I started working on my second novel, probably last spring (2018) and something unusual happened; I had an entire outline within a few weeks of writing just a couple of chapters. I’ve never outlined a creative writing project in my entire life. Heck, I don’t even generally like outlining more formal writing and have always to a certain extent, envied my friends who seem to know exactly what their stories are about and how they will end. In fact, my biggest fear of writing my first novel was that I would never find my ending!
I don’t write linearly at all. Never have. It is little wonder then that I couldn’t bring myself to sit down day after day and get excited about writing the chapters of that outlined novel. I didn’t experience the insomnia I usually suffer when ideas wake me at the wee hours of the morning as I work out a scene/chapter or solve a plot issue. I reasoned that there was no rush to write because I wasn’t facing the possibility of losing my momentum, I mean after all, I had the entire thing plotted out.
It was a solid story, in fact. Three perfectly flawed romantic attachments for my heroine. An estranged parent-daughter relationship. Lots of buried, dark, family secrets. Ghosts. Dead people who were in fact not dead after all. It’s actually all quite good. But I just didn’t feel like writing that story. As my writing mentor would have said, “There’s no sense of urgency” and if there’s no sense of urgency then there really isn’t a story that needs to be told then, is there? At least not yet.
In December, I finally decided to purchase myself an ancestry membership and really delve into my Irish/Scottish ancestry. Within days I had gone back several generations and confirmed family members my mother had remembered from her childhood but couldn’t recall in detail. I discovered that my great-grandmother (Sadie) worked in a fine china factory in Brooklyn while she was a teenager. That my Scottish great-great grandfather worked in saloon or a brothel (as my husband keeps telling me). Guys my great-great granddad was probably a bad-ass! That further along the branch, my great-great-grand-parents (Irish-side) died the same year with two of their young children (unconfirmed but details point to this). While I have little to go by, I believe it likely they died from Yellow Fever which was an epidemic in Brooklyn in 1860, the year they all perished. That my direct descendant was orphaned when he was just ten. That he watched his parents and siblings die of a swift moving fever. Of course, records have yet to confirm what happened to him. Did his older siblings who were barely teenagers at the time take care of him? Another relative? He did survive. He married and through the bloodline, I exist.
I searched for photos, including one of the Brooklyn Bridge being built from the view of the address of my great-grandfather when he was a child. I am incredibly interested in their occupations, their relationships, their children, their day-to-day lives. I want to know the more intimate details too. How did they meet? Did they marry for love? Why did they leave Ireland? Scotland? Dear Reader, I have lots of questions.
And my imagination slowly started to build stories.
History has always been interesting to me. I was that kid who enjoyed spending their summer vacations touring old houses/mansions. Reading historic novels, from Laura Ingalls-Wilder to Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters to modern historic writers like Tracey Chevalier and Susanna Kearsley — these have always been my favorite reads. In fact, I have always wanted to write a historic novel. But let’s be honest, you need to be a really good writer to pull that off. Also, you need to do lots of research. But then again, hadn’t I been doing this kind of research my entire life? Wasn’t I doing it in my search for my own history?
I spent quite some time fighting against a nagging desire to write a historic work while still finding reasons not to write the outlined novel, and you can’t very well be a writer if you don’t actually write — so this was problematic. I couldn’t focus on any of my projects. I couldn’t get back to my second novel with all this noise in my head and not just noise, but actual characters, characters from the past (with accents). They chattered along in my head constantly. Clearly my fault for having spent an entire summer reading British novels: Scottish Highlanders, British Queens, and turn of the 18th century Heiresses (plus rereading Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice and Outlander and Poldark… well you can check my reading list).
To shut down the noise, I wrote a chapter. ONE. CHAPTER. Then back to my real book. A book that could potentially get published along with my first novel because as I am told — two-novel contracts are all the rage!
…This is how in a few short weeks I ended up with 50k words and a dozen books for research (and hours upon hours of listening to as many British and Scottish accents as possible to make sure I get the dialogue as accurate) and also my 8 yo following me around the kitchen talking funny and telling me he is “speaking British.”
*fun note — my son’s version of British is in fact talking like David Rose from Schitt’s Creek — so I don’t really know what to do with that.
Sae Ah main forewarn ye, hen Reader ‘at mah future blogs will likely be foo ay musings oan th’ rewards an’ challenges ay writin’ a historic novel.
(So I must forewarn you, Dear Reader that my future blogs will likely be full of musings on the rewards and challenges of writing a historic novel).
— and knowing how to cut back on the dialect so that readers will understand the dialogue and not throw my book out a window.