The First Step – or is it the Second?

After a break of a couple of weeks – holidays, sickness, I was back at the writing class. Only three more weeks and then we finish until September. How will I manage?

This weeks lesson was based on the book “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder, one of those famous books that nobody reads. If you haven’t, it is about a group of five people who die when an Inca rope bridge collapses.

This was the start of our exercise. We talked about different catastrophes and then wrote a description of one of our own. We had to make a list of at least five characters and describe them. I hate this process – staring at a blank piece of paper with an equally blank mind. Usually something comes and sometimes it leads to wonderful things. Some amazing scenarios certainly emerged during yesterday’s class. I must make a confession – I cheated!

Since I finished my WIP first draft and edit, I have allowed myself to dream. What happens next? After all it is planned as a trilogy. A few ideas have been fermenting in my brain: places, people, events, a battle – of course, deaths – inevitable after a battle, who will die? One thing I did know is how it starts – with a catastrophe! I hadn’t gone any further. When do I start? Do I wait until I have done more editing? Should I catch up with my life for a bit?

Was I a little bit scared?

Faced with the dreaded blank page, I jumped.

I didn’t need to describe my catastrophe, I had already gone through it, many times, in my head

I didn’t need to describe my characters, I already know them. I have even interviewed some of them – see some of the posts I wrote in the April Archives on the right.

Finally, towards the end of the class, I was allowed to start writing. Here is the very first page:

start of the book

At the top you can see my five characters. I have cut out my brief notes about the catastrophe – you didn’t think I was going to give anything away, did you? You can also see why I do most of my writing on the computer. I have written beautiful exercises and then been unable to read them out in class because I can’t read my own writing! There are a few more lines and that is it, so far.

My second WIP AKA (for the moment) Byrhtnoth2 has officially started. There is a (very) long way to go but, as someone once said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

I feel like God saying “Let there be light” (Pretentious, Moi?).

I am every writer who has ever looked at a rock/parchment/piece of paper/computer screen and thought “I’ve got a story to tell, I think I’ll write it down.”

I haven’t experienced this before. My first book just evolved. This time I know what I am doing – in the sense that I know I am writing a book, not that I think I know how to do it.

Coming back to earth, I have homework to do, permission to carry on. Where will it take me? Can I actually do it?

Hopefully some of these questions will be answered in future posts.

Thegn in a reasonably priced car.

I recently read an interesting article about Anglo-Saxon swords by Matthew (get your seax out) Harffy. You can read it here.

A patten-welded sword?

A pattern-welded sword?

One of the points made was that a sword could be compared with a modern man (It’s always a man) boasting about his car. I noticed a similar analogy on a recent TV programme about Versailles. I can’t remember what was compared with an expensive sports car – it might have been a piece of lace. This is one of those common comparisons; the size of Wales, a football pitch or a double-decker bus.

It got me thinking. If an expensive, pattern-welded can be compared to a posh car, what about the man who owned it? What is the modern equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon warrior?

I decided that it must be a professional football player. Both have to be young and fit. They have little in the way of brains and their working life is short. I know little about cars (or footballers) but the top flight international/premier league players with the exotic cars (see here for examples) are the top Ealdormen. Their weapon/car is impractical for daily use but stands out from the crowd and costs a lot to buy. Further down the league, those with a modest, but still decent car, would have had an ordinary, cheaper sword or seax. Your ordinary, amateur or local league player would be a spear carrier and drive a second-hand hatchback. I see the men whose chosen weapon was the axe as Rugby players, perhaps driving something off-road. After all, weren’t Land Rover sponsors of the recent Rugby World Cup.

Before I go further down the sporting road (Tennis players as archers?) let’s think about the women (or WAGS). Things haven’t changed much there over the years, they have always been judged by the money their partner earns. This usually means cloths and jewellery. The more riches won by your warrior, the better quality gown you wore. Silk was the ultimate achievement and equates to designer dresses. I’m not sure that high heeled shoes were important to the Anglo-Saxon woman though. Or handbags?

Finally, who held the power in Anglo-Saxon England? The king of course and his relatives. They demonstrate their status by property. An impressive hall/castle to house their retinue, a feast/garden party to feed them. Mead v A cup of tea and cake?

And then there was the church. At that time, usually the only people able to read and write. The great bishops and abbots, building churches and monasteries and advising the king. The ordinary priest or monk would be the equivalent of teachers, writers, artists, vowed to poverty. Their superiors, surely, must be the modern businessmen and politicians.  Ostensibly subject to the same vow of poverty, but dealing in power and large sums of money. The ones not caught fiddling their expenses were turned into saints.

I think I have followed this tread almost to breaking point, but if you have any suggestions, let me know. I might mention the best in a future post.

Editing

Sorry for the long gap between posts, but I have been editing. Perhaps that word should be in large black letters, such has been its impact on my life.

So, I have been EDITING.

Before I started writing I didn’t realise what it would be like. You write a book, right? Then you try to publish it. OK you need to check over what you have written, that’s easy.

It’s not! I discovered that there is only a certain length of time I could continue before I would lose concentration. But then I was fit for nothing for the rest of the day – I have never felt so exhausted. I couldn’t read anything and I definitely couldn’t write anything.

Word-Loss DietThere is a lot of information on the internet about editing, but I started with a book that someone had recommended. The Word-Loss Diet: Professional Self-Editing Techniques for Authors by Rayne Hall. This takes you through certain words to look for in your manuscript that can be cut. It starts, as is logical, with “start to” and “begin to”. Instead of “She started to run” use “she ran”. The author gives detailed instructions on how to highlight the bad words and then get rid of them. You then continue with words such as “look”, “sigh”, “smile”. I was terrified at how often I used some of these words. I am sure it is something that professional writers do without thinking, but to a beginner like me it was an eye-opener. I think it has improved my writing, because I now try to avoid these errors.
(I can also recommend Writing Fight Scenes, by the same author.)

This process was quite fun, compared with the grind of going through my manuscript line by line. I started in the middle, as I had already “finished” the first half. When I got to the end, I decided to re-edit the first part. I found as many corrections as in the second part. Had I not edited the first part properly? Perhaps my editing had improved with practise. Do I have to go through it all again? And again? I know that however many times I check my work, there will be things I miss.

All this has confirmed the statement that I made in my last post – I need an editor. So I found one!

At the Self-publishing Conference, I attended two sessions with Cressida Downing. She handed out vouchers for 10% off her professional services. I had a look at her website and contacted her. After a discussion, we decided that I would send her my first three chapters and my synopsis for analysis and suggestions for improvement.

I had a sudden crisis – what exactly were my first three chapters? There was a flurry of editing and rewriting and then I sent them off. It felt like taking a child to their first day at school and leaving them, all alone. (Actually it was worse, my children were happy to go to school and I was glad to get rid of them, temporarily of course.)

Now I wait. What do I do next? Well I have turned my manuscript into an e-book and put it on my tablet. I will leave it there for a while before I pluck up the courage to read it. I have written and edited it. I have spent the last three years thinking about it and my characters, but I have never actually read it as a whole book.

After that there will no doubt be a lot more editing.  Hacking out great chunks, rearranging and perhaps some killing of darlings.

Meanwhile I have had a holiday (well, a short break), read some books and done a lot of thinking about my next book. I have had a few ideas, even some for the book after that. I have no plan, but I think I must start writing again.

Perhaps tomorrow?