Rebel Without A Cause

Byron had a singular lack of interest in fitting in. It wasn’t that he did it for arguments sake and he never went out to advertise himself as such. He was just followed his own nature. Everyone else did the advertising. He was true to himself no matter how unpopular it made him. An admirable quality despite the carnage he left in his wake. There weren’t too many people sticking their neck out with genuine intent. And so he stood out.

His non conformity in an age where it meant so much pretty much guaranteed him a place in history in one form or another. It also just so happened that he was creative. Those two things are generally good bedfellows.

And he wouldn’t be tricked into a corner either. The women in his life are a very real example of what happens when you try to trap Lord Byron. Equally, the colleagues he cast aside are proof that he wouldn’t be messed around. But he was also generous to a fault putting aside chunks of money for charity and using his status to throw his weight around if he could put it to good use. For all his disconnectedness, Byron did like a noble course, hated injustice and had the best of intentions – whether they were his intentions or someone elses.

His obvious fear of being trapped stretched easily not only to his love relationships but his children who were something that happened because of him rather than to him. And just because they were there, it didn’t mean they had to be bowed to, or thrust upon him. Children were, in truth, often commodities. If you were rich they were bloodline. If you were poor they were another working soul putting food on the table.

And despite Byron’s lamentations when his daughter Allegra (who almost certainly would have grown up to be the female equivalent of him) died, his concerns were too little far too late. And he knew it. He wasn’t cut out for fatherhood. He was too selfish, too introverted, too complicated and far too independent for that. And I suppose too disinterested in continuing the Byron line.

Maybe, had he lived, he would have softened enough to do the right thing. But I don’t think he was cut out for life past 40. I cannot imagine Byron old and not disillusioned by it all. He hated birthdays after all.

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

My History Begins In Venice

Mention Venice as a holiday destination and the first response is generally, ‘isn’t it really expensive?’ Well if you want to be a victim of the tourist trap, any city is expensive. And I am always bemused and disappointed by the lack of foresight on the part of visitors who can’t be bothered to research any destination properly before they go.

I am not your average tourist. I plan holidays like a military assault. And it’s simply because I prefer to avoid the throngs of visitors to any destination. I have no desire for beach holidays. I like to explore, to feel the history, to see a place as it is from a local point of view. To make the effort to learn a little language and respect customs.

And I shop around. I get my flights from one place, my rooms in another, my airport parking in yet another. I’ve got flights, parking and self catering accommodation for less than £420 for a week in San Polo in May. I just need spending money and I’m ready to go.

For me Venezia is a step back to my roots. I am proud that it and Murano are a part of my ancestry and my DNA. It is where my story begins. I won’t go there for anything other than that. I want to be immersed in it for what it really is.

If I had the money, if I had the means, if I had the knowledge, I would buy an apartment, live there and nurture my business there. It is after all only one bridge away from mainland Italy. Venice is not a bubble. It is a haven.

Of course it has its tourist ‘problems’. Doesn’t everywhere? But it doesn’t require much effort to see the city at its best. Forget the Piazza San Marco, Harry’s Bar and the Rialto after the tourists have emerged and the cruise ships have spilled out their residents on the canal sides. Go to these places before everyone has filtered through the hotel receptions after breakfast. Go out late at night when you can listen to the cicadas. Go at dawn as the sun rises on the Grand Canal. That is when you feel the history of Venice at its best. And go to the extremes, down the small alleys, to the canal sides, to the local shops, to the Campi as the sun comes up.

This is a city with no modern building, with no roads, no cars. They restore and preserve everything. Which costs huge amounts of money. Venice does battle with the acqua alta on a daily basis. It is its greatest asset and its worst adversary. But that is what makes it so unique and beautiful. So it is ironic that they need the tourists and investment to keep Venice functioning, sometimes at the expense of the local population. It is also a shame that they can’t live side by side. Venice has a multitude of economic problems magnified by its location. But they are the same problems as everywhere else. And everything has an answer.

I am warmed by sites like Venezia Autentica who promote Venice’s way of life. I am excited by the local crafts, the clothing designers, the marginal existence of the gondola builders and the artisan remer. That you can eat like a local if only you can be bothered to learn a few words of Italian and stick your neck out of the safety of ‘Parla Inglese?’

Tourists complain about the expensive hotels (hire an apartment or go AirBNB), the expensive restaurants (find where the locals go – cichetti is how you eat) and the huge price of a ride on a gondola (go and ride one somewhere else then – you can’t btw) but all these complaints don’t take into consideration what you are paying for. Because we never think that far anymore. We are always about the bottom line.

Western society is used to getting things for nothing or less. I am tired of the constant haggle over the price of experiences and handmade products. If you don’t like it, don’t go. Don’t complain and moan about the cost. If you can find Venice somewhere else, somewhere cheaper, then go there. In the meantime, I have two trips this year. And they will both come and go far too fast for me.

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

On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year

It is fitting that today I publish this entry. It is quite simple and not written by me. But by Lord Byron on the day of his last birthday – 22nd January 1824. He hated birthdays, a reminder that time cannot be halted no matter how free the soul.

‘Tis time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!

The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze–
A funeral pile.

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.

But ’tis not thus–and ’tis not here–
Such thoughts should shake my soul nor now,
Where glory decks the hero’s bier,
Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.

Awake! (not Greece–she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!

Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!–unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.

If thou regrett’st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:–up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!

Seek out–less often sought than found–
A soldier’s grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

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

The Taboo Of Mealtimes

Poet psychology fascinates me. I want to climb right inside their heads. It’s why Byron fascinates me so. He is a conundrum, a mess of creativity, vice, complication, backtracking and modern day problems. He is exciting and odd and unpredictable and yet strangely predictable because of all of this. Recently I read similarly of Percy Shelley and his fleeting acquaintence with meal times. Food is just one detail of the poets lives that I am intrigued by.

As someone who generally eats because I have to, I am interested in whether they forced it upon themselves or if it was a natural part of their all consuming creativity. For Byron it was all about vanity. He binged and starved according to his weight gain and how much he needed to lose. This chronic self abuse of his digestive system, a kind of self flagulation, almost certainly contributed to his death. Ravaged immune systems don’t do well on dry biscuits and vinegar. The occasions when he mentions being ill in letters is concerning. It was self abuse.

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Shelley’s disinterest in food however is largely because it stopped him doing other things and he only seems compelled to consume at all because without it he would die. He eats on the run like an overstretched officer worker. He has to be reminded that he has forgotten meals, so immersed does he become in his work. I admire his dedication to the cause and his detachment from the necessity of eating.

His friend Thomas Hogg described how he was unable to supply a spread to casual guests at home. When they appear he simply gave them bread – the thing he seemed to survive on. Is he the original carb addict? Already largely an active vegetarian and teetotaller, Shelley is almost devoid of gaining any pleasure from food at all. He would be boring if it weren’t for his remarkable sideways look on life in general.

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This indifference to something we consider today to be a hobby rather than a requirement for survival would be considered an eating disorder.  We are glutenous to a fault (the other extreme). We over indulge. We have no self control. Our food has been designed to get us hooked.

Diets were simpler back then. And if you wanted something quick, then like Shelley you would reach for something ready made. Meals took time to prepare, The restaurant as we know it is a very modern day invention. Eating simplisically like Shelley meant eating frugally. You couldn’t reach for a KitKat and a Diet Coke.

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Shelley’s ability to rein in any possible enjoyment from eating is almost overwhelming, his control admirable. Byron of course had an issue with alcohol, a way of replacing the food problem. And that, without eating, is a sure road to an early death. There are references to other hallucinagens over the course of his life – laudenum for one. And sex of course was an all consuming release, another addiction and yet one he was less interested in reining in.

That Shelley and Byron should have been friends at all is almost bewildering at times. It is their creativity which unites them and keeps them interested in each other though they are often confounded and frustrated by each other. How their relationship would have played out over the years shall forever be a mystery. And perhaps it is right that it cut short when it did. I suspect over time they would have fallen out over something – maybe the menu for a dinner party that neither of them was sure they wanted to host.

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

 

 

On Not Making Money From Writing

Thanks to modern technology, publishing a book is actually relatively easy. No, hear me out. You don’t need an agent, or a publisher. You just need some money, the internet and the ability to write (sometimes not even that it seems). Oh and the enthusiasm to see the project through to completion. That is a very simplistic view. Getting paid for it is the hard bit.

I see a lot of messages coming through on my Twitter feed on the plight of writers trying to make a living at their art. Like all creative avenues, you should be doing it first because you love it, not because you want to make a buck. Art and creation come from within, not from a 9-5 sat at a desk. It is not an admin position. It is a compulsion. Which is also part of the problem.

I write entirely for personal reasons. I don’t mind not making money out of it, although of course I’d be lying if that wouldn’t be a huge thumbs up to make something from all the hours, weeks, years I have spent on my chosen projects. I am not motivated to write for financial profit. The rewards are emotional and mental. My fame as a writer is tiny but constructive and I think valuable to what I do. And it’s just as well, because if I was trying to make a living from the pen (or the keyboard) I’d of moved into that cardboard box, or my parents back bedroom, YEARS ago. In fact, I would probably have never left home at all if I had been too stubborn to get a day job.

Reading about the financial plight of successful and ‘would-be-financially’ successful writers is a comforting trip down Reality Check Lane. The latest, which inspired me to finish this post from weeks ago, is from Vulture.com on Cheryl Strayed. It is another timely reminder that making an actual living wage out of real gut wrenching compulsive art is hard, hard work and nigh on impossible for many. The greater proportion of us, though writing and successful in a publishing respect (call it what you will), will never make enough to live on.

Most of the people I know in the arts make little more than pocket money out of what they do. They scrimp by on day jobs they hate or saintly partners who took the 9 to 5 option. I am thankful that my ‘9-5’ is also still art and is also one of my compulsions. I’d persevered with enough day jobs to know that I couldn’t go on like that anymore. Five years ago I took the leap.

It has come with many sacrifices though. I make enough to survive but I use the word ‘survive’ with great emphasis here. I enjoy life because I get to be creative and indulge in all those things that make me tick. Ten years ago I could only dream of doing what I love all day and being able to pay my bills. I wouldn’t say there’s a whole lot else going on in my life at the moment but at least what makes me happy is my all day, every day.

And at the moment that’s the payment that pushes me on.

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

 

 

The Neccessity of Athiesm

I don’t ever remember believing in God. I’ve been to church many times. But I find them fascinating places from a genealogical and historical point of view and tranquil from an emotional one. I don’t believe that has anything to do with a belief in God.

I am without doubt an athiest. My independence makes it almost impossible for me to want to lean on anything, and certainly not something as unprovable as ‘god’. It would be nonsensical and hypocritical. And this is what makes Percy Shelley’s views an interesting subject for me.

We live in an age of multiple faiths and no faiths at all. But in the 1810s this was quite a proclamation. There was little in the way of science to help form alternative thoughts. And the possibility that someone was willing to step away from what was a common regard for religion was progressive, odd, damaging.

Of course it’s entirely perfect that it should be someone like Shelley who should choose to challenge these ideals. As I’ve never considered Shelley a particularly strong character this has intrigued me. As he has now become an important part of my research I have started to warm to him and his complicated thought processes and angle on life, the universe and everything.

Shelley jointly published his pamphlet ‘The Neccessity of Atheism‘ in 1811 which resulted in him being removed from Oxford. The above link is an 1813 expanded version. Science means we have ample reasoning for atheism. Shelley had less. But his arguments are basically the same. Prove it. And proving it depends on who you are, and your own experiences.

I wonder how he reconciled his lack of faith with the deaths of so many of his children, of the suicide of his first wife, of the death of Byron’s daughter Allegra to whom he was so involved in her early years, and ultimately with his own mortality on board the Ariel in August 1822.

And then I look at my own experiences of untimely death and how I reconcile that. I don’t. Is the answer.  To me death is no worse or better for believing in God.

Byron writes not long after Shelley’s death:

There is another man  gone,  about  whom  the  world  was  ill-naturedly,  and  ignorantly,  and  brutally  mistaken.  It  will, perhaps, do him justice now, when he can be no better for it.

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

Leigh Hunt And Things That Go Bump In The Night

Had I been more widely read back in the earliest days of my research into Lord Byron and Giovanni Battista Falcieri, I would have taken more note of the fact that my best friend lived (almost) next door to Leigh Hunt’s house in the Vale of Health in Hampstead. I remember seeing the plaque on the neighbouring property and realising the connection but not how close I was to those characters who have since become so integral to my work.

What I do remember is that my friend had a problem with ghosts. Quite busy ones on occasions. And I remember staying there overnight and being literally rigid with fear if I had to get up in the night and tiptoe down the corridor where a woman could be heard walking up and down and banging on the doors.

Had I been dealing with Byron or Shelley’s ghost, or perhaps even Hunt’s, I would have been more fascinated than scared. But I don’t know who this woman was, and I’m presuming she hadn’t permeated through from next door.

I am trying to crowbar Hunt into my script, sandwiched briefly in between the death of Allegra and Shelley, when Byron was at Casa Lanfranchi. I am leaning as always on Peter Cochran’s extensive works to assist me. Everything tells me to dislike the man. And I don’t doubt his six children descending on Byron’s home must have cut to the core, such was the timing. So he’s become a fleeting annoyance in my script, quickly cast aside as he was in those few months in Lerici.

I’ve had to leave out a host of characters, otherwise everyone will be so confused the script will be an unintelligable mess. It is a serious problem when writing biographically with Byron in mind. People come and go with alarming regularity which doesn’t sit well in tv narrative.

Besides, the story is not about Byron you see. He is a part of it but not the whole. But as he is a substantial and governing part it has to be done and done well or not at all. So it’s impossible to pass up someone like Hunt who after all did arrive at a crucial time in the storyline and has a small but functional place.

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