New work in progress – ‘Chiaroscuro’ #wwwblogs

I’ve finally completed the research (as far as I can) and have at last put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard, anyway) and begun my second full-length novel. All through the research, I kept myself on track by writing regular blog posts, something that I’m going to continue to do during the actual writing. Hopefully the posts will be interesting to others, as well as giving me a focus!

The idea for this novel has been in my mind for a very long time. Almost ten years ago I was studying for a degree with the Open University. One of the modules included a study of Eugene Delacroix, the nineteenth century French romantic painter, and involved an analysis of his paintings, including The Death of Sardanapalus’.

sardanapalus
Delacroix’s painting fascinated me. It’s so vibrant, the colours are so vivid; there’s so much detail, so much going on. Sardanapalus, an Assyrian king, watches dispassionately as everything he owns, including animals, slaves and concubines, are destroyed. His kingdom is under siege and he would rather everything was obliterated than left to the invaders.

This got me thinking. About Sardanapalus, about his concubines, about the man who painted it all. What stories lay behind the women who were Sardanapalus’ slaves? And what about Delacroix himself, his life, his art? And the models he used? What would it be like to work with an artist like him? These ideas were all jumbled together and have remained so for the last ten years or so. Somehow, I’ve managed to put them all together in a storyline that covers three different eras, three very different women and three very different men. The novel will range from the sixth century BC to nineteenth century France and into 21st century England.

Why the title ‘Chiaroscuro’?

Chiaroscuro is the Italian for ‘light-dark’. In art it refers to strong contrasts between light and dark. Delacroix was known as a master of colour, and he took this contrast to extremes, bringing a sophistication to the technique. In ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’, he uses contrasts of light, of shadow, halftones and bold brushstrokes to create vibrancy, a sense of life and movement in the face of death. I hope to carry this theme through the novel, into the lives of my characters; the lights and darks of their worlds, their relationships, the events that shape them. It’s a bit daunting, but at least I’ve finally made a start.

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22 comments

    1. Thanks Ali – feel a bit like I may have bitten off more than I can chew sometimes though! The research has taken about three months on and off – I have to really be careful not to get too caught up in it 🙂

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  1. What an undertaking! Who wrote the the first account of Sardanapalus? I find I get very weary of the acres of flesh in this period of painting, so god knows what it was like for the poor models. I shall be curious about the outcome, best of luck.

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    1. Thank you Hilary. Apparently it was a chap called Ctesias who lived in the fifth century BC, so yep, it is a bit of an undertaking! I’ve been relying on the play by Byron for most of my information on him though. But it is really those models and the women they’re modelling that I’m interested in.

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