Wednesday 18 June 2014

Review: The Governess or Little Female Academy by Sarah Fielding

It's not rock 'n' roll but I like it.

The cover sleeve and introductions make large claims for this book, written by Sarah Fielding in 1749. It calls it the first school novel, the first educational book and the first children's novel in English. I am not convinced it is a novel, there isn't enough plot or general happening for that.

The plot, such as it is, is about a school on nine little girls who have an argument and a fight over a basket of apples. As part of the reconciliation they takes turns to read a tale each, discuss it and then to give their life story up to that point, paying particular attention to their previous faults. Thus allowing the reader to hear a number of fairy tales and fictional life stories of petty vice.

All if the tales and life stories have one didactic aim, to encourage the readers, young girls themselves, to achieve true happiness through moral conduct. Good conduct being a control and grounding of one's own bad feelings and an empathetic partaking in other's pleasures. It has a very Johnsonian bent, that happiness will never be achieved through a person's ambitions or wealth but in the ease they have in their own company and the company of others. 

The point is not subtly made and re-inforced by repetition but to be honest, it was a message I needed to hear. Since starting this crowdfunding for 'Death of a Dreamonger' my mood has been completely and utterly linked to the small box on the website that records pre-orders. Delighted when the figure goes up and distressed when it stays the same. My happiness has been completely out of my control and in other people's hands. I have grown unable to appreciate those who have ordered or the phenomenal support I have received from family, friends and acquaintances. So I enjoyed the message in the book and am trying to take it to heart.

Although there isn't much of a plot, the characters, though simply drawn, are engaging. I grew quite tired of Sarah Fielding's 'David Simple' and put it down half-read but in this book she has such a choice for the telling detail that many of the little girls came to life.

Sukey was one of my favourites, she was a sparky, feisty girl who fights and argues because she doesn't want people thinking she lacks spirit. I also liked Polly Suckling, the youngest one, whose main job is yo say or do whatever would be cutest at that moment - sort of like Mara Wilson in Mrs Doubtfire but without the annoying lisp.

Jenny Peace, our heroine was not a very good character though. Her moral perfection, mildness and goodness made her a rather dull and unengaging person to follow. As for The Governess herself of the title, Mrs Teachum, she had some progressive pedagogical notions which would not have been out of place in a modern primary school. I bet she was the teacher everyone hoped they would get. Though I was uneasy about the closeness of the name Teachum and that of Peachum.

This book is very safe. It's very nice. It's polite and well-mannerd and passionless. It teaches pleasantness and mildness - and sometimes that is a good thing in a book. Though as much as I enjoyed it, I'm reading Sweeney Todd next.


For my own, possibly moral but not very mild book, order here..

Just because I don't want the sales of it to dictate my mood, doesn't mean I don't want people to get it.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Review: Tristram Shandy: Conception Cock & Bull

A little break from 'Death of a Dreamonger' to talk about something I went to see on Friday at the studio of St James Theatre.

First, I have to say, I don't like the St James Theatre. It was built last year and is as anonymous as anything else, could as easily be a travelodge or one of those luxury flats they are busy sticking in any spare space in London at the moment.

I must also admit that I didn't like the price. £17.50 seems a lot to pay for a one man show with simple staging which lasts for just over an hour. I later found out that the profits from the show went to a charity, which is fair enough but I'm sure the £5 they were asking for half a pint of beer was not. Then they asked me if I wanted to pay a donation to the theatre on top.

Putting all that aside and talking about the performance, it was written and performed by a man called Stephen Oxley and he did brilliant things with it.

My favourite part was when, in the middle of telling a story he suddenly ducked down and crawled before 'emerging' and standing up. We were then told he'd drawn a curtain over the previous scene and the audience realised that he had just wriggled his way out from under that curtain.

The digressive nature of Tristram Shandy was played brilliantly for laughs, the joy and eagerness with which 'Tristram' as the narrator kept getting sidetracked. He promised to tell it straight in the second half but could not resist a few digressions, especially when going through his chest of props and goodies.

The bawdy in the book was well represented. From the spirited impersonation of his conception (followed by a comment that he wouldn't tell us about his birth till we were better acquainted) to a whispered aside to an audience member that so shocked her she gasped. He played that Shandian game of informing us that a nose is definitely a nose, whilst making it abundantly clear it probably wasn't.

The representation of some of the minor characters was quite pantomimish but it added to the fun and Parson Yorick was played by a skull. Alas, we didn't have Yorick's death though (I thought maybe a blackout to represent the black page). Nor did we have the eternal curse or the business with Obadiah's knots but there was a lot of the good stuff there with proper and due attention paid to Uncle Toby.

So, I did enjoy myself, but I'd have liked it more for a tenner in the Dictionary Garrett in Dr Johnson's House...notwithstanding Johnson's own opinion of Tristram Shandy.

All yours

Oh... and if anyone does wish to be in on something special and preorder my book, click the picture below.

Thursday 5 June 2014

The Horse's Mouth

So, I launched my little barque upon the seas and the seas have been fairly kind. Five days in and I approach fifty. I am worrying a little in case this is the rush as sales have slowed right down in the last two days.

Before I started this process I made a number of videos as something new to show every few days. This is video number two, a plain affair where I just read the first few paragraphs. I was going to be especially jazzy with the words all bouncing around but it took me so long to do the ones you see here that I mixed in me reading with it. Given the subject matter, I pull some pretty coquettish faces.

 Are you sitting comfortably? This is how the story begins....

Sunday 1 June 2014

Here it comes!

Much of the eighteenth century emphasis of this blog is going to be on the back burner for a little bit as we prepare for a proper Grub Street party to celebrate the publication of my mystery/thriller 'Death of a Dreamonger'.

But that is not all, the possibility of the book's publication will rely on securing 250 pre-orders, so head over to britain's next bestseller and get pre-ordering.

Here is a little video about the main characters in the book. New videos will be uploaded each week.

Happy pre-ordering.