Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Nightingales of Troy

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The Nightingales of Troy

by Alice Fulton

The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2008, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2009, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

Alice Fulton is currently the Ann S. Bowers Professor of English at Cornell University. Her most recent book of poems is Cascade Experiment: Selected Poems. Her earlier collection, Felt was awarded the 2002 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress and was selected by the Los Angeles Times as one of the Best Books of 2001 and as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her other books include Sensual Math; Powers Of Congress; Palladium, winner of the 1985 National Poetry Series and the 1987 Society of Midland Authors Award; and Dance Script With Electric Ballerina, winner of The 1982 Associated Writing Programs Award. A collection of prose, Feeling as a Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry, was published in 1999.

In an exclusive interview for BookBrowse, Karen Rigby chats with Ms Fulton about her first collection of short stories, The Nightingales of Troy:

Karen: Your work seems carefully researched - there are so many interesting little facts or factoids that lend a certain authority or authenticity to the stories ... How do you encounter these tidbits? When you find one, does it serve as a seed for a possible story, is it filed somewhere for reference? Does the information come afterwards?

Alice: Yes, those details usually come after I've decided the larger aspects of the story - who will be in it and at least a little about "the story problem." Once I have a clue, I might begin researching the character - her interests, profession, culture, religion, as well as the texture and language of the time period.

The radium custodian is mentioned in the title story, which is set in in the 1930s. Old issues of the Journal of American Nursing were a great primary source for that story. The magazine gave such a vivid sense of what it was like to be a nurse during the Depression, before antibiotics. It was frightening. The Journal also was full of ads for long gone medicines, and of course, case histories.

In "The Real Eleanor Rigby," fourteen-year-old Ruth is a Beatles fan and a fan of Herman Melville. Her tendency to fetishize and collect led me to investigate the classification of relics in the Catholic Church. Ruth appears again in "L'Air Du Temps," much older and at a rather dark period of her life. In that story, she seizes upon perfume as a form of therapy. She's also a scholar, and so she looks into the history and composition of her favorite fragrances. While building this aspect of Ruth's character, I read books - and blogs - about perfume. It was fascinating. That's the pleasure and danger of research. It can be so consuming that the story doesn't get written.

But it's the story and characters that lead to the research, not the other way round. While working on a story, I fill notebooks with the idioms and details that might be useful, and the story itself sends me off to investigate things like relics or perfume.

Read the interview in full at BookBrowse.

Also of interest: An interview with Alice Fulton in the Irish Times.

Article by Karen Rigby

This article was originally published in August 2008, and has been updated for the July 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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