Creating a World (Cecilia Peartree)

I've been meaning to write an alternate history novel for some time now, but I have been put off, quite rightly in many ways, by the amount of research I thought I would need to do for it. Somehow unravelling things that did happen in real life and taking everything in a new direction was more daunting than inventing something completely new from square one. The initial idea for this was sparked by a conversation I had with a friend some time ago, which started when, for some reason lost in the mists of time, she told me that Edward VII, before becoming king, had fondly imagined his older sister Princess Vicky would inherit the throne, and when someone told him it would be him instead, he burst into tears. I began to speculate on what might have happened to international relations if Princess Vicky had inherited the British throne as well as becoming the empress of Germany, and I had been turning over this idea in my mind ever since.

My initial thoughts on the subject, which were based on the idea of a huge catastrophe involving steam power and resulting in a complete ban on the use of steam throughout Britain for any purpose during the remainder of the 19th century, which in turn would have resulted in Britain falling behind certain other countries in terms of industry, the economy and armaments and which would therefore have had a huge impact on wider European history, have been modified slightly now that I've actually written a few chapters and realised how impossible this would make things not just for myself as a writer but for my characters. Although getting rid of steam altogether would probably make for a more literary and possibly more powerful novel - assuming I had one like that in me in the first place, which is doubtful! - the direction the novel seems to be going in now will mean I end up with more of a murder mystery. Well, there's a surprise!

I've approached the novel via a short story I wrote some time ago that sketched the initial calamitous scenario, and I had imagined I might be able to write a sort of episodic narrative, adding another short story here and there and perhaps covering several generations of characters. However, after writing a second short story-like piece involving one of the main characters I had already planned to include, and taking place at a funeral on a dismal day, I had the not unfamiliar urge to lighten things up a bit, and added an extra chapter that came before the funeral one, in order to introduce a second main character who was somehow a bit less weighty than the other one. The chapter was not completely frivolous, though, as there was a murder in it. I can now see that these two main characters, a cabinet-maker and a nurse, will be working together to solve a couple of murder mysteries before they are very much older, and that the calamitous event at the beginning will only form the backdrop to the novel instead of the central theme, though with luck there will be some kind of resolution to both situations by the end.

To my relief this in turn will probably mean a lot less world-building and more action, which is why I almost never write fantasy or sci-fi, though I am guilty of previously writing a dystopian novel set in an independent Scotland of the 2030s or so, which also ended up focussing on the characters more than it might have done. We'll see if this latest one results in the kind of reviews I received for the Scottish one, which included someone telling me never to write another book. (I took no notice of that, by the way)


Peter Leyland said…
Short stories can become novels and you explain how in your interesting piece Cecilia. I hope you get a better review for this one when it's ready.
Debi said…
Oh my goodness. This seems like a lot of work!!

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