Sunday, 7 February 2010

9635 words and counting

Well, the book is growing in jumps and chunks. I want to know what happens to the lead character, who I have a feeling will have to be entirely rewritten from her POV. She's lovely, warm and quirky and emotional, and I think seeing her is more fun than knowing what's going on under the surface. But over time, it might be nice to see things from Lily's POV more. The geeky character is already warming up, even though he's distant and cool, and the landlady is coming into view through all the interactions with other characters, and gossip from the locals. It's all set in Ilfracombe - how did that happen? The house is much bigger and grander than ours so that's OK. Here's a sample:

A wooden sign had been painted grey, and in black curly writing, the words ‘Chancel Hall’ had been inscribed. From the late October afternoon, the house loomed over the road on a high terrace, its stone matching that of the retaining wall. The drive was badly worn tarmac, opening onto a gravelled area in front of the house itself.
‘It looks like a Victorian asylum or something.’ Lily was out of breath from the steep drive, but stood staring as the late sun reddened the blank windows on three floors. ‘It’s like something out of a book.’
‘Well, they called it quirky.’ the front door was behind an imposing porch, also built of stone. Three pairs of wellies were ranged along one side of the porch, the other was stacked waist high with cut logs. The whole lot was misted with spiders’ webs.
There was no doorbell. James put down the bags and rapped on the wooden door, then on the small glazed windows at the top of the door. Finally, Lily noticed a bell pull.
‘Christ, it’s hardly welcoming, is it?’ Just as James spoke the word welcoming, the door opened.
The woman who stood there was weather-beaten, without makeup, her hair wiry, escaping from a loose bun. ‘We didn’t expect you until later.’ Although her voice was matter of fact, James felt he ought to apologise.
She took one of the bags from the porch and hefted it into the hallway, dimly visible behind her. ‘Come in, out of the cold. I’ll put the kettle on, if you like.’
‘Her voice was neutral, but Lily was more enthusiastic. ‘That would be lovely, we’ve been driving for ages…’ Then she looked around and her voice died.
The hall was tall, the ceiling probably twelve feet over their heads, the area behind the door filled with coats, an umbrella stand, hat stand covered with hats, all dusty. The door to a dining room had drawn Lily as if by magnetism, ignoring the dark browns and greens of the hall to walk towards door that led onto a grey sky. And the sea, crashing on the rocks below the cliff on which the house stood.
‘Oh, wow.’ Lily stopped in the doorway. ‘Can I go in?’
‘If you like. It’s the dining room.’ The woman wasn’t unencouraging, but James felt awkward following Lily into the room and straight to the bay window.
The illusion that the house was balanced along the edge of the cliff faded as he realised a strip of fairly level garden led onto a slope covered with short grass and gorse, dotted with stoic sheep. The sea was huge, dark grey in the fading light, textured like tweed, flecks of hundreds of feet below rising and falling as far away as Wales, in the distance.
‘I’ll take you up to your room, now.’ The woman was back, her feet in old slippers, her floral overall faded but clean. The house smelled nothing like James and Lily’s modern four bedroom eighties house, close to the motorway for work, close to schools… It smelled like old pipe tobacco and pure wool blankets and bonfires. James realised, as his eyes adjusted to the dim light in the hall, that what he had thought were pictures were mostly stuffed and mounted animal heads from some historical safari. A display of British finches, under a large glass dome, sat on the huge hall table, the feathers faded to beiges and greys.
Picking up the bigger of the two cases, he followed her up to the room, along broad wooden stairs with a patterned runner.
‘This is your room. I’m Emma Chancel. If you wants me, ring the bell in your room. I’m mostly around. That’s your bathroom, there. I’ll get the tea, then.’

This is first draft, just the starting point. I write without much editorial interference for the first draft. I'm lean ring to re-write the big stuff, the structure and the plot, then put my critical hat on and faff about wit the actual words.

Getting back into genealogy has made me think about the BRB's section on lifewriting, which I am trawling through. I'm writing masses of material for poetry for the TMA, which is 40 lines of poetry, but until the day school I can't really get stuck in. It's all good at the moment, I'm working consistently and somehow getting it all done. Of course, I'm not getting anything else done, and the kids are toiling over the path and husband is doing the garden, leaving me huddled over the PC with a sore neck... frightened I'll put my back out and won't be able to write at all. But the story demands to be written...

Feedback welcome!


  1. Hi - I'm immediately struck by the flow... more poetic (probably scans) than many self-professed poets' poems! Whether that's good or bad is no doubt a matter of taste and depends on the flavour required and the subject - years since I read a novel. Genuine question (not a comment or suggestion): would you consciously vary pace, grammar, structure of a sentence when, for instance, it is the speech of particular character? If the remainder is from one character's POV, I can see that that would be the determining factor - meanwhile, important I'm sure, to get it down and as you say look with a different eye later. - Tony

  2. Thanks, Tony. I'm sure the poetry I'm writing is influencing my descriptions. One things I've found, the book would be better from different characters POV, and they have very different voices, which will help the reader get to know the POV characters as the book goes along. My main character has a very obsessive/compulsive, country POV and this can be built up.