Basically, the idea the idea is to write a novel where the 5 writers impersonate one of the five main characters of the book. Each writer will design the character they want to be in the story and write the stories together each having their own views. The characters with develop with the story. I have a skeleton of the story line and a few ideas of the sequells.
My first novel - and please prepare yourself for a second cliche here - 'amost wrote itself'. I didn't understand it when novelists said that about their work before I had successfully completed a novel of my own, but it did seem to be how things went. I've seen one theory that the first novel can seem easier because the author invariably spends a lot of time planning, thinking and constructing, and it might be based on an idea which has lived with them for many years. This wasn't the case with mine. I know this because I had the idea on around the 20 October 2011, sketched out the prologue the following day and wrote the bulk of it in November for NaNoWriMo. By September the following year it had been accepted for publication.
The second, however... I had what I thought was a good idea, which like the first novel was based on an historical incident. As with the first novel, it was an incident that immediately jumped out at me as a good basis for an historical novel. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but the experience of writing of this novel was utterly different to the first. With the first, I seemed to know instinctively where to take the characters, and with relatively little research. Moreover, I felt I knew the characters well and they started to tell me how they would act in any given situation. I just couldn't seem to make the subesequent lot speak to me. I found during the first novel that doing a bit of research along the way prompted more inspiration and made the book richer. With the second book, I couldn't research at the same time as writing. At one point I just ran out of things to write. I had a plan and new where things were going, I just couldn't get from the shape of the plot down to the detail of the writing.
Whether as a result of this or a separate problem, my writing itself was leaden. Looking back over it, there are shocking amounts of 'tell' sitting over the story like a sodden blanket - it's not even partially redeemed by voice or style. Worse, I found on a number of occasions that when writing a scene that seemed important to the story I would find myself thinking 'who cares? Why would anyone be interested in this?'
I'm currently struggling to go back to it at the moment, not knowing whether to try and plug on and finish a first draft before revisiting the whole thing, or to take it to pieces now and start from a different angle. I fabvour the latter at the moment as I don't know if I could get to the end with it in its current form. If anyone can offer any wisdom, I'd be grateful. Equally, some of you may have been to this particular Slough of Despond before. How did you get out?
Barry, in another place was remarking on the difficulty of obtaining shamrock and it reminded me of when I first met the girl who would later become Mrs T.
We were dancing at a party (and at that time that meant we were in each other's arms - not the wild cavorting that passes for dancing these days.) She is English and I was talking to her about things Irish - how St Patrick wasn't Irish, but the son of a Roman, born in England; I told her how the shamrock for the 17th March was flown in from Czechoslovakia. She laughed and asked, 'Is anything really Irish?' So I said, 'This is,' and lowered my lips to hers and kissed her. Our first kiss! Coming up for air, she laughed again, 'Oh, anything else?' So I kissed her again.
That was 45 years ago. Happy St Patrick's Day.
I would paste the text in here, but I think I'm meant to encourgae you to go and read it and share it with your friends and so forth for the good of my publisc profile, so link it will have to be! Comments on either forum happily replied too :)
Here's an intro to my Work in Progress.
I am planning and mapping out a historical novel about an important but (it seems to me) neglected event that is approaching an anniversary. In order to tell the story, I want to create an entirely fictional Main Character.
I'm interested in the idea of developing my character by serial posts on a blog from events in the character's backstory to generate, I hope, a creative interaction with anyone who might be interested in the period and issues I will cover. This will start around the end of the Napoleonic War. So far so good, but I'm new to this and have some questions - I'm researching them, of course, but wonder if people on Word Cloud have any views or hints. To the queries -
1. I haven't found any examples of people doing this yet. Are there any out there?
2. I don't want to damage my chances of publication of the novel I'm writing, in which the MC will feature. Provided I don't post extracts from the novel, I can't see how a background blog could hurt, can you?
3. The novel may prove controversial - I want to be sensitive to descendents of the people involved in my story, but I don't think I need worry about any legal issues such as libel. Or should I?
4. This is my first foray into historical fiction. I am loving the research phase, but notice there is very little published on some of my subject matter. What I have noticed is how much of the material is regurgitated on the web. Some of the web stuff seems to spring from a history written about fifty years ago and that has me wondering about copyright - my own and the danger of several people writing about the same moment in history. This will be my own words, of course, and my own interpretation, but inevitably there will be opinions expressed that could be seen to bear similarities to the commentary in the history work I refer to. (No longer in print). I dread even a suggestion of plagiarism, so how can I protect against that. I should be able to get access to some original source documents, but not for everything, and I will acknowledge anything published that I read on the subject. Anything else I can do?
There will be a new post every day by one of the contributors, plus some guest posts too.
(Full disclosure: I'm one of the contributors. And I have asked them to unpick the little matter of someone else's novels having been added to mine at the bottom. But never mind, it's early days.).
I’m no expert on Historical Fiction, having written but one puny story in my adult writing life. I documented my experience in the hope that it will win gasps of admiration from other virgins; and perhaps a knowing smile from historical matrons who may remember this only too well, and not castigate me for my jumped-up puppyish know-it-all stance. It’s the arrogance of ignorance in me, and the exuberance of new toys, no more.
Historical Fiction seems a strange blend of fantasy / sci-fi (creating worlds which don’t exist and have different rules and strange mythologies) moulded onto a framework of non-fiction, where your tale must adhere to known fact, while telling something new. And finding the gap where it could have happened that way – or at least there’s no definite evidence to suggest that it didn’t. And of trying to breathe life into long-dead bones and make them dance once more.
A while ago, I took it into my head to have a bash at a competition. The brief was 2,000 words on something inspired by a museum near Chichester, 1200 – 1900 AD. I’d never been there, but their website looked juicy. I had a mooch around. Lots of reconstructed buildings and people doing old things. I noticed a picture of a woman stirring some concoction in a bowl. I had a glimmer of an idea to write about a herbalist, or a healer. I’m a botanist but I’ve never written fiction about flowers. Fun, maybe? OK, let’s clothe this. My MC should probably be female. A young girl? An old crone? Hmm.
Which period would I choose? I decided to bypass the Tudors and the Victorians since there’s quite a lot known about them already, and so plenty of scope to trip myself up. I went instead, for an early period about which not so much is commonly known, in the hope that any deficiencies in my knowledge and research would be muffled by other people not knowing either.
How about the Black Death? There must be some story mileage in that, eh? Probably herbalists, too. And surely the Museum would have an exhibit dealing with the Black Death? I sauntered around the internet, looking up random things: symptoms, who sat on the throne, related history, the Peasants’ Revolt, all sorts of surrounding stories which came alive, linked up, formed networks of causes and effects. I ‘did’ the Black Death at school, but that was (whispering now) forty years ago.
Seems the plague came from China, along the Silk Road, across Europe and up through the ports to reduce the population by 60% in places. Blimey.
And they burnt Jews, thinking that that would stop it. Didn’t know that. A witch hunt? Themes coalesced in my mind, merging and separating.
Edward III was king, and he’d pootled about France a fair bit, engaged in endless wars. What with this and the Black Death, there were too few peasants left to work the fields and there’d already been a famine a few years prior, so life was tough.
Except that the few surviving peasants found they could move around and hire themselves out to the highest bidder. Yippee for them. It didn’t last long, when Edward introduced a law to prevent their migration and also pegged their wages to pre-plague rates. Boo for them. So thirty years later, along came the Peasants’ Revolt. Which was led by one Wat Tyler (real name ‘Walter’). His early life is unknown (what a gift to a writer!). He’d have been about eight during the Black Death and so bound to have been affected by it.
Yup, I thought I’d found the right fertile period for my story.
But try as I might, my MC wouldn’t come. I visualised a young girl skipping through a sunny meadow, picking flowers. My heart sank with the predictability of it all. I pictured an old woman stirring a cauldron and yawned.
I plumped for First Person without much thought. I’m comfortable with that, I like the intimacy it affords and since I was tackling a genre bristling with mantraps, I didn’t need to make it harder for myself. I wanted him (or her?) to be educated enough to write in the first place, and to be sufficiently intelligent to allow some reflection on matters, and use big words. So that limited my choice to, er, clergy and, er, clergy. Or possibly an aristocrat. But I didn’t want anyone famous, in case I got them wrong.
I didn’t have limitless time to do my research, and besides, it was only a 2,000 word story, not a 600 page novel. ‘Stick to vocabulary you know,’ I told myself. ‘Less chance of muffing it. And swerve the Oo-ar, m’lud dialogue.’
And so I alighted on a cleric’s story, and knew it was right for me.
Could I use people’s feelings that the end of the world was nigh in 1349? Folk went from one extreme to the other, excessive devotion and excessive excess, as they struggled with terrifying times. Most people died within a few days of contracting the disease; life was short and scary. I felt reasonably confident of my grasp of Bible stories, having done well in those scripture exams at Sunday School, so they’d enrich it.
I decided on a letter format without really deciding. 2,000 words isn’t very many, so I needed to get straight into the story without wasteful preamble. And being able to date and address the letter up front, allowed me to position it firmly in time and place efficiently. Two birds, one stone. I even made the addressee the title of the story, thereby getting more info into as few words as possible. It pleased me greatly.
And so the tale unfolded.
First draft, about 1,650 words. Lovely jubbly. The bones were laid down with space to flesh them out.
I then went through and marked all the things I didn’t know, and all the things I wasn’t sure of, and all the things I’d like to put in, but hadn’t a clue. How about a bit of atmospheric Latin, for example? How about a bible quotation? And a bit of Catholic ritual?
That was a rub. There was no such thing as Protestantism at the time, and my grasp on church hierarchy is vague. I had to be vigilant not to let any protestant terms creep in.
Since the brief was to tie it into that Museum, I plumped for the recipient as the Bishop of Chichester. I checked that he wasn’t an Archbishop. No, a Bishop. OK.
I looked on Google maps and named a real street that sounded old enough for the action to take place.
I needed a specific family to embody the times. Up close and personal is always best. I needed a name for my peasants that might have been around back then. I chose ‘Tyler’ and ‘Tull’. I specifically referred to the couple’s young child Walter, planting the idea that these were the parents of Wat Tyler. Could have been. To my chagrin, not a single beta reader picked up on that. Never mind. The judges were historians of one species or another. One of them might notice and applaud me.
It was surprisingly hard not to write a history lesson, but to make a proper story out of it, without dumping all that I’d learned. And boy, did I learn a lot.
Then there were the horries that almost survived the final edit. Here are some stumbling blocks:
1. The letter was written by a deputy priest. What was a deputy priest called? It suited me that he wasn’t ordained. So what was his RC title? Curate? Pastor? Verger? Novitiate? Rector? And so I learned all about the promotion structure of the Catholic Church and read every ecclesiastical job description I could find.
2. How would he refer to the Father? Reverend? Or was that a protestant term? How would he address a bishop? I now know that ‘Your Holiness’ is reserved for the Pope, ‘Your Eminence’ is for a Cardinal. Seems that a Bishop can be a number of things, but ‘Your Grace’ suited very well.
3. And where did they live? Vicarage? Rectory? Parsonage? Manse? Priory? There must be a name, mustn’t there? Wish I’d watched ‘Father Ted’. Catholics do like to embroider things, and even have a special word for the Bishop’s ceremonial socks, so what fancy thing could the dwelling be called? Turns out, it’s the ‘Priest’s House’. How disappointing.
4. What was the Catholic term for anointing the sick? And which words might you use for confession? What penances were there, other than Hail Mary? What do you do and say at a burial? What about all this flagellation? I consulted an Irish friend who I supposed would know more than I. He told me that the ‘Act of Contrition’ that I’d asked about, was actually a prayer. Thanks for that. He also told me that Catholicism was outlawed in Ireland until the mid-nineteenth century. Coo.
5. As for finding an appropriate Bible verse? I raked around the Psalms for something other than Psalm 23. Too obvious. It would have been in Latin, because the Bible wasn’t translated for centuries. Can’t have Latin, though. Few readers will be up on their Latin Psalms. Then I found an on-line Bible translator. Seems you can have your Bible verse translated into Ancient Aramaic, the King James version (dangerous – three centuries later), Hebrew, Greek, even the ‘Good News Bible’ – and then have it translated back into English if appropriate. I chose the one that expressed most closely what I wanted it to express. I think it was the Aramaic version (in English).
6. Then there were those naughty words that I used without thinking, but they didn’t even appear in English until hundreds of years later. Who’d have thought it? ‘Cravat’ didn’t arrive until 1680s (and comes from ‘Croat’ – fancy that). Even ‘Scarf’ wasn’t around until 1640s. So what did clergy wear around their necks? Turns out the dog collar is a Scottish Presbyterian thing.
7. One mega boo-boo narrowly averted, was ‘klaxon’. I’d mentioned the Devil’s klaxon signalling the end of the world. I thought it sounded a nicely archaic term. Nope. It’s a car horn named after an American company in 1905. Whoops-a-bloomin-daisy.
8. And being sufficiently big-headed about my Bible knowledge, I didn’t bother to check the ‘Dogs of War’, thinking it came from Revelation. Nope again. Shakespeare. ‘Julius Ceasar’. Out that came in the nick of time.
I began to gibber and went through every single noun, putting ‘xxx etymology’ into Google to make sure it pre-dated the Black Death. Lordy Mama. Surely I’d caught the lot by now? My history was ‘correct’? Perlease!
Then back to enriching the actual story. Let’s not forget the story. I was up to the word count, so whatever went in, was at the expense of something else coming out. It was still a bit cold. Detail, detail, detail.
Instead of people praying to ‘the Saints’, which saint, specifically? A quick look on Wiki suggested Saint Roch to ward off the Plague. Who he? A closer look showed that he hadn’t even been born by the Black Death – he was associated with the later Plague of 1665. When you start looking at saints, there is a whole nation of them, Patrons of the most bizarre things (Fear of Frogs? Kidnapping? Horse Theft? Gallstones?). And many of them multi-task.
How about terms of address for peasants in those days? ‘Mistress Tyler’ would do, wouldn’t it? Sounded nicely old. Nope again. ‘Mistress’ and ‘Master’ were reserved for the gentry and above. A peasant couple would be ‘Goodwife’ and ‘Goodhusband’. Fancy that.
A quick look at the museum website again, to check I wasn’t missing anything. Oh, what’s that? An acquisition that was a mediaeval house? Yes please. I clicked on the ‘Hangleton House’ with some trepidation, and was relieved when it looked approximately how I’d imagined it.
OK, let’s make my story even more firmly rooted in the Museum’s area. Where was Hangleton? Just up the road from Chichester? No! Bloody Brighton! Back to the maps again, to check parish boundaries. Did Hangleton report to the diocese of Chichester? Looks like it does and did. Back to the maps again, I chose what looked like a main thoroughfare, Hangleton Way, and hoped it dated from mediaeval times. When I found a document on the archaeology of Hangleton, it happily seemed to be the case. Double phew. And did it have a Manor house nearby, since one was required for my story. Yes. The present incumbent of the Manor is a woman.
Nearly there. A final near-whoopsy: A beta reader had marked ‘clay’ in my manuscript, where I’d mentioned that bodies in plague pits were separated by a thin layer of clay. What was wrong with ‘clay’, I wondered?
It wasn’t until I checked yet again, that Hangleton sits on chalk. Not clay.
Would this attention to detail never end?
Another pass through. Kerchief? Handkerchief? When were those terms first used?
How about ‘cortege’ for a funeral procession? Surely that would be all right? Norman, innit? Nope. Not in use in the time of Chaucer.
Then I had to check the oat harvest. I’d dated my story in August, and mentioned the poor harvest, but a niggle in the back of my head told me that oats come later. Yup. So I had to re-set my story back a month or so. Then, I had to check the calendar for 1349 to make sure that a Thursday date was really a Thursday. Dearie me. It went on and on.
What else had to be shoe-horned into my 2,000 words? Tempting though it was, to cram in every tidbit I’d found out, I had to zip my lip. This wasn’t the place to show off (that’s what I’m doing here, see?)
On top of all that historical rigour, what about the story? There still had to be a hook, an arc, a compelling character, a transformation and a satisfying end. Aargh!
What about the Journey? It was all still dry. Too much history, too little humanity.
That’s where the re-imagining came in. But my words were all used up! I emailed the organisers to ask whether the title counted towards the word limit. How about the black bar underneath the title? And the asterisks at the end? I even took out the spaces between the stars to reduce the count. I didn’t want to take them out altogether, because I had an odd ending that I felt needed signalling, to avoid confusion.
Happily they agreed that it was only the body text that needed to be 2,000 words, and not the title and formatting. Phew. Another half-a-dozen words to play with, then.
It astonishes me how you can go through a ‘full’ story, cramming more and more meaning into it, just by taking out superfluous words and saying the same thing more eloquently. And how it gets better and better with each slimming iteration.
And so my story lived. I’m stupified by how much extra work goes into Hist Fic, but how it’s also easier because you have that immovable framework of the past to guide you.
If you slip up, you might think someone might not notice, but someone will. I remember reading an epic tome where faulty research placed an American shrub in the middle of prehistoric Europe. I know this couldn’t have happened, and it threw me right out. It’s virtually all I can remember now, of those 700 pages. That shrub in the wrong place. You have to be vigilant. I’m waiting with trepidation for others to spot more things I’ve missed.
It was quite an experience, writing my first proper Hist Fic. I learned an enormous amount and for those few days, was entirely engrossed in a world not my own.
But Gah! I forgot the rosary! How could I forget to put in a rosary?
And the result of the comp? I came absolutely nowhere.
This song was originally written as part of a campaign to stop above ground nuclear testing, which was putting strontium-90 in the air, where it was washed down by the rain, got into the soil and thence to the grass, which was eaten by cows. When children drank the cows milk the strontium-90, chemically similar to calcium but radioactive, was deposited in their bones. Mothers saved their childres baby teeth and sent them to be tested by scientists who indeed found elevated levels of strontium-90 in their teeth. A year after this song was written; President Kennedy signed the treaty against above ground testing...
the grass lifts its head to the heavenly sound
just a little rain, just a little rain
what have they done to the rain
Just a little boy standing in the rain
the gentle rain that falls for years
and the grass is gone
the boy disappears
and the rain keeps falling like helpless tears
and what have they done to the rain?
just a little breeze out of the sky
the leaves pat their hands as the breeze blows by
just a little breeze with some smoke in its eye
what have they done to the rain
just a little boy standing in the rain
the gentle rain that falls for years
and the grass is gone
the boy disappears
and the rain keeps falling like helpless tears
and what have they done to the rain?
For as long as I can remember..."I always wanted to be a gangster" (sorry, couldn't resist)...no, really, for as long as I can remember, I've had these voices that swirl up into my consciousness when I least expect it. I can be emptying the dishwasher (yes ladies, some blokes actually DO this!), mowing the lawn or hell, even sitting on the can and, out of nowhere and completeley unbidden, characters and dialogues will appear in mind. Arguments will be played out, scenes will be set, soliloquys made. It's like an involuntary tic, these bits of story, these fragments. I think perhaps it stems from being an only child, bookish and a bit odd...I neither had many friends nor seemingly wanted many. I was content to be on my own and create worlds and sagas and comedies and conflict out of my own head...characters and intrigues, moved about like chessmen just to pass the time.
This carried on...and on...and on, right up to the present day. I always assumed that it was the result of an overactive, and dare I say slightly self-indulgent imagination. I just put it down as silly ole me, frittering around with a load of nonsense when no one was about. The thing was, I was no longer just imagining them...for some reason I found myself actually muttering these bits of dialogue out loud to myself. I would repeat elements of dialogue over and over, changing wording and inflection...somehow and for some reason trying to get it right. Why would I do this? Why so much attention to detail? I dunno...because it had to be right! The turning point came when my lovely wife approached me and told me that she had been noticing this for some time and, as she couldn't always hear what I was actually saying, she was concerned that I was muttering in frustration or petulance at some imagined slight.
The notion that I had been inadvertantly worrying my wife spurred me to look more closely at this phenomenon and try to determine what, if anything, should be done about it. This was the Archimedian moment when I finally (at the shocking age of 40) re
alised what it is I am actually meant to BE...a writer, a teller of stories. I can honestly say I had never considered it before. I had always been an avid reader and held (and still hold) a reverential awe for those authors who can generate whole worlds, whole ways of feeling out of their own braincases and then share them with the rest of us. The thing is, I finally 'woke up' and realised "hey numbskull, you've been doing something similar for over 30 years now!! Isn't it about time you did something about it?!" Well...yes...yes, it is.
So here I am now...41 years old, with very little idea of what I'm doing, but knowing, simply knowing that I must do it. I can't keep the voices locked up in my head anymore, it's high time they came out.