Monday, September 20, 2010

Writers and research

I do a lot of research. I don't think I do it very well. I never do it in the right order. And then I rarely keep it organised. (Bad writer! Bad! No cookie!)

Latest example: I've been writing my novel about Hild of Whitby for a while, now. I have more than 650 pages of the first draft of volume one. At this point, Hild has been in York several times. I've never bothered to really imagine the city (or fort, or ruin, depending on one's perspective). Oh, I've visualised, very clearly, specific parts of it: the undercroft of the principia, the basilica/main hall of same, the path, south of the walls (well, south of one set of walls) by the Ouse. But now, finally, I've been forced to sit down and picture the whole. And, damn, what a pain in the arse. I spent the entire afternoon scrolling through (sometimes unfolding) maps, squinting at schematics, blog posts (amateur and academic), photographs, eighteenth century diary entries etc. They all come at the problem/city from slightly different angles. They all enrich the view very slightly; they add a wash, a smidge of depth and texture.

So: hours and hours and hours of work, now reduced to a single sheet of paper detailing Roman walls (of the fort and of the civilian settlement) and the bridges and roads. And then what bits would have fallen down by Hild's time, what abandoned, what under repair--and with what kind of stone laid in what arrangement, hindered by what climate conditions. Where the docks might have been. Good spots to grow things (taking into account drainage, aspect, access). All so that I will know how if feels to be Hild on that moment on Easter Sunday, April 12th, 627, when she stands on Roman cobbles under a newly-sawn Anglo-Saxon roof, and is baptised.

Now I just have to write the scene...

I spent all day working on it (and I haven't even got to the vestments, or the music). I doubt it'll run more than 400 words. Four. Hundred. Words.

One day, I'll be able to afford to pay an expert to do some of this. But, eh, maybe not. I wouldn't want to deny myself the pleasure of productive frustration. Meanwhile, thank god for Wikipedia.

But, y'know, I'm not complaining. Really. I love my job. Love it.

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