The Shorter Oxford Dictionary tells us that the word saga is Old Norse. ‘A narrative composition in prose which embodies the traditional history of Icelandic families.’ And ‘A mythical story which has been handed down by oral tradition.’
I love to use memories of a life now gone which people share with me. A saga is often a generational story, or one about relationships. Families lived close together in the past, often living in the same place for generations and forming close-knit communities. This is something we have perhaps lost in the modern world. Look at this picture of my mother as a young girl enjoying an afternoon out with her Aunt Sarah. Judging by the busy scene around them it's clearly taken in the late twenties, early thirties. They look so engrossed in their conversation, happy to be together. Yet her family was very poor with an invalid father who couldn't work, and a mother who was the family bread winner. What are they talking about, I wonder?
The dictionary also states that a saga can be ‘A story of heroic achievement or marvellous adventure.’ A sweeping tale of courage and bravery, good pitted against evil. Robin Hood, Star Wars, David against Goliath, as our hero battles against all odds to win. The saga’s we write are stories about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary events in their lives. Our main characters too must win through against all odds.
But can we class the saga as romantic fiction, or is it something different, a genre in its own right? Is it historical fiction? Or could it, perhaps, be a combination of both?
Catherine Cookson, considered one of the greatest saga writers of all time, certainly didn’t claim to be writing romance. Her novels are more often involved with cruelty, violence and savagery, the hypocrisy of religion, poverty, despair and of course her chief obsession, illegitimacy.
The ingredients of a saga might include:
Fast paced plot
The position of women.
Social and domestic history
Local industry and economics of the region
A sense of place
A view of a wider world
Maybe we can look at some of these in later blogs.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Writing historicals could just be an excuse to indulge in fantasy - it's often the case that when describing our heroine, we can drop the name of a look-a-like, for instance Veronica Lake. How gorgeous was she? Smooth, smart and absolutely self-confident about her looks. Consequently, my latest centre stage character, likes to think of herself as smart and confident, until I did the dig the biggest hole I can and push her in it. Tossing back her gold locks she has to find some way of negotiating her way back on top - until next time. Meanwhile, it's ok to trawl through the photo galleries and pick out of the ether a few more of those character traits. Perhaps underneath she isn't quite so confident, is slow to stay one step ahead of the threat and turns out one morning in her dressing gown and curlers! But to the man who loves her, she looks enchanting, just like the man in my own life, who brings me a cuppa and whispers, "Here's lookin' at you kid" bending to kiss my left ear, following up with "the deer have just scoffed all the pansies."
Friday, May 21, 2010
A sultry summer evening in May with the maybugs bouncing against the window and not a breath of air. My keyboard should be icing over as I'm describing the freezing cold February of 1919, a year after the Great War, with Britain emerging from the nightmare of the battlefields. I’m amazed once again that my current story bears every similarity to the book I have just finished in 1946. It makes me realize just how much of an escape movies played in people's lives. From sizzling Alice Faye to blonde doppelganger Doris Day, Clark Gable to yes! Russell Crowe. From the sultry, challenging, stunning, Alli Nazimova to Katie Price, the resemblances are remarkable. Tying the past into the present isn't difficult; the moment we just lived is history! How fantastic it is to be able to look back in the comfort of home, bring to life the celebrities of the past and melt them into today. Nothing changes, yet everything changes - can't remember who said it, but the movies prove it true.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Reflecting back to the twenties; at about this time in 1926 preparations were ongoing for the first Cup Final at Wembley Stadium between Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers. Provisions included 50,000 bottles of beer, 1,500 bottles of whisky, 30 tons of minerals, 700lbs of tea, 25,000 ham rolls and meat pies, 12,000 packets of biscuits, 120,000 cigarettes, 10,000 boxes of matches and 2 van loads of chocolate. 400 catering staff were to be divided between 10 buffets. The restaurant seated 1000. 50 special trains ran from the L.M. and S Railway in the provinces. 22 from the Midlands. 19 from Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. Translated into today's requirements, it's merely a drop in the football ocean. My dad, a professional footballer for Walthamstow Ave, was paid £1 every Saturday in the late 20's. This was reckoned to be very good money. He broke more bones in his body than I care to count, whilst playing for his team. And transfers then were all about honour, which is why he stuck with his first, last and only team love, until he met another, my mum, who proved more alluring than any other WAG, lucky for me!
The paperback of House of Angels is now out. They've brightened up the jacket, which really is quite stunning I think. I've also delivered the sequel Angels at War, which the editor loves. It's always a worry until you get some feedback. Now, in theory, I have some spare time on my hand. In practice I'm catching up on all those long neglected jobs on blogs and website. I've joined Facebook and Twitter, very time-consuming but really quite fun, allowing me to meet up with people I rarely see.
Here is a review of the hardback.
This is the first book by Freda Lightfoot I have read and, despite the fact that I am not a lover of sagas, I was engaged with the story from page one. She piles horror on horror – rape, torture, sexual humiliation, incest, suicide - but she keeps you reading! The story of the Angel sisters, the novel is set in the Lake District in 1908, the title referring to the high-class department store their father owns. A tyrant, he successfully marries off one of his legitimate daughters so he can gain a plot of land he wants to build on. When his illegitimate daughter comes to him for help after her mother has died, however, he has her taken to the workhouse as, far from being of use to him, she is a threat to his standing in the town. Another daughter defies him, refusing to give up the working-class man she loves, while his youngest remains at home, hating him but unable to escape. How each of these four women cope with the life their father has forced on them, makes for page-turning reading, and I am sure that this novel will become yet another bestseller for Lightfoot.
I must now start planning the next saga. This takes time for me, and I hate putting anything down in writing until it's fairly well formed in my head. I was interested to see that Carol did a 30 page outline. That wouldn't work for me. If I wrote such a long synopsis I would lose the enthusiasm to actually write the book. The story has got to surprise me, as well as the reader, as far as possible anyway. Right now I'm flirting with ideas before deciding whether it will be a long-term relationship. My problem, as always, is too many ideas and so little time.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
It's a while since I've posted, but today has been inspiring, as I've been working with my web designer today and it's been great fun. He's building a new, very visual carolrivers website. I've selected three YouTube videos to give an idea of time and place. I've loved watching the amazing assortment of vids which express so well the 1920, 30's, 40's and 50's, the span of history that I enjoy writing about so much. Some of them are nostalgic, set to music and evoke the real old London. Especially the red buses and trams and Big Ben with wonky chimes from the turn of the 20th century. Others are contemporary and some tensely alluring. However, as music/narration really makes it all come alive for me, I've decided upon three real corkers, and I can't wait to see them in situ, after my wonderful designer has pressed all the right bells and whistles. Now it's back to the compie to work out a thirty page outline of the new book for my agent. The characters are beginning to form, their interior passions, fears and drives, melting into the dialogue. A nice cup of rosie lee and the time just flies…