Thursday, 28 December 2017

Branding Martha -- is she too amiable?

Martha has done with grieving.  She knows the men who murdered her husband, and now she will see them to the gallows, if it's the last thing she does........

We were talking the other day about the branding of Mistress Martha, and how best to portray her character during our ongoing efforts to get the series onto the TV screen.  Does "Mistress Martha" sound too respectable, and does her portrayal as "Mother Wales" make her sound too old and dull?  Some mistresses are anything but respectable, and some mothers are anything but dull -- but you know what I mean.........

On our websites, blogs and Facebook pages we have linked Martha and her story to the gorgeous landscape of North Pembrokeshire -- complete with leafy glades, sunlit uplands, quiet beaches and sparkling sea, fertile gentle farmland and pretty cottages. "Martha Morgan Country" is indeed beautiful, as we have tried to portray it on our MMC web site:

Martha is beautiful too, as we knew when we chose Rhiannon to be our model for the photo shoot with Steve Mallett.  The images in the portfolio are attractive and charming, and capture many moods on the face of the heroine -- but are they too "comfortable"?  

I'll freely admit to having no clear concept in my head regarding the potential "constituency" for these photos;  they were designed, with the help of Steve and Rhiannon and the backing of PLANED and Refreshing North Pembrokeshire, to "sell" the novels and also to promote NE Pembrokeshire.  Literary tourism was the key theme.  Maybe the portfolio was also aimed at the existing fan base of the novels, and at a happy group of visitors (somewhere out there) who might like to come and take a look at our landscape and sample our culture.  In other words, sell some more books and bring some more tourist income into the county.  

Maybe we should be aiming much more directly at the people who finance film and TV projects and who make costume dramas?  Yes, the saga is full of angels; Martha's abiding virtues are her optimism, her loyalty and her compassion; and in all of the stories, love ultimately triumphs over evil.    In that respect I am building my own values into the stories and into Martha's character...

But should we be heading, in our branding, towards something much DARKER?  Maybe we should be concentrating not on the sunlit bluebell banks of Tycanol Wood and the glow of a Carningli sunset but on the pouring rain, mud and slush of an eighteenth-century Pembrokeshire winter, the pitch-black nights, the smoky and dimly-lit cottage interiors, and the brutal brevity of the lives of the poor? Less sunlight, and more thunderstorms, blizzards, gales and floods wreaking havoc in the little community of Cilgwyn?  They are all there, in the stories.  We have more than enough drama in Martha's life history, but maybe we do not make enough of it?

I looked the other day at the screenplay for "Jane Eyre", and saw immediately what appeal there is in the first few pages -- a young woman running, staggering and crawling across a wild winter moorland in the lashing rain, almost dying of hypothermia before being lifted miraculously by strong arms and carried into a smoky but warm cottage in the middle of nowhere.  

There is no way that "On Angel Mountain" suffers by comparison in the drama or grimy reality stakes.  See below!  Life in early nineteenth century Pembrokeshire is very tough indeed, even for the members of the minor gentry.  I have used the "Wild West" label many times.  And Martha has her own personal crosses to bear -- since she is by no means a perfect heroine.  She has a host of vices -- including vanity and a tendency to manipulate others.  She suffers from frequent bouts of deep depression. She is not always clever at appreciating the emotional needs of others.  She cannot resist getting involved in other people's business.  And since she refuses to be controlled, exploited or dominated by others she fights like a she-cat when cornered, and kills three men with her own hands.  Vengeance is her greatest demon -- and throughout her life she struggles to understand where the boundary lies between justice and revenge.  She sees many men die as her "angels" avenge the crimes of her enemies, and she sends many more to the gallows through her unwavering determination to see justice done.......

These are not gentle and comfortable stories.  There are quite enough gruesome deaths to satisfy the most hardened fans of "Game of Thrones".  Everywhere we look, there is blood on the carpet -- or on the grass.


Some of the dramatic incidents:

In the first volume five members of David's family are burned to death as the old Plas Ingli goes up in flames; Martha suffers a miscarriage;  neighbours die in a cholera epidemic; Martha is whipped through the streets behind the whipping cart; and in the final scene she kills Moses Lloyd in the cave after he attempts to rape her.  

In "House of Angels" David is murdered on the beach during a cnapan game;  Martha is almost seduced by John Fenton while she is drunk; and in a frantic climax to the story there is a treasure hunt after which one villain has his throat cut and the others who murdered David are sent to the gallows.  

In "Dark Angel" a hurricane strikes the coast; there are food riots in town; Martha is haunted by the "phantom" called the Nightwalker; her beloved Owain disappears without trace and her son Dewi is lost at sea; and there are two suicides, one of them caused directly by Martha.  

In "Sacrifice" (the darkest and most brutal of all the books) there are sadistic attacks by the members of a mysterious cult on Martha's servants and friends; a servant and his family are killed in an arson attack; Martha is trapped and then gang raped in Eastwood mansion, after which the perpetrators and tortured and killed in acts of terrible retribution by her servants and friends; and finally Martha gives birth to a bastard child who lives for just a few days.  

In "Conspiracy of Angels" Martha is drawn into involvement in an anti-slavery movement, which involves brutal attacks on some of her neighbours; she has to resist the amorous advances of Beau Brummell; she is kidnapped and imprisoned; and she is saved at the last minute from being shot by the black leader of an extortion racket.

In "Rebecca and the Angels" Martha loses her beloved Owain and her daughter Sara; there are riots everywhere, and she gets far too close to the action; the Ceffyl Pren metes out folk justice over and again; Martha is betrayed and the traitors are killed; she takes part in a riot and barely escapes with her life; and at the end of the tale Plas is taken over by a gang of petty criminals and Martha kills two of them with her own hands.

In "Flying with Angels" Martha has to survive the collapse of the estate; she tries to help out in the Irish Potato Famine; she seduces the minister Amos Jones in Tycanol Wood, and then finds the body of another woman who was in love with him, and who has committed suicide; Amos is murdered by Martha's enemies, and has to watch as some of his killers are themselves assassinated and others are sent to the gallows.

In "Guardian Angel" Martha has to learn to live with a new identity as she is hunted down by men whose motives she does not understand; she flees to Merthyr Tydfil and gets caught up in the shady dealings of "The Emperor of China"; later she is abducted and after obtaining her freedom she has to fight against the destruction of her beloved mountain with all the weapons at her disposal.

No comments: