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Romeo and Juliet, Writing

A chat with Richard Armitage about Romeo & Juliet

Last October, when we were finalising the release of Romeo & Juliet: A NovelI was lucky enough to spend the best part of a day at the Audible HQ in Newark, New Jersey, alongside my formidable narrator/performer Richard Armitage. We recorded a long interview about the project, writing and performing.

You can now see it all and read a transcript here on Audible Range. I hope you find it enlightening about some of the many enjoyable challenges authors and actors face in projects like this. Unfortunately this happened the day after I flew out to New York and a sleepless night spent in the noisiest hotel in Murray Hill (last time you see me in the Shelburne that’s for sure). So I’m sure I am pretty inarticulate.

Richard, clean shaven for his role in Love, Love, Love, in which he managed to age from nineteen to his sixties, was as on the ball as ever. This is the last piece of supporting material we have to offer you from this unique project. Thanks for all the interest you’ve shown over the last few months — and particular thanks to Richard for lending his extraordinary talents to the finished version.

Writing

In search of Kopfkino: A few tips on how to write for audio

Romeo and Juliet: A Novel is the third project I’ve been involved with for Audible that was written specifically to be narrated or performed, not as a book.

Lots of people ask about the differences between writing for the page and writing for the ear. There are quite a few and I think they’re important. I also believe that writing for audio provides lots of lessons for the novelist too.

Audible kindly let me loose on their Range magazine today to talk about some of these issues. I hope this answers some of your questions… and thanks for all the kind feedback and great reviews for R&J since its launch three weeks ago.

Web/Tech, Writing

Ulysses 2.7 is out with some useful new features

An update to my favourite (as in I wrote every word of Romeo and Juliet: A Novel in it) writing app Ulysses just landed. There are some nice new touches, including the ability to have your sheets open as tabs on Sierra, above. And if you’ve got one of the fancy new MacBooks with a touchbar that’s supported below, too.

The full list of changes is below. Just a reminder… I have a cheap little ebook for anyone starting with Ulysses who wants to write a novel.

TOUCH BAR SUPPORT

The Touch Bar is the new touch display situated above the keyboard of Apple’s latest MacBook Pro. Replacing the function keys, Touch Bar can adapt to what a user is currently doing, and display app-specific, contextual functions. Ulysses 2.7 allows owners of the latest MacBook Pro to assign markup tags directly via Touch Bar while they write.

SIERRA TABS

Users know tabs from their web browser; with macOS Sierra they are now available as a system feature, and they also made it into Ulysses 2.7. Tabs are a natural fit for Ulysses, as the ability to quickly switch between multiple open texts within the same window makes for an even more powerful writing tool.

IMAGES IN EXTERNAL FOLDERS, EVERNOTE IMPORT, READING TIME GOALS

Ulysses’ new version now offers full support for the TextBundle format (http://textbundle.org) outside its iCloud library. TextBundle combines Markdown text files and referenced images in a single file, and users have long wanted Ulysses to properly support the new format. This addition allows them to use images when working from Dropbox or other storage providers.

Also, it is now easier than ever to switch from Evernote to Ulysses. Ulysses 2.7 allows to import ENEX files, Evernote’s proprietary export format. Users can even import ENEX files containing multiple notes — Ulysses will then create a separate sheet for each imported note.

Writing goals allow Ulysses users to determine the length to achieve when writing a text: a number of characters, words, or pages. With Ulysses 2.7 the feature was extended: users can now even set a reading time goal.

Audio, Romeo and Juliet, Writing

Sometimes life has gifts for fiction: a posy ring from Romeo and Juliet

Gold posy ring with inscription and maker’s mark. © The Trustees of the British Museum

I hesitate to use real life in fiction. Every author’s familiar with that moaning email in which a reader cites an instance in the story and says, ‘That could never happen in real life.’ We also know that the event concerned is often one taken straight from real life itself.

To support the theory that nothing is stranger than non-fiction I enter one piece of evidence only: the year 2016.

But sometimes it’s hard to resist. In this adaptation we have many scenes you will not find in Shakespeare. In one Paris, a fuller character here, makes a rather creepy and pathetic effort to win Juliet over in the Capulet garden. He’s not a man who’s good with words, at least not around women. But he has brought her a ring, one with a history I will leave to the story to explain.

The ring has an inscription inside, ‘I have obtained whom God ordained’. Not a sentiment likely to win the heart of an independent-minded young woman like Juliet.

As you can see from the exhibit from the British Museum above… I didn’t make this up. Posy rings like this, with little messages inside them, were once common. And that inscription was too.

A gift I could not refuse.

Audio, Writing

John Scalzi: Writing For Audio Made Me A Better Writer

I like having a new medium to play in as a writer; I want to find out all that it can do and everything I can do in it.

I’m with Scalzi on this all the way. The tricks that make audio work make a lot of general fiction work better too. I’ll be posting some longer thoughts about this later this month. One note: I don’t remove dialogue attributions altogether. Sometimes I think they’re still needed.

levi
Writing

The answer is never silence

I’ll be honest; this hasn’t been a great year for me when it comes to writing. On December 6 my big project of the moment, the audio drama of Romeo and Juliet: A Novel, goes live and I couldn’t be more excited about that. But I wrote R&J last year. Then the fourth Pieter Vos novel in Amsterdam. Then, at the beginning of 2016, I decided to set out and write something different.

I already had an uneasy foreboding about what was coming. At no point did I actually manage to convince myself that the twin calamities of Brexit and Donald Trump would happen. But something at the back of my head kept nagging, saying… they might.

The first six months of this year, then, I spent trying to write a long, dynastic dystopian book set in a Paris shattered after the collapse of Europe. The first in a planned series of three. I finished it a few weeks before the Brexit vote feeling, as you do with new work, pretty good. Then came June, the result, and the realisation I’d missed the mark with that book too. Six months labour and research and more than 130,000 words down the drain.

After Brexit I just didn’t know what to write. Happily a script adaptation project came along — of which more in a while. It was a welcome diversion, something into which I could dive headlong, burying myself in its complexities, trying to learn more about drama, an engaging challenge I love, and not have to face the difficult prospect of making up a story of my own.

I finished it. Come November I watched the Trump bandwagon roll in, then watched the votes too, bewildered by the strange complexities of the American electoral system. And I thought: what the hell can I write now? What does it matter? When I started out writing I decided to regard my books as Post-It notes to my kids. Little letters that said, ‘I’m scared too, I’m baffled, but inside us all somewhere is a sense of beauty, of society, of friendship and love, of the notion that life isn’t about individuals but what we all hand on to those who come after. It may appear we hide this under a sea of banality, selfishness and solipsism from time to time, but in the end the truth will out.’

Not an easy proposition when the new chief strategist at the White House is a man whose ex-wife said in a deposition (back in 2007, long before this) that he didn’t want their daughters going to school with Jews.

I know I’m far from the only one who’s struggled with the question: what do you write in times like these?

Journalism? If only. But most of that has been ripped to pieces by the internet that’s stolen its content and its advertising and offered stupid cat pictures and a tsunami of anonymous hatred in return. Or replaced by fake news posing as real, not that the networks that disseminate it seem to care.

Agitprop? No. That’s not me. Besides, more importantly, one thing that’s surely become apparent over the last year is that too many people spend too much time preaching to the converted. I tweeted this the day before the US vote and something similar before Brexit too.

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People of like minds telling each other they’re right doesn’t change a thing. If anything Twitter and Facebook may have exacerbated the situation by making anonymous trolling and vicious bile part of the daily norm. According to one of the anonymous trolls having a crack at me on Twitter I am just one more failed ‘libtard’ (which I take to be an attempt at an offensive combination of the words ‘liberal’ and –I type this for the first and last time in my life in this context — ‘retard’).

None of these faceless would-be bullies know what my politics are; I’m not even sure what they are myself. Life, for most of us, isn’t a football game where you support your side however bad, however foolish they may seem. Over the years I’ve voted for each of the main three parties in the UK on occasion, based solely on the simple idea: which one seems to have the most useful ideas at the moment you enter the booth?

If pressed for a political philosophy I imagine mine would have to look a bit like this:

  • I detest bigotry and racism and thought, wrongly, we were moving past all that.
  • The last sixty years of peace and prosperity in Europe stem in large part from the European Union. It may not be perfect but it’s better than a free-for-all I’m-alright-Jack alternative.
  • Women have had a rough deal in society, in work in particular, and there’s still a long way to go.
  • People’s private lives are their own and it’s none of my business what their sexual preferences are.
  • While I’m an atheist I feel people should be allowed to follow their religious beliefs as they see fit within the law. At the same time I expect them to treat me with the same respect and not regard those who believe differently as lesser human beings.
  • Violence is rarely an answer to anything and if you’ve read my books over the years you might have noticed that when violence occurs — and it does — it tends to support that point.

I don’t believe any of these ideas set me out as a ‘liberal’. Just someone who grew up in a Europe trying to establish peaceful values after the horrors of the Second World War. Values which now seem greatly under threat.

All I write these days is fiction. And my first reaction to that when the results came rolling in was… isn’t it all a bit trivial set against the great, global swing of things? Aren’t writers even more disempowered than most people when all we trade in is a bunch of fairy stories, for adults in my case, designed to amuse and yes, provoke, but entertain most of all?

First reactions are invariable wrong. As always I needed to look to much greater writers than I’ll ever be to find the answers.

I thought about Carlo Levi writing his wonderful Christ Stopped at Eboli, a brave Jew documenting life under Mussolini while being sheltered from the Nazis by courageous Florentines.

I thought about Alexandre Solzhenitsyn going to the gulags for his opposition to communist Russia, exposing them finally, and admitting…

During all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known.

I thought of Federico Garcia Lorca, shot dead by Franco’s thugs, his corpse thrown into a ditch outside Granada because he committed two cardinal sins: he backed the wrong side and he made no attempt to hide the fact he was gay.

I’m not that good and I’m not that brave. What they faced was far, far worse than anything we can begin to imagine. They risked their lives and still they wrote. What they understood — and we need to now — is that we are not being asked for our acquiescence. It’s our silence they demand. Because after that comes acquiescence and much worse will surely follow.

Look at the constant, lying attacks against not just journalism but individual journalists, and the blatant effort to single them out for intimidation at public events. The vile t-shirts that read ‘Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.’ In the Russia of Trump’s admired friend and possibly ally Putin journalists really are dying because they’re trying to do their job: hold power to account.

So the answer is simple: keep writing. Don’t give up. Funnel your fears, your hopes and your anger into telling it as you think it is.

This isn’t about resistance. This isn’t about protest. In a way it’s not even about changing people’s minds. It’s about the record. About setting down what happens and how we respond. It’s about those Post-It notes to your kids and the kids they’ll have in turn. For it looks as if they — and us — will need them.

The state of the world should be what fires us. Not a fearful beast that leaves us mute.

With that in mind please excuse me. There’s something I need to write.