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12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it

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research

Flash Fiction

100 word story on the writing process:

The halogen heater of Korean extraction was slowly but inexorably melting her shins as she tapped out her search terms, first into Google, then the less popular Alta Vista.  Perhaps she should have visited the library, but it was snowing again and her trainers were wet and cold from previous excursions on the ice.

“Fevers in ancient Rome,” she wrote, turning up eight trillion pages about Malaria and an ancient goddess named Febris – not to be confused with the cleaning product, Febreze.  But what did Caligula’s sister, the enigmatic Julia Drusilla, actually die of?  No one knows for sure.

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Revisionism and Excerpts

As I suspected a few posts back, Roman historians like Suetonius were pretty biased against Caligula, and had a tendency to write down the most outrageous rumours without assessing their validity in any way.  So whilst what I have written so far is stuff a bit like:

Had to have a consul executed today.  He forgot to announce my birthday in the public records.  Seriously.  A child of five could have remembered to do that.

Now I’m wondering whether he was actually as bad as all that.  The gaps in historical evidence make it hard to judge, but it seems pretty clear that it was in the interests of all the sources that survive from the time (Suetonius, Dio, Claudius, Seneca) to make Caligula out to be an evil nutjob.  So, the question is really whether to go with them and write him in a sort of cartoony, madder than a box of snakes type of way, or to take on board the revisionist work available and write him with a bit of empathy. 

My answer to this is to try both.

Perhaps I should use Incitatus [the horse he was meant to have made a consul, according to Suetonius] to upset senate a bit more.  That’s always fun – I still get a kick out of the time I made them run alongside my litter for ten miles in the blazing sun.  Served them right – all that time feasting and sitting indoors and conspiring to kill me makes them pasty and unfit.  They should try going to battle, see what that does for them.

I think I will commission a legion of men to carve Incitatus a stable of marble.  And he will have a collar blazing with precious jewels, and a manger of ivory.  I’ll have the grooms mix flakes of gold into his food, too.  He will live in as lavish and decadent a manner as the gods themselves.  Senate will be furious!  But frankly that horse is twice as clever as all of them put together.  Self important, plotting dunderheads that they are.  They’ll soon learn that they can’t have any effect on me.

An Interview

I did an interview for the STV website yesterday, which you can read here if you’d like a little more information on this project.

One of the questions asked that didn’t make it into the article – possibly because I was a little thrown and babbled a bit! – was ‘what do you hope to achieve with this project?’  I found it interesting because it made me think.

If I’m being completely honest, I’m doing it because I want to be noticed.  More than that, I want someone to notice and go “hey, she’s good, maybe we should pay her a sum of several pounds to write some things.” In fact, I blogged on the subject of freelancing and its frustratingly voluntary nature here only a week ago.

I am slightly worried that this answer is too cynical for a quirky project like this.  I’d love to say I’m doing it purely for my love of telling stories, but I’d be lying.  I do love telling stories, but ultimately I have rent to pay. Sorry, idealists.  Having said that, I want to pay it by doing something I love, which is pretty idealistic…  Oh, but I also hope to improve my writing style immeasurably in a comparatively short period of time.  So there’s a less materialistic concern for you!

In news more pertinent to book  one, why do I know nothing about Ancient Rome?  According to the laws of childhood – as set out in the finale of the last series of Doctor Who – everyone does ‘Romans‘ in primary school.  So why is all my research new to me?!  Amy Pond is not significantly younger than I am!  I think maybe we did Tudors and Stuarts an extra time…

And it’s not particularly useful, but I liked the line in I Clavdivs that Livia Drusilla (Caligula’s grandmother) was once bitten by a snake, which promptly died.  Because she’s venomous, do you see?!  Siân Phillips did a cracking ‘evil schemer’ in that show.

Procrastination In Disguise

I read an interesting post on Nicola Morgan‘s blog today in which she was talking about research, and the fact that doing too much can hinder the writing process because you get bogged down in details that you could add later.  It’s essentially a slightly different take on my own advice to myself (as seen in the ‘about’ and ‘FAQs’ on this very page), and it’s reassuring that a proper published author feels the same way.

This is especially relevant to book one because obviously I can’t write from Caligula’s point of view without knowing anything about him, but I’ve got so much material to read/watch that if I go through all of it first, I’ll get to the end of January without having written a word.  Essentially, because I don’t know very much about him, or Ancient Rome, I need to be conducting light research as I go, but only enough to get things in the right order and the right sort of shape.  Then I can change stuff and add detail at a later date.  2012, maybe.

So there we have it.  Research is nothing more than an insidious method of procrastination, making you think you are doing srs work when actually you’re putting off the task at hand – namely, writing.  I need to nip it in the bud, before I get to the point of having 3 days left to write 49,000 odd words.

I’ll get on to it right after I’ve watched all 12 episodes of I, Claudius and read all 5 volumes of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Caligula’s Adiatrepsia

As January’s book is Caligula’s Blog, today I have mostly been reading a book about Caligula by a Roman historian called Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.  It’s essentially a massive list of the crazy stuff he did, which is very handy from my point of view because each item can be a blog entry (or several).

I haven’t finished it yet, but some of the highlights have included:

– Caligula having a gold statue made of himself.  Every day some lucky slave got to dress it up in clothes identical to whatever the man himself had thrown on that morning.

– Inviting the moon to go to bed with him every time it was full.  Well, I assume he was after the goddess of the moon rather than the lump of rock, although he pretty much seemed to do anything and anyone that stayed still long enough…  I will look into that.

– On meeting handsome men with good hair, he had the backs of their heads shaved to make them look daft.  He wanted to be the sexiest, you see.  Perhaps making other men look bad would detract from the fact he was a terrifying, all-powerful sex pest.

– He apparently described his maternal grandmother as “Ulysses in a dress.”  He didn’t like her very much.

– He referred to signing execution lists as “clearing his accounts.”  As you may have gathered, he was a sensitive soul.

– He liked to get members of Senate to run alongside his litter for several miles at a time.  A bit like having a performing animal, I suppose.

– Lots more things, but I’m not going to list them all.  They’ll be in the blog…

I don’t know much about Suetonius himself yet, so won’t be 100% sure how reliable he is as a source till I’ve done some more research on him.  I do know that the man had some lovely turns of phrase and that several subsequent biographies of the Caesars were based on his works.  Also, he was mates with Pliny The Younger, which is interesting in the sort of way that makes you say, “oh really?” because you’ve vaguely heard of him.

Which is nice.

Publicity

At the present time I am sitting in bed (I live in the coldest flat known to man, as is the wont of recent graduates with no disposable income, dependents or things to burn) and attempting to publicise this here project in the book loving world of the internet.  Creating and adding people on the twitter account led to me surfing through 8 million billion book bloggers, which took a large chunk out of my day but was hopefully worth it from a networking standpoint.  Facebook, on the other hand, has been making me want to throw things.  Hard.  At other, softer, living things.

My problem is one-fold.

WHAT THE BLOODY HELL HAS HAPPENED TO GROUPS?!

Time was, back in 2005, you made a group, invited thirty or forty people you knew in real life to join it, that was you.   Then it got a bit more widespread, and I made and joined a ridiculous number of joke pages just for fun.  Who wouldn’t want to echo the sentiment “Disney Gave Me Unrealistic Expectations About Love”, or admit to being one of those, “People Who Don’t Sleep Enough Because They Stay Up Late For No Reason”, or become an officer of “Tom Baker – The Ultimate Man“.  People joined these groups, made a couple of jokes, added a picture or two, then left or stayed at their leisure.

Even as late as about 24 hours ago groups seemed comparatively straightforward.  You could have separate tabs across the top for sections with ‘information’, ‘wall’, etc.  Now, you’ve just got one page for everything.  It’s a sprawling mass of stuff, with no way of highlighting the salient points – ie what 12 Books in 12 Months is and how people can participate.

To add insult to injury, when you attempt to invite people it adds them automatically without asking their permission.  I’d be annoyed if I was just randomly put in a group without my say-so, and I suspect it means people are less likely to look at it because it’s not something they’ve been asked or invited to do.  This upsets me, as 12 books in 12 months is one of the best terrible ideas I’ve ever had, and I want people to take a minute to look at it.

My question now is, should I make a ‘page’ instead? Then people can just ‘like’ it and be on their merry way… but are there other publicity benefits?

Meanwhile, in the world of Caligula research, I’ve just found a TV show made by the History Channel called ‘Ancients Behaving Badly‘, whose first episode is about the man himself.  And I’ve ordered a second hand copy of I, Claudius by Robert Graves online for a bargainous £2.70 so that I may keep it forever and perhaps even read it.

What a productive day.

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