Thursday, 18 February 2010

Up to 32,000 and Emma and Lily are becoming cousins

The book is coming on gently. I'm up early to make sure I meet my word deadline as we have family staying. I'm waking up having dreamed of plot points and characters. I'm very conscious of the connections between the two characters and my own life, and the importance of keeping that light rather than being crushed by it. Lily and I have both lost a child, and I need to walk parallel to her rather than dip too much into my own feelings. Lily is different to me. While I don't think any of the characters are autobiographical, I empathise with them all and of course, they all came out of my head. But they are constantly surprising me. Last year I read two books side by side, Stephen King's 'On Writing' and 'Plot and Structure' by James Scott Bell. While I found both useful, the King book is the way I write. I come up with a vague idea and a strong character evolves, then I sit down to write to see where it goes. So my first drafts are inconsistent, as my characters grow and change, and I find out stuff about them. I enjoyed the Bell book enormously, but it was better at highlighting what was wrong with 'Silent Obsession' (previous novel) rather than helping me fix it. So, I just need to keep plugging away. Having read the Bell book, though, I'm more aware of structure as I go though. I do have a three act story, well, stories really, interlaced. But I'm still enjoying the process! New sample, from Chapter 6, for anyone who's interested.

Emma sat back, looking up, squinting into the May sunshine. She looked younger against the soft greens of the field and the cornflower blue sky, with a man’s shirt over old trousers. ‘Nearly finished.’ Lily smiled at the economy of Emma’s communications, and as she turned to go around to the porch, she was surprised by a spontaneous comment. ‘I got your letter.’
Lily stopped. ‘I hoped you did. What did you think?’
‘Can you find out more about the Chancels? I mean, going back? The internet and all that.’
‘I can. I think so, anyway.’
‘I got a load of old pictures, medals, that kind of thing. I’ll finish the garden and I’ll come in and show you.’
‘Thank you.’ Lily smiled, turning to look over the field, the lambs half the size of their mothers now. Her belly was bigger now, pushing her centre of gravity forward, forcing her into flat shoes and stretchy fabrics. Two months and she would have to confront the stranger who had hitched a lift. The pregnancy seemed alien at home, the house packed up to sell it, half their stuff in storage. It all seemed part of the change from the bloodstained past to the unknown, exotic future.
The room was more familiar than the echoing, impersonal shell of the house in Kent. The mantelpiece of the iron fireplace had an ornate picture frame on, a severe looking older woman with an impossibly tiny waist seated with a child leaning against her. She didn’t remember seeing it before, and picked it up to examine it more closely. The child had a mass of light sepia curls, probably the same tawny colour as her own, and the eyes were arresting, vivid, light eyes, staring straight at Lily. She would recognise those eyes anywhere, they were Grace’s eyes, the same arrogance, confidence in her own worth. She was more heavily built, the jaw had the strong squareness that Emma had, but the eyes sent shivers down her back, even in the bright warmth of the tall windows.
She turned at Emma’s footfall. ‘Who is this?’
‘I thought you might like to have that. My mother said that was Sukie Delaney, Marcus Delaney’s youngest child. My great grandfather’s daughter.’
Lily stroked the cold glass of the frame. ‘And my great grandfather’s sister.’ She put it back, leaning over her bags. ‘Look.’ Packed, as usual, on top of her clothes was the photograph album she took everywhere. ‘This was my daughter Grace. My daughter who died.’
Emma took the album reluctantly, touching it her fingertips. She bent over to examine it more closely. ‘The eyes, they’s the same.’
Lily sat heavily on the bed, smiling. ‘I was surprised. I mean, you expect your children to look like your parents, maybe, but not distant ancestors, that’s a bit – strange.’
Emma put the album down carefully as if she would break it. ‘Come with me.’
She led the way to the stairs at the end of the landing, tighter turns, narrower, probably servant’s stairs, thought Lily. Bypassing the first landing, she trod carefully up uncarpeted steps. She pushed open the farthest door, and Lily followed her in, overwhelmed.
The room had two small dormer windows, painted shut, one showing drip marks where the glass was cracked across the corner. The plaster was crumbling on the low walls, the horsehair struggling to keep it together. The bare boards smelled of mildewed carpet and the bare pine planks, but it was the stacked up furniture that caught Lily’s attention. Emma had clearly pulled out one chest earlier, dark marks in the carpet of dust. She opened the top drawer and pulled out an album, a second, a wooden box, more albums, old packets of photographs. Another drawer yielded more books, some newish, some leather bound. ‘Here, you carry the small ones.’ Emma pulled some albums into her waiting arms, and balanced the rest on the box, hefting it with a little effort. ‘You be careful on them stairs.’
‘Where are we going?’ Lily carefully manoeuvred down the plain stairs and onto the first landing.
‘Door on the left will do.’
Lily freed a hand from the albums and slowly turned the tarnished door knob, cold and oval in her hand. The room was a sitting room, not big, the windows less dramatic than Lily’s, and the ceiling much lower, but it was a lovely room. The wallpaper was old, originally probably blue and white flowers, but fading and yellowing, mellowing into a pastel blur. One wall was almost taken up with a vast desk, probably oak, Lily thought, with a brass telescope overlooking the sea.

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