Thursday, February 28, 2013

Play inspired by Ray Bradbury

Without Whom is a one-act play by R.J.Downes, inspired by Ray Bradbury and his wife Marguerite. It will shortly be seen in a new production at the Springworks Indie Theatre & Arts Festival at Stratford, Ontario.

"This play is not a biographical work," says its author, "but rather a fantastic tale with veiled elements of [Bradbury's] life and my own".

Downes first put on the one-act play in 2008, when Ray Bradbury was still alive, but Maggie Bradbury had passed away. It was Maggie's passing that indirectly provided the trigger for Downes, who was inspired by Sam Weller's appreciation of Maggie published on the official Ray Bradbury website.

Downes says he was unable to find anything that Bradbury had himself written about his wife's passing, which made him think one of two things: "Either he is too self-absorbed to bother to say anything or her death hit him so hard that it actually silenced the man."

The latter would seem to be the truth, as in the introduction to The Cat's Pajamas (2004), Bradbury's first collection of short stories to be published after Maggie's death, he wrote:

During the last six weeks a strange and surprising thing has happened. My wife became ill in early November, wound up in the hospital, and passed away just before Thanksgiving. During her illness and in the time since, for the first time in seventy years my demon has lain quiet within me. My muse, my Maggie, was gone, and my demon did not know what to do.

As the days passed, and then the weeks, I began to wonder if I would ever write again; I was unaccustomed to waking in the morning and not having my private theater acting out its ideas inside my head.

Playwright Downes says that "the play was my attempt to fill that silence. The marriage depicted in the play is a guess at best." His Ray and Maggie MONARCH spend forty years bickering, but Downes says "the bickering and fighting [...] is actually based on the relationship of my [ex-]girlfriend’s father and his third wife (who incidentally and quite ironically are also named Ray and Maggie)."

Ray Monarch is described as "a stubborn and opinionated man. Very smart in many ways but lacking in the emotional side of things. Having lost his wife (both his life partner and his sparring partner) he now finds himself at a loss for how to move forward."

Maggie Monarch is "a strong willed and independent mature woman who has lived a life she is proud of, caring for the man she loved in both the good times and the bad."

Ray and Maggie have a daughter,  Susan Monarch. Ray's agent is Harlan, whose "personal stake in his client requires him to worry about the fact that Ray seems more and more lost with each passing day."

Quotes from R.J. Downes are from 2008 when he talked about the first version of his play in this interview for Weird Tales. The character biographies and casting call for his new production are here. News about the staging of the new production can also be found here.

The photos of the real Maggie Bradbury that inspired R.J. Downes.

Monday, February 25, 2013

2013 Oscars Ceremony: Ray Bradbury in memoriam

Last night's Oscars ceremony had its usual in memoriam section,
which included a brief quotation from Ray Bradbury.

"The ability to fantasize is the ability to grow."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bradbury News

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that Ray Bradbury's books are finally to be released as e-books in the UK. No big deal, you might think - except that Bradbury was famously opposed to his works being made available in this form right up until his final year on this planet. I don't believe there was any great earth-shattering moment when he "caved in", or when he had some great epiphany; I think it was just a case of the new contract arriving, and the continued publication of the print editions of his works would be conditional on e-book rights also being made available to his publisher.

The Guardian faithfully reported this story, but slipped in a new piece of information which to me is much more significant. It appears that Dark Carnival is among the books which will be made available as an e-book.

Dark Carnival. Bradbury's first book. Not science fiction, but dark fantasy and horror. The book that he refused to be re-issued, on the grounds that he had re-written (improved?) all of its constituent short stories, which continued to be available in the collection The October Country.

Dark Carnival has only ever been available in three editions: the US hardcover, out of print since the 1940s; the UK hardcover, also out of print since that decade; and a limited edition re-issue from Gauntlett Press (2001), also long out of print.

At the moment, any copy of Dark Carnival is likely to set you back at least £600 (900 USD). The first edition typically goes for 2000USD.

So issuing Dark Carnival as an e-book is a very big deal. (Assuming, of course, that they use the original text from Dark Carnival. If they instead cobble the contents together from the text in The October Country, thinking that the stories are identical, they will be making a big mistake.)

Is there much of a difference between the stories in Dark Carnival and the re-written versions in The October Country? In some cases, not so much. But in other cases the stories are somewhat transformed. In general, the earlier versions of the stories are darker and a bit more raw; the re-writes are a bit more poetic, but sometimes read like a more "respectable" Bradbury has gone back and tidied up the work of his earlier self. This isn't far from what actually happened, as Dark Carnival came out when Bradbury was known only from stories in pulp magazines like Weird Tales, but The October Country was assembled when he had gone up in the world and was appearing in slick, upmarket magazines.

Speaking of Dark Carnival, BBC Radio 4 Extra this week broadcast a dramatisation of one of the stories from that book. "The Emissary" is a thirty-minute drama broadcast in the Haunted strand. Although marked on the BBC website as a "Radio 4 Extra debut", the closing credits of the show place it as a BBC World Service production, so it is probably not new... but I haven't been able to work out when it was made. Oddly, the late Percy Edwards is credited with playing the dog in the story, but he died a long time ago. Either it's a much older recording than it appears, or Percy is being played in as a sound effect!

"The Emissary" is still available right now for listening online, but it won't stay there forever. Get it while you can.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tributes to RB

There's a couple of free events next weekend (23 Feb 2013), one in Glendale, California, and the other in Indianapolis, Indiana:

Glendale's Mystery and Imagination bookshop, where Bradbury used to have his public birthday parties, is hosting readings by members of Bradbury's own theatre company. Here are the details:

Meanwhile in Indy, the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies' director Jon Eller will be speaking about Bradbury at the Irvington branch of the Indianapolis Public Library.

Details of the event are here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ray Bradbury Square

Ray Bradbury Square, recently dedicated in Los Angeles, is now marked up on Google Maps.

Here's a screen grab (click to make bigger)... and here's a live link to it on Google Maps.

This means that it can now be found by doing a Google Maps search. My thanks to jkt and Steven Paul Leiva for making this happen.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bradbury in Ireland

In 1953, Ray Bradbury went to Ireland to write the screenplay for Moby Dick. John Huston was living there - reportedly because he was fond of Irish fox hunting.

While Bradbury and family holed up in central Dublin's Royal Hibernian Hotel (demolished in 1991), Huston was living it up in a lordly mansion which he was renting. Courtown Demesne was built in 1815, replacing a previous property which was destroyed. According to this report in the Irish Times, it's a huge building with three floors.

In 2012, Courtown Demesne was still up for sale, its asking price having been almost halved... to ten million euros. It is thanks to its proposed sale that we can see detailed shots of its exterior and interior: there is a gallery here on a property sales site; and you can download the detailed sales brochure for the property from sales agents Knight Frank here!

In Bradbury's account of his Irish experience with Huston, Green Shadows, White Whale, he describes a number of visits to Courtown. The most notable of these is in the chapter adapted from his short story "Banshee", where a fictionalised Bradbury visits his director with a finished draft of the Moby Dick screenplay, and manages for once to get the upper hand over Huston.

Bradbury's weekly trip out to Courtown - driven by Mike (in the book; Bradbury recalled his real name was Nick) - provided many of the ideas for his Irish tall tales which first emerged as short plays, later being re-written as short stories, before finally being incorporated into the grander narrative of Green Shadows, White Whale.

There's more about Bradbury's Irish experience in my earlier post on Bradbury's Dublin.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Bradbury Unbound

I am pleased to be able to report that Jon Eller's second volume of literary biography of Ray Bradbury is now with the publisher. Bradbury Unbound gives a detailed account of Bradbury's literary life and influences during the 1950s and 1960s, and is a follow-up to the well received Becoming Ray Bradbury.

Jon Eller (pictured here with with Bradbury) runs the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at University of Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis, and worked with Bradbury on a number of publishing projects. The Bradbury biographies are the result of years of research, must of it assisted directly by Bradbury, who provided hours of interviews and extensive access to his private papers.

I've had the honour and privilege of reading and commenting on Bradbury Unbound as Jon has developed the manuscript over the last few years, and I believe readers will find it even more fascinating than the previous volume.

The editorial process for the book will naturally take some time, so it will be a while before the book is available to buy, but I will post updates when more information becomes available.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Rare Pulp...?

Ray Bradbury shares the cover of pulp magazine Stories from the Moons of Mars with his friends Henry Kuttner and Leigh Brackett.

You'll be forgiven for not recognising this particular pulp. It never existed! The cover on the left is a fake, but a beautiful one, generated by the magnificent Pulp-o-mizer.

This fun web gadget lets you choose a wide range of presets and customise the cover text, to produce hundreds of different designs. Hours of fun.

Try it here!

Monday, February 04, 2013

And Yet The Books

I stumbled on a poem by the Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) and was struck by a couple of resonances with Ray Bradbury.

Miłosz was born in Lithuania, lived and worked in Poland for several years, and in the 1950s defected to the US. He wrote poetry and prose, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980. The New York Times obituary for Miłosz characterises him as "a poet of memory and a poet of witness".

His poem "And Yet The Books" (1986) considers how books can survive long after individuals or civilisations have passed on:

I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it's still a strange pageant,
Women's dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.
The whole poem is online at Poemhunter.
"And Yet The Books" reminds me of two Bradbury stories. Most obviously, I suppose, it recalls Fahrenheit 451, which is about books somehow surviving a cultural dark ages - although, of course, in Bradbury's novel it's not the physical books that survive, but the content of the books, the memorised texts.

The other Bradbury echo is of "And There Will Come Soft Rains", the poignant short story which describes a an electromechanical house which continues to serve its human owners after the human race has been wiped out by its own atomic bombs. In that story, even the house eventually must crumble into ruin, so Bradbury's story doesn't quite have the optimism implied by "And Yet The Books".

Fortunately for us, history has (so far) supported Miłosz's scenario. Despite great losses like the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, and the collapse of major civilisations, somehow great texts have survived down the ages.When books were physical objects, that is...