N.B. See Reason No.1

Recently (so I’m told) there’s been a lot of discussion on the web amongst writers about the difficulty of making a living as a writer.

I’ve not been a part of this, for at least two reasons:

1. I think I’d be better off writing (the WIBBOW test); and

2. I’m a long, long way from making a living as a (part-time) writer.

This, currently, does not trouble me.


I have a day job which provides just enough impetus to force me back to the writing desk when the working day is over (see Reason #1 above).

I have a long-term plan for my writing, which focuses on improving my craft with every novel I write (see Reason #1 above).

And I have a supportive partner who encourages me to focus on the dream of being a novelist, while reminding me how I can work towards achieving that goal (see Reason #1 above).

Maybe I’ll never be hungry enough to write with the prolific speed of the pulp masters.

Maybe I’ll never be good enough to write a masterpiece that endures.

Maybe I’ll never learn how to make characters people like, instead of ones whom readers hate.

Who can tell?

But one thing I do know: having finished SHADOWBOX this summer, I’m one step closer to that body of work.

Published in: on November 19, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on N.B. See Reason No.1  
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Shadowbox: Camera Obscura

A small element within the storyline of SHADOWBOX is a fascinating piece of equipment: the camera obscura.

An ingenious device for capturing images using a simple set of mirrors and the refractive qualities of light, the camera obscura

is used in drawing and for entertainment, and was one of the inventions that led to photography and the cameraWikipedia

Most of the time it was used to paint landscapes. Around the time that Giovanni Belzoni was making his fabulous facsimile of the tomb of Seti I, landscape artists were using a camera obscura to map out Greece, then under Ottoman rule.

Artists such as Vermeer are suspected of using one, and we know that Leonardo Da Vinci was familiar with the tool.

An… important advantage of the camera obscura is that it narrows the hopelessly wide range of brightness found in nature to a more limited number of tonal values reproducible by the painter’s pigments – EssentialVermeer.com

In other words, using a camera obscura makes painting easier because it limits the number of colours the eye can make out. Useful if, like my character, you have next to no artistic training.

But there’s more to the camera obscura than just painting. It can be used for entertainment too, and a rather saucy depiction of this is used in Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers (1968) in a scene that presages how Richard Chamberlain’s Tchaikovsky and his new wife (played by Glenda Jackson) really aren’t suited for one another.

Modern day photographers use the camera obscura to take photographs, while others design and install public artworks of the type. Here’s one at the top of Cairngorm, in Scotland (note: weather and clear view not normal):

Camera Obscura in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Still in use today, the artists who sketched the landscapes of Greece and Italy on the Grand Tour used a camera obscura to help them capture the details. One of these artists, Simone Pomardi, hires my character Louis Beauregard as a trainee draughtsman in the course of my novel, SHADOWBOX.

Is Louis any good, though?

Next in the SHADOWBOX series: The Magic Lantern Picture Show.

Join me on the journey by following me on Twitter, where I’m @LeeMcAulay1. Or sign up using the form on the right.

Shadowbox: Bienvenue

This is the first in a month-long series of posts about my forthcoming novel: SHADOWBOX (currently in pre-production for release by the end of June).

Set in 1832, SHADOWBOX is a story of loss and revenge. Excess and obsession. The damage a man does to his soul by refusing to accept change.

In this series of posts you’ll find the story of how the novel came about, the historical research that hopefully found its way onto the pages of SHADOWBOX, and links to places you can discover more. Remember to subscribe to the blog if you want to read the latest updates.

SHADOWBOX: An Introduction

One of the joys of being a historian is the ability to time travel. To go back in time, shedding the veneer of centuries, picturing people much like those we already know in situations very different to our own.

SHADOWBOX could be classified as historical fiction, but the elements of myth and magic within the story produce a Gothic flavour, a gaslit fantasy of Greek tragedy and exuberant adventure that mixes fiction with real-life characters in the usual speculative tradition.

The novel deals with a number of themes – death and revenge, excess and obsession, lust and hatred and fear and grief. It wasn’t an easy story to write. At times I wondered whether I should give up and go write something happy, with sunshine on every page.

But I realised there were important things I wanted to say in this novel, not just because the story forms an early, formative part of the life of Louis Beauregard – one of the protagonists in THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. Sometimes you have to ask a lot of questions before you understand what your real problem is.

1832 was a strange place. Looking back almost 200 years, much has changed in Britain. For one thing, the UK had a king and an Empire that started with Ireland, something odd to those of us who have grown up knowing only Elizabeth II as monarch and a British Commonwealth.

SHADOWBOX takes place in Paris too. And Paris, in late 1832, was a much more peculiar place (to this author at least), its population repressed after a notable uprising and a disastrous cholera epidemic, ruled by a Bourbon king, the city as prosperous and lively as London.

I did a lot of historical research for this novel. Some of this has already appeared, before I wrote the story, in posts such as Giovanni Belzoni Gets A New Assistant and First Steps On The Journey – 1842. As well as (hopefully!) finding its way into the novel without overwhelming the reader, the historical research was great fun.

As I said at the start of this post, one of the joys of being a historian is the ability to time travel.

One of the joys of writing historical fiction is the ability to take other people with you.

Tomorrow: The first post in the SHADOWBOX series: Germinal 1, covering how I came up with the idea for the novel and the first steps I took in laying out the story.

Join me on the trip by subscribing to the RSS feed or sign up in the form on the right to receive posts by email. And bring a lantern.