Monday, 8 March 2010

The work not even in progress yet

Time to get serious. In between other things I’ve been researching various aspects of life in 1841-2 to fill in details of the lives my characters lived. The cogitations have so far produced four main threads to the narrative. Since it’s a sequel to The Figurehead, it’ll naturally be concerned with the making of ships and all the carvings that involves, so the setting for the action is Aberdeen harbour and the business that goes on there.

The first thread is part of that business, too, because the central female character (Helen) is strong-willed and refuses to fit her stereotype. Her father is a highly successful ship-owning merchant and, as his only child, she wants to learn more and to help him with his transatlantic trade. First, though, she has to persuade him that her involvement is a good idea.

The second thread is one which will contrast very strongly with these commercial pursuits and with the fairly settled life of the tradesmen who build and fit out the vessels which make Aberdeen such a thriving place. There’s going to be a troupe of actors presenting some plays at the Theatre Royal, Aberdeen. Acting in the middle of the 19th century was a larger than life business – all colour, exaggeration, artificiality and passion. The most popular form (aside from Shakespeare) was melodrama and, from about 1830, nautical melodramas were all the rage. That seems too good an opportunity to miss. I can put people who, every night, strut about pretending they’re involved in the hazards and drama of shipboard adventures beside others who know what it is to sail to the whaling grounds in winter and thrash to and fro across the Atlantic. Also, if I throw into this staid, provincial society some beautiful actors (male and female) who have access to great chat-up lines stolen from plays, heads may be turned, jealousies may ferment and mayhem could ensue.

The third thread also involves Helen and is a love story. It began to grow in (and tried to take over) The Figurehead and it needs to be properly resolved now.

All that remains is to fill in details of the fourth thread which, because I write crime novels, has to be a murder (or several if need be). But the strange thing here is that, while I can envisage some of the exchanges that’ll take place between the characters and some of the conflicts and stresses they’ll feel, I don’t yet have an idea of the nature of the crime, its victim or its perpetrator. I want to link it with an unsolved murder which was mentioned in The Figurehead and I know the type of person who’ll commit this particular crime but as yet he/she doesn’t exist as an individual.

I’ve never expressed thoughts such as this about any of my previous novels and I’m not sure whether they evolved in the same way at all. This time, though, I’m trying to write the thing and, at the same time, observe the processes involved in doing so. Which is a pretty good displacement activity.

(This, by the way, is another posting I may live to regret in that, just as when I wrote of starting the research, it commits me to a course of action which may lead nowhere or to a very different story from the one I’m sketching out here. But the idea that a book may emerge from this woolly, insubstantial thinking is a nice thought to carry around.)

20 comments:

  1. Sounds very interesting, Bill (and that's a genuine "very" and not just a platitudinal precursor for 'interesting'). I too like the idea of the juxtaposition of real sailors alongside actors pretending to be sailors in the local theatre.

    The fourth strand - the murder. With a cast comprising of shipbuilders, sailors, actors and all manner of (harsh) Aberdeenian life... plus the love story... I don't think you'll have any problem in finding a murderer, victim and motive.

    Neither do I think there's a risk of jinxing this work by posting about a before it's written - not when your plans for it are as thought-out and inspired as these seem to be, anyway. I sense a passion in this... this could be the Big Novel.

    Sandie

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  2. Gosh this sounds like such an interesting book, Bill. Do hurry up and write it!

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  3. Glad you brought us along for the ride, Bill. It will be cool to see how it all 'plays' out and if your observations change your process in any way. With your experience in theatre and the conflicting threads to work with it has to be thrilling to be at this stage.

    Enjoy.

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  4. The travelling actors sound absolutely fascinating - you could have endless fun describing all the colour and vividness of their lives, and contrasting it with the safe but dull lives of the local folk. Otoh, like acting costumes, the colour is often rather tawdry and threadbare when seen in the light of day...

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  5. You see what I mean? Sandie, Catherine and Marley all expect me to write the bloody thing now and I'll look a pillock if I don't. But thanks for the supportive comments.

    Sandie, I think you're right about the passion for this, but not necessarily for the reason you think. In fact, I'll write another blog explaining that because there are all sorts of factors involved.

    Catherine, once I get into something, I write quite quickly but I sense that this time I'll need to be a bit more careful to hold the threads together.

    Marley, I share your feelings about seeing how it all pans out. As I said in the posting, I've tried thinking back over my other books and I have no idea how I started writing any of them or why I chose the openings I did. This time everything seems so much more deliberate. But don't worry, I'm still not taking myself too seriously - that would be disastrous.

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  6. Fiona, I have an idea - I could franchise the novel to you. You're having exactly the thoughts that attracted me to this story in the first place, even down to the fact that the actors may have so much energy that they make the principals who were central to The Figurehead seem boring.

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  7. ::backs away hurriedly:: Gawd, I've got enough stuff of my own to work on (or not work on, as the case may be) without taking on yours as well. You can just pay me commission instead. LOL

    I can see how you'd be worried about the 'boring' thing but perhaps you could use that to make the characters see the dullness of their own lives? And it could come back to bite the actors later on...

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  8. (Sighs) I guess I'd better just get on with it then. But the boring thing won't be an issue - the colour and 'glamour' of the actors is only a facade after all.

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  9. "I guess I'd better just get on with it then..."

    I couldn't have put it better myself. :P I know how frustrating it can be when ideas start multiplying, though. I'm part way through a perfectly good short story at the moment which has suddenly started to squawk 'novel' at me...

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  10. Damn, Michael. Now see what you've done. You've made me cry.

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  11. The plot sounds intriguing and complicated, but what fun to weave all the plotlines together. I'm still waiting for the Figurehead to become available on this side of the pond.

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  12. It's actually being published over there Jean, so you'll get it at the same time as we do. I think the scheduled date is May.

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  13. I'm really looking forward to the Figurehead. Picturing myself in a comfortable chair in the sunny garden reading all day. And please don't let us wait too long, write the sequel.

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  14. Thanks for sharing this, Bill. Sounds fascinating, and you have to commit to it now!

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  15. As you know, Anneke, your wish is my command. And Rosemary, you're right, no turning back (unless I can find a really good excuse).

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  16. This is a good way to set yourself some serious targets: Commit to it on your blog! Now there is no messing about. Has to be done, otherwise we will all think you are a...what was it? oh, yes, a pillock. :)

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  17. Glad to be adding to your vocabulary Scary.

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  18. Oh, I knew what a pillock was. :) Plenty of those around.

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  19. Very true, Scary. And my apologies again - I keep underestimating you. I should know better by now.

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