Archive for December, 2013

A look at style in Nicholas Shakespeare’s ‘In Tasmania’.

December 14, 2013

For ever searching for a sense of style, I am want to analyse the first 500 words of anything I read.  So, for what it’s worth, these are my musings of Nicholas’s style in the first words of his book ‘In Tasmania’ :

It opens intriguingly with someone telephoning Nicholas to tell him there is another ‘N. Shakespeare’ in Tasmania. This introduces the book perfectly. We know that he will be on a quest to search out his family roots.  

However within the first paragraph we are distracted from Nicholas with an aside that tells us how his friend had discovered another N. Shakespeare.  Then immediately in the next sentence, Nicholas mentions Argentina and its connection with another near namesake. I would have preferred a slower, more focused presentation of the facts that also included personal reactions.  I would have liked, for example, a paragraph about his friend and his experience when he first came across N. Shakespeare in Tasmania followed by a new paragraph about Nicholas’s previous searching for his namesake. This would have led me more smoothly through his experiences and I could have related more readily to his tale.

When Nicholas meets his namesake, we are given details of what mode of transport was used (a motorbike) and how this meant a great deal to its rider. We are told where we were (in the drive of a house behind an estate) but it isn’t until later that we are given a description of what his namesake looks like. I would have loved to have known what he looked like first, followed by a description of Nicholas’s reaction to meeting him, and then, finally, if he must, mention of the importance of the motorbike. The description of his namesake, when it comes, is excellent, I can picture him immediately, but then I feel cheated. How does his appearance relate to other members of Nicholas’s family? What did Nicholas feel about this encounter? The feelings presented are those of envy for the motorbike i.e. I feel I am being distracted from what appeared to be Nicholas’s initial goal: to find out more about his ancestors but then, who am I to question these things?

Having reacted this way I now resolve to present my characters in a slow, smooth and connected way. A description first, personal reactions next and information given during the encounter, rather than bland statements added in between.  We’ll see …

Review ‘In Tasmania’ by Nicholas Shakespeare

December 14, 2013

I was eager to read ‘In Tasmania’ by Nicholas Shakespeare for I wanted to learn more about my birth place. I have always been interested in this unique island and looked forward to learning more facts about its history. I was not disappointed. The book is packed with information, much that was news to me and Nicholas has found no end of sources that I seemed to have missed.

I was also looking forward to a leisurely stroll through his journey in time while on the island, but he did not present himself in this way. I often got the feeling that he had so many facts gathered that his priority was getting them across rather than telling a good yarn. It was a strange feeling, living in the UK now, having an ‘outsider’ to Tasmania tell me what it is like in the eyes of someone from the UK. Quite often he surprised me. My view of the place is obviously narrow, fixed to the immediate childhood environment in Devonport, and Hobart where I lived and was schooled, but is nevertheless well-defined and infused with a deep sense of what it is to be a Tasmanian. I longed for Nicholas to share with us the strong sense of humour that my family enjoyed. Perhaps we were not indicative of our fellow Tasmanians? However, I was reminded of this humour when some years ago, some Tasmanians were trapped in a mine. In spite of their dire situation, they were heard to make a few quips as they waited for rescue. One of them was how they thought they might retire from mining when they got out – an understatement to say the least, but typical. I missed this aspect in Nicholas’s writing, although he did get the over-exaggeration that some of the locals indulge in when telling a tale or two.

One place Nicholas and I had in common was Swansea where he lived for a couple of years. Swansea was the place where we used to go on holiday as a family many years before Nicholas arrived. It was almost as if we visited a different town. Our family used to stay at Coswell, owned by Wally Donne, a descendant of the poet John Donne yet Nicholas did not mention this. How could he miss it?   Perhaps my years there were so long ago that they are wiped from the memory of those who live there now.

Another interesting difference is his attitude to the people of mixed Aboriginal race. I remember the deep regret we felt that we had no more ‘full-blooded’ Tasmanians yet, Nicholas seems to accept that the mixed race descendants were ‘full-blooded’.

Enough nit-picking of the content. I am very glad I read his book and I still remember the thrill I got when he described the overall beauty of the place – this joy we certainly shared.