"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Monday, July 14, 2008

Slow, Normal, Fast Forward

Monday mornings on the Big Lake, even grey ones like this, are special. And definitely lived at slow speed. Nobody much is around. Not even the Chap--he's at the Lodge today. Whole chunks of an hour can pass without the sight of a boat on the water. When walking the girls, I didn't meet a soul...not a walker, not any dogs, and only one vehicle (from a local marina, meaning some neighbour of ours is having boat trouble.)

I strolled yesterday but it wasn't much different than the past few strolls. Trees and woodland plants and lots and lots of fungi. Besides, I'm doing some work with the dogs when I walk them nowadays and it's not conducive to camera work also.

In recent days I faced--and solved--a little challenge with the timeline of my book, which covers an extended time period compared to others I've written. In some years my characters experience more plot (life events) than in other years. Outlining it is like running a video or audio tape--for a while it's on normal playback, then fast forward, then slow, then play.

Last week I decided I had to slow down a section I thought I could fast forward through. If that makes any sense. (It does to me.)

Anyway, in order to tie things together, I suddenly find I must set a particular chapter in France, at the court of King Louis XIV, at Versailles. And can incorporate a specific, well-documented court celebration featuring an equestrian spectacle.

Not a problem.

Actually, a pleasure.

I've studied late 17th century France. I've roamed all over Versailles.

Most useful of all, in Brussels I actually observed a carrousel, and I took a lot of photographs and wrote about it in my travel diary and collected some background information about the production. Sometimes it seems like no life experience is ever wasted, when you're a writer.

I've found some illustrations of similar events and located a book that has pictures of the actual event and there are some recordings of its music. But most of the first-hand primary source accounts of the carrousel, which featured both male and female riders, and the usual elaborate costumes and decorations, were written in French. I can still read the language well enough to translate them, but it's going to be laborious. There are French speakers in my family, and even a professional translator/editor. Tempted as I am to send out a plea for help, no doubt I shall stubbornly plow ahead. I haven't yet looked to see if there's a French dictionary here. If not, I should be able to make some progress before returning to the Lodge, where I've got plenty.

Not only must I translate French, I've got to educate myself about the dreaded smallpox, its physical symptoms and the 17th century treatments. I was going to need the smallpox information eventually, for a later chapter, but that work will get done now. Spoiler alert! One patient doesn't die, meaning it's a "mild" case, or the doctoring was exceptional (or both). One patient dies. (I don't know if this technically counts as a spoiler, it's in the history books!)

I spent most of yesterday outlining the chapter and organising the French reference materials. Now I'm working on smallpox. Then I've got to finish writing the current chapter so I can get started on the France chapter.

My little detour into 17th century French equestrian spectacle just goes to show how one can spend years--seriously, years--researching and planning a novel. And even then, things come up that you don't expect.

Au revoir!

P.S. As it's Bastille Day, my present obsession with France and things French seems perfectly appropriate. Rather, I should say, à propos.

No comments: