Julian Fellowes

Julian Fellowes interview

I love his thoughts about Highclere Castle’s architectural/political history (nice too how he intertwines the two aspects).

On writing characters: “You …build on emotional predicaments you have witnessed.”
You take their problem with their mother, whatever it is… It’s only ever a lifting-off point.”

On the period chosen for the story:
“Both Gareth and I were very keen that although these people were leading a life that in some ways is like something on the moon, we wanted to make it a recognizable life. By 1912– I mean, my grandmother was pregnant with my father at the date we open this series. He was born in the following July, and this is my father– it’s not my great-great-great-grandfather– this now. He only died in 1999. It’s not that long ago. It gives us cars and trains, they have a telephone and electricity and all that. When people are watching–obviously I don’t mean they relate to the way of life, because they don’t live like that–lots of them didn’t live like that then– but they understand the life… It looks like these are kind of modern people in a sort of modern world– as opposed to when you do something about the Civil War, it’s miles away.”

On what he wants viewers to take away:
“We examine different human predicaments. We examine relationships with your parents and disappointment and sibling rivalry and failed love– these things go through the series whether or not they’re servants or family. I think that the way managing this world emotionally– and people knew the rules. I mean they could be friendly, certainly– I mean handling that kind of television cliche when everyone’s horrible to their servants is unrealistic. There were lots of jobs, they didn’t have to stay. The average length of time a footman in London stayed in service was 18 months. The old thing that everyone stayed forever is all nonsense. .”

quotidian thrash


another fine book with “dog” in the title (no mystery why these jump off the shelf at me): a three dog life by abigail thomas– memoir most gracefully arranged.

my head is full of shards that poke me awake at three and four a.m.– at which point I’ll get out of bed, fed up with it, meander aimlessly from bathroom to kitchen, alight on the couch and sit staring, full of unreconcilable noise, simply fraught in the dark, until eventually exhaustion wins out and back to bed.

saturday we spent entirely out, unusual for habitual homebodies– downtown among the shamrock throng– we pursued our own parallel and unrelated course from cell phone store to lunch to art museum to secondhand shops to bar and so on, weaving through and among all those drunken costumed babies– girls crying into cell phones, boys hollering, singing, peeing in doorways– loud and incidental to our own daylong adventure.

we’ve decided to stay put for now, though spring is tweaking me– it’s the good choice, pull ourselves together in all the right ways for planned rather than haphazard forward momentum. practicing patience is uncomfortable. my mind hounds itself with buts and ifs, and it’s difficult to keep still and steady. my heart craves large, marked and decisive gestures, but is unable or unwilling to settle on a single direction for momentum and so thrashes against itself, pushing this way and that until it’s simply worn out.

the time has changed, so days are brighter and seem longer, which lifts my mood across the board– regardless the prospect of another year confounds.

what a good book should do

There’s a fairly short list of books I truly love, by which I feel gratefully reshaped while reading them—and I’ve just added one more title to their number: The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. I don’t even quite know yet what I want to say about it… only to testify to this feeling of awe, of gratitude and grace for the experience of something so utterly moving and beautiful and bittersweet. It hurts exquisitely to read how well Parkhurst writes of Lexy’s anguish, as imagined through her husband’s eyes after the fact—there are two or three pages right near the end where the describing of the experience of despair is so pitch-perfect, accurate and immediately recognizable, that it feels as if my own heart, in its most private and awful moments, has been written onto the page and published and printed in the thousands by a complete stranger—it’s the oddest combination of intimacy and the public—which I suppose is also the pith of my secret heart. I want to hold the feeling this book has created inside me, not to let it slip away into daily whatevers—that’s really why I write about it. I dearly don’t want this exquisite feeling of graceful recognition and my own amazement to end. O the tragedy of the final page. So the inclination to talk about such books with others in classrooms and coffeeshops and book circles. But when a book comes printed, as this one does, with prepared discussion questions for groups of readers, well, I appreciate it, take it as a sign of the book’s power to move, but still can’t bear to glance at them for awhile—they feel, in their candor and baldness, at first like a cheapening of that magical, intimate, transported moment. The great power of a work of fiction to reach into exactly you in your most personal heart to create a there quiet chemical explosion, this is the wondrous gift of certain writers. If I could accomplish the same for other readers so wholly and satisfyingly in books, I would feel unutterably blessed and successful in my work.

there. if I’m honest about it, that is the dream. nothing less.

And now I’m going to make a cup of tea and maybe a batch of cookies and continue to savor the receiving of the gift.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend


so last night I went to a house party/ro-sham-bo championship. the host used to be an event promoter, so he did up his own event in stylee, with a little pa/dj station and prizes from the dollar store and everything– verrrra nice. and a group of people who like to play games– I was in heaven, totally happy and excited– and maybe a little manic into the bargain.

that’s the part that hassles me out in the cool light of morning– the old instant replay of shame. certainly it’s a result of certain indulgences, an oh shit just how big an idiot was I… kind of thing. woo fun.

the instructions at the door were to make up a fictitious name for the championship and write it down on a slip of paper for the competing order hat and also on a sticky nametag to wear– so I became lola for the evening. and, geez, but that lola was a bit of a rager, loud and downright obnoxious at times, occasionally witty, and generally so not the me I am for 99% of my life. it’s a little weird. I’ve written here before about how once in a blue moon I’ll get a wild hair and tear it up. those blue moon nights where the turtle emerges from its shell– and dons showgirl feathers and struts around. there’s the ungainly tarantella right there.

I am, I suppose, a clown at heart, though I seldom give it much free reign and then the superego kicks in once I do. I had a moment of self-assessment alone in the bathroom at one point where I thought, sometimes I feel like lucille ball, and sometimes I feel like my mother, and other times I feel more safely, groundedly like myself. tonight I do not feel like myself. there’s that razor’s edge to giddiness– am I lucille ball or pratfall-prone lucy?– if you let go, sometimes your laugh rings just a little too loudly and echoes in your own ears as shrill. it’s most alarming to a turtle.

too, I don’t really know these people– I liked them, some of them very much. it’s a network of old local friends, a community of sorts, immensely attractive to a transplant who craves a wider local social circle. I get out so seldom. there are these little forays into existing social networks, and it can be a bit nerve-wracking. there’s that part in eat pray love where gilbert’s talking about the significance of social networks in indonesia, how people’s identities are essentially relative– being x’s son and y’s cousin on his mother’s side and so on.  we have a little bit of that here, though less rigorously. and then we have floaters like me, people who have maybe moved around a lot. like the narrator of the book. deracinated. maybe rootlessness is a little maddening– possibly the person without real roots becomes to some extent a social danger, a loose wire. loose wire or wild hair, sometimes it’s a tough call. ah, the overanalysis. :) my forte. lola versus the turtle.

p.s. also I fell in love. her name is biscuit. she’s a four-year-old heinz 57 that her person has neglected to spay, so she was wandering around the party in a diaper. near the end of the party, in my loud and obnoxious way, I was giving her owner a hard time about this, and he started talking about how he wasn’t sure he could keep her, pointing out the window to his camper and talking about a big trip he was planning… I started to argue it and then just whipped out my card and told him to call me if he decided he needed to get rid of her. so maybe someday biscuit will be my biscuit. and she’ll get properly spayed, I can tell you that.

the fictional tale of a guy by the name of s. morgenstern and a land called florin.

when various aspects of this life become unbearable, my best and favorite solution is retreat into story. agatha christie’s good. some days william goldman‘s even better. what mark danielewski’s done with such much-lauded postmodern panache in _house of leaves_, bill goldman executed far more captivatingly a couple of decades earlier in writing _the princess bride_— or, supposedly, “abridging” another writer’s tale of romance and high adventure, a lost classic he laboriously detailed as culled from childhood immigrant-father-readings memories, tracked down, muddled through, rights fought for, and, right, abridged. he even went so far as to make up an entire fictional family for himself, the author-abridger– a kind of fictional, reverential william goldman. so many layers of artifice and imagination. of course none of it’s directly believable, of course its terribly fantastic, of course you laugh and go, “no way” while reading it– and yet you want to believe. so elaborate is the fabrication. such a tour de force of the wonderful, innocent imagination. I read the novel long long before hollywood ever touched it, and, i’m sorry all you rabid fans out there, but much as I love ms. robin wright penn, she just can’t hold a candle to the real buttercup, the written, sassy, stupid buttercup of goldman’s crafting. as fine an actor as cary elwes is (and, remember, I love “saw”), westley the dread pirate roberts is bigger and bolder and sneakier and more real than he’ll ever manage to be. like dreams before their pale shadows in retelling– the book, lo, the veriest book before the movie. do yourself a favor, my friend: go read the book.