Writing Serendipity. Again.

I’m not sure how it works, but it’s happened again.

I’ll explain. It’s embarrassing to admit that my WIP has been IP for ages. It used to take me about 6 months to write the first draft of a novel, but this one’s been crawling forward on and off for 2 years, maybe longer. It’s over the 70,000 word mark but grinding through that particular point has been difficult, and I’ve no idea why.

It’s a sequel to The Figurehead, which is a historical crime novel that also became a romance. Part of the reason why I’ve been dragging my heels is that I’m still not sure how

My own first (primitive) figurehead

My own first (primitive) figurehead

I’m going to resolve the problems of the relationship between a figurehead carver, John Grant, and Helen Anderson, the daughter of a rich merchant. The novel’s set in 1841, when attitudes to marriage and extra-marital goings-on didn’t leave much scope for … well, anything really.

But the thing that’s ‘happened again’ has, as usual, come out of the blue. As well as the relationship and the obligatory crime, the story’s built around two separate threads: the arrival in Aberdeen of a theatre group which will be performing melodramas at the Theatre Royal; and the determination of Helen, an only child, to become involved in the family business. Without going into any details (which may change drastically through the various drafts anyway), I’ve found that the two threads – coincidentally, because I certainly hadn’t planned it – were reaching a crucial stage at about the same time. I was quite pleased about that, but it was more than just a passive contentment.

A Perfect Day

A Perfect Day

The coincidence had me looking at them in a different way, not as the writer but as a sort of analyst of how the various elements were working, what their ‘significance’ was. In a way, I was thinking like a potential critic or reviewer. I don’t mean that I did it consciously; it’s just now, writing this, that I realise that’s the best way to sum up the experience. I wasn’t looking at the situation and wondering where to take each thread next; instead I was aware of what turned out to be pretty obvious parallels between them. On their own, which is how it seemed, these two separate elements had started feeding off one another and were moving closer together.

It’s not magical, there’s no alchemy going on, of course. The two threads are part of my imaginings, belong in the same mental space, they’re bound to inform and affect one another, but that’s at a subconscious level. The effect it had at the conscious level was to help me to understand them better and see how I could use the parallels. As I said at the start, it’s happened before and, like other experiences such as ‘being in the zone’ which I’ve also blogged about, it makes writing very exciting at times.

There’s a secondary motive, however, for choosing this subject for a blog. Apart from introducing me to woodcarving, which I took up as part of my research, The Figurehead allowed me to indulge in a dream I’d always had – to sail in a square-rigger. For just a few days I was a paying member of the crew of the Christian Radich on a voyage from Oslo to Leith. She’s the ship which featured in the old BBC series, The Onedin Line. If you go right to the start of this Youtube clip, you’ll see just how beautiful she is.

Anyway, as well as the self-indulgence of taking turns at the wheel of such a vessel, it gave me the material for a long short story, Death Ship. I tried to make this permanently free on Amazon but it can’t be done. So, if you’d like to know what it was like on the North Sea in a fresh South-Easter (with added murders), it’ll either cost you 99 cents or you can get it free by emailing me.


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