One of my students pointed out last night that people could advance order my next book*. Another called it up on their computer, instantly. We rejoiced muchly, for it was the Beast, and had gone online with a temporary cover.
This is how I discovered that Schroedinger’s Gillian is no longer. Finally, finally, I can tell you what the Beast is and why it’s occupied fifteen years of my time. I’ll tell you what it is now, and leave the rest for interviews, for it’s a good story. All of my books attract good stories, which is a mixed blessing.
The Beast is a book about the Middle Ages aimed originally at writers. It’s now aimed at a more general audience because apparently it’s the sort of book more people need. Writers (especially historical fiction writers) have backed it to the hilt, however – they’re partly responsible for this lovely outcome. “You can’t come to us and teach,” they kept saying, whenever I just wanted to let the whole thing go and get on with other projects, “So we need the book.”
It’s taken fifteen years to bring the Beast to this point. My albatross is almost ready to fly away and live its own life! It won’t fly away until June, however, and right now Katrin and I are working very hard on the final manuscript. We’re close, though, and the book can be pre-ordered: those wing feathers are growing apace.
The Beast’s focus is on England from 1050-1300ish, but France comes into it. It’s not a simplistic overview. We (meaning my co-author Katrin and myself) have tried not to say “Look, people were religious in the Middle Ages. Deal with it.” We’ve tried to explain things.
It’s shrunk over the years, to something that can be used. It was a Gormeghast Beast at one stage. It’s changed focus over the years. It’s changed co-author over the years. And all my bad jokes have been gently brushed aside and no longer litter the text. The Beast (now officially called “The Middle Ages Unlocked”) is a serious beast, substantial but not overlong, and a good place of first call for writers and re-enactors and people who want to argue over dinner about Medieval French dialects in England.
This and the various novels coming out (that have come out) and the scholarly articles also happening (which I ought to talk about one day) and what’s happening at the university teaching-wise (I am mentoring other teachers, for one thing) mean that, on opening the box, we find that Gillian is neither alive nor dead, but is, in fact what she thought she might be, which is a historian and a fiction writer and an academic (teacher and researcher and committee person and all!). Making a living out of being all these things is the next challenge. If I can’t, I’ll have to drop everything except the fiction and even the fiction will be wound back. In other words, I need an academic job if I want to remain all these things: I don’t have the finances to go it alone.
Everyone knows what kind of Gillian I am, now. We have yet to discover if this is a good thing.
*Which is really the book after next, but with different publishers and quite, quite different books.