Looking for a home . . . On a bookshelf near you . . .
Gathered here are some authors with shared interests and shared endeavours : having written entire manuscripts for publication, we are left with the unappealing enterprise of seeking publishers. Uploading onto Authonomy.com has proved invaluable to many of us, while at the same time enabling us to view that mountain of creativity which has been given the less than glamorous soubriquet of ‘slushpile’. To combat this phenomenon, the options are to leave one’s manuscript where it is on the site, on view in the hope that agents and publishers will stumble across it (and risk sinking meanwhile into oblivion), or to combine forces with others of like mind and promote ourselves and each other through links and contacts.
Authorsanon ideally should act as a meeting point for writers, both published and non, with shared specialist interests and genres; a place where authors can upload excerpts and invite those whose opinions they trust and want, to come and examine, without having to indulge in the swap-read culture prevalent on other writing sites. In addition they can also recommend other works they have discovered.
Another aspect is the question of length. Many writing websites require a minimum amount of text in order to upload; Authonomy.com is no exception; authors have to post 10,000 words in order to be visible. On Authorsanon, we can upload those short excerpts we want select feedback on while work is in progress.
All participants (by invitation) can author pages, or link with their own sites, or both, thereby collectively owning a ‘portfolio’ to which they can invite not only colleagues, but interested agents and publishers.
Of Moths and Butterflies
A period piece, with a sense of mystery pervading throughout, is Moths and Butterflies. I started off with the feeling of a classic suspenseful novel along the lines of a Wilkie Collins, but it develops into much more than that. It opens on a mystery,
but also runs into a serious analysis of human social behaviour, in the tradition of Gaskell and Eliot, with intelligent, believable characters who communicate effectively.
Prejudice is placed under the magnifying glass, social conventions explored (whatever the period, these two areas are ever present in some form or other, and are always recognisable) while the thread of mystery and secrecy continues – there are the classical elements : run-away heiress, illegitimate sons – but the why and the wherefore is gone into at greater depth; everyone has a secret to keep.
One of my favourite aspects of this novel is the brilliant analogy of moths and butterflies as collectible items, whether insect or human, and how deftly woven in these elements are, in addition to the Cupid and Psyche theme . . .the butterfly collection runs through all the way to the end, a constant reminder of captivity and beauty.
The house has its secrets too; these seep out delightfully as when a hidden mural is discovered, with all its inherent associations and clues to the past. Who are the people in the mural ? Why was it covered up ? Why does it have to be covered up again, literally ‘whitewashed’ ?
Another image conjured up when I think of this book is that of Imogen sitting on the floor in a great empty room, painting watercolours, lost to the outer world. This for me is emblematic of the novel itself: solitary characters, isolated not only by prejudice but by their own refusal to accept the alternative of hypocrisy, of being pinned like a moth or butterfly into a private collection, on public view, in private torture.
Moths and Butterflies genuinely evolves, because the writer has allowed it to do so at a natural pace, instead of racing to the end in fits and starts. Here is a feeling of being taken into another time, without being in a foreign country, rather to a place we feel entirely at home in, recognisable and welcoming in its detail and atmosphere.
1881, and a young man makes his way up to his beloved’s room, only to find her dead. Littered about are the last pages she has written in life, describing the thing she has become.
So begins the tale of Alatiel, a creature not quite of flesh and blood, who hungers constantly to live – but who seemingly can only do so through others.
This is about possession, in the tradition of classic storytellers in the gothic genre : Walpole, Le Fanu, Poe, Wilde and Stoker to mention but a few.
The Gothic novel, at once relished and ridiculed, proved immensely popular throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries, and with the occasional decline, remains as much-read as ever if the current rate of vampire novels on the market is anything to go by. Amongst the morass of average tales of horror, however, an occasional gem is struck upon; a tale which combines chilling narrative with convincing period voice, written in fluent Decadent style: such is The Poison of a Smile.
Many cultural threads are drawn together in this recreation of the Decadent and the Aesthetic, from Sheridan Le Fanu’s Camilla, through Bram Stoker’s Vlad-inspired Dracula to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray – all depicting some form of feeding or nourishment, taken from those surrounding the main character, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually.
The Decadents embraced the idea of the night people, opiate laden, heavy lidded, often consumptive, their faces preserved on canvas – Rossetti’s women in their trance-like state, Burne Jones with his models gazing into the distance in his dreamlike evocations of an age gone past, the dark-ringed eyes of Klimt’s women, hinting at unhealthy, hidden existences, crawling out after dark in their search for energy and life-force, an escape from ennui; they are to be found also in the more disturbing of Beardsley’s drawings, or the highly dramatic finesse of Harry C. Clarke or John Austen.
Outwardly, Alatiel might be one of the Pre-Raphaelite’s models, between Maria Zambaco and Lizzie Siddal – and similarly she is taken up as a model by a group of young artists. Inwardly however, there is a void, a bottomless pit, constantly seeking out fresh sources of life, new psyches to consume.
From subtle to shocking back to subtle, this is the imagery evoked by Poison of A Smile: of brooding menace, of a night-existence, of a being who eats up the energy of others, vampire-like, in order to survive – yet still this is a different creation from the gothic monsters that have gone before. Poe might have created this.