Tag Archives: writing process

Watching Frank Churchill

FrankChurchill (3)I’ve been watching the 1996 Emma again. No, not that one, the other one. The one with Kate Beckinsale. Yes, I like the Gwyneth Paltrow version a lot too, and the 2008 Romola Garai one – in fact, so far the Kate Beckinsale one has been my least favourite of the three; I only own a copy on taped-from-TV VHS (I know, right?). But I pulled it back out lately for reasons of research completely unrelated to Jane Austen.

You see, I’m using the Frank Churchill in that movie as a model for one of the characters I’m writing at the moment. Just physically, mind you – it’s the actor, Raymond Coulthard, his looks and the way he moves and smiles, that I’m using, not Austen’s Frank Churchill. I’m picturing a young Ray Coulthard, ca. 1996, playing the scenes in my story, which helps with writing them. Sort of a writer’s life drawing class, except, uh, with clothes on the model… umm, yeah, never mind.

But in the process of watching Coulthard I couldn’t help but study Frank Churchill. (What was that I was talking about a while back – all research rabbit trails lead back to Austen?) And I’ve come to admire the way Coulthard makes me understand him better.

Austen has, of course, written Frank Churchill as a charming rogue, just shy of one of her bad guys – he’s an ambivalent character, on Austen’s hero-to-villain scale somewhere in the middle, not too many steps removed from Persuasion’s Mr Elliot, who is firmly in the realm of the baddies. Churchill is very charming, good-looking, funny, crush-worthy and all (hence his suitability as a model), and he makes Emma, and everyone else, think that he’s in love with her. But of course, he’s only doing it to cover up his real love, which is for the beautiful, talented and poor Jane Fairfax.

What makes him skirt the edge of caddishness is the fact that he openly flirts with Emma, going so far as to make fun of Jane, all to hide what’s really going on, and his behaviour almost goads Jane into breaking off their engagement and going out to be miserable as a governess; he (and she) is only saved at the last minute by the fortuitous death of his rich cranky aunt which allows him to please himself and marry Jane. Yeah. Not that nice a guy. Which is exactly what Austen wants us to think – we see all this from Emma’s point of view, judge Frank Churchill by her standards.

Except – watching Ray Coulthard play this role – and I mean really watching him, ignoring Emma who is the focal point of every one of their scenes – Frank Churchill comes across as far less of a jerk. Coulthard masterfully brings across in his facial expression, his little smirks, the small pauses before he speaks, the sidelong glances exchanged with Jane (Olivia Williams), what is really going on inside Frank’s head. You can practically see his thoughts on his face. He really does love Jane, and he feels that he’s between a rock and a hard place – he loves her, but doesn’t want to, or feels he can’t, give up the inheritance he stands to get from his aunt (possibly as much for Jane’s sake as for his own).

FrankChurchill (1)

Furthermore, he actually doesn’t think he’s pulling off the deception very well – he thinks that his feelings for Jane are so perfectly obvious that everyone knows what’s going on already. So certain is he of this that he says to Emma, “You must suspect…” (which, of course, she doesn’t, being a little dense on that score). Frank Churchill’s morally dubious behaviour isn’t actually that dubious from his own standpoint, because he doesn’t think he’s successful at it.

Until he is confronted with the fact that he’s nearly managed to push Jane away from himself – and then he’s miserable and cranky himself. He makes matters worse by more or less arguing with Jane in public on Box Hill, the arguments all couched in generalities (which Emma, true to form, manages to thoroughly misinterpret again). Fortunately, there is the “saved by the bell” event of Aunt Churchill dying at the right moment, and all is well for the star-crossed lovers, whose story by this point has become only a backdrop against which to play out the Mr Knightley/Emma tale.

Frank Churchill (as interpreted by Ray Coulthard) is an excellent study in secondary characters and their motivations. Austen writes quite a few flat characters, but Frank is a prime example of one of her many secondary characters with fully rounded personalities and motivations. What you see (the effect of his actions on Emma) is by no means what is actually there (Frank’s motivations, his love for Jane).

FrankChurchill (2)

Besotted gaze at Jane while praising her to Emma

Once you really watch Frank Churchill, it becomes quite easy to understand where he is coming from, and to be in sympathy with him – and with Jane Fairfax for falling in love with him. At first glance, it’s tempting to say “I’m sorry for Jane, getting stuck with a shallow guy like Frank! Whatever did she see in him in the first place?” But at second glance, and third, and a few more start-and-stop-and-fast-forward-and-back viewings of the video (I ended up getting the DVD from the library – the VHS got too tedious) – Frank Churchill really isn’t so bad. His actions make sense, when you take the trouble to try to get into the guy’s head.

In fact, having watched him, and watched him again, I have to admit to having developed a little crush on him myself (his borderline caddishness notwithstanding). Or is it on Ray Coulthard as he was in 1996? Or, really – on the character I’m writing, who has nothing whatever to do with Austen or Churchill or even Coulthard? It’s hard to tease apart. Maybe I’ll have to boot up the other two Emmas I have on the shelf to watch their Frank Churchills, to see how I feel about them. Of course all in the name of research, you understand.

Life, the Universe, and Watching Frank Churchill. The trails that research leads you down…

PS: Just to clarify, the character I’m modelling on Ray Coulthard is not Guy from the Septimus Series. Guy’s got curly hair, too, but he’s a redhead.

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under Jane Austen, writing

Monday Meanderings: A Thaw, and News from the Writing Trenches

A few days ago, just after that big snowfall, a thaw set in. The roads are mostly clear – where they aren’t icy from melting snow running across the pavement – and the sunshine is brilliant today. I rambled up into the woods earlier and stood for quite some time next to the wrecked car, looking out over the white expanse of the frozen lake and thinking, to the sound of the twittering of hopeful birds and the drip-drip-drip of the thaw. And then a row of Canada geese flew over the lake, honking. I like Canada geese; they’re so very – I don’t know, Canadian.

img_20170213_130807229_hdrI thought of many things (though shoes and ships and sealing wax were not among them), and some were trivial, some profound. One was that I needed to make a new gmail address with the periods removed from between the words, and when I came home and tried it, it turned out that gmail had already done so for me – apparently a.m.offenwanger is the same to Google as amoffenwanger. Who knew?

Oh, and I was going to give you some News from the Writing Trenches. I’ve been working on my latest piece, off and on, although it’s been very slow going since the end of NaNo. But it does still go. As for Star Bright (Septimus Book 4), it’s in the revision stage. I’d like to finish writing one book before I edit another – but maybe that’s not a feasible idea. There are a few other pieces that need editing; some short stories among them. And I’m hoping and/or planning to write more shorts to submit to contests or magazines.

img_20170213_130750170_hdrSo, all that to say, yes, I am still working on my writing – although sometimes it feels like I do more talking about writing than actual writing. However, writing blog posts is writing, too, isn’t it? And then there’s all those pictures I’m accumulating on my phone – worth a thousand words each, right? Okay, maybe not. So on that note, I’ll sign off now and go do some real writing.

Life, the Universe, and Monday Meanderings. Spring is on its way.

4 Comments

Filed under Monday Meanderings, this and that, writing

The Wonders of Google Maps, Take 2

(Edited to include link to the graphic for email feed)

In addendum to yesterday’s post: I keep finding more crazy-amazing stuff on Google Maps. Just for instance, and for your delectation, here’s a Photo Sphere image of the Great Hall of Nymphenburg Palace (click your mouse inside the image and drag it around for a 360° view):

(If you can’t see the embedded graphic, click on the link here)

Isn’t that something?

And now I have to go fix a sentence in my NaNo manuscript – from my own photos, I thought that marble tile floor was black and white…

Life, the Universe, and Research. What did writers ever do before Google? (Write, probably. Hmph. Okay, okay, I’m getting back to it!)

6 Comments

Filed under writing

Chess, and Some Very Special Pieces

So, you know that Checkmate just came out, right? Of course you do, and you’ve already downloaded your ebook copy. And because you have, you know that it prominently features a chess game.

Oh, you mean you hadn’t got that far in reading the book yet? Sorry, didn’t mean to give any spoilers! But honestly, I’m not giving anything away by telling you that. I’m sure that even without getting to the part  about the game, you’ve figured out that the story has something to do with chess – because you’re brilliant like that, and put 2 and 2 together, i.e. deduced that the title Checkmate and the chess piece on the cover picture mean there’s some significance to chess here.

Checkmate_CVR_XSML

However, the chess knight on the cover is actually a tiny bit misleading – it’s the wrong style. If I’d had my druthers, the image that would have been on the cover is that of the Lewis Chessmen, a 12th-century ivory chess set that was discovered on the Isle of Lewis somewhere around 1831 and is on display in the British Museum now. The chess set in the book is modelled on them. But I couldn’t find any royalty-free images of the Lewis Chessmen, so we just went with a vaguely antique-looking ordinary chess piece for the cover.

lewisset_304x400

The Lewis Chessmen © Trustees of the British Museum

One cool & nerdy thing about the Lewis Chessmen is that they were used as the model for the chess set that Harry and Ron play at Christmas in the first Harry Potter movie, where the pieces clobber each other over the head instead of being tamely taken off the game board. I’d like to get me one of those sets…

But it would only be for display. You see, the funny thing about me writing about a chess game is that I don’t really know much about chess, myself – I know how the pieces move, and that’s about it. But fortunately, I’m married to someone who makes up for my deficiency, and so my Man alpha-read Checkmate and then set about fixing all my chess-related bloopers. He sat down and designed a chunk of game that worked with the plot as I had it, step by step. Here’s one of the configurations of the model game:

chess6

You can see his notations in the background. This is from where I rebuilt the game while I was editing, so I could get an actual image in my head of what was going on. And yes, I learned to read chess notations – who says writing fantasy fiction isn’t educational?

So that’s a little background piece on Checkmate, how it came to be written, and some of its imagery.

Life, the Universe, and – Checkmate! Have you got your copy yet?

6 Comments

Filed under Checkmate, The Septimus Series

Reckless Rabbit-Trailing

One of the pleasures of writing fantasy fiction is world building. In fantasy, anything goes. You want your characters to have interesting-coloured eyes? Make ’em purple. Or better yet, turquoise. (Just as an aside, the turquoise-coloured eyes of some of the main characters in Seventh Son simply appeared in the course of writing the story. I sat down and started to write,  and when it came to finding a simile for the colour of the pottery bowl – you know, the one that sucks Cat off to Ruph – I wrote “It was a turquoise blue, very much like the eyes of the weird guy that had stared at Cat so disturbingly…” Completely unplanned, but there they were – turquoise eyes. When I wrote that, I had no idea who this person was, or that he was important in any way. Turns out he was; very much so. Good thing he strolled into the pages of the story with his turquoise eyes just when I needed something to compare the glaze colour to.)

Anyway, point being that in fantasy fiction, you can just make things up. But still, they have to be coherent. In the Septimus world, for example, it turns out that turquoise eyes are unusual. Most people have ordinary-coloured eyes – blue or brown or grey; and their skin tones are just normal people-colours, too. In other words, that whole world is pretty much like ours here, with a bit of magic (and turquoise eyes) tossed into the mix. Well, it’s like ours was a long time ago. Being an inveterate history nerd, I made the setting something akin to the European Middle Ages. And within that setting, things have to work together. I’m not dealing with actual history, so I can get away with giving my quasi-medieval characters a closed cook stove with an integrated water heater – something that wasn’t invented in Europe until almost Victorian times. They also have a town clock. But no electricity or steam power, and no magical equivalent thereof, either (at least not yet. I think. Maybe. Who knows, something might stroll into the pages again…).

And so, taking together the requirement for coherence with the freedom to make things up, I have to do research. Yup. Must. It’s one of the hardships of writing fiction that is set anywhere other than the here-and-now. I’m forced to google things, and it is my writerly duty to keep running after the rabbit trails that appears in the process.

So, today’s starting question was: if Ilim is two days’ travel from Ruph (which is a fact that strolled into the pages of Cat and Mouse), and Rhanathon five days (which is something you’ll find out in Checkmate), just exactly how far is that in physical distance? Given that Ruph is in the mountains with a fair amount of forest around it, and that they travel by horse carriage or on foot, well…?

StagecoachSome two-and-a-half hours later, I had more than a dozen windows open in my browser, and had arrived at reading about the average income of a Regency labourer and the cost of taking the stage coach from London to Bath in the time of Jane Austen. (In case you’re wondering, according to this page it was approx. £2. Given that a worker earned no more than £25/year, that’s pretty much the equivalent of the cost of an airplane ticket from Canada to Europe today. Hiring a post-chaise, as the likes of Mr Darcy would have done, meant renting a private jet – it was about £100 for the trip.)

Anyways, see how that happens? You start out researching how long it takes for a horse carriage to travel from one point to another, and end up with Jane Austen. And you find out all kinds of interesting things about the Pony Express on the way – those guys were fast! And really young – just kids, most of them. Oh, sorry, where were we? Travel distances, right.

Life, the Universe, and Writer’s Research Rabbit Trailing. Those are the pleasures of creating.

4 Comments

Filed under Jane Austen, The Septimus Series, writing