Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s . . .
When I began writing the fan-fiction The Sheriff’s Collector, it was all a bit of fun. It meant nothing, it was just a tale of a tale and had no plot, no real characters that I empathised with, no setting, nothing that means anything to a writer taking their craft seriously.
I just wrote it because it was enjoyable and without stricture. As I mention on The Sheriff’s page, like flinging bucketfuls of paint at a canvas when one has been a miniaturist.
So when did it change?
At what point did Guy and Ysabel become viable?
When did a plot start building in my mind?
I’m not really sure. It may have been the chapter when Prue/Ysabel flees to the Abbey and is in the Lady Chapel protected by the other nuns and the Mother Superior. It was when Guy caught a glance through the screen and ‘the church stopped breathing.’ Whatever the case, I’m still writing in the form of flash-fiction . . . I have a plot in my head, but I’m not paying strict attention. I’m letting it go where it wants. Free-wheeling. This is only a very rough first draft after all.
But as I’ve said before, it’s a relief to write like this. When writing a novel, there are many rules that can’t be broken. So many. Most of us write a first draft with those rules in mind but it is essentially a sketch. We flesh it out further with each draft, until it becomes a major painting . . . with detail, shadow and light, depth and dimension. Editing puts it on the wall, frames it.
When I look back on the manuscript of The Sheriff, apart from the obvious continuity, linguistic and grammatical problems, the thing that stands out is how important research is in historical fiction. Most of The Sheriff is written off the top of my head. I studied the Middle Ages at University forty years ago (oh ye Gods! That I don’t want to know.) and my memory holds, at best, ‘trivia’.
I need to learn so much more about the Plantagenets. About the life of a religieuse. About literature: it would have been impossible for Guy to know of the Mabinogi because that was revealed much later in history, although he could have known Welsh and Irish stories from travelling bards. In addition Chrètien de Troyes’ work appears not to have been fashionable till after Eleanore of Aquitaine died.
I need to learn about Crusade weaponry, about the Crusades themselves, about injuries and medicine. About seige warfare. How much of Le Mans was burned by Henry? I need to know about robber-barons, about knighthood and about succession and land ownership in the nobility.
And as I write a simple little first draft tale, I realise how much I admire historical fiction writers. How much they teach me as they wrap knowledge in tales that would make the bards of old proud. One day, when I am ready, I will research my story. And write it properly.
Until then, it must remain a first draft and a simple pencil sketch.