I’m enjoying myself. I’m having a go at something completely different. I’m researching an idea for an historical novel.
I’m not telling you what it is, because it’s a great idea (or at least, I think it is!), but I’m surrounded by reference books and I’m having a ball. It’s giving me sanction to read – because after all, it’s research. There’s something in my Calvinist nature that makes me drive myself quite hard, so allowing myself the luxury of spending an entire afternoon turning the pages of a novel, no matter how good, is rare. (For all disappointed fellow novelists reading this, I listen to a great many audio books and if I like them enough, I buy them in paperback also).
My novel will be set in 18th/19th century Edinburgh. It’s a great period – the
Scottish Enlightenment, the time of Adam Smith and Dugald Stewart, of David Hume and James Hutton, of Robert Burns and Walter Scott. It was a time that Scotland was ahead of the game, amazingly so, when ideas flowed and talent abounded and men of vision found an eager audience for their ideas. I have reread the statement produced by the Edinburgh Council of the time, setting out their vision for ‘a New Town of Edinburgh’ – and it’s the most extraordinary, inspiring document. If only today’s local Councils were half as inspiring!
Will my idea work as a novel? I have no idea, yet. I’m having to learn so much – I can’t just describe a room, or what someone’s wearing, I need to check out the facts. Did they have this kind of wallpaper, that kind of undergarment, those carriages? How did they speak? What were women allowed to do? How did society operate? I know this is meat and drink to many writers (including a lot of my friends), but it’s new to me. Part of me is terrified I’ll get it all wrong, another part is
thrilled by the challenge.
In September, I’ll be attending the HNS conference in Oxford, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m delighted to find that many of my RNA friends will be there, so I won’t feel strange. I’m hoping to learn a great deal, and perhaps by then I’ll have a long list of questions I can bounce off my more experienced friends. But that’s a great thing about being a writer today – there are so many forums for discussion, so many support groups, and the power of the internet to lead you in all sorts of promising (and distracting) directions.
I’ll let you know how it goes!