I started work on the new book this week, a historical fantasy set in 1847 Belfast during the Irish Famine. I’ve had the idea for some time now but have spent the last month or so researching the period. These are the hard yards where you might spend a week’s research for the sake of getting one paragraph right in the book. Despite there being some leeway when writing fantasy, I want key historical aspects of the book to be as accurate as possible.
It’s a bit like a swan sailing serenely across a placid lake. It looks effortless but, beneath the surface, the swan is paddling furiously to sustain its momentum. Historical fiction is a bit like that, the attention to detail can necessitate an inordinate amount of spadework beforehand. This can relate to surroundings, clothing, food, and language. I first dabbled with it when writing ‘Skelly’s Square,’ the first book in my ‘Kirkwood Scott’ series.
Thankfully, nobody has come back so far to say ‘You got that bit horribly wrong, Stephen.’ I’m hoping I’ve passed the test in respect of both ‘Skelly’s Square,’ and its sequel ‘A New Jerusalem.’ The latter book contains some historical scenes but is largely set in futuristic Belfast which allowed me to unleash my imagination to full effect. Whilst the first book in the series has more 5 star reviews, as a writer I’m prouder of ‘A New Jerusalem.’
The research phase will continue throughout the duration of the writing process. It allows me to add layers to the story and details in later drafts that strengthen the accuracy of the context. My only problem is that every time I finish one book, it invariably signposts me to another half dozen on the topic. It’s crucial not to get too bogged down in research as it can distract from the most important issue – the story itself.
I’m trying to average 1000 words a day with the aim of finishing the book within 3-4 months. I believe that to be a challenging, but realistic, target. I’ve been incredibly busy with work lately but have almost four weeks off at Christmas where I hope to get caught up on my word count. So far, I’m on schedule having passed the 5000 word mark yesterday. It’s rough and ready but that’s what getting the first draft down is all about. I’m hoping it’s a rough diamond.
I tend to write creatively in 3-4 month bursts. I finished the third book in the ‘Kirkwood Scott’ series earlier this year and have written a couple of short stories in the intervening period. They have kept me ticking over and I’ve been delighted that both were subsequently selected for publishing. It’s always good to get a ‘yes’ e-mail from a publisher. I’ve had so many rejections these last few years.
I’m going to use this blog to post regular writing updates to show those that are interested what is going on ‘behind the scenes’ in the creation of a novel. Hopefully one day I will be blogging about the publication of this one which has the working title of ‘The Famine Witch.’ But, for now, it’s time to get back to the chapter I’m working on. Momentum is hard won but easily lost. Now is not the time to take the foot off the pedal.