The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay sequence is now on Kindle in its entirety. Preparing it for publication was a joy. I revisited Joslin's adventures and felt them live even more sharply that I did first time round. Yes, some quite large bits of the books needed rewriting and some of my Author's Notes at the end needed expanding, but basically, what was Mobied and Epubbed was the same as what Scholastic first published twelve years ago. When I finally let them go I was full of regret. I could return to the texts simply by touching a button. But they are now OUT THERE, beyond my reach and I am just an onlooker, like everybody else.
And then I remembered a very generous review of Of Dooms and Death which appeared in An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. It was written by Ann Turnbull, a wonderful historical novelist. She refers to Joslin's ballads and says how good it would have been if the books had CDs to come with them.
'Yes, wouldn't it be good,' I said to myself. Then I realised that I didn't have much of a clue about how they would sound. Here, I realised, was a real lapse on my part. I knew about minstrels, I knew something about the lives they led, I knew a lot about the ballads themselves - or at least, their words. And I had a hazy idea of medieval music because in the distant past I sang some of it. I knew Joslin had a harp and that it would be very small, probably a Celtic harp, which he carried on his back. This made him a harper, not a harpist with a gigantic modern instrument. But I knew nowhere near enough even to begin to enter into Joslin's most basic experience, singing and playing to it.
What could I do? Buy a medieval harp of course. So I did, an Irish Celtic harp. I bought it online from Gear4 Music, a very efficient firm with a huge range, based in Wales. It has twelve strings and two overlapping octaves, blue-stringed F to F and red-stringed C to C. The other strings are uncoloured, of course. It all sounds faintly pentatonic. I'm not sure if it's supposed to but it does when I tune it.
The second experience concerns the book which will be up on Kindle any day now, Spirit of the Place. This is a complete one-off containing a number of seemingly disparate themes which I've tried to draw into some sort of unity. 'Only connect...' said EM Forster and I think life has taught me that he was right. So genetic theory and the Human Genome Project, the dawn of the internet, eighteenth-century poetry, landscape gardening, especially grottoes, and the earliest attempts at harnessing electricity are drawn together in what I desperately hope is a coherent structure. I loved writing this book back in 1995; it was hard going and had several false starts. Making its time-slip structure work took a lot of hard thought and forging the links even more difficult. But writing it was very satisfying. Yet when I had finished it and Scholastic had published it, I still felt vaguely dissatisfied. There was a trick somewhere that I had missed and I couldn't quite tell where.
A long time ago an American reviewer gave a book of mine, not this one, a fairly hostile review. I didn't mind too much because most of the other reviews were good. What really annoyed me was that he, or she, I forget which, said of the whole point of the story, 'It's only true because the author says it is.' I spent some time trying to understand what this meant. I couldn't think of a single thing in any novel I'd ever read which wasn't there only there because the author said it was. 'Daft,' I said and thought no more about it.
But when I looked again at Spirit of the Place I suddenly knew exactly what the reviewer meant. Because the central point of the book, the clinching image/episode on which the whole structure rests, had failed. I couldn't deny it. It wasn't worked out, it wasn't dramatised, it wasn't made real. It was just an inert statement, only true because I said it was. And it was this which had made me uneasy .
A chamber in the grotto
So - now was my chance to rewrite it. It took some time to work out how to repair this serious failing. And when I felt I knew how to it took an even longer time to write it. It was difficult to make clear, to say exactly what it was that I meant. I'm still not sure whether it works. But it will do for now and I can fiddle around with it no more. I'll be very interested if any reader can spot the section I mean. However, whether it works or not, the writing of it kept the book alive for me and the sense of relief
gave me closure.
Outside the gatehouse at night
Or so I thought. But the book is set in two specific years, 1773 and 1993, for equally specific reasons. I thought of bringing the 1993 sections up to date but that would not only be very difficult but inappropriate for the story. So they stayed as they were and I was content with that.
But I had left the two major 'modern' characters, Lindsey and Rod, at very significant periods of their lives nineteen years ago. They would both have futures which might be shaped significantly by the experiences they had just lived through. Or perhaps not. They might meet triumph: they might meet disaster. They certainly knew things that nobody else could. Would that serve them well or ill? Well, I had been responsible for their fictional existence so I couldn't possibly leave them suspended half in the past, half in the future. I owed it to them to follow their stories through.