In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Monday, 17 March 2014

Hitting the Right Keys

  I've just finished reading "Ruso and the River of Darkness", by Ruth Downie. It's part of a series of books following Ruso, a doctor or Medicus in Roman Britain, as he finds himself investigating various crimes. I haven't read the others, and only picked this up because I went to a talk by the author at the library. But you know, it was rather good. I read it in 3 days and enjoyed it right to the end.

  I think I can guess how much research went into this book. I do the same sort of thing, in that I use ancient cultures in my work, and research takes as much time as writing. You end up following a trail on the internet, tracking links from one page to another until you realise you have 8 windows open and are reading about the mating patterns of Anatolian frogs (which is not information you need, by the way). After a while you'll have sheafs of notes, page after page of them, and you know that only 1 detail in 20 - if that - will make it into the final draft.

  But those little pieces of flavour are what gives a book its feeling, its colour. When I write about a pseudo-Celtic world I need it to feel Celtic, and in the same way Ms Downie needs to make we readers feel immersed in Romano-British culture. Which she does very well indeed. Ruso of course has no forensics, no blood tests or fingerprinting; he has to find his answers by asking a lot of questions, and in doing so he travels through the Britannia of his day and so shows it to us.

  Ms Downie is in the authors' group which meets at Barnstaple Library once a month, as I am. Another member is Rebecca Alexander, author of "The Secrets of Life and Death", which is on my "To Read" list. It's great to have such writers there, it helps me (and I'm sure it helps the group) to spend time talking with people who understand, because they've had the same experiences.

  You know... days when the words won't come, or you're tired and keep writing words like 'wonberful' because you hit the wrong keys. When concentration won't come and you spend your writing time staring absently out of the window.

  Or the days when we realise we're hungry, look at the clock and find it's 2 in the morning and we've been writing for hours (and by some malign rule of inconvenience, usually have work tomorrow). Times when the words spill out all by themselves, pouring onto the page in a flood so rapid we can't check grammar, can't editorialise, we just get it written down and worry about the details later. Days when we check our progress and find we've done 10,000 words in a week, and aren't entirely sure how that happened.

  Other writers understand that because they've done the same things, nearly always. Sometimes I think the best definition of an author is someone who spends a lot of time humming idly while gazing into the middle distance, and sometimes scribbles a bit. But someone like that couldn't possibly manage all the research that we do. There's a perseverance in us as well; we know that writing a book is much more about perspiration than inspiration.

  Contradictory, we writers, aren't we?