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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

back at it

I'm back. At least, I'm trying to be back.

I see my last post was on 8 July, two and a half months ago. Things have been going on in my life, mainly inwardly, not all of which are bloggable--at least, not yet.

One of the reasons I left off writing in this blog was that I was undergoing a crisis of continuation with this project, and had diverted my attention to another project, an idea for a completely different story. Indeed, I mentioned that in my last post. I did spend some time working on it, and ordering a number of books to start my research, but at some point I discovered what I always discover when I start getting excited about a diversionary project: that the amount of work ahead on the new project is even greater than the amount of work ahead on the old. The excitement of a new idea does not, in itself, provide the energy to get it done any faster. It's still a pile of work, no matter how you slice it, and at some point one gets bogged down in difficult, even painful and annoying, tasks in order to get it done. Might as well go back to the old project, which one has already pushed through so many mudholes and pulled across so many stony creeks.

But apart from the "sunk costs" aspect of The Mission, I found a new inspiration arriving. I've used the image before of wind arriving at a becalmed sailboat; well, it's felt like that again. A couple of weeks ago I opened up some working documents, a couple to do with characters and another I had set up to record notes for ways to make the next draft better, and I liked what I found. I saw further into my main characters, and worked at finding their key issues and key desires--things necessary for good storytelling, and which have eluded me all these years so far. A few things went click and I felt a strong urge to get going again.

I wrote 19 pages quite fast for me, in about a week, then had to pause while I got back to more research. What I had hoped would be just a few things to research has turned into something much deeper, as it so often does--days upon days of sifting through books, typing, and copying material from websites into Word documents, as I dig, dig, dig to learn enough to be able to prosecute my own story.

I've been working up past my usual lunchtime of noon, unwilling to give up the chase. Today, with warm sun beaming through the smoky-blue haze of the Indian-summer sky outside, I finally left off at about 12:40. I put a bookmark in my thick yellow copy of Graves's The White Goddess, ready to pick it up again tomorrow.

As with many things these last few weeks, looking at this book again takes me back powerfully to the summer of 1985, when I first read it. I remember buying it in the subterranean grotto of the old Duthie Books at Robson and Hornby. I felt excited and ready, having just got through Graves's version of The Greek Myths. I would sit out on the sun-beaten plywood balcony of the apartment that was still Kim's, drinking tea in the hot sun and reading, reading.

What a lot's happened since then. Some things have come full circle. One of them is my amazement and appreciation as I look into Graves's masterpiece.

So: back at it.

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