A rollickin’ good yarn

Cover of The Fair FightAfter reading two bleak stories I needed a complete change. For this reason I chose an historical first novel by Anna Freeman titled The Fair Fight. It turned out to be a rollickin’ good yarn from beginning to end.

When I read historical fiction I want to be transported to another time and place. I want true characters that I can commit to and stories I can believe in. I want real voices and language that evokes the period of the time. I was lucky as Anna Freeman skilfully and naturally blends these elements to create a story that comes alive.

From the first pages I was immersed in 18th century Bristol where pugilists, brothels, brawling and gambling rule the day. I enjoyed discovering and absorbing new/old words like “mollies”, “pugs”, “cullies”, and “swells”.

Three of the main characters, Ruth, Charlotte and George, are the storytellers with each voice adding suspense and vibrancy to the drama. This is a well realised and oftentimes brutal tale.

elizabeth stokesBy the end I wanted to know more about women and boxing during these times so turned to the 17th – 18th Century Burney Collection of Historical Newspapers available from the library.

I found an advertisement from Oct 1st, 1726, about a Mary Welch and Elizabeth Stokes. They talk up their fighting skills to excite readers and announce they will “mount at Four” and “fight in cloth Jackets, short Petticoats coming just below the Knee, Holland Drawers, white Stockings, and Pumps”. Cor blimey!

A fascinating account that all started with historical fiction.

Bookish brawlers

I love it when nerdy writers pull off their glasses, push up their ink-stained sleeves and start a really good fisticuffs. Of course most of these brawls don’t actually result in physical confrontation, although a notorious few have, but in lieu of fists, authors and their critics are very well-placed to bandy vitriolic but sometimes beautifully chosen insults.

Well-known recidivist offender, author Alice Hoffman, last month dragged authorial peevishness out of the dark-ages by tweeting her bile. She had taken particular exception to a mixed review of  her latest title The story sisters: a novel. She called the reviewer Roberta Silman “a moron” and encouraged her fans to phone or email Silman to tell her what they thought of “snarky critics”. Later Hoffman issued a remarkably unapologetic apology and shut down her Twitter account, stroppy mare…

Hoffman has also been on the receiving end of  “writer rage” after American Pulitzer prize winning writer Richard Ford and his wife got sniffy when Hoffman wrote “nasty things” about his novel Independence day; they peppered a copy of Hoffman’s then latest book with bullets and mailed it to her. An entirely reasonable and measured response there Mr and Mrs Ford (of course I’m lying but I wouldn’t want to incite the wrath of gun-toting novelists).

Back in 2004 Mr Ford became infamous for spitting on unsympathetic reviewer Colson Whitehead at a literary party. Whitehead advised other reviewers considering writing anything unfavourable about Ford’s work to invest in a “rain poncho”. Colson Whitehead is now a published novelist himself and no doubt primed and ready to fly into a towering, spitting, shooting rage at the first sign of a negative review.

Martin Amis has claimed that “Literary feuds went out of fashion with the Salman Rushdie fatwah” but still managed to get down and dirty calling Tibor Fischer “a creep and a wretch. Oh yeah: and a fat arse”. Fischer, predictably, had panned Amis’s novel Yellow dog describing it as “not-knowing-where-to-look bad”. Amis has previously feuded with former buddy Julian Barnes and more recently with Marxist historian Terry Eagleton.

The miracle is, I suppose that any of them even find a minute between trading insults to pen a prize-winner or bestseller.

All juicy literary feud information gratefully received…