I’ve had a very productive and exciting 2015, but also a very difficult year. Today sums up the irony of all those breakthroughs still garnering me not -enough paid work and so forth. You don’t need to know the ‘so forth’ – I’ve been chronicling it all year.
And that was my year in summary. My NY resolution is very mild. I intend to be a bit more public about my research processes. I’ll tweet and FB them and I’ll continue to do occasional posts here. This is because I had one too many person say to me glowingly “I read seven books for the research for my historical novel. I understand everything!” The year before people said “What book should I read?”
I’m not up to most secondary sources yet, though I should be, soon. I used last year to get a handle on the best way to research. It was going to be tricky, for my 17th century goes against modern thoughts about it (since modern thoughts believe the magic and folk belief to be unreal and in my novel this will not be the case) so I had to delve into primary sources to work out just how much things differed. remember those 1000+ books I got hold of? I’m down to the hard end of them, which is slower but infinitely more exciting. My task for January was 150 books (from this morning only 137, for I’m reading cleverly – the skills of the historian are exceptionally handy in real life!) and by the end of that I’ll have my world framework and a lot of the material I need for my timeline and my plot. I’ll then spend a few weeks putting it in perspective and pulling it to pieces using the main modern scholarship in the field, which will probably mean me arguing aloud a lot as I read things.
For me creating an argument is essential to crafting a novel. Under each and every novel I write is a serious argument about something I’m passionate about. These arguments are not always obvious. They don’t need to be. Readers can (and do) read my novels as superficial and I’m happy. For story counts and characters count just as much as argument.
What the argument does is not only help structure the novel, it helps me work out what I need of all the information I gather. I read this much for Langue[dot]doc 1305 (it didn’t show, for some of it overlapped for the Beast and in my novel’s bibliography I only listed the books I read specifically and separately) and my argument helped me winnow the chaff, so that the only stuff that appeared directly in the novel was what I needed to tell the precise story. I spent a whole week sorting out rulership for the region, and some of my results were inconclusive and I had to rely on extrapolation. That whole week came out in Guilhem’s disaffection and in who could call him to account, and in a comment on keys.
My NY gift to myself was to understand how people saw the world. How different English people from different backgrounds interpreted the globe and its regions and countries, mainly. This was what I did from when I got home early this morning until when things cooled down enough to sleep. It was wonderful!
From 1660, the regions of the world were seen differently, but until the 1680s, books continued to be published that used the old view, the one without the terra incognita borealis and australis (borealis turned out to include Greenland!). The easiest way to think of it is that Australia was possible for people with a new education or the right geography book but not for others, and everyone still lived with quite a bit of the Macrobian description I already knew from the Middle Ages. Mesopotamia is part of Asia, and Jews do not exist anywhere (most of the geographies listed the religions of the region, and in no region was anyone Jewish – I wasn’t going to include any Jewish characters, but now I wonder if I couldn’t make a really good moment in Paris…). It was because of this precise moment of the universe changing that I’m writing this novel, but it was really exciting to see it expressed in maps and geographies. A very wonderful way to start the New Year!
Have a wonderful New Year, everyone, and enjoy many good books!