Sunday 24 October 2021

Is it ever right for biographers to make things up?

Joe Moshenska was the Miltonian biographer featured in the Guardian article ‘When Milton met Galileo‘ I posted on my blog 4 years ago.

In this review of his new book Making Darkness Light, he is getting some stick for “lacing a biography with imaginary events” e.g “that Milton sought to be a prophet”

It’s on my Christmas present list and I am looking forward to finding out if it is ‘historical fiction’ rather than biography, and how it may be comparable with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy

Saturday 15 May 2021

Inspired on by the line “how time has ticked a heaven round the stars” from Dylan Thomas’s poem ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’, I had my haiku medley featuring Galileo published in
Love The Words Anthology for Dylan Day 2021 (

Here is a revised version I tweeted. If you think it preferable to the version published, I’d be glad to know!

Eyeballing the sun

Galileo lost his sight

For truth, now all see


The light of reason

Till an unsolar wind blows

‘Alternative’ facts


Guttering candle

As encroaching darkness

Threatens extinction

Sunday 24 November 2019

The best stories often feature a transformative instrument at the heart of them to help the protagonist

.. or hinder them


William of Baskerville’s astrolabe in The Name Of The Rose

One Ring to rule them all 

Lyra's alethiometer in His Dark Materials 

No effort spared producing this

In Sight of Heaven has a telescope Galileo gives John Milton. 

So how will it be of any use to the blind poet?

Wednesday 20 February 2019

In Sight of Heaven

You will find the opening scenes of my screenplay if you click 'About my screenplay' opposite..

This story is about the journey John Milton takes to become the poet capable of writing Paradise Lost. It is told through the dictation of his poem in a series of reminiscences as he composes it in the darkest dungeon of Newgate Prison while awaiting execution.

The climax of the narrative comes when he is summoned by the Governor before he has finished his composition. Knowing it will be his masterpiece, he is presented with a dilemma. He can choose life and the opportunity to fulfil his need, or death with honour without sacrificing his libertarian principles.

As a young man, above all, Milton wants to be celebrated as the best poet in the English language since Shakespeare. The early conflict is with his parents and university tutors whose desire is that he become a priest. But he doesn’t like priests, nor anyone who claims to stand above Man and interpret God’s will. Especially Charles I who believed in the ‘divine right of kings’.

By the time he is 30, Milton is in Florence, basking in the acclaim he has achieved as a poet. An encounter with the ‘father of modern science’ precipitates his fall like Lucifer out of the heavenly light. Blind now, Galileo is under house arrest, forbidden from sharing his astronomical knowledge because it threatens the supremacy of the Church.

Milton's outrage about Galileo’s plight leads him into the dark world of political extremism to write for the Parliamentarians in their dispute with the autocratic Charles I that leads to the Civil War. Making common cause with his hero Cromwell, also a religious man with a problem about authority, they forge an axis together, Milton with his pen and Cromwell on the battlefield.

When Parliament wins the Civil War, Milton signs up to the execution of Charles I and is offered a job in Cromwell’s government writing to promote the virtues of the Commonwealth around the world. But Milton becomes disillusioned when Cromwell abolishes Parliament, appointing himself as king in all but name.

Fearing a return of the Stuarts as a worse evil, Milton refuses to join a plot to assassinate Cromwell. Yet his principled stand does not save him when the monarchy is restored, as Milton is hunted down with other regicides and imprisoned on death row. Yet in this darkest of places he finds his poetic voice again, channelling his bitter experience into dictating his masterpiece Paradise Lost.

Like his mentor Galileo, Milton has become blind and incarcerated, yet with the help of his friend Andrew Marvell and beloved Betty he can prevail. His story reflects the themes in the poem of ambition, temptation and falling out of a state of grace, that are found in the narratives of Lucifer and Adam & Eve.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Paradise Lost

In this @BBCRadioDrama adaptation by the poet Michael Symmons Roberts, Ian McKellen plays Milton narrating his greatest poem in English, about the fall of man in Eden. Scenes of confrontations between the various dark angels as they look bitterly upon humanity (“like to us but lesser in power and excellence”) all take place to the sounds of bubbling lava and distant screams, as though this were an aural Hieronymus Bosch, with unspeakable creatures wearing plague doctor masks lurching semi-broiled from steaming cauldrons.

McKellen sounds uber-Gandalf, especially when relishing such phrases as “of man’s first disobedience” and “the ways of mortals”. There’s even a confrontation with some dire creature heard panting sinisterly as McKellen notes, “black it stood as night, fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell”, which cannot but call to mind his Gandalf facing down the fiery Balrog in Tolkien’s Mines of Moria (“the orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent”).
But best is Simon Russell Beale as Satan – so rational, so persuasive. Perfectly Miltonic. “He may sound like a very progressive and likeable educator,” warned the theologian RenĂ© Girard, succinctly, of Satan in Paradise Lost. SRB approaches the part absolutely like this and is disorientatingly brilliant, especially in the way he implies, with every sigh and nuance, that if we were only to submit to his way we would feel liberated. Free from the burden of experience. 

Thursday 21 September 2017

Why Arab Muslims love Paradise Lost – and their leaders hate it

Contemporary relevance: 'The Arab world could really benefit from a good dose of Milton'.

Exactly 350 years after it was published, Milton’s epic poem is causing controversy in Egypt. That’s not surprising, given its revolutionary message