Today I’m delighted to welcome to the blog Rachel le Rossignol, who under her writing name of Rachel Nightingale (‘Nightingale’ being the direct translation of ‘Rossignol’) is launching her first novel, Harlequin’s Riddle, an intriguing and memorable fantasy set against the background of the Commedia dell’ Arte. In this guest post, Rachel writes about the inspirations that came together in the novel’s creation.
Being a Bower Bird
by Rachel Nightingale
When I was in grade 2, we did a project on Australian fauna. I chose the Satin Bowerbird. These birds are well known because the male of the species builds a bower then fills it with bright blue objects to attract a mate. I drew the bird and its nest collection, using every shade of blue available in my pencil case. The idea fascinated me. Why only blue objects? Where did it find them? What did it feel when it spotted a perfect piece of sapphire glass, or a shiny azure ribbon? Now, with my first book coming out, I’ve seen the same pattern in how I gathered similar images and ideas to write Harlequin’s Riddle, a fantasy about the Commedia dell’Arte, the travelling players of the Italian Renaissance.
On the surface, Harlequin’s Riddle was inspired by a comment in an article about the Broadway revival of Cabaret. Alan Cumming, starring as the MC, mentioned the moment before you step onstage, when a whole world opens to you. I asked the inevitable question fantasy writers ask: what if? What if that world was real? What if actors and other artists could reach it? What would they find? What would they be able to do? The idea of Tarya, a realm where creativity can literally change the world, was born. I had a premise for my book. But that premise needed a home – a bower. And I had already filled it with a cast of characters, a collection of archetypes and dreams.
Looking back, I’ve been fascinated by the trickster Harlequin, beautiful Columbine and tragic Pierrot, for a very long time. Masks are a recurrent theme in my life – I have made, decorated, collected and been gifted them. The Commedia dell’Arte used different masks, along with their distinctive costumes, to signify the various characters. In Harlequin’s Riddle masks play a key role in enabling actors to reach Tarya. They confuse identity and ultimately are a tool of misdirection.
But foraging in my bower I found other Commedia memories. Although long ago left behind, I used to have a collection of porcelain Pierrot dolls. I had the inevitable feminine anime Pierrot poster by Mira Fujita. Pierrot evoked such sadness and longing in me – here was a character whose love was so pure and true, but who could never have what he longed for, for that was the way of the story. I adored the musical The Venetian Twins, which is based on the Commedia. One of my favourite books, Chase the Moon, by Catherine Nicolson, is an unashamedly romantic tale of a pair of lovers who can only reveal their true selves to each other in letters that they sign Harlequin and Columbine. I had an art deco poster book with different depictions of Harlequin, in his diamond patched suit, and Columbine, in gauzy ballet dresses. I imagined the stories they lived in, the twists and turns and tricks.
Recently I found something I’d forgotten I owned – a tin gifted to me by my great aunt, with Pierrot on the lid. The tin contained a face washer and 2 soaps, long since washed away into memory. It’s likely this image was the first that opened the door to the Commedia dell’Arte.
Yet it is not the collection of items and images that I gathered over the years that triggered my writer’s imagination and led to the creation of Harlequin’s Riddle – it was what they represented. The trickster, the beauty and the sad clown promise mystery, deception, romance, laughter and song. This is what I wanted to capture in my story.
Researching the Satin bowerbird for this article, I discovered that these birds have unusual blue-violet eyes. Perhaps these hopeful birds gather all things blue because this colour represents the promise that they will share their bower with another like them. Sharing my story now, I hope I am sharing the mystery and magic that I found in writing Harlequin’s Riddle.
More about Harlequin’s Riddle
The Gazini Players are proud to present
For your Edification and Enjoyment
Tales of great Joy, and of great Woe
Ten years ago, Mina’s beloved older brother disappeared with a troupe of Travelling Players, and was never heard from again.
On the eve of Mina’s own departure with a troupe, her father tells her she has a special gift for Storytelling, a gift he silenced years before because he was afraid of her ability to call visions into being with her stories.
Mina soon discovers that the Travelling Players draw their powers from a mysterious place called Tarya, where dreams are transformed into reality. While trying to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance, she discovers a dark cost to the Players’ onstage antics. Torn between saving her brother or exposing the truth about the Players, could her gifts as a storyteller offer a way to solve Harlequin’s riddle?
More about Rachel le Rossignol(Nightingale)
Rachel Le Rossignol has been writing since the age of 8 (early works are safely hidden away). She holds a Masters degree and PhD in Creative Writing. Winning the Mercury Short Story competition (junior section) at the age of 16 fueled her desire to share her stories with the world. Subsequent short stories have been shortlisted in a number of competitions and a play, No Sequel, won the People’s Choice Award and First Prize at the Eltham Little Theatre’s 10 Minute Play competition. Another, Crime Fiction, was performed at Short and Sweet Manila and Sydney.
Rachel’s second passion after writing is the theatre, and she has been performing in shows and working backstage for a rather long time. She co-wrote and performed in the 2013-2015 version of the hugely popular Murder on the Puffing Billy Express, a 1920s murder mystery set on the iconic Dandenong Ranges train. The inspiration for the Tarya trilogy, which begins with Harlequin’s Riddle, began when she read a quote by Broadway actor Alan Cumming about that in-between moment just before you step onstage, and began to wonder might be found in that place between worlds.
Published by Odyssey Books in June 2017.