Friday, 1 May 2015

A Wilderness of Sin - part 3, except when it's not: on writing series-es

A Wilderness of Sin

Late last year, I had a long conversation with a dear friend about this book - about promoting it, and what to do with it, and what was going on with the plot, and all that kind of doings. And my friend - let's call him Sergeant Cullis, because in my head Cullis has always been very much based on that friend - he was very keen, he gave me lots of ideas at a time when I was somewhat knee-deep in plot device. 
"Wilderness" is Cullis's book, gentle reader, and he died a month ago. He did know that at least one of the Uncivil Wars series was dedicated to him, he was very pleased because he'd never had his name on a book before. (How little it takes to make someone happy. What did that little bit of recognition cost me, and what a great deal it meant to him. There's a lesson.)

Anyway, I wanted to have it done before he died, and I didn't quite manage it.

Now I know in my head what was going on in those intervening years, between the end of "Command the Raven" at the end of 1643, and "Wilderness..." in June 1645. I know that there was a battle at Marston Moor in 1644, and that there had been some months previous of careering about the North of England not being very diplomatic with the lady of Lathom House, which turned into a rather horrible something at Bolton. I know that the New Model Army was formally created in 1645 and that things suddenly became very different for a somewhat rag-tag army who were suddenly ruled, regimented, and disciplined. And that there was a battle at Naseby after which everything changed, which was shocking and brutal even by the Articles of War of the time, and which even I, Fairfax-o-phile that I am, can't get my head round. I know the new Army was already starting to get definitely hacked off with its leaders and their broken promises, and that Rosie Babbitt, who's been on the itchy side of insurrectionist since the first, is taking his usual pragmatic stance of to hell with the politics and look after the people. None of this is in any way a spoiler.... as the fictional Cullis has said before, Rosie Babbitt could start a fight in an empty room when the mood's on him, and the factual history is documented.

But it made me think about series-es (serii?) and what they are and how they work. My first intent was to begin at the beginning and work chronologically through the wars. Start in 1642, go on to 1643.... back to 1642 to write a novella about Edgehill.... start 1644, get sidetracked, go on to June 1645 with the intention of going right through to the Royalist surrender at Cornwall in March 1646, realise that's just too much for the one book, stop at winter quarters 1645 and give everybody a chance for a breather.... go back to the Thirty Years' War for a bit of light relief...

(and then start writing a biography of Thomas Rainsborough, but that's by the by.)

I do not have a lateral mind. I'm writing "Babylon" - the North of England, 1644 book - at the moment and the history is lurking there in the background, like a dinosaur skeleton, while the story is bouncing about all over the place. Lucey's got a moral dilemma which will be long resolved by "Wilderness" but which is a very real problem to him in 1644. Russell in 1643, when he first appears, is a prissy minor officer with an attitude problem. By 1644 he's gone off the rails altogether - and, if you're wondering, I'm sure that Russell, and to a lesser degree Babbitt, would be diagnosed with PTSD if they were around today - and by 1645 he's back, hanging on to sanity by the skin of his teeth.  I've got two half-mad, damaged, shaky lapsed Puritans with mental health issues. Rosie Babbitt's holding, but fragile. Thankful Russell hasn't found anything to hold to yet. Rosie by 1645 is - to continue with the mending metaphor, his good lady being the mending-est lady in Essex - pieced together, but the glue's still wet: Russell's still in bits. To go back to an earlier time, Rosie has to be broken again, and I have to un-do all the work that went into making him as sane as he gets. And I have to remember that the Rosie Babbitt of 1645, who is quite robust, all things considered, is not the Rosie of 18 months previous: will react differently, is less inclined towards moderation, is still erratic and self-destructive and perfectly likely to go off half-cocked and take his troop with him.

Lucey took his boots off as a boy at Edgehill, and put them back on as a man. (Despite still being known as Lucey. Sorry, brat.) I've got to remember that the maturity he has by 1645 - the purpose, the sense of direction, the slight improvement in the poetry - he does not have by Marston Moor. He's still going to be a muddle-headed romantic for a good couple of years yet. I don't want Luce to be hurt, because he's such a lollopy darling, like a labrador puppy, and yet he's had such a charmed life, he is in so many ways such an innocent, despite knocking about with Rosie: you just know that at some point the wheels must come off and reality is going to come rushing in to Pettitt-land. And what that will make him, he has not yet become. He has not yet had to tie a knot on his vows, and make them new again.

And how many times can the Devil fart in Thankful Russell's face? I want to make things better for Hapless.... and yet I know I can't. It's my book, and if I wanted to wave a magic wand and make him whole and happy of course I could, but that's his journey, really. He has never been a happy boy and I can either just magic him inner peace, which would be satisfying and completely unbelievable, or he's just going to have to fight for it like every other bugger does. 

I don't want to make the series into Another Historical Fiction Series Of My Acquaintance, a series of connected standalone incidents where our hero comes through unscathed from end to end and comes out like the Perils of Pauline, smelling of roses. (I think we have established that Rosie smells of horse, sweat and black powder, so we need waste no more time on snuffing his armpits. Seriously. It makes Het very nervous.) My lads start in 1642 at a place, politically, personally, and geographically. They're not all going to make it to 1649, and those that do, will not be the same lads as they started out. They change. (Grow? Only round the middle - Captain Venning.) I don't want them to have any Damascene moments - they're real lads, they might start out with good intentions, but they cock up, they forget. Change is imposed upon them and they resist.  They set their teeth and hang on, day to day - not got time, or, by 1645, the will, for any grandiose vision. And so back and forth, back and forth, like the stars' tennis balls in Webster, struck and bandied which way please them - and they don't know where they're headed, although I do, but I can only steer, I can't compel. Not with that lot. Rebels to the core. I know that - you can see in 1645 the cracks starting to appear as this lot decide to stop toeing the party line, and to start asking pointy questions. But they might have been a bit disorganised before that - but not political, and not subversive. Not then. Not till later. 
But then, as Rosie points out to Hapless Russell after the lieutenant's first real battle, you can't do it. Can't go round crying for the moon. You are where you are, lad. You can't go back. Or rather, in my case, you can go back, but you can't un-know what you know, and you just have to hope it doesn't show in the meantime to them as doesn't know it yet. And that, I reckon, is the skill of it - like poker. Which is not my game. 
But. Wilderness. It's Tiny's book, and wherever he is, I hope he likes it. He was a cracking Redcoat - but I reckon he makes a pretty good Ironside, too.


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Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists

Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists