Mid June - Over 55,000 words. Going through the half way blues, and I need a good blues song writer to compose a tune. Last week I wrote approximately nine and half thousand words, a record for that time period. It left me drained. I feel like I am plateauing and I fear the book might be levelling out too. But then life sometimes goes flat and this book is meant to reflect and symbolise many things in life. Half way…is that a glass half full or half empty? I am hovering within a half full and a half empty book. On the empty side I can see a long ream of blank pages stretched out before me. On the full side I can look back and see a first ever achievement and a very interesting journey.
Thursday, 14 June 2012
Having mentioned the political tone of the novel I also have to marvel at the beauty of the country it is set in, the toughness of its people and their desire to protect and maintain their culture, plus the fact that it is so very old. They possess and practise ceremonies, traditions and beliefs that their ancestors did over two and a half thousand years ago! Their artistic expression of this is colourful and enthusiastic, and also reflective of a strong sense of who they are and who they have been for all that time. The most I know about my ancestors was that they farmed somewhere in Britain and my first ancestor in this country was a convict accused of stealing fourteen sheep! I consider this a fairly interesting background but it pales into insignificance in comparison to that of Hamma and Showgar.
Another realisation I’ve come to is that I am privileged to live in a country where human rights and freedoms are mediated under a constitution based on battles fought and won a long time ago and enshrined in the Westminster system of government. It’s made me aware of the fact that other countries are still dealing with the struggle to achieve self-government, justice and peace for their people and their lands. Hamma’s work is integral to this and he has decided to devote his personal resources and time to the cause.
Part way through this process I realise that it has already given me a reward. If it weren’t for a common interest in a little known queen of antiquity my co-author and I would never have become acquainted or developed the story of her life. I am greatly indebted to Hamma’s persistent, comprehensive research and intelligent input into the topic. He has been ably supported by his wife Showgar. They have imparted a sense of the present plight of their people and their past struggles. Also they are the first people I have met on the internet, which is an entirely new experience!
The unusually preoccupying focus I have on this work is a brain changer. I race through everyday tasks, reluctantly go off to my day job and forget about details like making a phone call, taking the shopping list, and what we are going to have for dinner. Now Hamma has asked me to help him with another project and I am considering doing two at once, which might not be wise. However, I cannot resist the opportunity to learn more about this people and their culture and history that is so different from my comparatively mundane and relatively limited life experience. The demands of this extra challenge might cause more erratic behaviours (creative people are usually excused from these!) but the fun will be worth it.
Have I been inspired by this process? Absolutely yes! When Hamma writes, the sense of who he is and what his nation is and has been oozes out of the coaxial cables, satellites (don’t blame any malfunctions on his fervour!) and whatever else carries emails across land and sea. Then it spills into my computer and I get an immediate sense of a very old, rich culture that is still living. This is an amazing experience. And I know there are lots more to come, I estimate we are not half way through this work yet.
Now I have another fear, that having not written for a few days I’ll lose the plot and the close relationship and understanding I have had with our characters. What if they disappear and can’t be found? Then I think about what the characters would have done. Would he have run from the battle? Would she have given up her beliefs to keep her powerful position? I must proceed bravely and resolutely as they would have. But such are the anxieties of a beginning and maybe even a more experienced writer.
It is good to have our key characters with me when I am doing mundane tasks like driving or cleaning. They brighten my day and can astound me with the life possibilities they suggest. My deepest, darkest fears are that I am losing myself in these characters and their culture or that they are taking me over, or most fearfully impinging on my identity. Or worse still… you will have to read the book to find out the other ways these characters might have affected the writers who have eagerly resurrected and re-constructed the story of their lives. I hasten to add that for the most part, I believe that their influence has been positive, with the exception of the villains of course!
On the other hand the characters’ lives are exposed without their knowledge or permission. What they thought and did is being interpreted and recorded whether they would have liked it or not. I sincerely hope that if they were able to watch this process, and understand what we are trying to do, they would approve, realising that the opponents of the cause will never be convinced!
Writing an historical fiction means both true and concocted material is used. The beauty of making stuff up is that you control it, the book takes the shape you want it to for your purposes. I have to say that the purposes of our book are not merely self -motivated, they are other- motivated for many different reasons. They will be revealed when you, the potential reader finally satisfies your curiosity by reading the novel. I might be biased but I do not think you will be disappointed at what you will learn and experience.
Now I am in a mini-testing time, I have to put aside my beloved work to go to my ‘day job’ and spend time with my family. It is a guilty person who writes ‘have to’ in regard to their most loved family, and a mildly psychologically dependent person who experiences withdrawals of boredom and sadness if they can’t get their daily writing ‘fix’. There is no substitute for it, material composed in my head is forgotten, and indulging in reference books on the subject increases the longing to be back in the book with my characters.
I recently heard a talk by a professor of journalism whose theme was, ‘Giving up your dream’. He was speaking to artists and composers including musicians, film makers and writers. He described how a magazine that he started, one of his life’s goals, failed. In giving up his dream he realised that he had learned a lesson, that he could survive losing something material or intrinsically creative that he held very dear. It taught him that nothing must come between him and his faith in One God.
The writing of this book has commenced the realisation of a dream, held consciously and subconsciously for over forty years. It has become a passion but it cannot surpass the anchor that is my faith in an all-powerful and all -saving God. I just have to stop and take a breath sometimes remembering that this project, if successful, will someday be forgotten, although I do not believe the messages in it will because they are forever. After any fanfare that might happen God will still be there turning the wheels of the Universe.
With fears of becoming obsessed I struggle with a sense of emptiness and meaningless when I’m not writing, but then this is the next best thing – writing about the book! I wake at night wondering what the key character will do next and what it was really like for her to be living at that time. What did she think about the future, its unknowns and insecurities? How did she manage to make her way through all of this? What sustained her and what motivated her? From whom and where did she learn her biggest life’s lessons? How did she cope with her deepest sorrows and what did she do with her gifts, talents and privileges? How did she share her joys?
Wednesday, 13 June 2012
Mid May 2012. Over 30,000 words into the book now, I’ve been writing consistently since early April, six weeks. The commencement date on our contract is 1st April, my mother’s birthday, the completion date is two years from then. It seems like only a few days, such is the fun that I’ve had working with our characters and the story of their lives in an ancient but little known empire. It has had extreme highs when Hamma, (the co-author and native expert in this culture and its history) has emailed some info describing a battle, the countryside or a wedding. Then working on a series of events or an idea I want to get across until it is completed, I find that the hours slip by and the sun moves through its elliptical path across the sky. When I have worked for five or six hours, I have to go out into the garden to try to rest my mind which wants to stay back in those times long past.
Tuesday, 12 June 2012
In the following weeks we struggle with the second chapter doing several re-writes, I’m trying to capture and represent that ancient civilisation about which I know so little. Then suddenly the characters burst into life and they are off and running, with me trying to catch them at times. Meanwhile I think Hamma can hardly believe what he is reading from a Western woman who's only spent about a week in the Middle East.
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
Early April 2012 The key character is introduced in a flash of fantastic luxury and trauma amidst historical truth. Her character jumps into the story and then her culture is built, or rather resurrected. During this process Hamma is emailing information about another civilisation in a long gone era. How can these buried characters be resurrected? What do they have to say to us today? They start off like children, unsure of themselves and then they settle into their lives within the book, and start to grow. They are like young plants emerging from the soil of ancient texts and living oral tradition. And I have the breath taking privilege of placing their lives on a screen and a computer chip, which will later be translated to more of the same and paper and print.