Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Not Slog

I said in last week's post that the first draft of a history book is a slog, researching the facts and putting them together. Thinking about it, that's not really true. After all, no one is forcing me to do this. Actually, I love it.

But it is very different to my other writing. When I'm writing a poem, I'm inspired by some phrase or a thought I want to express. When I'm working on my scifi novel Flight of the Kestrel, I'm bringing my characters to life and weaving the different threads of the story. I even think editing, though very different, is creative.

jigsaw puzzleI described my history book as a jigsaw puzzle. Plenty of people enjoy jigsaw puzzles, though they can be frustrating. As someone with no background in history, research can be both a joy and a frustration. I don't have any expertise to draw on, which is frustrating. The history specialists at the library are a great help, and so is Wikipedia. No - don't scoff. When you don't know anything, it's a good place to start. It gives you some basic facts that you can then check out elsewhere. A good article will cite sources, but even without, you at least get an idea what questions to ask as you continue to search.

But there is one great advantage to being a novice. If I find a story fascinating, it's quite likely that others will too. I put into my book the things I've found out which grabbed my attention, and present them for the enjoyment of others. I think that's a pretty good basis for popular local history. It worked with my first book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth (see right), and I don't see any reason why it won't work again.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Book Progress Thanks to the Snow!

Robin Williams' character in The Dead Poets Society film said 'Carpe Diem - seize the day'. So when I was snowed in at the weekend, I took the opportunity to get stuck into my writing. I'm pleased to report that I got loads done.

Writing a history book is not like writing fiction. With fiction it all comes out of your head and as long as the ideas keep coming, you can keep writing. You may have to do some research to get your facts right, but mostly you can just write and tidy it up later. I can't do that.

I did write the bare story as I remembered it from my earlier research, to use as an outline. But the first draft is more like doing a jigsaw puzzle than writing. I'm constantly reading as many books and online resources as I can and piecing together little snippets of interesting information to fill out the basic story. I try to do it in a linear way, working my way through the events, but I'm always finding something that refers to an earlier point that's worth putting in.

Then there's the endnotes. I made the mistake in my first book of not referencing my facts, which was picked up by the academics of the Historical Association who beta read for me. Going back through and putting the endnotes in was a nightmare, so I'm making sure to attribute everything as I write. But it does slow down the writing process.

So actually, I don't feel very creative when I'm writing the first draft. It's just slog, finding all the facts and sifting all the opinions. I try to write it all down in an easy-to-read style, but the real storytelling comes once all the facts are there. Another reason why I was glad to get so much done on the snow days!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Fame at Last (not mine, de Breos)!

Ever since I started my first book about the de Breos Lords of Gower in medieval times, I have been saying that they were left out of the history books. Well, they finally appear! Not for long, but I found them.

There was a de Breos (or Braose, as it was then) involved in every major event in English history for 300 years after the Norman Conquest. My first book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, tells the story of the toppling of Edward II from the throne - by a rebellion that started in Swansea Castle in Gower, South Wales. When I first discovered the story I was amazed that it was hardly spoken of. I had to piece together the story of Alina's father and husband, and the remarkable events, from dozens of sources.

Now I am writing a second book, set a hundred years earlier, about the lords of Gower and King John, once again combing the history books for every little mention of the de Breoses. Then all of a sudden, there he was. William de Breos, 4th Lord of Bramber and 1st Lord of Gower. Favourite of King John, raised to great power and prestige, and then turned on and not just demoted - destroyed.

It turns out that his fate had a lot to do with the rebellion of the barons which led to Magna Carta. Unfortunately, in my first book, Alina's father and husband lost their lives, and in this book, William doesn't survive either. But the ramifications are huge.

This is getting really exciting!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

William de Breos, 3rd Lord of Bramber

Well, the new year has kicked in and things are starting to get busy again. Yesterday was so full I completely forgot to post my Writing Wednesday! One of the causes of the busyness is the great progress on my research for the new book.

I am researching and writing a chapter on William, 3rd Lord of Bramber, and have stumbled on a whole dissertation on him, kindly posted online. I've put it on my Kindle so I can read it anywhere. I have the main facts already, but it is always helpful to get another perspective and maybe a few extra details to make the story more interesting.

It seems that this William (there were so many Williams!) was the most powerful and influential of all the de Breoses, and fell the hardest and farthest. He brought all his inherited lands, gained more himself, and received even more because of his closeness to King John. But he got cocky, and John slapped him down with particular viciousness.

He died broke and broken, in Paris, and his family also paid a great price. His wife and eldest son were locked in a dungeon in Windsor Castle by King John and starved to death, and his grandsons were also imprisoned and not released until after John's death.

This book is getting more interesting by the day!