For writers of historical fiction in particular, years may pass when you are oblivious to weather and seasons, filling your days with toil, sweating and straining in search of the möt juste. First the research, faithfully transcribed onto cards or computer discs, then the tentative putting of pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
Gradually but oh so slowly the pace picks up and you ense a revving of your engine, rather like formula one drivers on the starting grid, and having completed the first chapter, you are raring to go (again like formula one drivers on the starting grid) quickly accelerating into a swifter pace. Before you know it, like a fox hunt, the blood is up and you find yourself staying up beyond your bed time, waking in the night and reaching for a notepad, exultant as the chapters fall beneath your pen, each day exceeding the prescribed number of words. Then a blip occurs! Horror upon horror, words are stalled, stationary, your mind fixated, pleading with words to fall down like autumn leaves. You stare at walls, or seek out consolation in the form of coffee, chocolate, wine or gin … your choice.
A good night’s sleep, a bad night’s sleep, and away you go again. Finally, you reach that metaphorical (or in my case very real) hill from where in the distance the finish line is now visible. Taking a deep breath, with the liberal use of spur and whip you make a dash and reach out for those magical words … the end.
But is it?
Days, if anything, are even busier, and once again the many tomes you borrowed from the research library are strewn across the room so as to check your facts, conscious that your work will soon become public property, and the target of the eagle-eyed history buffs. Worse than being burned at the stake is the idea that you might have got something wrong, for a slip in your eyes is not seen as such by the ardent reader of historical fiction. For them it is a heinous crime, on a parr with treason, and definitely capable of destroying your credibility as a narrator of facts. Sweat pours from your forehead before the damn spot is found. Hastily corrected, you pass on with a sigh of relief. Only a mirage, nothing to worry about.
Still it is not finished.
Both sense and sensibility must be checked, so must English versus US terminology and spelling. Commas and full stops, paragraphs and punctuation – all must pass muster.
And so the race goes on – never slowing – round and round. ‘What is a Caucus race?’ said Alice.
Finally – the day arrives and you gaze at the list on the computer of jobs to be done and all, every single one, carries a tick.
But can you stop? Can you now let it go and walk outside, breathing deeply.
No, not quite yet, for the chains that bind this novel are strong, and as you try to go cold turkey, the bonds cut deeply.
Take it slow, one day, perhaps more, but the day will come when the links separate and you can say, ‘My job is done. My novel is free to sail where it will.’
And find yourself totally at a loss for something to do.
After all, how can housework or gardening possibly compare with the majesty of creation?
A great wave of inertia sweeps you off your feet, as you realise that you are entering the matrix for writers - the lay-off period between books.This is quickly followed by the doldrums which calm common sense fails to quash. Even the holiday you have promised yourself as a reward for all those months of hard work is a let-down, at worst an irritation. Because now you are desperate to get back home to mitigate your punishment and read the first reviews.
Fine, all is fine. Maybe this time, I can relax and enjoy life again.
How wonderful to take each day as it comes.
After all, I don't have to write. It's my choice. It's not a jail sentence with hard labour.
What is this. Are those doubts I see edging over the horizon? And what are those midde-of-the-night doubts saying? ‘What happens if this is my last book and I can’t find anything new to write about?’ ‘ What if …’ horror upon horror, ‘I find I can no longer write?’
Eventually, after counting numerous sheep, and dallying with a cup of milk and a biscuit, you drift off to sleep only to enter into the world of dreams in which you discover you can no longer cut the mustard.
Like a stubbed toe, that thought refuses to abate. It nags and nags. Even when doing housework or taking the dog for a walk, or reading someone else’s best seller, it won’t leave you alone. Escape is impossible. Furtively you pick up a pen trying a sentence for size, and new words for practice.
Then arrives that magical day when you stumble on a name or an event and a frisson of excitement to learn more sweeps over you. Out comes the notepad (tablet or keyboard) and you write a half page. But not any ordinary half-page, a decent half-page, worthy of being in a book.
Conscious that you are once again on the cusp of entering that holy of holies, the writing place that means more to you than anything on earth, you glance guiltily at your husband, partner, dog! aware for however long the book takes to write, they will be playing second fiddle to the magic you hold in your hand.