BEAR ALLEY BOOKS

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Comic Cuts - 9 February 2018

With Forgotten Authors Volume 2 now done and dusted—and available to buy—I'm immersed in work on the next volume. Some of the essays in this new one will be a bit more recent, so there's less chance that I will find ways to overhaul them in a major way, but I'm continually tinkering with these texts, so there will definitely be something new about every single piece.

I mentioned previously that, although eight of the ten essays were based on things I've written previously for Bear Alley, around 50,000 of the 65,000 words in the second volume were new material. Partly that's down to expanding some of the older essays as more information is now available; partly it's also that the book gives me an opportunity to throw in the kitchen sink; and sometimes it's simply because I hate to see research go to waste.

The amount of research done in some areas is intense. I end up with pages of notes that I have to condense down into something readable. Usually these are immediately thrown away once the essay is finished, but I sometimes find them caught up in a pile where I've moved some books, or even used as bookmarks. I stumbled across the following page yesterday and thought I'd share it with you. This is both the front and back...


The context is the novel Kate Hamilton, published as part of the 'Anonyma' series of novels about Victorian prostitutes and demi mondes. Kate Hamilton was a real person, a larger than life character who ran a  famous London night-house where prostitutes and playboys would meet. I wanted to find out (a) if Kate was real, and (b) whether she was the owner of the establishment that carried her name.

Well, it turned out that she was real, but the power behind the throne (and I do mean that Kate sat on a throne on a raised platform, drinking cocktails, surrounded by girls and customers) was a guy called David Belasco. I searched through dozens of newspaper reports and discovered that he was quite a brutal character, arrested a number of times for running a disorderly house, at least once for attacking his wife, and on another occasion for murder.

The first page includes notes jotted down while I was searching papers and census records. The second page is based on rates payments made in Westminster over a period of thirty years, covering properties that Belasco paid the rates on. You can see Kate Hamiltons at 48 Leicester Square, and his other night-houses. 

Most of this information was edited out of the finished version of the essay on Anonyma that appeared in Forgotten Authors Volume 1. In fact, those two pages were boiled down to:
... the power behind the throne was David Belasco (1826-1902), who ran similar establishments in the Haymarket and White Hart Street for over three decades  and who had served time for wilful manslaughter.
I'm not saying that every sentence has a page and a half of notes behind it, but quite a few do. And it's that kind of burrowing down into the subject that sometimes turns up interesting details that might otherwise be missed. 

Getting back into the swing of writing and re-writing meant that my planned binge-watch of Altered Carbon didn't quite go to plan. I'm seven episodes in and I think it's an interesting take on the book. The writers have added some details that will pay off later, I suspect, but there's a lot of the book to go and only three episodes left. I'm also left with the quandary of whether Joel Kinnaman should continue to appear as the hero should the show run to another series. The central idea is that people can swap bodies and the body that looks like Joel Kinnaman belong to a former cop (Elias Ryker). In flashbacks we've met Takesh Kovacs in his original body, played by actor Will Yun Lee, so viewers will be used to the idea that Kovacs looks different at different times... but at the same time Kinnaman had been one of the reasons I've wanted to watch every episode and it will be a shame if he makes the show a success only to miss out on the benefits of a successful show.

(A small aside... I like to have a whole show ready and waiting before I start watching. I think that might be the collector in me, the one who prefers graphic novels so that I can read the beginning, middle and end without having to wait a month between issues. I'm the same with TV shows: I want them wrapped up by the end of the season. By all means leave a thread loose that can be central to whatever will happen next year, but wrap up the main storyline. It's so unsatisfying, waiting six months to a year to find out what's going on. This was a problem with another series that featured Joel Kinnaman: the American remake of The Killing. As we don't have Sky I rely on picking up box-sets of a lot of shows, and we watched the first series of The Killing with great anticipation as we'd loved the original Danish series. So to find that the season ended abruptly half-way through the storyline was a huge disappointment. Being a big consumer of box sets, I usually wait until I find them second hand... and I've never found season two. Yes, I know I can pick it up from Amazon, but that feels like cheating!)

Back to Volume 3. I've managed to knock out five essays and have another one almost completed. That brings the totalizer up to 145,589 words spread over 35 authors. Only another 15 to go before I hit the big Five-Oh!

Random scans for today are a handful of recently found books. The first I bought from Amazon for 25p plus postage... a book I've been after for some while and which has prompted me to finally start reading McDonald's River of Gods, which I've had on my "to read" pile for a few years. My New Year's Resolution was to read some thinner books and I guess Andy Weir's  Artemis was in the right ballpark at 300 pages. Altered Carbon, which I read before Christmas, was 470... now I'm reading a book that, at 580 pages, will probably take me until May to finish!

Anyway, the others I've picked up for free. There are a few drop-off points for free books around town, including a shelf at the railway station where I picked up Peter Ackroyd's Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, recently filmed with Bill Nighy; the other two were from down the pub which me and my mum visited on Tuesday for lunch. The first is one of the later Deathlands novels by James Axler (this one by Alan Philipson), while the other is a reprint of an early Dean Koontz novel that I used to have back in the Seventies, although this version has been revised (in 1997).



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