Inside the Heads of Strangers

I’ve just read a fabulous article on point of view in fiction.  First person and/or present tense, is a new trend in historical fiction which I know irks some readers. After all events happened in the past so shouldn’t they therefore be written in past tense?

I very willfully disagree. First of all, in this world of unlimited eBooks and limited attention spans we authors need to keep our readers turning the pages. I predict we will see more and more of this form of writing in the future.

Second, I can’ resist quoting Hilary Mantel’s beautiful words on how the present tense seems natural for capturing:

the jitter and flux of events, the texture of them and their ungraspable speed. It is humble and realistic – the author is not claiming superior knowledge – she is inside or very close by her character, and sharing their focus, their limited perceptions. It doesn’t suit authors who want to boss the reader around and like being God.

Bosch's 'Removing the Stones of Folly' ( with amendments).
Bosch’s ‘Removing the Stones of Folly’ (with amendments).

Indeed. Truth is complex and nuanced. The omniscient point of view (different from tense but no less potent) can lend a level of detachment to a story, which some people prefer. Yet a novel written in first person present tense pulls readers more intimately into the protagonist’s head and subjective story world. And unless this protagonist is a supremely annoying individual (well, even that can make for good reading) it can engage the reader and help the story come alive.  It’s the literary equivalent of mind-reading. It helps us understand the motivations of people we might never encounter in our daily lives.

This is, of course, all academic. Brilliant books have been written in all tenses and from all points of view.

As a writer, I found first person present tense helped me understand ‘The Infidel’s Garden’ protagonist Marjit on a far deeper level.

As I reader, I enjoy the form for the same reason. Click on the link demon to  read this terrific article:

bosch demon 1 flipped with shadow




Celebrating a Rave Review

A million thanks to The Historical Novel Society’s A.K. Bell for this wonderful review of The Infidel’s Garden.

Time to Celebrate
Time to Celebrate

I am not a fan of first person narratives in present tense. In my experience, few authors can deliver the richness of character required to lift such narratives, so it was with some hesitation I approached Ms Banwell’s novel. It took two pages – at most – for me to realise that here was a character so complex, so enigmatic, I did not care about narrative person – or tense.

…here was a character so complex, so enigmatic, I did not care about narrative person – or tense.

The Infidel’s Garden is the story of Soheila, born in Andalucía in the late 15th century. Soheila is a bastard, born of a Moorish mother and an itinerant Christian father. Soheila is raised as a Muslim, but when she is ten, calamity strikes. Everything she took for granted in her life is trampled to dust, and instead she ends up in a Dutch convent, there to be raised as a good Christian, and baptised Marjit. But in her heart, Soheila remains always a Muslim. Always.

The convent, the little Dutch town Hertogenbosch, the interiors of the houses – Ms Banwell presents us with a vivid depiction that teems with as much life as a Brueghels painting. Things smell, there is noise and texture, elaborate meals and a certain Archdeacon Solin, expounding repeatedly on the evil of infidels such as Marjit, now serving as a maid in a wealthy household.

Marjit walks on eggshells, navigating a society replete with bigoted Catholics, the somewhat disturbed Hieronymus Bosch, jealous women – and Pieter. For the first time in her life, Marjit lusts for a man – unfortunately, Pieter is not only the master of the household, he is also a devout Christian.

Things are further complicated when young women turn up murdered. Marjit has reasons to suspect the Archdeacon, but such accusations are dangerous to make –  especially if you’re a potential infidel. Marjit’s life takes a turn for the worse – one harrowing experience after the other follows, and as things unravel I am left holding my breath, captivated by Ms Banwell’s complex plotting as much as by her writing.

…I am left holding my breath, captivated by Ms Banwell’s complex plotting as much as by her writing.

A very enjoyable read, from the very first to the last page!

e-edition reviewed

Click on the vase to link  to the genuine article:vase whole with shadow