I talk to SF Signal about writing, rapiers, and all-night diners in Providence

sfsignalLogov4

My thanks to John and Kristin over at SF Signal for taking the time to interview me about Gideon’s Angel, future projects, and writing craft. It’s a site that’s always chock full of interesting comments, posts and book and film reviews so well worth a visit. You can check out the post here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/07/interview-clifford-beal-author-of-gideons-angel/#more-79986CBeal photo

 

Daily Mail looks at historical fantasy releases this week

 

Daily_Mail

The UK’s Daily Mail takes a look in today’s paper at some recent historical fantasy releases including Gideon’s Angel. I’m pleased to see crossover within genre getting some high-profile attention like this as a category in its own right. You can check out the reviews here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-2377794/HISTORICAL-FANTASY.html

 

 

Review: A Field in England

A retro trippy multi-layered delight—if you like mushrooms

Warning: contains a few spoilers

As the credits rolled and a lovely period tune played with vocals, I felt a bit shell-shocked (not unlike one of the main characters). I’d just seen a piece of original cinema that was disjointed, confusing, frustrating, and often meandering. Rubbing my face there on the sofa, I actually found myself saying, but I liked it. Can’t say my girlfriend agreed. She drifted away after twenty minutes. But that is the kind of film this is. Some will find it intriguing, others pointless.

A Field in England is set during the English Civil War in the 1640s. The action takes place over not much more than a day and involves four deserters from battle, one of whom is working for an Irishman lurking in the said field, a man who we discover is dabbling in the occult arts. The three soldiers are led to the would-be sorcerer O’Neil, to be instantly enslaved as his workmen in a hunt for a treasure that is never specified.

Field-in-England-Poster-640x480The film is shot in black and white and this works well to convey a starkness of mood as well as to focus attention on textures and the central characters. It is extremely evocative of 1960s arthouse cinema and low-budget psychological drama. The director (Ben Wheatley) himself discusses this on the film’s website and lists some influences such as the 1964 BBC docudrama Culloden and The Trip from 1967. It actually reminded me in many ways of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God from 1972 which starred the slightly mad Klaus Kinski.

afie19-reece-shearsmith-as-whitehead-by-dean-rogers-low-resMadness is a central theme to the film (like in Aguirre)and the viewer is left to decide for themselves whether there is actual magic taking place or just a bad trip brought on by the ingestion of some hallucinogenic mushrooms. And the “trip” sequence taken by the captured lacemaker Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) is pure retro sixties cinema (think Easy Rider). Though the trailer refers to alchemy, the main villain of the piece is more necromancer than alchemist. Actor Michael Smiley portrays O’Neil as a callous and driven killer whose fixation on finding the treasure of the field through the use of enchantment on the innocent deserters, drives the plot to its chilling conclusion. But it’s a rather leisurely drive which sometimes loses its energy along the way.

Costuming is done well, capturing both the elegance and grubbiness of a country at war in the 17th century. Equally, the script (Amy Jump) does a solid job of handling the cadence and vocabulary of an earlier era without getting too bogged down in cod-historical speak. That’s not an easy balance to strike in books or film and some writers opt for using modern language to boost viewer or reader affiliation. This film takes a middle road but it does make the viewer work though. A lot of ideas are being thrown around in these 90 minutes and there are many period references that will be meaningless to those not familiar with the time. A mention of one character “wearing an angel” around his neck is not explained and most people would not know this refers to an English coin used as a “touch” amulet by the king’s hand to heal those afflicted by scrofula (what we call today tuberculosis). Given the linear progression, there is a lot of backstory taken for granted and precious little dialogue exposition to put anything into context for the viewer.. The soldier banter and humour is a high point though and the down-at-heels pikeman character, only referred to as “friend” (Richard Glover) has some of the best lines. Shortly after making a run for it through a hedgerow and away from the battlefield, one of the others remarks that they won’t even be missed to which the pikeman comments reflectively, “I often leave a wake of disinterest behind me.” There’s also a great death speech scene where you think the character is about to launch into a “tell her I love her” routine only to hear him say “tell her I hate her” about his soon-to-be-widow and admitting to adultery with her sister. The climax is bloody, if not unexpected, but does liven things up.

A-Field-In-England-poster-detail-3I think I’ll have to give A Field in England  a second viewing to fully appreciate it. That I’ll watch it again must be an indicator that this is a good film. It’s challenging, original if somewhat flawed, but overall a delight to those who like me love the time period and for those who wish to discover it.

Historical Fantasy requires “world-building” too

If you don’t know it already, head on over to MyBookishWays, a very entertaining blog site atlasthat covers fantasy, suspense and horror fiction. I’ve just done a guest post for Kristin, the website’s very capable editor and moderator,which talks about how authors of historical fiction can’t ignore their world-building skills any more than those who craft epic fantasy.

http://www.mybookishways.com/2013/06/guest-post-clifford-beal-author-of-gideons-angel.html

 

 

51 Shades of Grey: Has traditional good vs. evil had its day?

Over at Mythic Scribes, Codey Amprim has posted a thoughtful blog about the trend imagestowards “grey” fantasy in the last few years and how traditional black hats vs. white hats storylines seemed to have waned in genre fiction. http://mythicscribes.com/miscellaneous/is-black-and-white-fantasy-dead/

A lot of this trend is down to RR Martin of course, but there are others as well that are creating characters that embody both good and bad qualities—just like a lot of real life people. Westeros isn’t the only place where it’s difficult to tell who’s your friend and who’s not. I remember reading the Thomas Covenant books back in the 70s and being shocked by Donaldson’s handling of his “hero”. Many of Michael Moorcock’s characters such as Elric also come in shades of grey bordering on black. Even my own hapless protagonist in Gideon’s Angel has done quite a few things that are nothing to be proud of. As Codey points out in his post, grey can really help by throwing unpredictability into the plot and spicing things up.

It’s a bit of a red herring to debate whether this reflects a hardening of the society we live in today as some have done. People have been writing characters like this since—well, since they started writing stories. And I don’t think that writers will ever abandon good vs. evil storylines. The power of archetypes appeals to all of us in an almost unconscious way as both Jung and Campbell expounded years ago.

Injecting moral ambiguity into characters can be a great writer’s tool but Codey also notes there are significant drawbacks as well. Unpredictability can lead to a plot becoming directionless with  too many twists, dead ends, and dead characters. The result can be, as he puts it,  “endless repetitive soap opera” and waning reader loyalty and interest. Words of wisdom there and a warning to those who think grey is the new white.

Summoning Gideon’s Angel

I recently wrote a guest blog for Upcoming4.me which they’ve kindly allowed me to reproduce here. But wander on over to their website as they will shortly be running a giveaway with a copy of Gideon’s Angel to the lucky winner. http://upcoming4.me/demon trumpet

I’ve been living in the past for some time—the 17th century to be exact. I had immersed myself in the period for a number of years, first for historical re-enactment (armoured combat on foot and rapier fighting), and later, for researching a non-fiction book called “Quelch’s Gold” that was published in 2007.

I even did a fair amount of digging into family history, taking me to dusty stacks at the Public Records Office at Kew in London and the Massachusetts State Archives in Boston, further deepening my interest in the day-to-day life of the 17th and 18th centuries. But I had for some time been yearning to get back to writing fiction, something that had gone out the window with the arrival of kids and the demands of being a journalist. And I had many years before started a novel with a protagonist I really believed in, a novel that was somewhat flawed because I had tried writing it in an archaic tone, sprinkled with seventeenth century lingo. Accurate, yes. Readable? Well, maybe if you were from 1650.

And so, a couple of years ago, it was time to start fresh. Gideon’s Angel was the result. I resurrected my main character, Richard Treadwell, a conflicted middle-aged war veteran who has a knack for choosing the losing side. When the story opens it’s 1653 and Treadwell is living the life of an exile in France, working as a mercenary and agent for hire. He might still be a competent swordsman but he’s getting on a bit and old wounds have taken their toll. He has a mistress in Paris, a wife left in England, stacks of money, but an even bigger stash of bitterness and regret. It’s time for perhaps one last “big job”—a plot to kill the man he considers the chief architect of his misfortunes, Oliver Cromwell.

I could have written the work as straight down-the-line historical fiction. And I almost did. However, my imagination got in the way. The first short stories I had written in high school and university were fantasy and horror. And though long dormant, those seeds were still there when I started plotting the novel in my head. A few conversations with a good friend encouraged me to take a sharp left-hand turn and venture down that road once again.

So, why inject the supernatural into a political thriller set in Cromwellian England? I suppose because I knew it would ratchet up the tension and the thrills. But also, because I knew that what I had in mind for the horror elements would work rather nicely alongside everything else. The time period lends itself to fantasy and the supernatural. The mid-17th century was the twilight of the medieval mindset but old beliefs and superstitions die hard. It was also a time of incredible religious ferment and “end of days” mutterings. Bizarre religious sects had sprung up, predicting the imminent Second Coming but not before a time of evil incarnate and great strife. Turning Gideon’s Angel into a horror adventure was not a big stretch when you read the actual history!

imagesThe macabre elements, including my demons, are if anything, classical in nature. I was influenced by medieval manuscripts, paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, and the drawings of William Blake. Those and a little made-for-TV gem from 1972 called “Gargoyles” starring Cornel Wilde. Many years before the wonders of CGI special effects, Stan Winston’s monsters may have been only stunt men in green latex suits, but they scared me witless as a kid. All these images, ancient and modern, get mixed and described in the pages of the novel, successfully I’d like to think.GargoylesFilm

Taking the fantasy road allowed me to have Treadwell see things that others cannot, to build tension as he tries to convince others that these things are real and not imagined, and to raise the dramatic stakes from a mundane assassination plot to the very realm of England under mortal threat by the opening of the gates of hell. What fun.

Interview: Oh, the horror! The horror!

Rather belatedly, I’m getting around to posting this link to This is Horror.com. They’ve got a great website devoted to everything having to do with horror fiction and film and they were kind enough to invite me to do an interview with them about Gideon’s Angel.

Pop by for a visit:

This-Is-Horror-Logo-Main

http://www.thisishorror.co.uk/read-horror/meet-the-writer/clifford-beal/