Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Writerly Dithering

I’ve been continuing to work on my stories regarding the further adventures of the criminals Malartic and Lampourde, liberated from the page of Theophile Gautier’s 1863 novel Captain Fracasse, and I’ve started to hit a slight stumbling block.

The thing is, I actually think they (and the ideas I have for stories not yet written) are fairly good.  Maybe even publishably good.  This has thrown me into a couple of dithers.

First off is the old question of perspective.  I’ve written before about my considerable personal preference for fiction written in the first person, but so far the stories I’ve written about Malartic and Lampourde have been written in the third person, following the style of Captain Fracasse.  I can’t help but wonder if they wouldn’t be better reworked into the first person, probably from the point of view of Lampourde, whose view point I lean towards even when writing in the third person.  I could couch them as stories being told by an elderly Lampourde, sitting in a tavern a la Brigadier Gerard, or as memoires written by (or for) him a la Flashman.  I’ve said in a previous post that I’d like to do for the two villains what George MacDonald Fraser did for Harry Flashman, but turning the stories into the recollections of one of the main characters seems an homage too far.

Next, although the stories are fairly good, do I really want to be recycling someone else’s pre-existing characters?  They’re long out of copyright, and MacDonald Fraser certainly had no problems recycling Harry Flashman in this way, but might it not be better to create my own, and maybe even shift the setting?  I once entertained some ideas of writing a novel about a pair of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser-esque criminals in an alternative history Georgian London (using my Anno Geometrica world, for those familiar with it), and what I’ve already written on Malartic and Lampourde could be quite easily converted to this.  The alternative historical timeline and existence of magic-like phenomena in the setting could also possibly make it more interesting (at least from a publishing viewpoint) than something merely historical.  I could also introduce plots and/or characters from the Nano novel I wrote based on this setting, about a pair of Bow Street Runners.  And of course, if I did convert the stories to these characters and setting, what perspective would I write them in?

The thing is, I really like the punctilious, verbose and quixotic swordmaster Jacquemin Lampourde, and his more cynical, cunning and bizarre-looking colleague the Chevalier Malartic.  I love the approach they take to their criminality.  Superficially, they’re similar to Arturo Perez Reverte’s Captain Alatriste, being hired blades in a crowded 17th century city.  However, Perez Reverte’s noir-ish, gritty anti-hero is a soldier by profession, and his criminal activities are very much something he is forced to resort to due to circumstance.  There is no hint that Malartic and Lampourde’s criminal career is anything they resorted to.  Instead it is their calling and vocation.  Like Alatriste, they are upfront about the fact that they are murderers and footpads, but unlike Alatriste, they take a genuine pride in the fact. 

Alatriste is professional, but in a utilitarian, workman-like way, taking no joy in the violence that he inflicts.  He effectively prostitutes his blade, and knows that it’s beneath him to do so.  He does it because he’s good at it, and the alternative is to become a beggar.  Malartic and Lampourde on the other hand (the latter especially) are artists and craftsmen who take great satisfaction in their work, even when all they’re doing is running a man through in a darkened alleyway, but without any trace of brutality or sadism.  They do it because they consider it beneath them to do any kind of manual labour, or earn an honest living in any other way, while seeing violent crime as an honourable profession, as long as it is conducted within certain (very loose) bounds.

Writing them, with all of their pride, swagger and moral ambiguity, is considerable fun.  Added to this, I’ve discovered that the version of Captain Fracasse that I’ve read is actually (and to a great extent, thankfully) abridged, but it means that it left out quite a bit of description regarding Lampourde’s dwelling (which is much more squalid than I would have thought) and of the Crowned Radish tavern (which is just as squalid as I thought), as well as fuller physical descriptions of both Malartic and Lampourde, and accounts of conversations between them that were almost completely cut from the version I read.  Malartic is revealed to have had a considerable classical education, and his clothes are described as having once been incredibly elegant, both of which hint at a background which is not at all discussed, and leaves me considerable scope for exploration.  These have all led to slight revisions of the stories I’ve already posted here, and to what I’ve got down of another couple of stories.

I think that for the moment, I will continue writing about them, and see how it goes.  I have one particularly good idea that won’t work for any other setting, in which I will vaguely attempt to do to The Three Musketeers what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead did to Hamlet, and hopefully it will be fairly entertaining.

Watch this space.

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