Influence

I’ve kept clear of watching ‘Byronesque’ movies since my run in with the cringeworthy Hugh Grant version some years back. I am sick of the ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know’ image (thanks Caroline Lamb for that addition to legend) that fails to take into account all the good, interesting and otherwise noteworthy aspects of Byron’s life that made him into one of the most talented writers we’ve ever known.

Until my script was almost complete I was afraid of seeing anything that was better, or that might influence what I was trying to achieve. Plagerism is a real fear. And I knew what I wanted to project with my retelling.

But now that my pre 1824 key characters are cast in stone and much of the action is immoveable and I’ve decided on what I consider to be the important bits to the chronology from my hero’s perspective, at least I cannot claim to have quoted from anyone except the original sources.

In response, I have just recently watched the Jonny Lee Miller 2003 version. Honestly? I’m glad I waited. I loved it far more than I expected to and possibly far more than I should (why should I be ashamed of that?). It’s now my ‘go to’ watch again and again and it sits up there with James Nesbitt in Jekyll as one of my most rateable performances on tv ever (in my earnestly humble opinion). I’m glad I made the right call. It would have made too much of an impression on me in the early days. So I was right to hold off.

I’ve always enjoyed Miller’s onscreen romps, hence I gave it a try in the first place. I enjoy his acting style and he is my ‘type’. This of course always helps. And he really is the perfect Lord Byron bar a couple of tiny details. At least, he is the best that’s out there at the moment.

The truth is, there is no perfect Lord Byron. How do you recreate the man entirely? You can’t. But here I think despite all the faults and issues they’ve alluded to in this two-parter (accurately in my opinion) he is still a likeable character. You get to understand a little bit about why he became who he was. He, like all of us, was a product of his upbringing and his formative years. And they are all very 20th century issues.

I was concerned when I first started to watch it, that Nick Dear’s version was too like mine despite part one covering entirely years I do not, and part two barely covering the bits that I go into in great detail. So although we have similarities there is a good deal in it which is very different. And I suppose if you are trying to be accurate, then of course there are going to be similaries because the facts are there and you cannot change them if you want to be truthful.

Essentially Byron is NOT the hero in my screenplay, nor is he the main subject although at times, writing it, it has felt like that. Thankfully ‘Tita’ here has no speaking role and is less refined than the vision I have. It was however, quite odd seeing him in a film as a character and looking largely like he should. I felt strangely territorial about it. And I was glad he was not better than mine.

I am also more than relieved that this one had to be cut into two parts over an hour long. Still, mine is currenly 146 pages long and not quite finished. It’s now a four parter and I suspect there will be tears before bedtime when I am having to hack mercilessly at content I deem essential. If it ever gets to development stage…

You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.

 

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The Look Of A Final Edit

What does a final script look like before the producer, the director, the cast get their hands on it? When you watch a film in all its perfection, the cast with all their affectations, the locations and scene cuts so perfectly laid out and timed…is that in the final draft?

I know cast direction, changes to lines, movement etc are all tweaked anywhere from first read through to final edit. But how much of it would you expect to see on the page in those early days?

The fact is, when someone reads through your work, what is it that catches their eye? How perfect does it have to be. Is a script ever perfect before it goes to rehearsals? Does it have to be as detailed as a completed novel? Or are we allowed to give the reader the opportunity at that stage to read into it all the little details. This is your sales pitch. You must get it right.

It’s a worry, because I can see the final cut in my head as I write and as I read my work, but how much of that comes across? Am I selling it short? Or spoonfeeding too much? What is the balance at presentation stage.

The image at the top of this blog is cast notes for Deadpool. This is exactly how I see it after the cast have gotten a hold of it. And to me, it’s a bit like a work of art. I love redrafting and refining and perfecting and cutting and expanding and all that stuff that many writers dread.

I would be thankful to get to this stage and grateful of the intercedence.

You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.

Live For The Moment

I was talking to a colleague just the other day about living life to the full. They are about 30 years older than me, and said that it takes time to realise this is how life should be lived. It makes sense of course. If you’ve had a close call with death, or as you reach that inevitable outcome I suppose it does start to dawn on you that life is more precious. Suddenly there doesn’t seem to be enough of it to squeeze in everything on your bucketlist.

And then I came home and saw that on BBC iPlayer there is a documentary about people ‘struggling’ to cope with the problems of the rubbish collection service in Wales.

And I questioned everything.

I enjoy life a lot more since becoming single. I grasp opportunities in a way I hadn’t before. I’ve been given a renewed energy. It first dawned on me at the beginning of this year when I lost a 28 year old friend to cancer. Never had someone with such a zest for life been less deserving of such an untimely end. And singledom in August was the final realisation that my life is my own to be lived how I want it.

In this respect I often compare myself to my ancestors – and obviously the one who had the most exciting life. Someone who, before cars, trains and planes, managed to get around a good chunk of Europe, bits of North East Africa and even Jamaica. I feel woefully inadequate by comparison and my excuses are lame.

I don’t think it’s possible to make up for lost time. I could never catch up on all those things I would do if money weren’t a hindrence. But I do believe in going forward – onward – upward. And continuing in a different vein.

I like my new veins. And I don’t regret because it is a futile exercise which only wastes more time.

You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.

Coincidences Are Never That…

Genealogy is the cornerstone on which I built my passion for research and writing. It has not been the sole subject of my work but it gave me the chance to stretch my research skills to the limit of their capabilities and then go a little bit further.

Thanks to a celebrity of sorts in the family tree, I was able to access some amazing records. I could contact someone with only a passing interest in my g-g-g-grandfather Tita Falcieri and almost guarantee a response. And that included places like the archives in Venice, Italy and private collections at the John Murray Archive in London, literally handling original artefacts which have a place in the history of Lord Byron.

I spent many happy hours in the British Library with 160 year old documents from the archives of Ethel Lega Weekes who preserved the papers of her grandfather Lega Zambelli, Byron’s accountant. I’ve transcribed and translated dozens of documents turning my findings into a coherent story.

It got me magazines, newspapers, radio and occasionally tv.

But there is an incredibly personal level to it. I am researching my DNA, the one thing that helped to shape who I am and what my family became. I found in many instances that I had already walked in his footsteps without realising it.

When I moved to Buckinghamshire in 2000 I was just a short distance from where he had met his wife and worked for the D’Israeli family. And we had holidayed as a family when I was a child in the small Lake District town of Ambleside without realising he had been there in 1824.

The connections are small but incredibly poignant when you know it is about you and your history. It’s very very personal.

I was back in London in October for two weeks. And I spent several days there on a pilgrimage back to places I haven’t seen since my research days. Seymour Street, Marylebone where Tita lived out most of his days in England. Back in 1994 I had completed six months as a volunteer at the West London Day Centre in the very same street without realising at the other end of the road he had lived for over 20 years.

I also went to Kensal Green Cemetery where he and his wife Sarah are buried. It’s the end of the story for them, but it left many questions unanswered, only a handful of which I have managed to answer.

You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.

Try Talking

If someone inspires you, write to them….

I have always been enthusiastic about contacting anyone who I think will be interested in my work, or if we have mutual interests. Without it, nothing I have achieved would have happened. October was another prime example of that.

I don’t mean contact some celebrity and say ‘Hey I’m a big fan, talk to me’. Do you have any idea how much of that people get? I mean be constructive. I have no qualms about contacting writers, actors, publishers, archives, repositories, researchers or distant relatives if I think they would be interested in my work and I think there is a sniff of a collaboration or recipricol exchange of information.

I am not a famous person, far from it. But in my own way I am still on some kind of level. I have substance, a background, I do things with my life. And I am very serious about what I do. Most importantly I have something to say. I am an authority on my subject and that must count for something. So when I wrote my blog entry ‘It’s Not What You Know‘ this is what I meant.

If you don’t stick your neck out no one will find you. Nobody just gets discovered. You have to be your own agent. And in our modern age of information overload, you really have to work at it.

You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.

From Our Correspondent

Before I was sucked into the London rat race, the internet, mobile phones and Skype were things in their infancy – toys for the super rich and geeks. I wrote letters. Before Google there was Teletext and the Penpals page was full of desperate souls looking for escape from their home towns and the soul crushing regime of school life.

I had 14 penpals right up as far as Stirling (I lived in Kent). And the one who lasted was my best friend Tracy who then lived in Derbyshire. She is now in Nottingham by the roundabout route of London and after 27 years we are still firm friends. Which says something.

I have gone back to source material for my script (and had so for the book that preceded it) and letters are the best way to get to grips with someone’s true nature. But not edited ones. Lord Byron’s letters are prolific to say the least. But have been snipped and culled so much that they have lost their lustre and often their meaning in the wider context of his life at whatever given moment.

Peter Cochran has been a godsend for reproducing them in the raw. Indeed it comes with its own introduction which you should read before commencing as it is necessary background. And the letters are a body of work all of their own.

Cochran wholly understood the importance of what it was to leave in every mistake, every dropped capital, every obliterated profanity, every amusing swear, every expanse of unused paper (more telling than you might imagine) and with the original haphazard cost saving layout. Every stroke of the pen meant something. This is the essence of Byron’s work.

Cochran’s opening gambit reads:

‘READER!

This edition gives you a raw version of Byron’s correspondence. As far as can be done in linear print, it conveys what he wrote and how he wrote it, before any editor got to it to neutralise him. FEEL FREE TO MAKE IT MORE ACCOMMODATING BY EDITING IT YOURSELF. Once you’ve shaded and copied it, you can: run through his page -breaks; expand his contractions and ampersands; delete his deletions; regularise his interlineations … would you? dare you? modernise his spelling? (I hope not!); regularise his capitalisation, so that students feel less bewildered than usual? (I hope not!) – P.C.’

The letters are without doubt some of the best reads I’ve come across in my life. Cochran also adds little details top and bottom, such as how letters got from and to destinations and who paid the frank. Because London to Venice was not a first class stamp away. Peter’s observations are often as witty as the subject matter he is discussing.

Likewise his footnotes which are liberally scattered throughout these documents not only put Byron’s scribblings into context as in where letters and such like are missing but also point out character traits and faults that make the poet more likeable, more real, more faulted as we already knew he was. It is not a praise of him, but a fair criticism of how he deals with the various events he writes about and everyone around him.

A spy, writing from Venice before Byron had quit the city permanently for Ravenna in 1820 made some interesting observations of the poets complicated character:

‘He eats and  drinks  little.  But  he  does  not  much  like  conversation  nor  seeing  what  is  worth  seeing.  He  lets others talk and says little. He makes himself agreeable, but his expression clearly reflects the mood of his changeable humour.’

If you want to get to know Byron and to understand his ‘poeshie’, read the correspondence in their original form. Of course that can also be said of those who wrote to him in return. Hoppner and Hobhouse are two particular favourites of mine. The wit, the banter, the detail, has me laughing and rolling my eyes on a regular basis. But that’s my humour which is often satirical and blunt. And the letters suit this.

The correspondence has been ideal for filling out the obvious gaps in the chronology of my new project. I have pulled chunks of text out and turned them into conversation and ‘voice overs’ because I cannot express better than from his own lips the events which were unfolding. And why would you want to when you can hear Byron say it himself? It brings to life a people you might think otherwise as stiff collared and far too Jane Austen. I tire of simpering women and hat doffing. They are not all Mr Darcy and are very much more besides. They are practically ‘lads’ doing what they do and, thanks to being abroad, largely doing it without English propriety.

In many ways that makes them modern. And relatable. And that really is a part of what I am trying to do here.

I am openly smug that such a body of work exists. And that of all the people in the world it should be someone as interesting and colourful as Lord Byron is spoiling us. Not only for leaving us his polished body of published work, but for what he really thought. And what made him tick. And what made him write. And how he wrote.

And to imagine what he could have been and we could now be reading had he not died at 36. Well it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.