It’s the scale of the thing

Posted: June 29, 2010 in The WIPs - Nevill

It’s just struck me what a huge deal this book of mine is. I’m not talking about it being the Greatest Historical Novel Ever, but the scale is enormous and quite intimidating at times. Here I am, in the middle of 1455 and, depending on which way things go, I’ve either got sixteen years to go or more than forty! (I’m tending to think that Nevill will finish with Anne’s death and the story continued through to the deaths of the last Nevill widows in a second book.)

I don’t tend to write a lot of descriptive detail, which certainly helps to tip the prose towards the spare end of the continuum. That might not suit some readers, but it’s the way I like to read and write. In a way I almost want to release the story from its historical constraints. No, that’s not quite what I mean – the people involved were very rooted in their time, as we all are. What I think I mean is that it’s the story that counts, the people and the events, not the colour of the clothes, or the smells of the great unwashed, to name but two things that may be important to other writers and readers.

Even if I take the two volume option, this book is going to be big and publishers don’t often take chances on big first books. I’ve condensed time a great deal already to get three years into five chapters and, after first St Albans, there’s going to be a two year jump in time to John Nevill’s wedding, but there’s only so much I can or want to do in that regard.

My recent book and dvd purchases are going to be a great help, but there are still some gaps. I’ll get the new Edward IV biog when I can afford it; and I need a biog of George Nevill, archbishop of York, so if anyone knows of one, please pass the information my way – google claims ignorance on this.

There are other more practical problems that I’m going to have to find a way to solve. Things like: how was Westminster laid out, where were the various offices (eg chancery)? what was the physical layout of Calais at the time, including its administrative areas? These aren’t holding me up at the moment – I can write the scene (eg, conversation between Salisbury and York during the protectorate) and go back and flesh things out later. What’s important right now is to get the story and the dialogue down. And dialogue (I think) is my greatest strength.

With a cast of thousands, I’ve found that the trick is to keep each chapter fairly tight – work out the main theme and who might be involved while still keeping in touch with other characters, places etc. I don’t want it to get too compartmenatalised. The discipline of sticking to Nevills and their children & spouses has been interesting. If something’s going on somewhere and there’s no handy Nevill around then I can’t write it. This has its drawbacks, but in terms of keeping the story tight and under control, the benefits are enormous. Several of the chapters (eg first St Albans and probably Wakefield) will be told from a single pov. I’m hoping this will slow things down in areas where they need to be slowed down.

One of the first things I did was sketch out a quick plan of the book, dividing it into parts and working out what years those parts should cover. (Except I think it was a little bit the other way around.) To my astonishment and delight, I found that parts 1, 2 and 3 all began with weddings (or the days immediately following a wedding). I thought about part 4 (Anne Nevill’s story), which I’d planned to start with her dying thoughts and memories and wondered how I could swing a wedding in there without it seeming too contrived. But as it’s her thoughts and memories, she can remember whatever the hell I want her to! So part 4 gets to start with a wedding as well. All very symbolic and hope-for-the-futureful. Each of these weddings is very different from the others and should, hopefully, help set the tone for that section.

So my task now is to go back to the beginning with my new notes and do a quick rework of some bits. I’ll keep you posted.

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