Writing and Serendipity - Again. By Bill Kirton

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.


Susan Price said…
Ooh, yes, I like the sound of Death Ship...
Jan Needle said…
Damn you, William, I've already paid good money for Death Ship. And reviewed it, as far as I remember. I certainly remember reading it (unless my increasingly superb memory is up to its usual tricks again). Howsomedever, I'm jealous anyway, so there. Best of luck with part two or the Figurehead, which I have certainly bought and reviewed. Keep fighting, boyo! (And isn't up to its usual tricks again tautology. Time for my morning G&T)
Wendy H. Jones said…
Sounds like a great book. I'm impressed by your dedication to the research for your books.
The books sounds wonderful, Bill. Can't wait. And love your figurehead! Alan will be really interested in this - you know he worked as a woodcarver for years. He always wanted to carve a figurehead but nobody ever asked him to do one (although he did make a fox head for our own little sailing boat, Vixen!)
Kathleen Jones said…
So jealous of your trip on the tall ship, Bill. They're in my genes and I start getting all Masefield whenever I see one! Good luck with the WIP.
Lydia Bennet said…
Ooh what a wonderful experience, and how it will enrich your book! Good luck making P with the WIP!
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks, all.

Jan, I’d heard of your depravity but G&T IN THE MORNING?? Disgraceful.

Wendy, when it comes to sailing on a square rigger, for ‘dedication to research’ substitute ‘unashamed self-indulgence’.

Catherine, yes I’ve admired the pictures of Alan’s work which you’ve posted now and then. Carving a figurehead for my own boat would be akin to a spell in paradise.

Kathleen, you’d have loved that trip – the crew and all but one of the other passengers/crew members were Norwegian and yet, of course, they all spoke fluent, impeccable English. But just to be under almost full sail on such a ship was breathtaking – and to take the wheel… nope, no words can cover it. And, by the way, the cook was worthy of a top class restaurant, too. For those few days, God was definitely in His heaven and all was definitely right with the world.
Mari Biella said…
As research goes, Bill, a trip on a tall ship is about as good as I've heard - and makes all my research look very dull by comparison. Best of luck with your WIP!
Jan Needle said…
Bill - G&T = gooseberry and tapioca cordial. Any Norwegian could have told you that! It's what made Saga throw herself off the bridge.
Bill Kirton said…
Mari, it was an antidote to all those years of proper academic research.

Jan - silly of me. I should have known you were more of a tapioca man.
glitter noir said…
Bill, it's fascinating to watch you deny there's magic going on in your WIP...when, quite clearly, there's a lot. For this reason, I'll read The Figurehead so I can prepare for part 2. Luckily, magic doesn't need your belief in it to take over the reins.
Bill Kirton said…
Although, as you well know Reb, I'm sceptical about almost anything except the ability of Plymouth Argyle to haul themselves out of the bottom tier of English football and start climbing the leagues, I have to confess that, yesterday another bit of what you call magic happened - unrelated to the bit mentioned in the blog. I leapt on it but, overnight I had second thoughts because I wasn't sure that the particular item concerned was actually around in 1841. When I checked today, I not only found that it was but another aspect of it, unknown to me before, made it an even better discovery than I'd realised. All I need to find now is that the book has taken to writing itself without any intervention on my part and I shall be a believer.
glitter noir said…
I'm thrilled to hear that, Bill...but not completely surprised. Magic, set in motion, keeps on its glitter dancing shoes. I probably shouldn't reveal this, but...I'm the only one on-site who knows that every year at Christmas you retire do your room...lock the door...then jump up and down on the bed, crying, "Thank you, Santa! Thank you!"

Popular posts

What's the Big Idea? - Nick Green

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

The Splendid Rage of Harlan Ellison - Umberto Tosi

A Glittering Gem of Black, Gothic Humour: Griselda Heppel is intrigued by O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

Misogyny and Bengali Children’s Poetry by Dipika Mukherjee