Pictures and Conversations

On Saturday afternoon at the Kingston University annual publishing conference at the end of my talk about ebooks,  I nailed my colours to the mast, came out of the closet and embraced literally scores of well know phrases and sayings as I made a public declaration about Naked Angels.

I told the audience that this is the serialised historical novel which I had just started writing  but which I have decided to go public with  episode by episode, rather than store it all up and then dither about what to do with it. It has been, so far a quite a liberating experience, and making this somewhat public commitment to carry on with it

I’ve talked about why I am doing this in here, but since then I have begun to see that there are many other advantages to this form. One of which is that I can chose appropriate illustrations for it.

One of my favourite bits at the beginning of Alice in Wonderland is the bit where she discards her sister’s book because it has no pictures or conversations. “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?” she thinks.

Alice has here picked up on one of the great conventions of popular fiction; there should always be plenty of dialogue in a story. As a novelist, I always enjoy writing dialogue :it is to be to be a great way to move the story along, to create character, to build up the tension. And I certainly love to read novels where the dialogue just whisks you along through the narrative and entertains you at the same time. If I throw down a book in annoyance it is usually because I feel “people just don’t talk like that.”  It is not easy to do well. It requires lots and lots of rewriting, and muttering over the keyboard, and sometimes the adoption of silly accents to get the rhythm and sentence construction right. One person ought to talk quite differently from another. This is probably not something I always achieve, but I do attempt it.

People in fiction, no matter what their socio-economic background, are of course far more articulate than people in real life. Sometimes they are dazzlingly funny. They are never short of that wonderful put down we only think of three hours after the awful meeting. Elizabeth Bennet for example never says the wrong thing.  Even people saying the wrong thing are funnier in fiction than they are in real life. Such are the joys of dialogue in fiction.

So much for conversations. What about pictures. In Alice’s day, grown up novels as well as children’s books often had illustrations, often by quite distinguished artists. Millais for example did a series of gorgeous illustrations to Trollope. It was clearly regarded as part of the package of a piece of fiction, and there is still something rather pleasant about looking through old books to see if they have pictures.

Some even had coloured frontispieces. I have some Edwardian mass market novels, which would probably today be branded as chic lit today. They have wonderful coloured plates at the beginning, a little like this one.

Now obviously I can’t commission an illustrator at this stage, but I can throw in a few pictures to set the mood of the story, and it is quite a pleasure (and an act of procrastination, no doubt) finding the perfect image to reflect each episode. They can act as visual footnotes. For example in an episode other day the Frazer family were eating shape for pudding, because it was Wednesday.(see I was able to find a lovely illustration of a Victorian blancmange mould, complete with recipe on the side, so that you too, can make shape.

I am sure this is exactly the sort of dull, economical food that Mrs Frazer would serve, and that such a mould (perhaps got free by cannily saving coupons) sits on the dresser waiting for Wednesdays. You will note it can be served with jam or marmalade, but I wonder if they would go so far. It would have been too enjoyable.

Naked Angels,  if you are interested in catching up can be found here:  Please subscribe, and comment if you find it of interest. I am still keen to hear from anyone who has any ideas about what might happen next.


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