A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

'I am a man. Nothing human is alien to me,'said the Roman, Terence. This Vlad's tale may not be 'alien', but it was still a very dark place to spend my time. Being still an actor in my heart, I always approach the characters I write as an actor would - through motivation. What events and relationships shaped their lives and affected their actions? What drove them? I sought for Vlad's motivations in the murky historical record, tried to piece together some plausible 'justification' for his actions. It was the hardest thing. And then I had an epiphany, about two thirds into the writing of the first draft - written longhand for the first time ever in an attempt to viscerally connect imagination, heart and hand - I decided not to judge him. I decided to show what he did and stop worrying why he did it. Essentially, I let him be who he was, whatever that was, to set his actions against his recorded life and in the context of the brutal place and epoch in which he lived. I would let the reader decide.
Author's Note, from Vlad - The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys

History has not dealt Vlad Dracula, the 15th century ruler of Wallachia, a fair hand. What is most unusual of Vlad - The Last Confession (out a couple of months ago) a novel which is based on the historical events in the Wallachian ruler's life, is that the author, as he reveals in his author's note, took the unusual approach of an actor who happens to be a writer. I have read and enjoyed thoroughly three ( I could include here the memoirs and letters of Noel Coward) other actor/writers, Dirk Bogarde, David Niven and even photographed one of them, Liv Ullmann. By looking for an actor's justification, Vancouver author/actor/swordsman C.C. Humphreys has managed a measure of objectivity without affecting the exciting plot. The gory parts, an almost clinical description on the method of impalement with which Vlad kept order, and terrorized his enemies (and even kept a solid gold goblet at a public drinking fountain of his capital, without it being stolen) could be daunting for some. But this is nicely balanced with a vivid description of the art of falconry and the customs of the Turkish court of Murad Han and his son Mehmet Celebi who took Constantinople.

I understand this actor's justification as justification is always in the back of my head when I take a portrait. I must justify what I do or my portrait will be an empty one. If I cannot treat my subject as a human being, accept his dignity, regardless of the fact that he may be a dishonest trader or lying politician, I cannot take my picture.

Method acting can have its most positive points when you consider that Humphreys spent solitary hours in Dracula's castle to absorb the atmosphere. The book is full of this dark atmosphere and I longed to see Vlad's dark steel armour as Humphreys described it. When the reader finds out that the author is not only an actor but a swordsman, too, the battle scenes seem that much more vivid and realistic.

Perhaps the author meant to inject a bit of the events of that bloody 15th century that set up the problems of the former Yugoslavia and that area that we call the Balkans. After finishing this adventure novel, I understand a bit of what led to the partition of Yugoslavia. I would assert that Humphreys Vlad - The Last Confession read in conjunction with Robert D. Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts will serve you well if you are to understand what is happening in that part of the world.

Humphreys Vlad - The Last Confession has only partially satisfied my desire (it happens frequently) to read novels of adventure of the swashbuckling kind. Humphreys to me is similar to Cartagena, Spain born author Arturo Perez-Reverte who writes lovely but controversial essays and wonderful novels like The Spherical Chart and Club Dumas. But his fans pepper him with complaints written in pseudo 17th century Spanish asking him to get on with one more installment of his most popular novels featuring the dashing mercenary swordsman, Capitán Alatriste who reads Góngora, Cervantes and de Quevedo. At least two Alatriste novels have been translated into English.

In a similar vein I would like to communicate to the author that it is just fine to write stand alone novels like the recently deceased Michael Dibdin (we all waited for his Aurelio Zen books!) used to do but I do plead that I want more Jack Absolute, the sooner the better.

I especially need my Jack Absolute fix as Jack Absolute's competition, Matthew Hervey has just appeared in Allan Mallinson's Warrior (which I read before starting on Vlad) and Mallinson reveals that Hervey (of the 6th Light Dragoons) will not be appearing in the 11th novel for a while, "Indeed we must wait a little longer than usual: twice as long, in fact, for the eleventh book in the series will be published - Deo Volente - in two year's time, not one."

On the other hand, without revealing Vlad's ending, I can assert that even though the historical Vlad may have lost his head and had it displayed on a stake on the walls of Constantinople, things are not quite what they seem as the varcolaci (undead) can come back in more than one way. And who knows Vlad's - Last Confession might not really be his last.


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