Friday, 20 June 2008

Ages of Man : Background

Of the ideas I'm currently toying with, one of the more promising is a story (I think a novel rather than a stage performance of some kind) about a middle-aged man nearing retirement - Edward - and his teenaged grandson - George. Edward is a fairly recent widower after forty years of marriage to his first sweetheart, and both he and his grandson are stumbling for the first time into the arena of romance, and form an unexpected bond through their shared experiences. The setting for the action is the tour of an amateur orchestra of which they are both members, which affords ample opportunity to poke gentle observational fun at the English middle class, and at amateur musicians. The working title derives from a Titian painting Three Ages of Man, which depicts the same person as a baby, a man in his prime, and an old man contemplating death (link). In this instance, it is not the same person, but three (the father playing a supporting role) who share a strong family resemblance but have their own distinct characteristics. (Anyone who has met the men in my paternal family will not doubt where I draw this from...)

Edward is sixty-four, and is approaching retirement from a moderately successful career as a civil engineer. He believes himself to be smartly dressed at all times, but his clothes are too threadbare these days for this to be true. His wife died a year ago, and he now feels ready to find someone else; he wants someone bright and energetic, in contrast to his brooding wife. He is terrified of dying alone. He is generally cheerful and friendly, and superficially well-liked, but people tend not to want to get to know him well. He bumbles. He plays bassoon, and has been an enthusiastic member of the orchestra since its foundation in 1980; he is no better a player now than then. He makes jokes about the committee being boring and pointless, but is its keenest and most diligent member.

George is seventeen, and in his final year at an all-boys school and looking forward to university. He is a little awkward and inexperienced socially, but is surprisingly perceptive, and in many ways sees the world far more clearly than does his grandfather. He has a tendency towards cynicism, and is considered by his peers to be an "old man" already. He has few friends, but those he has he adores and shares everything with. Most of his clothes were bought by his mother, who keeps him firmly under her wing. He was brought into the orchestra to make up the numbers for the tour, and plays viola rather better than he lets himself believe.

I find the possibilities afforded by letting these two loose on womankind to be fascinating, and I think they will give plenty of opportunity both for comedy and poignancy. I love looking at situations from people's different points of view, and I think these two will give plenty of scope for that. Dickens was a master at painting vivid portraits of ordinary people, invariably reminding the reader of someone they had met themselves; I admire this greatly and try hard for all my characters (and there is opportunity for them to meet plenty of minor characters) to be "real" in this way. Terry Pratchett, when asked if there are any real people in his books, responds "I hope so", which for me sums this up wonderfully.

I hope to make a first attempt at a scene from this in the near future.

No comments: