Wednesday, December 23, 2009

a Hild update

Perhaps this will surprise no one but I like the novel I'm writing. I've spent a 100,000 words taking Hild through childhood and am now poised to introduce her to young womanhood. Not a moment too soon.

Don't get me wrong. As I've said, I'm enjoying this novel--delighting in it, in fact. But writing that many words about a child has been a challenge. For one thing, there's no sex. I'm not used to parsing a character's world without the electric tightening of sexuality running through it. It's odd. Lots of people around Hild have been having sex--they're human, after all--but she notices this from the perspective of a person who doesn't know, on a visceral level, what that means. And then there's been the difficulty on getting the most basic information: where did they sleep? What did they eat, exactly, and when and with whom? How did they feel about dogs? Naturally, all this complicated by Hild's ever-changing status. She begins as the second child of an Anglisc prince-in-exile in the forest land of the British people of Elmet. Then she's in Deira, at the brand-new court of Edwin, her uncle. Then she's playing rag-tag-and-bobtail with a warband travelling north of Hadrian's Wall. And so on. Every time I work out one set of details, everything changes. I've lost count of the halls, camps, wagons, vills, ruins, settlements, wics (etc.) I've had to invent and then discard after ten pages. Then within each, say, vill, there's the byre, the dairy, the hall, the weaving huts, the smithy, the kitchens, the temple enclosure, the well or spring, the kitchen garden, the new church... And then different people use these places differently: the wealh and the gesith, the women and the men, the nobles and the priests.

However, I've reached the point where Edwin has been king of Northumbria (Deira and Bernicia), and then overking (of the Angles, and possibly some Saxons, and the probably-Jutish Kentishmen), for well over a dozen years. Hild is beginning to return to places I've described before, travel in wagons I've already mentioned, take ship in vessels previously encountered. I can sometimes write as many as fifteen pages before I have to go look something up (and then spend an entire evening getting crosser and crosser trying to reconcile radically divergent scholarly opinion or, worse, stare at nothing, just an empty hole where the data should be).

By now I've mostly worked out how to keep one foot in the not-contravene-what-is-know-to-be-known (particularly regarding gender roles) camp and one foot in the I-can-make-exciting-shit-up! camp while finding a good narrative through-line. I'm happy with my solution to the competition between my need to make Hild extraordinary and to give her agency, and for her to be absolutely representative of her time (and a child, and female).

So now, for a while, I get to play. Now I get to take Hild back to Elmet--the area around present-day Leeds. I was born and bred in Leeds. I love it on a DNA level. Now I get to imagine it fourteen hundred years ago, before cars and roads and train tracks, before power lines and grown-for-product forestry monoculture, before the wolves and the bears were all killed and the cloud systems were never formed by contrails. All that and sex too...

I'm deeply excited.

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