Sunday, 24 August 2014

Celtic Candlelight


Well, Copper Jack's been relegated to the poop deck.

I've been in a total slump since finishing Rosy Hours. Worried that might have been the best I can do. Worried there might not be any more words. Worried the last thing I wrote was a literary prophecy: The End.

Worried for another matter, which I'll elucidate on shortly. Just reading - in a completely unrelated twist - The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. Touches on something relating to art and obsession which requires further exploration on my part. 

The truth of the matter for any writer is that you do need to be obsessed by an idea at least long enough to type 100,000 words on the matter. 

I think I may have found my next obsession. I know I've said this about pirates, and I am sticking with a watery theme, but I believe I shall be replacing roses with swans.

All of my novels have been very different in style and subject, from Historical Fiction to LGBT Romance to Horror, borderline Sci-fi. No writer appears fully formed on the page. We all learn the craft. We do that through play, and through pastiche.

With Rosy Hours I feel as though I have finally made it. Not made it as a writer, there's probably no such accolade; what do you measure success by? If it's fame, well I'm not famous, and that isn't why I write. If it's book sales, they're still small. If it's earnings, my royalty slips are as blank as my face when I try to decipher what each of the columns means. 

Rather, I mean made it in terms of my understanding of my own style. Made a realisation about what type of writer I might be - at least for the time being. Feel as though I have something that is mine. Become confident in my ability to tell a story well; beautifully. To possess a sense of finesse, rather than clumsy enthusiasm.

And don't get me wrong, clumsy enthusiasm can get you very far. It's a writer's lifeblood.

But in Rosy Hours I feel a sense of coming of age. I've been practising writing for a very long time. I wrote my first short story aged nine or ten (vampires, a holiday at my aunt's in London), my first novella aged eighteen (geekily inspired by a character I'd created on a MUD called Realms of Aurealis), and my first novel as a VSO with too much time on my hands in Rwanda, back in 2008-ish. My computer is littered with half-written, half forgotten prose and poems.

I think it is safe to say that I've worked at it. Then again, it feels more of a compulsion than a conscious action. Either way, I am pleased with what I've achieved so far - and most pleased of all with Rosy Hours. Most sure of myself.

Which does make things a little difficult. How do you follow your best act? What do you follow it with?  That has been weighing me down. I like what I've learned so far, I want to do more of it, but I want it to be better. I need to know something new. 

I did learn something new today, and it impressed me enough to want to share. 

My next novel (hell, let's just say it is for now), is set in the Iron Age. It rather seems I'm going backwards through time, from Angorichina in the 1930s to Rosy Hours in the 1850s, to some time in the fourth century BC. I suspect it may not be the only pattern forming.

Anyway, one thing you learn about writing historical fiction is that you need to check everything. Never take anything you know for granted. There were no rabbits in Arthurian England, or snowdrops. 

This doesn't mean you need to be a history expert when you begin. You don't need to read an encyclopedia to start writing Historical Fiction. You just need to read around the things you're actually including in your story. Double check those nouns actually existed.

The example that amused me today involved the same question I'd had when writing about pirates: how did people light things before matches? Which led to the question: what did people use for light?

The answer, in my mind's eye, is obvious. I've seen countless New Age volumes on Celtic Candle Magic. Every early Christian scholar scribbled by the light of a burning candle... didn't they?


Although the first ever candle was discovered in China circa 200 BC, they didn't reach Western Europe until 400 AD.

I was quite astonished by that fact.

400 AD.

My mind is quickly re-writing every soft-glowing candlelit scene I've ever had involving beautiful maidens and wise old crones.

Like I said. Check everything. Twice.

You'll still get something wrong.

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