Quillpen, inky fingers
One writer ponders ...
on words-smithing or being happily distracted from the task in hand
and on the wayward nature of her Muse
and on the wayward nature of her Muse
Have you seen her? Ms Muse, that is. Every time I catch a glimpse of her she looks different but she’s a female, of indeterminate age, about 5’3” with hair that is … changeable (I suspect she has a fabulous collection of wigs).
I may be doing her a disservice because she might still be quaking somewhere after last night's thunderstorms, but the truth is she definitely disappears for extended periods.
Last December she was off indulging in mince pies and mulled wine and I have the feeling that in February or March, she usually ‘does’ Venice for Carnival, maybe Rio de Janeiro, sometimes both. Shrove Tuesday pancakes at home with plain lemon and sugar? I think not! It’s not her style.
I have no idea where she’s gone gallivanting now but this morning I had to resort to doing the ironing, moving furniture and making up beds for a not-very-imminent visit by the family instead of using the fist clear day for weeks to get out into the shed to write. It was the same in March so back then I was forced to redecorate the whole house. I could be on my fourth novel by now, if Ms Muse wasn’t so flighty. With nine classical Muses, Greek goddesses lending assorted know-how to fortunate artists, she could be anywhere, with any of them. Capricious madam!
I doubt if it’s Calliope, with her penchant for epic poetry, though I do have a very long daft-ditty lurking in a file somewhere. It would be grand if Callie came to give me a hand finishing it.
Euterpe and I don’t see eye to eye over lyric poetry. Can someone tell me what ‘lyric poetry’ might be? Or ‘literary fiction’ for that matter. Lyric: is that lines that rhyme, have metric measure or intellectual stature? Are they more profound than the average limerick to be found flicking through my frivolous head?
Thalia, with her comedy is more Ms Muse’s type, though I don’t think she harnesses Thalia’s inclination for pastoral poetry. Her pastoral idyll is more likely to be blowing a very loud fart-like noise using a blade of grass held between her thumbs!
Polyhymnia? Nah. Sacred poetry just isn’t Ms Muse’s style; I refer you to my daft ditties and irreverent limericks. I’m pretty sure Ms Muse wouldn’t be hanging out with ‘Nia.
Melpomene? Tragedy? Give me a break! Ms Muse has had her input on a few issues that have upset my readers who wail,
‘Don’t let anything happen to the dog!’ but she doesn’t really do tragedy.
So why did Will have to die? That is Clio’s fault. For readers who know Exposed to All Villainies, William Mattock, Hester’s husband, really did die in 1646. Clio’s field is History and what she says, goes. I can’t mess with Clio! Neither does Ms Muse which is why I don’t think they’re hanging about together.
Has Ms Muse gone off on a merry dance then? With Terpsichore? That might have been her, in the ‘Strictly Come Dancing 2016 Reveal’, trying to set up a mosh-pit in front of the band. No, sorry, that was Erato who normally does dodgy performances, extempore love-poetry, wearing nothing but a diaphanous strip of silk and a pair of dark glasses.
I have heard Ms Muse look at the stars, their lustre dusting the velvet of a midnight sky, but her reaction was to shrug and say,
‘What did you get me out of bed for? It’s naff-all to do with me!’ so I have the feeling she’s probably not with Urania studying astrology either.
But dearest Muse of mine …wherever you are… I just want to say that the ironing’s done, I’ve made the beds and the sock drawer is immaculately tidy. So could you drop by for a bit? Please.
Every author knows that getting the right voice for a character is a crucial part of creating an engaging story. It helps if the tone, the spark of personality, is there from the first moment of the relationship between the reader and the person on the page. It’s a little bit like catching someone’s eye across a crowded room and instantly knowing you’ll want to know more about - or avoid - that individual. That’s what keeps people turning the page.
So there’s a lot to be said for an engaging villain. I am dealing with a pretty nasty case in the third of the Pendennis books; Bartholomew Fenwick is, without doubt, a bad ‘un.
But can he be totally bad and still credible?
I had this discussion with friends over a ‘Book Club’ bash. Mixed reactions intrigued me. There were those who said that nobody is totally evil; there is usually a factor in their background that makes them that way or turned them from innocence to the dark. It is the psychological principle of Nature or Nurture.
The polar opposite reaction was that the escapism of literature allows the audience to really relish ‘interacting’ with someone who is the embodiment of foul, simply because they don’t do it in real life. Hopefully not anyway.
There was a feeling that perhaps something in the middle would be too wishy-washy; not worth reading. But everyone said they didn’t want to feel sorry for my villain because they had already made up their mind about him and were miffed that I’d let him get away with … well, what has he got away with? I won’t do spoilers!
So, what about when you character starts dictating the terms? Literally. The narrative just isn’t working then a little ‘voice’ says,
“That’s not right because I just wouldn’t do it!”
Mad? Yes it sounds that way to me too. But that is more or less what happened when I was planning A Cord of Three Strands. Until I had the right narrators absolutely nothing seemed to be working.
I can tell you exactly where I was when I actually said aloud,
“Well, I suppose Grace, Hester and Mary, that you could tell your own stories …again.”
(If you’re interested it was driving to Liskeard, on the A38 just after the Dobwalls junction, with the railway viaduct just coming into view!) From that moment the words began to tumble out, the ‘girls’, on the whole, happy to …. co-operate. No, it still sounds bonkers.
Then this week it happened again! There I was, bowling along nicely, the words on the computer screen recording the unfolding events at Pendennis in 1649 when the process was usurped by Daniel Edwards.
Readers of Exposed to All Villainies might remember that he was the Bideford lad who marched off to join the Queen’s Guard in the spring of 1644. Well, he’s back, having taken charge of an episode insurrection in A Cord of Three Strands when what I had originally planned was something quite different.
If you’ve read the ‘taster’ that opened this blog you might as well disregard the details. Dan has already managed to wangle a promotion and a pay rise out of me, with a rewrite of the first chapter of To Untie a Sealed Knot. And that’s without the spanner in the works from the results of some research at the Cornwall Record Office on Wednesday.
In the words of Homer Simpson, 'Doh!'
But Daniel seems like a nice chap, has hinted at a hidden agenda of which I thoroughly approve and he really doesn’t like Bartholomew Fenwick.
He also seems OK with the working title so for the time being, and as Mrs Muse doesn’t seem to be offering any alternatives, I might just to listen to his suggestions.