I’m not sure how it works, but it’s happened again.
|The author as Captain Ahab|
I’ll explain. It’s embarrassing to admit that my WIP has been IP for ages. It used to take me about 6 months to write the first draft of a novel, but this one’s been crawling forward on and off for 2 years, maybe longer. It’s over the 50,000 word mark but grinding through that particular point has been difficult, and I’ve no idea why.
It’s a sequel to The Figurehead, which is a historical crime novel that also became a romance. Part of the reason why I’ve been dragging my heels is that I’m still not sure how I’m going to resolve the problems of the relationship between a figurehead carver, John Grant, and Helen Anderson, the daughter of a rich merchant. The novel’s set in 1841, when attitudes to marriage and extra-marital goings-on didn’t leave much scope for … well, anything really.
|A perfect day|
But the thing that’s ‘happened again’ has, as usual, come out of the blue. As well as the relationship and the sine qua non crime, the story’s built around two separate threads: the arrival in Aberdeen of a theatre group which will be performing melodramas at the Theatre Royal; and the determination of Helen, an only child, to become involved in the family business. Without going into any details (which may change drastically through the various drafts anyway), I’ve found that the two threads – coincidentally, because I certainly hadn’t planned it – were reaching a crucial stage at about the same time. I was quite pleased about that, but it was more than just a passive contentment.
|My first (very primitive) figurehead|
The coincidence had me looking at them in a different way, not as the writer but as a sort of analyst of how the various elements were working, what their ‘significance’ was. In a way, I was thinking like a potential critic or reviewer. I don’t mean that I did it consciously; it’s just now, writing this, that I realise that’s the best way to sum up the experience. I wasn’t looking at the situation and wondering where to take each thread next; instead I was aware of what turned out to be pretty obvious parallels between them. On their own, which is how it seemed, these two separate elements had started feeding off one another and were moving closer together.
It’s not magical, there’s no alchemy going on, of course. The two threads are part of my imaginings, belong in the same mental space, they’re bound to inform and affect one another, but that’s at a subconscious level. The effect it had at the conscious level was to help me to understand them better and see how I could use the parallels. As I said at the start, it’s happened before and, like other experiences such as ‘being in the zone’ which I’ve blogged about before, it makes writing very exciting at times.
There’s a secondary motive, however, for choosing this subject for a blog. Apart from introducing me to woodcarving, which I took up as part of my research, The Figurehead allowed me to indulge in a dream I’d always had – to sail in a square-rigger. As the images show, for just a few days I was a paying member of the crew of the Christian Radich on a voyage from Oslo to Leith. She’s the beautiful ship which featured in the old BBC series, The Onedin Line. You can see her in full sail right at the beginning of this Youtube clip.
The picture at the top is me at her helm. Imagine that. Anyway, as well as the self-indulgence of taking turns at the wheel of such a vessel, it gave me the material for a long short story, Death Ship. And this month, that story is free to new and old subscribers to the AE Newsletter. So if you’d like to know what it was like on the North Sea in a fresh South-Easter (with added murders), sign up on the form in the right hand column.