Shadowbox: Germinal 1

I had the idea for SHADOWBOX in 2010, after I’d finished the second or third draft of THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. The character of Louis Beauregard fascinated me – here was an elderly man, still vigorous, in an unusual situation. Questions began to from in my mind.

Who was he?

Where did he come from?

How had he become the head of the shadowy organisation known as the Cuckoo Club?

As I’d written THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, some of those questions were answered – briefly, the way you’d refer to Ian McKellen’s Richard III to put his Gandalf into context, or Christopher Lee’s Saruman in the shadow of Dracula, and Scaramanga, and Lord Summerisle.

Ian McKellen. Richard III.

I knew Louis was sprightly. I knew he’d had a long eventful life. When I wrote ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE RIVER I shaped him up to face his future, to make him become the man of THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. And there I saw a glimpse of the man he’d been before.

So SHADOWBOX became a story of the young Louis Beauregard, when his position as the Sacred King was a fixed part of him, but he’d yet to fully adapt to the challenges of his destiny. He had to have a life, and I already knew he was privileged. So I asked more questions of myself:

– what was he like, this young rogue?

– what makes a character roguish?

– how would this express itself in its period? How does one become a rogue of the 1830s? When all around is excess?

In order to find out, I had to investigate the times. My notions of the 1830s were way out. I had to remind myself that this wasn’t Pride & Prejudice bonnet-land, nor the preRaphaelites, nor Restoration. Deciding the time period was just one element of the story.

And then there was the conflict within the story. Conflict forces the action. It’s the trigger event that makes things happen, that gives us a story to follow in the first place, that keeps us turning the pages until The End.

This is where Godfrey Woolverham comes in. He started out as Pawel Czerczy, a goldsmith, a man who was wronged by Louis Beauregard. The conflict at the heart of SHADOWBOX was always there in my early plans. But it took a while to work that conflict into a shape I could write a novel around.

The key to this was the Amber Room of Peter The Great.

In THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, Sylvester de Winter roams London in an amber-lined coach. Something about the material properties of Baltic amber had a pivotal impact on the world I had created, and this conflict and impact could be used as a plot device.

And thus the amber carvers arrived in SHADOWBOX, to give the story a point of intrigue, a hook, or maybe a MacGuffin. The real story began to spin off, away from a simple tale of supernatural mystery and into a deeper analysis of the conflict both main characters suffered as a result of the novel’s founding event.

Godfrey and Louis were set on a collision course of death and murder, and nobody could stop them.

Next: The third post in the SHADOWBOX series: Germinal 2, deciding the timescale of the novel and other matters.

Join me on the trip by subscribing to the RSS feed or sign up in the form on the right to receive posts by email. And bring a lantern.

Late for a reason

This week’s post is late for a reason. Last night I finished the revisions/edits on Project AR.Scroll, #amwriting, and I'm done!

Doing so took up all my writing time, so I didn’t have time to put up a post. I’m glad I waited. It’s so much more satisfying to report success!

On another note, I spent the weekend dancing my socks off at a music festival. And I got to observe professional creatives at close quarters.

Musicians with over 40 years experience, performing a range of pieces from their body of work, new stuff as well as old favourites, for an audience of fans in an intimate venue. They mingled with the crowd before, during and after the performances so I had the chance to say how much I enjoyed it (okay, so maybe I did a bit of the burbling fan-girl thing too <blushes>).

The experience brought home to me the importance of Practice.

The importance of Output.

The importance of Work.

You’d think after 40 years or more, these guys could just rock up and play. Maybe they do, but what I saw looked like the result of constant, lifelong practice.

The hard work of practice shows in the face of the man who waves his hands in front of a Theremin and gets it to produce exactly the sounds he wants. It shows in the ability to play as an ensemble with others, picking up cues and nuances. In the casual remark that there’s so much back catalogue sometimes they forget the words to one particular piece.

A reputation for odd habits doesn’t keep you working in the music industry for decades. What does is a reputation for delivery. It’s a lesson that applies across all the creative industries, writing included.

I’ve been privileged to see long-term professionals at work and recognise that their success is down to commitment and persistence (and sheer damn brilliance). My next trick is to work out how to apply that insight to my own creative endeavours.

In the meantime, look out, you’d better duck…

Halfway Through Edits on Project AR

Halfway through edits on Project AR. Good progress has been made, but I should be further along the road to publication by now, and the drag on my writing schedule is starting to show.

One thing I hadn’t expected was a slowdown in late January. There was a good reason for this. I was lucky enough to get on a week-long professional training course, but I hadn’t anticipated the mind-numbing effect this would have on my non-work faculties.

Sure, I anticipated I’d be tired. I knew I’d be out of my usual routine, and I’d have homework to do in the evenings after the day’s work was done.

But I hadn’t figured on how suffocating – how draining – would be the combination of a slide show, with a full pack of all the slides printed out, and a 300-page manual of the subject matter, and a trainer verbally adding her own interpretation to the material.Reading plenty of books

Eight hours a day.

I know the theory that different people learn in different ways but – sheesh! – applying them all at the same time? Just. Doesn’t. Work.

Net Result: No writing or editing. None on the weekend that followed. Little the following week either. I’m just about back to normal now, almost a month later.

On the positive side, I did some artwork, including the new covers for the Vita Tugwell novels, new covers for the Cuckoo Club short stories that directly tie into Project AR and a mock-up of the cover for Project AR itself. It’s not ready yet, but it’s close. I wrote some blog posts for later, and started to work on a month of posts to go up when I finally get AR published. But I did no new writing, or plotting, or editing. I didn’t make the progress I’d expected.

The reason I need to explain all this is more as a reminder to myself than an excuse, though.

Because I have another of these courses scheduled in a few weeks’ time, and I don’t expect the effect to be any less stuffy.

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 10:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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More progress to report

Yes, I have been at work writing and editing the second draft of Project AR, which has enjoyed a brief dalliance with a new title that turned out to be an interim, and has now got an even better title (and one which fits more easily on the cover).

Not hard at work, I’ll grant you. A comment on another blog spoke of the writer having 10-12 hour days running their (very successful) writing business.

I already have a 10-12 hour day. It’s my Day Job.

No more details because that’s just dull. But one of the elements of maintaining a writing career for me, as well as meticulous forward planning, is to acknowledge that there are only so many hours in the day. A healthy regard for one’s well-being is essential.

And that’s why I joined ROW80, and continue to participate, even if only half-heartedly – because it’s “the writing challenge that knows you have a life”. A writing challenge that celebrates the achievements, not the obstacles. One that doesn’t mark you as a failure for not making your daily-weekly-annual word count.

In other words, one which supports my long-term aim which I stated a couple of years ago, in a post entitled : Where will you be in ten years time?.

That aim: A Body Of Work I can be proud of. This current work-in-progress adds to that body of work, and I am taking my time so that it’s the best work I can make at this point in my writing career. What more can anyone ask?Bookshelf

Published in: on February 12, 2014 at 9:39 pm  Comments Off on More progress to report  
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#ROW80 – Project AR and the Day 49 Progress Report

The Winter Solstice is nearly upon us, and in my part of the world that means long dark nights with grey short days in between.The urge to hibernate is strong. We are even promised snow flurries tomorrow, which after tonight’s torrential gales will be something of a relief.

1. Project AR: I have begun to edit the First Draft, with the aim of adding another 20-30K words or so. Three chapters done so far, twenty-five to go. Not rushing this. I won’t have it done before Hogmanay, but I might have a complete Second Draft by Burns Night. Watch this space.

Do you reckon I could gob on his hat from here, hein? Careful, Pierre, you don't want to kick something off...Meanwhile, my researches into the world of Paris in 1832, to add flavour to the story, have awoken an urge to visit the city and live there for a couple of weeks, student-style, and swan around the places mentioned in some of my favourite novels – Declare, by Tim Powers, for example, or the aforementioned Les Miserables.

Not going to happen.

But I’m fascinated by the differences between Paris and London – two of Europe’s great capital cities, both founded on rivers, both ancient and jam-packed with history and art.

More on this later, when the novel is finished…

2. Kobo publishing: Nope.

3. Large Print: Nope.

4. Regular blog posts: Once a week is regular. Just not healthy “regular”, if you know what I mean…

#ROW80 – Project AR and the Day 42 Progress Report

This last week has been one of rest. The sort of rest that involves contemplation, couch-surfing and curry.

I have made no progress with writing or any of my other goals. And I’m cool with that.

1. Project AR: New title fits nicely into a striking cover, so I’ve been noodling along with shaping that up while the next 20-30K words filter through my story.

One of the characters is a bit thin at the moment and too much like someone in another novel, so I have to flesh him out a little. He has at least two major relationships in his life that require further details so he’s real, not just an avatar.

Plus, in doing my research for the next layer of texture I discovered that my characters appear in Paris a scant few months after the June Rebellion which features in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

If only the locals had proved friendly...

Paris Rebellion of 1832, of Les Miserables fame.

One of these days you’ll get a blog post on French writers of the 19th Century…

2. Kobo publishing: Nope.

3. Large Print: Nope.

4. Regular blog posts: Not right now, although this is once a week. I have blog posts building up for when I’ve published this current novel – maps, lifestyles, history, sources. Lots of nice links and pictures. But not yet.

#ROW80 – Project AR and the Day 35 Progress Report

Today I wrote the final line of Project AR. I haven’t finished the story – far from it, as you’ll see from the chart. But I’ve reached the end of my first draft, and I had an Epilogue to write, and when I wrote that last line, I had to stop.

Flippin’ dust in my eye, or something. Had to clear my throat a few times, too.

Anyhow, I have made progress:

Project AR, Day 35

Project AR, Day 35

1. Project AR: In addition to the emotional ending hinted at above, I seem to have found another 10K words or so in my files, so the word-count now totals an accidental 50K. That’s good enough for a first draft. I reckon another twenty thousand or so and I’ll have a story that’s fit for reading.

Maybe not by the general public – not yet – but my first readers will be the judge of that. I don’t thank them often enough, so here: THANK YOU, dear First Readers, for your reflections and suggestions and encouragement. You don’t know how much it helps. Or perhaps you do… in the hope that one day I might write something that leaves you breathless.

I’m working at it.

2. Kobo publishing: No progress, but with the first draft done I may start tinkering around the edges somewhat. I’ve begun work on better covers for some of the stories. I need to start work on making sure the inner formatting is good too.

3. Large Print: No progress. See goal #1 for my excuse.

4. Regular blog posts: Day 35 is one a week. I’ve been writing posts for later, when Project AR is unveiled under its proper name and with a real cover, not a white label, published, for sale. But that’s a long way off yet. Stay tooned.

Published in: on December 4, 2013 at 8:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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#ROW80 – Project AR and the Day 28 Progress Report

The observant amongst you will have noticed that there is a gap in my Progress Reports. That’s right, Day 21 came and went without an update, bereft of attention, unblogged, no fanfare or twinkles descending from the sky.

Speaking of which, I am looking forward to the reappearance of Comet Ison from its close encounter with the sun. Shame the weather isn’t clearer, but hey, that’s Britain for you.

And here’s my progress report for you too:

1. Project AR: As predicted, the addition of words has somewhat slowed. I am almost at the end of the first draft, with oodles of stuff still to write.

Project AR, Day 28 Progress

Project AR, Day 28 Progress

I like to have a framework to fill in, which is my storyboard, and then I add words to that. The next part of the process is to add detail, such as connections to real historical events which took place in the same time-frame as the story and might possibly have a bearing, or just to add local colour. I liken this to the layers of a tarmacadam road, with the big rocks at the bottom, the little rocks on top, gravel then sand then topsoil (I paraphrase somewhat, but you get the drift).

Once that’s finished, I expect this novel to be about 70K words. Still time to finish writing it by Yuletide, but I’m not sure it will whoosh through the copy-editing process so speedily.

I may, however, have come up with a proper title for the story instead of its working title. All will be revealed later.

2. Kobo publishing: Will have a wee look at this when I’ve done the first draft of Project AR.

3. Large Print: No progress. See goal #1 for my excuse.

4. Regular blog posts: Nope, broken my streak big time. Again, this is for why I do ROW80 and not a full-throttle thing like NaNoWriMo…

Published in: on November 28, 2013 at 7:17 pm  Comments (4)  
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#ROW80 And The Missing Prologue

I knew I wrote a prologue for Project AR. I remembered the first words, and the last, like a song in my head. But where the blazes was it?

Not on the netbook.

Not on the PC.

Not on the swap files I use to do backups between them both. Not in the project notes, not in another project, not on a standalone file somewhere.

Project AR, prologue included

Project AR, prologue included!

As it happened, I broke my Project AR writing streak this week. I’d managed at least one session a day, but this one day I didn’t manage any. Twenty minutes for my lunch break at the Day Job and then into a meeting that lasted all afternoon without a break, and a late departure following.

I needed a rest. Providence, the Fates, Norns, whatever, decreed I take one. While doing so I opened up my notepad where I doodle offline, and lo! the missing prologue was there, way back on 6th March. In pencil.

So I typed it up, filed it in the Project file and counted that as my daily words. Not as many as most but at least I’ve found the blimmin’ thing now.

1. Project AR: 30K words, including the missing prologue. Broken streak back on target.

2. Kobo publishing: No progress… yet.

3. Large Print: No progress. See goal #1 for my excuse.

4. Regular blog posts: Regular, but not as interesting for you? Me? Anyone? When I’ve reached the end of Project AR, I’ll post a bundle of snippets about the research I did for the project… but until then, it’s just write-write-write.

Published in: on November 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm  Comments Off on #ROW80 And The Missing Prologue  
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#ROW80 – Project AR and the Day 14 Progress Report

The first true frost of autumn arrived last night. This morning the air was crisp and clear and the grass was white with rime. My favourite time of year!

AR Progress

Project AR, Day 14


1. Project AR: Words continue to flow from my fingers onto the keyboard. Lots of them are wrong.

I’m writing this draft too fast and creative to concern myself with the right words, right now. So what if I use a word that doesn’t mean exactly what I want? I can spend ten minutes thinking about the right word, stumbling over it, going to look for a thesaurus I don’t have… or I can use another word, highlight it in bold or something, and keep on writing.

“Keep on writing” wins every time.

2. Kobo publishing: No progress. See goal #1 for my excuse. Maybe this goal, and No. 3, ought to be abandoned. But there’s a lot of ROW80 to go yet – I may still achieve these two before the end!

3. Large Print: No progress. See goal #1 for my excuse.

4. Regular blog posts: We have a streak! (cue Benny Hill-style music)


Published in: on November 13, 2013 at 10:49 pm  Comments (6)  
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