. She is the main female character. There is a lively, likable and attractive female character, the young widow Mrs Ellis, to whom the bitter Miss Bohun acts as a sort of evil genius and antagonist, but she does not appear until well into the book. Although the final confrontation between Mrs Ellis and Miss Bohun leads to Felix’s final disillusionment with Miss Bohun, this could easly have been effected without her and she is to some exent an interestingly subversive but shadowy presence. Miss Bohun’s malevolent influence is constant.

The story is narrated from the point of view of Felix Latimer, a boy in his early teens and a distant relative of Miss Bohun, who comes to live with her in Jerusalem at the end of World War Two.  Gradually, he begins to realise that Miss Bohun  is not just sharp tongued and undemonstrative and a member of a religious cult; she is a bitter miser and wholly uncharitable, caring for nobody but herself.

School for Love Cover

Miss Bohun is no femme fatale, though there are strong hints at the end of the novel that she wil marry for money. In appearance, she reminds Felix of a stick insect, and she is so mean that she only owns two dresses and leaves her house unheated in mid winter. She is small minded, insensitive and not very clever, but sly enough to be able to manipulate matters so that she ends up outwitting most of the more intelligent characters, who are hampered with a sense of honour. She has none, but always somehow avoids taking responsibility for her mean betrayals. Horribly smug,she ascribes her victories to God’s especial favour for her.

It is a comment on how well this book is written that all the grim events in the novel are po9rtrayed with a wonderfully dark humour.

This post is too long and I must stop here. But I would be interested to hear of any other anti-heroines readers of this post have encountered.

 

 

 

The Anti-Heroine

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I have often thought, on and off, what a shame it is how few anti-heroines there are in both traditionally published and self published fiction.

Anti -heroes suffer from overpopulation in the fiction world- particularly in romance – but their female equivalents seem thin on the ground.

This anyway, is my experience, but maybe I am looking in the wrong places (anxiously picks up some stones in the garden).

Maybe I haven’t come across them because I don’t read much fantasy and all its sub sections, and possibly that is the genre in which they are most often to be found, with all those katana waving, leather clad female warriors.  With all the newly published works on the internet, there must surely be many of these outrageous lead females I have missed. But if so, I keep on missing them, as with the 65 bus when I used to live in South Ealing.

There are, however, some excellent classic ones. I have to start off by saying that to my shame, I have yet to read ‘Madame Bovary’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ whom I believe count as anti-heroines.

However, I have read ‘Vanity Fair’ twice. The selfish, cold, manipulative  Becky Sharp is certainly an anti-heroine. I dislike her, because she has almost no warmth of feeling , and is prepared to destroy her only friend Amelia’s happiness and future security for her own gain. This also is  part of a mean spirited revenge she takes on Amelia’s fiancé George Osborn, who earlier has prevented her marriage to Amelia’s foolish half-brother Joss.

During the vain George’s honeymoon in Brighton with Amelia, she and  her now husband Rawdon Crawley turn up, and while Rawdon Crawley assiduously strives to relieve George of his small inheritance from his mother, Becky flirts with him and soon succeeds in making him infatuated with her, careless on how wretched this will make Amelia, who was the only person who championed her at school.

As, through George’s interference to prevent the Jos engagement, she is still free later to marry the baronet’s son Rawdon Crawley and aim higher up the social ladder, one might think that she would be philosophical about George’s earlier snobbish interference; but it seems that she is not.

In some ways she is carelessly drawn, I suppose as a result of WM Thackeray’s self –conscious masculine inability to see inside the heads of women. For instance, Becky at the beginning of the story is rebellious and resentful. She alarms Amelia by throwing away the dictionary given her by the school as a parting present, and shouts ‘Vive Bonoparte! Vive l’Empereur!’

I rather liked her for this frank defiance, but she soon changes into a sly flaterer. Within hours of going to stay with the Sedley family in Russell Square, she is suddenly expert at hiding her real feelings, and can draw in the fat and foolish Jos.

Vanity Fair is, of course, one of the greatest novels written about the Battle of Waterloo. That is the way in which it has lingered in my imagination, and not through any great interest in its two dimensional anti-heroine. However, Thackeray deserves all credit for creating one, however clumsily.

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I have to make another shamed confession here; I never finished reading Jane Austen’s ‘Lady Susan’. Jane Austen wrote it when she was very young, and not easily able to handle the subject matter, which is fascinating, being about a widow with a ‘dubious’ character scheming to marry one of a group of eligible young men. I think this is probably why I stopped reading.

I must read it through soon. In Jane Austen’s time, when a novel was abominated unless the author paraded its moral worth, an anti-heroine like the heartless Lady Susan was a theme only the boldest writer would attempt. Perhaps this is why she did not return to it, as she did to the early versions of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

Another anti-heroine is, of course, Cathy in ‘Wuthering Heights’. She dies ‘not with a bang but a whimper’ fading away after she finds that she cannot have both Edgar Linton and Healthcliff. However surprisngly tame the end of life in this world for Cathy is, she is a highly effective ghost.

Her relationship with the Heathcliff is certainly bizarre. Contrary to what so many readers seem to believe, I would argue that she does not appear to have romantic feelings feelings towards him, though they do seem to have some confusion of identiy.  It is difficult to work out what sort of feelings Heathcliff has for Cathy. From some of his comments, he seems to have less divided feelings about his passion for her than she has over hers for him.

In that era, it was, I believe, illegal for a person to marry a foster sibling (there was no formal adoption) whether there was any blood relationship or not, so I am puzzled about why Cathy even mentions marrying Heathcliff in her famous speech about degradation. There’s a good discussion of that, and the incest theme in ‘Wuthering Heights’ here 

Apart from her dependency relationship with Heathliff,  we really don’t know that much about Cathy. She is wilful and selfish and when in her early teens, loves running about on the moors in all weathers and soon develops a normal amount of teenage vanity.

In these characteristics, she does make a refreshing change from most mid Victorian heroines. However, she is not, for all her wild passions and temper tantrums, a fully realised character. For all her apparent ‘large ego’ if set aside from her torn feelings for both Edgar Linton and Heathcliff,  for all her undeniable egotism, she hardly seems to exist at all. Again, I found this disappointing.

I have more I want to write about anti-heroines, including the mid-twentieth century depictions of two in the Hélène in Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Blood of Others’ and Scarlett O’Hara, but for now I had better finsih this post with the request  that I hope someone reading it can recommend a modern anti-heroine to me.