A Blog Hop

Many thanks to R J Gould for inviting me to take part in this Blog Hop. He is a writer of contemporary humorous romantic fiction and his post from last week is here. I’ve invited Thure Etzold and Les Brookes to contribute to this Blog Hop.

 What am I working on?

About a year ago I returned to a novel that I had put aside for a time, the story of a boy, Jack, born in a back-to-back slum in a midlands industrial town in the early 1800s. He’s not above some minor criminality, but he also finds work that earns some money, fetching meat from the market for the street traders, and by a stroke of luck gets a place at a charity school. This is the key to his next opportunity, because a few years after he has left school he encounters his former teacher, Sarah, who has lost her post at the school, and is now working as a dressmaker. Jack and Sarah set up in business together, and the novel explores the ups and downs of Jack’s career, and his emotional life. You can read the first chapter here on this blog. I’m preparing this novel, to be called Hard Lessons, for publication. I’ve just embarked on another novel, also set in the early 1800s, but this time in Portugal during the Peninsular War. James has been sent away by his father, the local landowner, who has warned him not to pay attentions to the village girls, and, when warnings proved insufficient, has purchased a commission for him in the county infantry regiment, commanded by his brother, James’ uncle. The regiment is sent to Portugal, James is wounded in one of the early battles, is taken in by two Portuguese women who nurse him, but he dies, and is buried in the graveyard by the tiny village church. The novel, working title Any Man’s Death, explores the consequences for others, such as his father, who almost immediately regrets what he has done, for his mother and for one of the village girls, Mary who gives birth to James’ child, and for other characters, even characters who never knew James. The first chapter can also be read here on this blog. The title is taken from John Donne’s poem which begins ‘No man is an island’, and ends ‘never send to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee,’ and contains the working title in the lines ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.’ It’s been done before, many times, not least by a much greater writer than I will ever be, Ernest Hemingway, in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This question made me ask myself what the genre is. Although both novels are set in a historical period, and touch on actual historical events (such as the agitation before the great Reform Act of 1832, the way in which, before the Married Women’s Property Act, a woman’s property became her husband’s on marriage) I don’t think of them as historical novels, but rather as novels of relationships, and how relationships between men and women were shaped by the circumstances of the times. These novels discuss the same kind of relationships as my two earlier novels, ‘Gifts from Unfaithful Women and ‘How Does a Man Know’ (in preparation for publication – read the draft first chapter here), which are set in the present day. How does it differ from others of its genre? I’ll let you know when I’ve found out.

Why do I write what I do?

Why does anyone? For fun, because I enjoy writing. Because I want to explore relationships, how they form, and how they fail. How trivial events can bring about great shifts. Some authors do write for the market, and good luck to them. I’m not judging them. Of course I would like people to read my novels, but I want them to read the novels that I want to write. I belong to a reading group and there are only two of us who are also writers. The members who are not writers can’t understand that writers are not concerned with what the readers want, that it’s a case of ‘here it is, this is what I’ve written, and I hope you’ll like it.’

How does my writing process work?

I find that I always start off with the idea of some scene, some event, and develop the story from there, and I never know where the story will go. For example, I went to a dinner party given by some friends, at which there were a man and a woman (neither known to me) who, it became clear, had been invited there to meet each other (my hostess is an inveterate matchmaker). They seemed to be getting on very well, and I wondered afterwards what happened to them. Did they or didn’t they? This scene became ‘Gifts from Unfaithful Women’. When I start writing I have no idea how a story will end, until I am beginning to think that I really ought to wrap the story up, usually when I’ve written 80,000 to 100,000 words, many of which will be discarded in the re-write. At that point I probably have several possible endings, and I turn them over in my mind until one works its way to the top. Then I do a complete re-write, and find that I have to change a substantial part of the earlier chapters. Not very efficient, but it’s how I write. I also have many false starts. I may have an opening scene that I like, and I go on writing, but somehow it doesn’t work out; I can’t find a successful continuation.

My Cambridge background

I live in Cambridge, England, where I’m a member of Cambridge Writers, a group that exists to provide support and helpful criticism for local writers. I’ve had wonderful support from other members. We meet regularly to hear work in progress, and I always come away having benefitted from comments by other members.

I’ve also had a great deal of encouragement from Jane Rusbridge, who first encouraged me to take writing seriously, and whose novels, The Devil’s Music, and Rook I greatly admire.

Thure Etzold’s website is here, where there is an account of why he wrote his novel ‘Life as it could be’, and the novel he is currently working on, Symbiosis.

Les Brookes’ website is here, where there is an account of his novel Such Fine Boys, and his book Gay Male Fiction.

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