Found an interesting blog entry whilst trawling the net for a cover picture of one of Charlotte Lamb's best-known and perhaps most controversial classics, The Long Surrender. I have a copy here - several, in fact - but my scanner is not currently working. Some annoying software conflict that I am trying to fix. Meanwhile, I had to go online to find this not terribly satisfactory image:
The blog I found is called The Tyranny of Reading and, in a blog post from April 2007, discusses The Long Surrender in glowing terms, largely for the memorable sex scenes, the 'obsessive' violence of the hero, and the heroine's repeated suicide attempts - the only complaint, by someone leaving a comment, was that the sex was not graphic enough!
What is interesting is that modern readers of Lamb - including the inimitable Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books - on the one hand frequently accuse Lamb of writing over-violent sex and abusive relationships, yet on the other hand praise her for the power of these same stories, commenting on their unputdownable quality.
The reader at The Tyranny of Reading seemed to suffer no such qualms, simply enjoying the book for what it is - a product of the sexually confused late seventies, and strikingly honest in its portrayal of a troubled marriage looking for love. Indeed, on a blog post relating to the equally violent and traumatic Night Music - which, as I recall, also features a suicide attempt of some description - the blogger complains about 'the years of PC dross that followed' these more violent predecessors.
It needs to be underlined, sadly enough, that Lamb's diaries and letters reveal her own discontent with the politically correct direction in which romances began to turn from the early eighties onwards. Popular romance writers are nearly always at the mercy of marketing and sales teams, who decide what the market wants and instruct the editors accordingly. It was a pity that Lamb's great strength - the portrayal of loving but obsessive relationships - became unacceptable just at the peak of her career.
The Long Surrender is quite difficult to get hold of, by the way. But I'll be blogging about the plot and the writing itself in more detail in "The Long Surrender" Part Two. Busy enjoying a re-read right now.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Friday, October 08, 2010
Looking back at her diaries, I am once more struck by how universal the writer's processes and dilemmas are. What I feel, as a fellow novelist, to be my own personal struggle with the raw material out of which a novel or other piece of writing is born, is in fact a struggle shared by most, if not all writers.
So, on March 3rd 1972, in a fairly typical entry, Charlotte Lamb notes:
Went to Romford to shop. Got some good books at the market bookstall.That image she uses, 'lately the words have begun to bubble up in my mind again as they do when I am ready to write', is a striking description of the drive to create narrative, to tell a story, which is rarely some idyllic moment of inspiration from the Muse, but more often experienced as a cruel pressure, or at the very least a restlessness, a desire to kick the world away and concentrate solely on the work.
After lunch, I thought about writing another novel but came up against a brick wall. I cannot decide on direction. What sort of book do I want to write? Do I want to write another fictional historical novel? Or a biography? Or a biographical novel?
I go round in circles. And in the meantime I write nothing.
Although lately the words have begun to bubble up in my mind again as they do when I am ready to write. So far I have used them to write poetry. What I want is to find a subject which makes my sense of excitement come into play.
Here, Lamb is searching for a subject. Something that will bring her 'sense of excitement ... into play'. She found it three days later, making notes on a long historical novel about Mary Fitton, one of the candidates for the unnamed 'Dark Lady' of Shakespeare's sonnets.
That novel, not to be published until 1979, under the pseudonym Sheila Lancaster, was eventually entitled Dark Sweet Wanton and was - in many people's opinion - one of her finest works.