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Friday 23 November 2012

No Lady

I’ve just come across a very nice review of Icelight in this month’s edition of The Historical Novel Society. It’s always good to get a review which shows evidence that the reviewer has enjoyed and engaged with the book – even when it comes with reservations. While talking about what he kindly describes as the ‘brilliant characterisation’, the reviewer points out that some of the characters ‘use some unpleasant male language’ which he says is ‘distasteful though refreshing coming from a female writer.’  He then says ‘Aly Monroe is no lady.’

I was immediately amused by this, but it reminded me of something a long time ago. I have mentioned elsewhere that I was very much into acting when I was young – attended drama classes until I was eighteen, and even seriously considered drama school before deciding to go to university. What I remembered was this. When I was about fifteen, I was asked to choose a speech to perform from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I knew perfectly well that they expected me to choose sweet Miranda. But I rebelled at being typecast. Instead I chose Caliban’s speech ‘This island’s mine, by Sycorax, my mother ...’ Caliban is usually portrayed as wild and deformed, between man and beast, and speaks his pent-up, imprisoned rage in wonderful, energetic,  verse. I really relished this. It has often been said that one of the attractions of acting is that you can experience being something and someone else. In fact, the act of characterisation from an acting point of view means that you blot yourself out and ‘assume’ another person.

When I began writing – relatively late in life – I drew on my acting experience of characterisation to create my characters. This was familiar to me. You listen, hear the voice, see where the characters will go and how they will react. The words they speak are theirs.

The characters the reviewer referred too would certainly never have used ‘lady-like language!