So if you could go anywhere, anywhen and see anything what would you do?
What makes any particular location interesting? Is there a famous person you’d like to meet or observe, some aspect of your life you’d like to re-visit, a subject from school that has nagged at you either because there wasn’t enough information or because you thought it was wrong?
Do you want to change the past or learn something about it or yourself? What will you bring back with you to your life now? What, after all, is the point?
And what if you were going to write fiction about a time-period? Its not enough that you are interested in the subject matter but rather you have to know enough about it to make it convincing but not get so caught up in the details that it becomes overwhelming. Ideally your readers should already be broadly interested in the time-period but neither know so much about it as to get bored nor so so little as to be confused. And again what is the point – why that time period and not any other one? what is it about then that shows off the ideas you are bringing out?
Naturally, I tend to think that the ancient classical world offers an excellent setting for fiction. Apart from the obvious fact that we tend to define it rather loosely – it easily covers 1000 years (are we including Myceneans or Minoans? Is 476 the real fall of the Roman empire – what are you doing with the East?) and covers (at various times) from Britain to the Middle East with a chunk of North Africa thrown in – and that means there is plenty of scope for exploring, it is also something that many people are able to recognise and pick out stories from. Not only have chunks of its history and literature been traditionally taught in Western schools but it has also been absorbed into our culture in more subtle ways (such as architectural iconography and narrative tropes).
OK so far so obvious but actually it raises more questions for me:
Who chooses to write fiction about the classical world, especially to contrast it directly against their contemporary world? Is there a gender bias? a racial one?
Are some parts of the classical world more popular than others – what makes them so, their familiarity or shared themes (I tend to notice themes of imperialism everywhere so…)?
What do the characters learn? Is it the same as the readers?
How does the portrayal of the ancient world react to scholarship on the topic?
Does the immersive potential of fiction allow scholars to examine the past differently or do we simply partake in the wish-fulfilment?
So… as part of my ongoing thinking/research on the topic I want to collect examples.
I am focusing on time-travel and NOT historical fiction so there must be some element of the character(s) experiencing contrasting time periods but I don’t mind if thats by magic or a device and I am willing to be persuaded on what counts as the ‘classical’ world – if you have suggestions please add them to the comments.
Concentration has never really been my strong point.
I tend to be distracted by references within articles and new lines of inquiry as well as by new topics, twitter and comics. It means that I have to write strict structural guidelines for chapters and articles to stop myself wandering off topic and it also means that there are certain things I know that I can’t do whilst I’m writing (one of which has always been have the television on)…
However, I am currently learning about just how firm my resolve to write can be.
Sadly, I am quite used to writing whilst in pain – from strapping up my (hypermobile) wrists to write my exams from A-levels onwards via pushing through the hangovers and stress headaches inherent in my postgrad life to dealing with the long-term pain of my shoulder condition. What I am less used to is the odd combination of pain with painkillers.
Traditionally I have taken NSAIDs (Over-the-Counter & Prescription) to counteract my joint problems but in the aftermath of my recent operation I was prescribed codeine. Unfortunately, despite the dosage I remained very much aware of the pain. It appears that codeine has the rather wonderful property of making pain something that I am able to be mentally unconcerned about whilst my body continues to protest – the drugs didn’t stop me from crying in pain because I tried to lift my hand over my head but they did stop me from worrying about whether I should or not.
More importantly, typing still hurts but that isn’t enough to stop me writing but my brain isn’t sure it knows that. This is a new kind of brain fog for me. It feels a little like being drunk, a little like being hungover, something like not having slept for a week and a lot like the aftermath of a panic attack. I can feel the words slipping away from me even as they form and I catch myself staring blankly at the computer screen more often than not. It is odd knowing that much of the fog is chemical and that the pain is mostly simply a distraction but that also makes it easier to fight.
Anyone have any suggestions for building a little bit of research and a little bit of writing into a weekly schedule that includes minimum 20hrs non-academic paid work, 8 hours volunteering, 6 hours housework, and a lot more procrastination and feeling sorry for oneself?
I am fairly busy in my personal life; working as usual, trying to help organise a beer festival, looking for work, volunteering & generally attempting to keep my shit together.
I did not, however, go to the Classical Association conference this year. I knew I wouldn’t/couldn’t afford to last August when I didn’t send in an abstract but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the twang of regret.
Every day that passes I feel my academic life and credentials slip further away. In part it is because I haven’t been keeping up with my writing (soon I promise), but in part it is because I haven’t kept up with changes…
But…. Thank the daemons of the internet for Twitter. Without it I could not have followed panels of research at the biggest UK conference of its kind and found new things to investigate. Without it I would be totally cut off waiting for the open access journals to show up on Google and research to be made available through JSTOR from several years ago. Twitter gave me instant access to ideas and to people.
I know that (for many good reasons) people are nervous about the implications for their research, reputation and finances with regard to the broadcasting of their ideas online and I also know that the potential for misrepresentation in such a limited medium is very high but I can’t help feeling that the opportunities far outweigh the risks.
So, yes, I am still horrendously jealous that I couldn’t go and absorb information and ideas first hand. I feel lost without that spark and push of novelty but I am grateful that even when the money is far too tight and even if the social anxiety is far too crippling I don’t have to rot away because there are so many people generous enough to publish their interpretations in a way that reaches into my home and lets me think!
When I was in my teens the film “The Mummy” with Brendan Fraser came out. In it Rachel Weisz’s character whilst drunkenly assessing the turns her life has recently taken declares: “I am proud of what I am. […] I am….. a librarian”
This quickly became a kind of de facto motto for my small group of friends, our way of declaring that we might not be sporty, or the party-animals and cool kids and that we were ok with being thought of as the swots (this was way back before being a geek was cool). We even all took the chance to be school librarians when prefect allocation came up.
Later we went our separate ways to university and beyond; one of our group went to Aberystwyth to study Librarianship (although under which branch of information science I no longer remember) and I took the long slow road towards a doctorate. Being a librarian was something we did at school and I thought no more about it.
I have always been interested in a career in heritage. Mostly that has always been about working behind the scenes at museums and sites but more recently I have been thinking about archives.
Until quite recently I had never really thought about the difference between libraries and archives except that libraries have books (which sometimes you can take them away) and archives have original documents (which generally you can’t). I have only ever accessed letters and similar through libraries with archival holdings but when a job opportunity at a library came up at the same time as the possibility for volunteering at an archive I began to think about these things more carefully.
I didn’t get the job at the library in London – although I did enjoy the tour and the discussion of alternative cataloguing classification systems – but I have started volunteering at an Archive dedicated to Mills.
So far I have learnt the difference between smock mills and post mills, the usefulness of volunteer labour in donation record-keeping and the importance of context. It turns out that the really important distinction between archives and libraries is the notion of the preservation and curation of the context of the collection. I’m a long way from understanding the nuances yet but I am looking forward to seeing how getting into the depths of a collection changes my approaches to research.
Just a few more little bits and pieces to finish up..
If you have followed this far you cannot be truly surprised that my memory and notes for this stage in the proceedings are truly failing. Sorry to the speakers..
My final event of the conference was the screen & media panel – a slightly odd pairing that covered representations of Promethean figures and re-workings of the Roman Empire both over multiple genres.
The first paper was delivered via Skype, a brave move that was only slightly hampered by technical issues. In it Jarrid Looney, who is currently finishing up his doctoral thesis, offered a broad ranging summary of the uses of the Prometheus myth – you can find the paper itself (or at least a version of it) on Academia.edu (here). I found Jarrid and his topic engaging – although perhaps the paper itself felt a bit too broad-reaching for a conference it offered me the opportunity to rethink the links between modern examples of uses of the name. He argued persuasively that Prometheus made a useful metaphor for some kind of catalyst for change in both positive & negative ways depending on whether he was a gift-giver or defying the Gods, or something else. In particular I was drawn to the way that Looney was able to connect multiple examples to the original myth via Shelley’s Frankenstein and its anxieties about technology and hubris. I would have liked a little more of a chance to hear him talk about the possible reasons both for this theme and also for why some traditions more deliberately link themselves back to individual parts of the classical myths than others… always a tricky topic.
The second paper from Dan Goad was about how Ancient Rome influenced particular depictions of Empire in fantastica. He started by talking about the Romulans in Star Trek and contrasted them with the Trevinter Imperium from the Dragon Age computer games. It would be fair to say that Romulans-Rome as a comparison is neither new nor subtle and that it has been made extensively and openly. Goad focused on the way that the Roman aspects of the Romulans were largely connected to their militarism and interest in political intrigue – and how that in turn was a large part of Romulan self-identity. I was much more interested in how that contrasted with the Trevinter Imperium specifically because the Imperium is a kind of collapsed or collapsing Rome with Trouble on its borders. He suggests that Rome makes a useful model within Dragon Age because of the way that it can be shown to continue to have influence even after it no longer has physical power – this of course is a powerful idea for Reception scholars and delightful to see it being used in models of Rome.
Unsurprisingly Goad concluded by emphasising the multiplicity of images of Rome and the way that its scale makes it a fertile ground for modelling all kinds of things.. including Empire.
It seemed a fair note to end the proceedings on and left plenty of thoughts for the future.
I’ve been keeping you hanging on again, but um… tough. Sorry to fail miserably but I’ve been working hard at the job that buys the food and I’ve been suffering with a lot of pain and the ongoing fight with my depression.
Still its a new year and I have plans.
Blog – 3 more SFF posts (1 on the final panel, 1 on some theoretical issues incl. Nick Lowe’s plenary & 1 on the panel I was in and my thoughts & plans…). Furthermore I will write at least once a fortnight.
Job… I have applied for a couple of things this year so far and I am determined that I will end the year doing something different to now
Publishing – 2 articles that I started last year will be submitted! Partly I need to get over the perfectionism that keeps me re-editing but also I need to be brave enough to approach people to give me advice.