It’s a bleak morning at the end of October, the perfect morning for disappearing into my story. Before I dive into the vortex of my own imagination, however, I thought I’d take some time to share some of the things on my mind with regards to the project.
From now on in, you’ll begin to notice that there are more gaps in the Victorian story and more ‘author’s notes’ at the beginning of the chapters. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I haven’t written the material yet. The second is that I have written the material, but I’m waiting until I’m further along in the story before I decide exactly where I’m going to place it.
When it comes to the first reason, my not having written the material yet, I’ve been methodical with those omissions, or scene postponements. The whole way along in my process, I’ve been privately adamant, particularly in the Victorian story (Aubrey’s manuscript), to create the main plot points, the pillars on which the entire story will stand. For example, Sidney being Justine’s son with Gregory, George’s father, would be one of those pillars. And in the next two weeks, you’ll be seeing more of those pillars come to light. We could call these the ‘big reveals’. Having written these parts of the story, I can then go back and not only write the minor scenes, but more accurately craft them to support or feed into the non-negotiable, ‘big’ plot points. When it comes to the second reason, my holding back of completed material, I’m either doing that because I still want to tweak and tailor it before I share it, or because I’m saving it for the last handful of chapters in the story, so you have a reason for which to keep reading.
I’m now entering a messier stage of this first draft which presents me with the dilemma of how to present the remaining chapters to you in a coherent, readable way. I’m still deliberating on that, so what I’m about to say is subject to change. If you’re up-to-date with the project, you’ll know that I’m incorporating a musical thread into the story. This thread has already been written, submitted for legal review, and given a green light, so it looks like it’s going to be a sure thing. You will see this story line play out through Phil and Aubrey as Phil tries to get to the bottom of Aubrey’s character. Right now, I’m thinking of posting this thread on the new ‘music’ section of the website. I will wend it into the main novel when I undertake edits and rewrites. While I may be nervous about my rusty piano playing, from a text perspective, I’m confident in this new element to the story. Music, like illustration, becomes another way of looking beyond text to solve the problems within the story. So, just like there are clues to one of the story’s mysteries in the illustrations, I have incorporated clues to another of the story’s mysteries into one of the developing pieces of music.
Another thing that is on my mind this morning is how, in this process, I’m both embracing and rejecting past advice given to me by mentors renowned in the writing field. So, if you’ve been reading these project updates, you’ll know that one of the main pieces of advice I am following is to write without fear and to let the story go where it wants to go without worrying about what anyone thinks. Oh, and this is a hard one! To allow myself to revel in these fictional people (who by the way, are real to me) without giving a damn what anyone thinks? To forget about Rosemary so I can be Justine in love with Gregory, or Gregory in love with Justine, or Justine in love with Harold, or Harold in love with Justine? And to feel what they feel to make it real for the reader? And to not feel guilty about those feelings? This, for me at least, is a big deal, and therefore a personal challenge. Furthermore, as you get to the end of the novel, you’ll see that the “ditching the fear” advice given me will come into play in terms of the themes that begin to surface more prominently. Through my characters, I’ll be speaking up on themes and issues I’ve kept quiet about in a life largely lived to support others without rocking the figurative boat. As I get older, I’m learning that supporting others, which is something that is important to me, doesn’t mean that I have to dim my own opinions to accommodate theirs.
I’m about to hint at a future plot point, but the tallowed letters that Justine will be writing to Harold, are significant in the overall scaffolding of the novel. Sick and tired of the soulless sex material out there, I am considering writing that collection of explicit love letters (which by the way, in completed chapters I’ve not yet posted, is called ‘Tallow’) as an addition to this book. I would not be posting this collection publicly, but trying to sell it from the get-go. If I do take ‘Tallow’ on, I believe it will be, for me, the ultimate test of overcoming my deeply-rooted fears of creative self-expression. I’m not ready to do that yet. I might begin to experiment with it once I begin the more tedious work of editing ‘The Girl on Harlow Street’. We’ll see.
So, while I’ve been embracing past advice, I’ve also been consciously rejecting it — perhaps to my own detriment. But I’m risking, because I don’t want to do what everybody else, the successful ‘everybody-elses’ included, have done, even if it means I’m going to fall flat on my face in the risk. So, without naming names, someone once told me I should be choosing between writing a Monty Python novel or a serious, literary one, that I could not have both genres in the same book. And I’m guessing that, as you’re flip-flopping between Phil and Justine’s worlds, you might be thinking the same thing. I know I am! That said, I’ve studied a good bit of English literature in my time, and I have to say that mix of erudite and crude is all over it. Take Chaucer or Shakespeare for example. They penned some pretty ‘rough-and-tumble’ stuff in amongst the refined. And no, I wouldn’t dare compare myself to them. I’m just saying that they’re amongst the masters and they did it, so why can’t anyone else? Besides, life is crude and graphic whilst being poignant and profound. I have an extremely crude sense of humour, but I’m also pretty philosophical and I want to funnel both of those ways of being into this story. The further you get in the story, you’ll come to realize that things I’ve joked about, especially through Vic, come to play in a very serious way toward the end of the story.
Beyond mixing the crude with the profound, I’ve also made up my own words, experimented with symbols (as in the chapter ‘Artistic Light’), bent genre by modernizing a period piece, been excessively graphic, superimposed modern song references onto Victorian scenes, looked beyond the text to tell the story, and embraced the vulnerability of writing the whole thing publicly. And, by doing this out in the cyber open, I’ve let my guard down to expose the imperfection and messiness of creating something. None of this was recommended or even touched upon in any bygone teaching or mentorship. In fact, there’s no way of knowing, but it might have even been discouraged. These decisions to risk are one hundred percent mine. Because I want the process to be unique, daring, and fun while demonstrating that creativity is anything but perfect. It’s an ‘all-over-the-place’ endeavour. As I write this, I think I will dedicate a whole article to this topic within the next couple of weeks.
Before I wrap up, I just want to add that illustrator Christine Kilfoil is currently working on the interior of Foxglove so I’m hoping to be able to include that in the ‘gallery’ section of the website soon. In the to-and-froing between fiction and reality, I’m having Christine add a jarful of cookies to the items in Justine’s kitchen. In real life, I often make these cookies and people always ask me for the recipe. So, I thought, why not just put them in the book (with the recipe tucked in there somewhere), that way I can make them ‘Justine’s biscuits’ (we’re in England, remember, so ‘biscuits’ it is) and readers can snack on them while reading. I’m sure chocolate chips weren’t around in Victorian times, so I’ll have to replace the chocolate chips with pieces of chocolate. I’d like to make ‘cooking’ part of the disciplines in the interdisciplinary nature of this story. But, as with ‘Tallow’, I might save that endeavour for when I undertake the laborious task of doing the edits and rewrites.
This has been a much longer post than I anticipated, and my characters are getting restless waiting for me. If I don’t get back to them soon, they might all give up and pack it in for the day. So, as usual, thanks for reading!