No, not the furniture, the novel.
The de Lacy Inheritance was originally due for publication last autumn and I hadn’t looked at the text since around this time last year. I thought I was happy with it then, but when I opened up the file at the end of last week, wondering if I could lift a quote that might serve as a shoutline for the cover, I began to see things that needed changing. At least I thought they needed changing. I think the truth is that I will never be completely satisfied with what I’ve written and could go on taking a word out here and putting a comma in there for ever.
So I’ve spat on my finger and plastered down its unruly hair. I’ve wiped the imaginary smudge from its cheek and like a good parent I’ve let it go. Now I have to wait to see what someone else will make of it. Someone who doesn’t love it like I do and can see its faults. I’m hoping its going to get an A* and won’t need too much remedial work before it’s ready for print.
It’s been reassuring these past few days to notice that the daylight is lasting until almost 5pm and that when the sun does shine it has a quality that promises springtime. Today is an important celebration of light. It is Candlemass.
Candlemass is a Christian celebration that marks forty days after the birth of Jesus Christ – the day on which his mother Mary would have gone to the temple to be purified. The tradition of purification following childbirth has only very recently declined and although in later years it was marked as a thanksgiving ceremony it was (and may still be) surrounded in superstition. After I was born my mother’s neighbour would not allow her to visit her house until she had been ‘churched’ lest she should bring in some bad luck or evil spirit.
Candlemass is also associated with Jesus as the light of the world and is one of the ceremonies that survived Henry VIII’s Reformation. He proclaimed in 1539:
‘On Candlemass day it shall be declared, that the bearing of candles is clone in memory of Christ, the spiritual light, whom Simeon did prophesy, as it is read in the church that day.’
You’ll notice that he did not make reference to the purification of Mary.
The day is also associated with the predictions of the coming of springtime. If any of you still have any holly lurking from Christmas it should have been taken down last night:
‘Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly now upraise
The greener box for show.’
An old European (German I think) proverb relates that if the badger comes out of his sett on Candlemass Day and finds snow he will ‘walk abroad’, but if the sun is shining he will return to his hole. Which is why some of you may be celebrating Groundhog Day. Let us hope for snow and for an early Spring.
I’ve finally given up the struggle to keep all the information about three kings called Edward, a succession of tournaments and a huge cast of characters in my head. So I decided to drag the turn of the fourteenth century into the turn of the twenty-first century by creating a spreadsheet that gives a glimpse of who was doing what and when.
What’s fascinating about the exercise is that isolated pieces of information suddenly begin to make sense. You see the plots and the scheming and the deals that were being done behind the scenes and historical figures become real people with good reasons for doing what they did. For example Edward II didn’t ban Thomas, Earl of Lancaster from holding tournaments because he was a spoilsport, he did it because he didn’t want him getting together with other earls to hatch a rebellion.
The other good thing about making the spreadsheet is that you can see the gaps. When a character is as well documented as Henry de Lacy, for example, almost all of his whereabouts are recorded and so I can’t suddenly put him somewhere he wasn’t. (Even if I am writing fiction it is based in fact and I don’t believe that historical fiction authors should change facts because it’s surprising how many people actually learn their history from novels.) So, the good thing about gaps is that if a character is not as well known it’s acceptable to use some imagination to create their story. Often it’s a challenge to construct a story that works within the truth and also has a viable and compelling plotline that will keep my readers interested. Sometimes I wish that I could move people around or bend a few facts or change a few dates, but I resist because I believe that if I think about it for long enough I will find a solution and who knows, as long as there is nothing that disproves something I’ve written it could be the truth.
So now I have the new glasses and the screen is in focus through the right eye as well as the left. Is this giving me a more balanced view? Maybe. It’s probably too soon to tell.
I was actually surprised at how quickly the glasses were ready because if there’s one thing that I’ve had to learn as a writer it’s patience. When I sent the first three chapters of The de Lacy Inheritance off to Myrmidon Books it was around four months before that unbelievable phone call came asking to see the complete manuscript. I then waited another six months before sending a tentative email asking if they’d made a decision and receiving one back to say they wanted to meet with me to discuss publication. It seemed as if it would be easy from then on. But the recession took hold, money was tight and the book was postponed. However the good news is that it seems publication will go ahead this summer (June 2010). And I’ve got flashy new specs for the book signings.
Alicia de Lacy has convinced me that it is time to begin telling her story, even though I am still working on the text of my non fiction book about Yorkshire graves.
Beginning to write a new story is an interesting process, especially when it is a historical novel and you are basing it on real people and real facts. At the moment I feel more like I’m tackling a jigsaw puzzle than a book. I’ve written an opening paragraph and I’ve written a closing paragraph; I have a few random scenes that I know I want to include and gradually I’m beginning to piece together a framework for the story before going on to fill in the detail. Of course I’ve already added a few ‘wrong’ pieces and found that not only am I moving chunks around but that there are parts that don’t seem to fit and may be from another ‘puzzle’ entirely.
One of the problems with researching for a historical book is that of misinformation. You think you have a grasp on who was related to who and how many brothers and sisters they had and then you discover that it is entirely wrong. I’m learning who to trust, and who not to trust, on these matters and that helps me to make some progress. I do like my stories to be as accurate as possible. Even though 98% of a book may be pure fiction I want the remaining 2% that is based on actual facts to portray those facts correctly.
Like other historical characters there have been some vile and totally untrue things written about Alicia. One Victorian writer in particular has bismirched her character beyond reason so I hope that my book will help to set some records straight. No wonder she is so keen that we should begin.
Welcome to my new blog, especially those of you who have arrived here from my old ‘occasional blog’ on my website at http://www.elizabethashworth.com
I’m going to try to update this one more often and I’m hoping that it will be more ‘user friendly’ for all of us.
You will be able to leave comments (be nice!) and interact with one another here as well as seeing my pictures, hearing my latest news and maybe some other stuff about writing and history as well. We’ll see how it goes.
Never a person to do things by halves I have in fact set up two blogs. The other one is called The Lancashire Sundial Trail and can be found at http://lancashiresundials.wordpress.com/ For a while now I’ve been photographing and writing about the many sundials I’ve discovered around the county of Lancashire with the idea of producing a book, but my non-fiction publishers thought it was too specialist a subject to be commercially viable. Having done nothing much with them for a while now, apart from a short feature in Lancashire Magazine, I’ve decided to share them via this blog. I’ll be adding more when time allows, and the mood takes me, and you may even find that a few creep in from some other counties as well.