Posts belonging to Category author interviews



“I Dream of Genie” Guest post by Lisa Tuttle, on searching for family history

Just at the moment, I’m thinking about the relationships between writers and a couple of things, one of which is the personal, oral, family history which we learn (proverbially and frequently literally) at our grandmother’s knee. When I’m up to date with current obligations, I plan on blogging accordingly.

Meantime, imagine my delight when I was interviewing Lisa Tuttle for the upcoming issue of Interzone, and conversation turned to this very topic. She’s very kindly expanded on this in a fascinating guest post.

(And do keep your eyes open for her forthcoming novel, ‘The Curious Case of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief’ (Jo Fletcher Books). It’s excellent!

I Dream of Genie – Lisa Tuttle

Young Mrs Clarke

To me, the experience of doing family history research falls somewhere between what it feels like to read a novel and writing one. These people were real, not fictional creations, but their stories have been lost….only scattered references, clues and hints, the occasional memory or newspaper references remain, so I must use my imagination to try to bring them back to life.

The figure who first caught my interest in this way was my great-grandmother, my father’s paternal grandmother, Eugenia Ash Tuttle – “Genie” – who died a couple of years before I was born. Here’s what my Aunt Gracia (my father’s older sister) remembered:

“She travelled all the time, all over the world, and crossed the Atlantic 17 times. When my father was a little boy, he lived in Paris, and spoke French before he spoke English. His mother had great E.S.P. and believed she was clairvoyant. She studied astrology in Egypt. After she divorced Mr Tuttle [this was her third divorce at a time when it was rare], Genie moved to California and starred in silent movies. Late in life, when she was down on her luck (like me) she went to live with her son in Birmingham, Michigan, but she could not stand the quiet, missed the excitement of her life in California, so back she went!”

Genie’s first husband – my great-grandfather — was Robert Elliott Clarke. He was ten years older than 20-year-old Eugenia, who had known him barely twenty-four hours when she married him in Chicago in 1886. He was the son of Irish immigrants, grew up in Brooklyn, left school at fourteen, had worked as an actor and as a voice teacher. Their son, born in 1889, was years later adopted by his stepfather, Clarence Tuttle, and became Robert E. Tuttle.

My grandfather never saw his real father again after the age of about five, and I suspect any discussion of Clarke was verboten for at least as long as Mr Tuttle was around, but later he did some investigating of his own – the copy of his parents’ marriage license was my own starting point, decades later. The story that came down to me was that Clarke had been “physician to the Court of St James” at the time of Queen Victoria.

From a biography of Queen Victoria I learned she’d had a personal physician named Sir James Clark. Could this possibly be my ancestor? The dates did not fit, nor did his life – he never went to America, and nor did his son, who had no children.

My reading was too random to be classified as research. Only after the internet came along, and the wonders of searchable digitized archives and newspapers, did I make a real effort to unravel this old family mystery, and discovered this headline from Washington, D.C. in February 1891:

“Robert E. Clarke Disappears – He Left Many Checks, but No Bank Account”

He’d been selling bogus shares in property investment, and skipped town just in time to avoid arrest. Thanks to the many digitized records available through Ancestry.com, I was able to find out where he “disappeared” to: In March, he applied for a passport, to include his wife Eugenia and their little boy, at the American Embassy in Berlin. He claimed he was a “merchant” from New York.

What they did, how they survived, abroad for the next four years I don’t know. They moved around. They spent time in Paris (where my grandfather learned French) and in London. But I have no detailed evidence of their lives abroad, and that blank spot has inspired a curiosity, which has led to me a fascination with the period. I have read a lot about other people who lived in – and Americans who visited — London, Paris and Berlin in the early 1890s, developing a feel for the zeitgeist of the time. This led me to write fiction – not about my great-grandparents (I want to know them, not turn them into fictional creations) but set in that time, so I embarked on a series of detective stories….and the first novel in the series, The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief, set in London in October and November 1893.

Somnambulist

My grandfather returned to the U.S. – for good – with his parents in April 1895. They left Southampton on 4 April 1895, on the Manitoba, bound for New York. It was a single-class passenger liner and there were only 26 passengers on board for that voyage, so they would all have become acquainted during the 12-day journey – I imagine it a bit like a floating house-party. Among the passengers were three prominent members of the Theosophical Society – Dr Archibald Keightley (who had been responsible for bringing the founder of that group, Madame Blavatsky, to Britain from America, paid her bills and supervised the publication of her book The Secret Doctrine), his wife Julia (formerly Mrs Verplank) and their close friend Alice Leighton Cleather. I feel sure Genie would have been fascinated by Theosophy as she was by all such spiritual, esoteric subjects.

On the passenger list, Robert E. Clarke claimed his profession was “Physician.”

I’m guessing this reflected a new scam he’d developed to earn a living whilst in Europe. And he continued to call himself a doctor after he got back to New York, as per an article that appeared in the New York Herald, Monday, 16 December 1895:

MANY SEEKING G. ELLIOTT CLARK.

An Army of Creditors Call at His Former Residence To Find Him Gone

FAT PERSONS DISGRUNTLED

He Agreed to Cure Them Of Obesity, but Many Still Mourn Over Their Corpulency.

How He Made Men Taller.

The story beneath the interesting headlines says that he put the letters “M.D.” after his name on his card, although “he did not openly practice as a physician.” He sold bath salts that were supposed to aid in weight reduction, and special shoe inserts to make men taller. By the time he left – assumed to have returned to London – his wife had taken their son and gone back to her mother in D.C. She did not stay where he might have found her, but went to Chicago, divorced him, and – but the rest is a story for another time.

Authors’ views, viewing the authors & audio too – Fight Like A Girl multimedia!

Over at SFFWorld, the assorted authors of the Fight Like A Girl anthology have been having a say about oh, all sorts of things. Part One of the mass interview is now up and Part Two will follow at the end of this week.

Meantime, Roz Clarke has posted her video highlights of the launch day in Bristol over on YouTube. You’ll want to settle in with a tea, coffee or other beverage of choice as it’s 50 minutes worth of readings, discussion and sword/knife fights. In which I demonstrate various things including how to get someone to cut their own throat without leaving any of my fingerprints on the weapon 🙂

To enjoy the day’s reading and panel discussions in audio, head over to Cheryl Morgan’s blog, where you’ll also find the panel discussion.

And if after all that, you want to buy the book?
Amazon – paperback
Amazon Kindle

There’s also a Goodreads giveaway running till April 30th

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Out and about, in person and online

They* tell you that writing is a solitary occupation. Only when it comes to the pen on paper, fingers on keyboard bit. They* really should say how much fun and inspiration there is to be had in this writing life when you get together with other writers and with readers.

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In the Olden Days~, that meant meeting up in person, and we still have many and varied ways of doing that in SF& Fantasy circles. This Saturday past I was in Bristol at The Hatchet Inn, for the Launch Extravaganza celebrating the publication of ‘Fight Like a Girl’. (ebook also available). This is an anthology I’m really pleased to be part of, sharing my take on this particular theme alongside established voices and newer writers in SFF.

Isn’t that such a great cover? And for the curious, those are my battle axe earrings on the right hand side. They seemed like appropriate jewellery for the day.

We had a great time, with readings from Lou Morgan, Sophie E Tallis and Danie Ware, a panel discussing this anthology’s inspiration in particular, and wider issues facing women in genre publishing, and then Fran Terminiello and Lizzie Rose (of The School of the Sword) demonstrated some fascinating swordplay, by way of a speedy run though the evolution of swords from the Medieval to the Renaissance. Great stuff.

And yes, as promised in my previous post, I demonstrated some aspects of aikido to prove that fighting like a girl may well be different to battling like a bloke – but it’s no less effective 🙂 With thanks to Fran for allowing me to demonstrate that bringing bare hands to a knife fight is not necessarily a problem, as well as the chap whose name I didn’t catch, who had done some aikido and generously allowed me to put him on his knees a few times and to show how being shorter is no disadvantage when it comes to getting a 6’3″ man off his feet. At which point gravity does pretty much the rest of the work…

(There may be photos/video in due course. If so, I’ll add links)

But that’s not all! These days we can meet up and swap thoughts, ideas and recollections online and a whole bunch of us writers are currently doing that over on Marie Brennan‘s blog. She’s celebrating the tenth anniversary of her first publication with a series of posts Five Days of Fiction, sharing her own thoughts on a series of questions and inviting others to chip in. I always find seeing what other people say in this sort of thing absolutely fascinating.

*’They’ being people whose knowledge of the writing life extends as far as repeating cliches and no further.
~ Twenty years ago.

In which I’m interviewed at the Scififantasy Network

A brief post amid doing a whole lot of other stuff. I’ve been chatting to the SciFiFantasyNetwork folk and you can now read the interview here

Enjoy! While I continue doing the aforementioned whole lot of other stuff…

The Heroine Question(s) – Alyx Dellamonica asks some interesting things…

Regular readers will be well aware of my ongoing interest in female protagonists – as hero or villain (here and here, so when Alyx Dellamonica invited me to contribute to the ongoing discussion of heroines, over on her blog, I jumped at the chance to consider key female figures in my early reading.

I found myself searching out C.S.Lewis’s books on the old favourites’ shelf – which was not at all what I expected, since as and when the question of Lewis’s treatment of women comes up these days, I’ll generally shake my head with mingled regret and exasperation over The Susan Issue.

You’ll have to read the piece to learn which book I ended up re-reading

I also strongly recommend you read the other interviews in this series – not least because I’m by no means the only writer to look back at Narnia. scroll down after mine and you’ll find them all.

(And while you’re there, get to know Alyx and her work, if you’re not already acquainted!)

Well, if BBC Radio 4 says I’m a fantasy novelist, it must be true!

Did anyone get the memo saying this was going to be the week for folk listening to me talk? I must have missed it…

Today sees the broadcast of an episode in the BBC Radio Four ‘A History of Ideas’ series where I was invited to contribute.

Philosopher Jules Evans is exploring Jung and the shadow inside all of us. Including archive contributions from Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud; plus Mark Vernon, author of Carl Jung: How to Believe – and me.

(another nice reminder that life isn’t all EU VAT!)

The Skiffy and Fanty Show proves I am a fantasy novelist!

I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if some folk might be starting to doubt if I am actually still a fantasy novelist. Because there are days and weeks when I really do wonder amid all the VATmess stuff taking up my time, energy and word count.

But look! Here’s proof!

I had a lovely chat with the amiable and entertaining Skiffy and Fanty podcast crew at last summer’s Loncon3 WorldCon – and the episode’s just gone up.

It’s for streaming at the moment, the download will be along later.

Why the time lag? Well, I know they took full advantage of their opportunities to talk to as many writers as they could in London, so goodness knows how many hours of material they amassed from all sorts of fascinating people.

So that gives you every reason to bookmark the site and keep checking back, doesn’t it?

History & Fantasy in Bristol. A day of two halves.

Actually, the first – and really irritating – bit of my day wasn’t even in Bristol. It was in the gridlocked traffic around Swindon where I got thoroughly stuck, thanks to an accident and road closure just ahead and at a point on the route where I had no hope of escape. So I never did get there in time to chat on Ujima Radio – which just goes to show the risks of arranging single-guest events. I’m always an advocate of having at least two authors along, in case of unforeseen gremlins. And thank goodness for mobile phones – since texting from in a stationary car with the engine turned off and handbrake on doesn’t contravene the law.

Happily Cheryl Morgan and Lucienne Boyce were at Ujima to have what sounds like a fascinating conversation about what history is versus what people think it might be, touching on issues like the persistent and false belief that multi-cultural communities are a recent development in England. The briefest glance at a city like Bristol’s history shows that for the tosh that it is.

Anyway, once I got out of the traffic jam, the day improved enormously. I got to Bristol without further incident, met Cheryl for lunch and we discussed life, the universe and future plans for my writing with Wizards Tower Press, of which more news as various projects develop. Then we went to the Bristol Museum and Gallery. I love visiting local museums, especially to look at their paintings and not just for any big names like Pissarro or whoever they might have on hand. It’s the local artists I like to find and in this case, I was very interested to discover the work of Rolinda Sharples (1793-1838). She was a female artist specializing in portraits along with some larger pieces, who was good enough to be exhibited at the Royal Academy. The whole family were successful and commercial artists including her mother (unlike a good many of those big names) living at various times in England and New York. Tell me again how women didn’t get to do anything noteworthy in days of yore. And as anyone will know who’s heard me talk about using visual references, work like Rolinda’s is a source of invaluable historical detail and unexpected inspiration.

Then we headed to Foyles in Cabot Circus, and that’s a lovely bookshop with great staff, well worth checking out if you’re in the area. It was a pleasure to meet Helen Hollick and Jack Wolf, along with Lucienne and we sat down with Cheryl to discuss the relationships between history and fantasy. We touched on what does or does not constitute ‘accuracy’, and the challenges of making the past accessible without obscuring the very real differences in how people thought and felt – and those are important, especially if we’re hoping our writing will make readers think (as well as enjoying an engaging, exciting read), whether it’s fantasy or history or as was apparent for us all, somewhere between. We talked about the challenges of the correct versus the appropriate language in our writing, in using real people and real events – and not for the first time, it was soon apparent that formal, academic education is in no sense required for an author to do solid research to underpin their work. All that’s needed is the curiosity and the common sense to spot what assumptions or agenda might lie behind a source.

We had a good audience, in terms of numbers and most importantly, in terms of people keen to listen and think and ask questions and discuss. Oh and a handful of local steampunk fans turned up in splendid costumes which added a further dimension to chatting about the relationship of history and the modern day. As with all good events, we could have gone on talking as a panel and then informally afterwards for hours. As it was, we writers headed out for a meal before we went our separate ways, and yes, the conversation did continue round the table in many, varied and fascinating directions.

I had an entirely uneventful trip home, so a day that started mired in frustration got better and better and now I have three new-to-me authors to add to my Must Read list.

What’s in a Name?

Something about names is on just about every writer’s FAQ, regardless of genre. It never fails to surprise me at a convention or literary festival, when someone sticks up their hand and asks the ‘where do you get character names from?’ clearly thinking they’ve just asked something unexpected and original.

The thing is though, as with so much about writing, no writer works in exactly the same way, or thinks the same about something, and names are no exception. As with much else, there are broad similarities across the spectrum but even two writers taking much the same approach can come up with some different and interesting observations or thought provoking comments.

So the “Names: A New Perspective” blogposts gathered together by Abhinav Jain promise some fascinating reading. He’s garnered posts from a goodly number of writers – my own contribution will come along in a few weeks. Meantime, let’s see what other folk have to say, shall we?

You can find the first post by Patty Jansen here

Who Gets to Escape? Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown ask a fascinating question.

These two extremely talented authors are currently working on Kaleidoscope – an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy. This is a crowd-funded project, or hopefully it soon will be. Click that link to get involved.

Meantime, Sherwood and Rachel have written a thought-provoking post considering the nature of protagonists in fantasy fiction, taking a quotation from Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories” as a starting point.(Longer than my excerpt here)

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories . . . Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls?

The key word here is ‘he’…

As the post goes on to say –

While it is not difficult to find excellent novels about homophobia and coming out, it is much harder to find books in which, for example, a teenage, Hispanic lesbian discovers that she has inherited magical powers—a plot trope for which hundreds, if not thousands, of books exist for straight, white heroines. You can substitute any social minority in American society, and similar issues apply. If you’re not part of the ruling class, you don’t get to escape.

Furthermore –

…the male heroes of fantasy novels are not average people, and do not have average lives. They are not merely the heroes of the genre of fantasy, but heroes of fantasies—heroes of escapist imagination.

These male heroes were not written to be average examples of their demographic, and we’ve never seen anyone make the argument that they should be. But that argument is applied to female characters constantly, to make the case that they should be average and demographically representative. It is a case for denying women escapism while lavishing it on men.

I urge you to read the whole piece, and you’ll see why this has particularly struck me, especially at the moment when the focus on epic fantasy seems to be defaulting to male writers and male stories for no good reason at all. This has been particularly notable in some conversations I have had about The Hadrumal Crisis, a trilogy where two of the three main point of view characters are women and yet interviewers ask me about ‘the hero’ Corrain. While they recognise how flawed he is as a hero, that’s apparently still his default designation.

At the same time, reader and reviewer reactions to Lady Zurenne, a woman whose story is driven by the fact that she cannot escape, are varied to say the least. Patrick Mahon’s joint review of Dangerous Waters and Darkening Skies in the latest BSFA’s ‘Vector’ magazine describes her as ‘manipulative and calculating’. Just to be clear, I’m not arguing with this review – it’s a thorough and thoughtful analysis of those books which I’m delighted to see – and he’s not wrong. He also sees why she acts as she does, going on to say ‘- although this is to some extent understandable, given her need to secure the future of her two daughters…’

The thing is though, I’ve spoken to readers and seen comments from men and women alike who have even less sympathy for Zurenne, while they’re able to give Corrain much more leeway when his attempts at manly heroics don’t succeed. And again, just to be clear, I’m not arguing with those readers’ reactions. I don’t get to dictate those, writer or not and none of those folk I’ve spoken to are making unfounded assumptions based on anything other than the story in hand. From the books as written, that is an entirely valid response.

Yes, I’ve been a little surprised, since that’s not what I expected – but it doesn’t bother me, since there are plenty of other readers with immense sympathy for Zurenne. I am certainly intrigued though, wondering why this might be so. And I think this question ‘Who Gets To Escape?’ may well hold some element of the answer.

Definitely something to think on.